The festive period has come again, and with the daunting challenge of baking the Christmas cake, extra help is always appreciated. Amanda Brown, keen baker and caterer, talks Iona McGregor – Nelson through the process of creating the perfect boozy Christmas cake with these simple Dos and Don’ts…

It’s that time of year again. so stock up on the marzipan and get that fruit soaking. It’s time to bake the Christmas cake! There is a lot of controversy on how to bake your Christmas cake. Do you use brandy or rum? Dark sugar or light? Do you soak your fruit for a few hours or a few days? Hopefully by the end of this article you will feel enlightened on the do’s and don’ts of Christmas cake baking and create the mother of all Christmas cakes.

Let’s start with the basics of soaking your fruit. You have to do it! Mary Berry says “pour over the sherry and leave to soak for 3 days.” Mrs Brown says “I only soak my fruit over night.” (The controversy begins.) When asked whether it is essential to soak your fruit, Frances Quinn, Winner of Great British Bake off 2013 was in no doubt ‘Soak Your Fruit,’ simple and to the point. Soaking your fruit for any amount of time helps to plump the fruit up and keeps the cake staying nice and moist. This is essential since your cake will ideally be made a few weeks before Christmas and you don’t want it to dry out in the weeks when it is being stored.

When asked which alcohol to soak your fruit in, avid baker Amanda Brown said, “I prefer to use brandy as I like the flavour it gives the cake.” Sticking to this alcoholic theme comes the next definite ‘do’ of Christmas cake baking – feeding your cake. Now it’s not essential that one slice of cake should tip you over the drink drive limit, however a few good feedings before Christmas will ensure the cake remains moist and give it that extra kick. Mrs Brown suggests “Never feed for less than two weeks,” Ms Quinn, in total agreement, says, “so you can feed the cake once baked with lots of brandy or rum depending on your tipple of choice.”

Baking the cake. It sounds simple enough, but due to the long baking times Christmas cakes require problems invariably arise. Mrs Brown warns “Avoid baking at too high a temperature and make sure you have all the essential equipment before starting.” It is very important the cake tin be properly lined and wrapped or you run the risk of the outside of your cake burning whilst the centre remains uncooked. Nigella Lawson advises to “double line a loose bottom cake tin.” The double is important. Amanda and Mary also double line their tins. Listen to the professionals!  another ‘Do’ is to line the outside of your tin with a few layers of paper preventing burning and giving the cake and even bake. Before you put the cake in the oven place a baking tray with 2 pints of water in the bottom of the oven. The moist atmosphere the liquid creates bakes better cakes.

A quick tip about which sugar to use: Using dark sugar – demerara, molasses and light or dark muscovado keeps the crumb of the cake moist and adds to depth of flavour.

Let’s talk about marzipan. Some people avoid using it because of the taste, others double layer the icing as a substitute for the marzipan.  These are definite Don’ts. Using marzipan is vital in stopping the oil from the cake seeping into the icing, it also keeps the cakes surface nice and smooth. Good food magazine suggests “don’t feed the cake for the final week to give the surface a chance to dry before icing. “

However you decide to tackle this festive challenge remember to try and enjoy it, knock back at least one glass of brandy in the process and final tip from Amanda Brown, “wrap your cake up securely and store it in a cool place (not the fridge) until icing time.” Good luck!


  1. Newspaper works well to line the outside of your baking tin
  2. Soak your raisins and sultanas in hot black tea as well as soaking them in alcohol. It stops the fruit sinking to the bottom when its baking
  3. When wrapping up your cake up for storage, use a layer of greaseproof paper or clingfilm before using tin foil. Beware, if the foil touches the cake the alcohol could react and affect the flavour.
  4. Marzipan the cake 3 weeks before as it takes 2 weeks to harden
  5. Using a pizza cutter to trim your icing and marzipan gives a cleaner and easier cut
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