The Meaning of Christmas Cake.

Last night, I was making my Christmas Cake.

In case you’re not familiar with what we Australians know as “Christmas Cake”, it’s a boiled fruit cake crammed with sultanas, currants, raisins and prunes soaked and boiled in sherry. The next day, glace cherries and almonds are added to the mix, along with the usual cakey ingredients. It’s very much a British tradition, which has immigrated along with the settlers to the Antipodes.

Christmas cake 2014 zoom

Our Lego Santa Loves Christmas Cake.

There are so many steps to making a Christmas cake, each almost being an essential pre-Christmas ritual. So, let’s get started.

The first step is to boil up the dried fruit with the sherry, lemon and orange juice on the stove. If you have never experienced this smell, you are really missing out. As I hunch over the hot stove stirring the fruits with my wooden spoon, all those smells tantalize my senses, heralding Christmas. Indeed, I’d swear my nose was even twitching. Wow! It smells amazingly good!

Then, you leave those fruits in the fridge overnight to stew.

In this era of instant everything, it almost feels unnatural to wait for anything. Yet, this waiting process seems quite appropriate for a Christmas cake. After all, so much about Christmas involves waiting…How many sleeps? Where’s Santa? What am I getting for Christmas?

So, the Christmas Cake is simply being in synch with the rest of Christmas with all its waiting and delays.

The next day, we move onto the baking phase.


Our son sampling the mixture, aged 3.

This starts out with the ceremonial beating of the butter and brown sugar, watching them spin round and round in my Sunbeam mix master. They’re like two people falling in love and becoming one flesh, as they dance round and round the beaters creaming together. That’s when fingers and spoons invade the bowl for mandatory testing. You’d be surprised how things can go wrong in the beating process, and how multiple tastings are required… just to be sure!

Then, you add the eggs. Even if you deplore Christmas Cake, I guarantee you’ll be licking the spoon once you taste brown sugar, butter and eggs creamed together. Not only do they taste delicious, but they have such a smooth, creamy texture which truly dazzles your taste buds. Yum!

More mixture disappears.

And a bit more!

There’s still plenty left.

Then, even a bit more mixture disappears onto a passing spoon.

Time to add the flour and spices before there’s no mixture left!

Next, I throw in the halved glace cherries and slivered almonds and it’s into the tin. More slivered almonds are sprinkled on top, and the Christmas Cake has finally made it into the oven.

Strange how there’s still so much mixture left behind!

Of course, some of that has been put aside for the mini Christmas cakes I make for my Dad. Dad has a pathological aversion to cinnamon so I always make him his own. My Dad looks very much like John Cleese playing Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. So, it’s a wise move to keep him happy, as we don’t have Manuel on hand to keep him in check.

However, it also seems like such a waste to cook all of that scrummy mixture, especially when it’s only going to become Christmas Cake.

Funny that I could ever deride the sacred Christmas Cake!

How soon I forget! Three years ago, I had a round of chemo to treat my auto-immune disease starting the week before Christmas. Indeed, I literally was singing: “all I wanted for Christmas is chemo” in my head that year. After all, without the chemo, I wouldn’t be here now. So, despite its hardships, it was more of a celebration than an ordeal.

This is where the Christmas Cake enters the story. I had three days’ notice before chemo began and do you know what I did in that time? I made my Christmas Cake and I posted my Christmas cards. That’s what was important…along with my family.

I had to remind myself of that this year. Now that the pressure’s off and my health has vastly improved, making the Christmas Cake wasn’t quite happening. Indeed, I only made it last night with 6 sleeps to go. I was really struggling to get myself moving!

That’s also because I’m not a huge lover of fruit cake. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Christmas, I’d never make any kind of fruit cake. I much prefer chocolate cake and have been known to mix the boiled fruits in with a chocolate cake mix before. That was yum! The boiled fruits also mix in well with ice cream. Indeed, the boiled fruits can be very versatile, if you’re willing to let go of tradition heading into the great unknown.


Photographed with Santa aged 6. Unfortunately, the photo needs a spruce up.

I’m not quite there yet. I still need a slice of Christmas Cake with my cup of tea and my parents particularly love this Christmas Cake. After all, I make my mother’s recipe, which she adopted from her university friend Deirdre. They go back a long way and so does this Christmas Cake. I’ve been eating it for something like 47 years now. It’s a keeper and I hope my kids continue to  make it wherever they are and whatever their world is like when they grow up. Who knows where they’ll be in 47 years? Yet, like any parent, I just want them to be happy (which is often the most elusive “achievement” of all!)

