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A brief history of the Christmas cake

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. Though it spans cultures and continents there are some consistencies in practices around the globe. One of the most common is the use of a certain type of food to symbolise the occasion. Families gather round for either lunch or dinner, usually on Christmas day, but in some countries Christmas Eve, and share food and company over traditional dishes.


Historically the Christmas cake has been an English tradition. It started in the Middle Ages as plum porridge, a pretty unappetising formula that consistent of boiled beef mixed with bread, oatmeal, spices, dried fruit and wine. It was actually known as ‘hackin’ because of the sheet number of ingredients that were included.

The roots are obviously religious, the plum porridge was made to line the stomach after a day of fasting and the spices were meant to represent the spices carried by the Three Wise Men. The mixture then focused more heavily on sweet ingredients, morphing into plum pudding. By the 16th century, the oatmeal was removed and replaced with butter, flour and eggs – this held the mixture together and eventually became the Christmas cake.

How to make a Christmas cake

There are various ways to make a Christmas cake. All are generally some type of classical fruit cake. Some recipes lean towards a light cake, others to a dark. It may also be a number of shapes, from small and round to large and square. Texture likewise vary, moist, dry, spongy or hard, there is no ‘right’ way to make the treat. In Scotland they even sometimes add scotch, this is called the Whisky Dundee and it crumbly with fruits and raisins.

Christmas cakes around the world

Though the traditional started as English, countries all over the world have now adopted their own versions of the Christmas cake. In Italy they have a sweet sourdough bread topped with raisins and citrus fruits, while in Germany they stick to a standard fruitcake, which they call Weihnachtsstollen.

In Asia there are distinct traditions as well. For example in Japan they have a simple sponge cake, topped with strawberries, and frosted with whipped cream to be eaten on Christmas Eve. The Allahabadi cake is from India and is recognized for its rich fruity taste and unique texture.

If you’re looking to make a Christmas cake for the family, don’t hesitate to get creative. You can add different types of liquors such as rum or brandy, or even try experimenting with nuts – pistachios and almonds go great.

Before I go I’ll leave you with a standard Christmas cake recipe.