You can find the recipe and a previous post about the Christmas Cake here.

You might also enjoy reading about Christmas Cakes: here. I found it a very interesting read.

Do you have any Christmas baking traditions? If so, I’d love to hear all about them and feel free to share your recipes.

Love & Christmas Blessings,


33 thoughts on “The Meaning of Christmas Cake.

  1. Inspiring Max

    I love Christmas cake but have never make one purely because I am the only person in my family to eat it and that is way too much cake for anyone. Love the concept for cooking a family recipe Christmas Cake. I make rum balls, coconut ice and last year started making sugar cookies in memory of our trip to Canada the year before. Have a happy Christmas and hope Santa is good to you all.

  2. Midwestern Plant Girl

    Is this basically a fruitcake?
    Fruitcakes here are kind of a joke gift here. They are everywhere in stores, but few folks eat them. My mom loved them, tho. 😋

  3. Rowena Post author

    Yes, Christmas cake is a form of fruitcake but probably with more than just sultanas in them. Fruitcakes are definitely not popular here but like me, people seem to want their slice of Christmas Cake. Many ice their Christmas cakes with a layer of marzipan and then white royal icing over the top.
    A friend of mine lived in New Hampshire for many years and tried to buy the ingredients to make a Christmas cake but had trouble even getting that far.
    I could imagine fruitcakes being a kin dof joke present. They really are from a by-gone era.
    My grandmother used to make fruitcake reasonably often and she used to put golden syrup in it, which she swore by.
    I have always wanted to make an American Christmas cake which was something like a Cathedral cake with brazil nuts and glace cherries. My Dad made it a few times. Dad only ever does what you would call: “stunt cooking”. I love my Dad but he can be quite hilarious and quite the character sketch!

  4. Rowena Post author

    I’m not so much into rum balls but my husband loves coconut ice. I’ve also made a white chocolate rocky road. You can find the recipe here:
    I hope you have a wonderful Christmas as well and ditto on the Santa gifts. I’ve put in an order for a regenerating money tree. We’re going away to Tasmania in January so we’ll be needing it. My husband is Tasmanian but it’s now become very popular so it’s going to get expensive.

  5. trentpmcd

    I was thinking “Fruit cake” too, but after reading your comment, I have a few more comments 😉 The way my wife makes fruit cake involves a lot of alcohol. A lot. And good stuff too, not cheap cooking booze. It takes weeks, sometimes months to make it right because it has to soak – a special cloth is saturated in the booze and then placed on top. This process is repeated over and over again until the desires level of drunkenness, I mean alcohol content is achieved. Not for kids!

  6. Tails Around the Ranch

    Ooh yum. Sounds delish-you had me at stewed dried fruit in sherry! My German heritage demands we ALWAYS make ‘Spritz’ and crescent cookies. I love the buttery tasty and they go so nicely with a hot beverage. I could eat my weight in them which no doubt will increase during the holidays! The recipes can be found here: and
    Merry Christmas! 🎄

  7. Midwestern Plant Girl

    Ha ha!
    I will have to look up Cathedral Cake, but you had me at nuts and cherries.
    Funny! Stunt Cooking! That’s my father also. Those were the days that mom brought us kids to the deli for dinner 😝

  8. Mabel Kwong

    Like you, I am not a fan of fruit cake at all. Much prefer a solid sponge cake, vanilla or chocolate. I do like ice-cream cake but they are very hard to make and melt pretty easily too. Blackforest cake is my favorite cake, but for some reason I don’t see that around too often this time of the year.

  9. Rowena Post author

    I love tiramisu but I’ve never tried making it. I am such a perfectionist of sorts that I don’t try. When it comes to tirsmisu, I don’t even get past choosing a recipe.
    Actually, thanks for reminding me because I’m going to make it over Christmas. Conquer that mountain.
    xx Rowena

  10. Rowena Post author

    Thanks so much, Monika. I think I tried making these last year but thanks for the reminder and the links. I’ve got to try and work out my grandmother’s recipe for honey biscuits, which are a form of lebkuchen.
    You’ll appreciate how much I miss the German touches in my Christmas. It’s not the same without it. That said, we have a local German bakery and we’ve ordered a gingerbread house and he imports the little marzipan people. We’ve also ordered stollen. They also make a lovely beesting cake. Yum. And almond croissants. I go in there after dropping my daughter at dance on Saturday morning and the almond croissants are usually straight out of the oven and the sugar’s all crunchy and the pasty soft and gooey. Yum.
    Merry Christmas!
    xx Rowena

  11. Rowena Post author

    Sounds like your wife’s cake would go well at our Christmas with he family in the pool. They’d be so sozzled! More sozzled than usual. They like their red wine.
    Is your wife’s cake something like an Irish whiskey cake? My Dad’s family, the Irish side, likes a Molly O’Rourke’s Irish Whiskey Cake. However, on looking it up, I found out it was actually made by Australian company Big Sister which went into receivership a few years ago. So much for being Irish and it looks like another family tradition has just bit the dust. Humph. These are starting to add up. I’m working on a post about the demise of Christmas traditions at the moment.

  12. New Journey

    I am going to make your Christmas Cake for my kids…my son loves fruit cake…so do I….Merry Christmas…..sounds like your in the spirit of the season…can’t believe its next Sunday….When I was single, my kids spent the holidays with there dads and his family….I would go up the coast and spend the day on the beach…did this for many years….used it as a time of reflection and being thankful for all my blessings…Peter and I just spend the day together doing whatever the heck we want…LOL this year we having it with my brother and his wife….probably eat to much, drink to much and then sleep like a ole bear in the winter……LOL love the season…I will let you know how the cake turns out…..xxxxkat

  13. Inspiring Max

    Should be a good trip this time of year although yes the secret is now out and it is popular. Did you see it snowed in Tassie this week. Have a great time, we have no holidays planned just catching up with ourselves.

  14. trentpmcd

    Not sure if it is related to Irish Whiskey cake. It looks like a traditional fruit cake. I have read that fruit cake was always supposed to have alcohol in them, but it was when they became mass produced that they became non-alcoholic and the butt of every Christmas joke.
    A post on the demise of Christmas traditions might be interesting.

  15. Rowena Post author

    The fruitcake, especially the Christmas Cake isn’t derided here. While you can buy commercial ones, a lot of people I know make their own or buy a specialty one from a bakery.
    That said, we do call someone whose a bit odd a fruitcake.
    My post about the demise of my Christmas traditions is coming along, although I had a break today to write up about my daughter’s efforts with making rainbow cake yesterday.
    I was intending to take part in Solveig’s series, which has had me thinking about Christmas traditions and I realised that what I know as of Christmas harks back to my childhood and that doesn’t exist anymore. I also have strong German-Irish origins where my husband sees himself as Australian. I ‘m Australian too but I grew up with strong cultural ties to where my family came from even though it was in the the 1830s-1860s.
    I am now looking at creating traditions for my kids which a more thematic so they can translate through time and adding and subtracting people to the family. I’ve definitely had a lot to think about here.

  16. Rowena Post author

    Catching up with yourself sounds good too…like the dog finally catching its proverbial tail.
    I did hear that it snowed in Tassie but reading it now reminds me to pack more woollens. It’s card to imagine they could end up with a white Christmas down there!

  17. Rowena Post author

    Wow. I’m so excited that you’re trying the Christmas Cake, Kat. My main tip is to watch the dried fruits carefully while they’re on the stove as they can burn easily. You could probably making yourself a cuppa at the start but you’ll be needing to stir them fairly consistently when they’re almost done. I’m not sure whether the recipe mentions adding sherry when you take the cake out of the oven. You then wrap it in paper and a tea towel so it cools slowly and remains moist. It’s a real science making these things I’m real only a novice. Tomorrow, I’m going to make a Harvest Christmas Cake. It was on the back of the Christmas cards I bought and has two grated apples, marmalade, and a cup of brandy/rum. It also has walnuts instead of the almonds. It has 3 kilos of dried fruit so I’m going to add some dried figs. It needs to rest for 3 weeks so it will be ready by the time we get back from Tassie. I was going to get the fruit soaking tonight but left it too late to get to a bottleshop. They were all closed by 10.00 pm and I didn’t think I should go into the pub with my pink melamine measuring cup asking for a cup of brandy to take away. Could you imagine it!! Golly, after all of this I think I’ve become a fruitcake! Meanwhile, time’s run away from me again so I’d better get to bed.
    xx Ro

  18. New Journey

    My mother made fruit cakes every year, she wrapped them in kitchen gauze, kinda like cotton then soaked them with dark rum till they couldn’t take another drop…LOL they set for several weeks as well in a dark corner in the closet..LOL they were yummy….I am going to look for her recipe…its somewhere, just not sure which house…LOL

  19. Pingback: Christmas Coffee Share! | beyondtheflow

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