Very rich, very dark, fruit cake, commonly including dark sugars, dark dried fruit, with topping of marzipan and white icing, often decorated with holly, pine, or miniature scenes reminiscent of a wintry or traditional Christmas.
Bringing in the Christmas Cake,
from Aunt Affable's Stories, about 1830
Ripon Christmas Bread
and Mrs Duke's Cake of 1658, the first receipt we've ever found for a fruit-dense, sugar-iced cake (even if not particularly a Christmas one)
Although Christmas has been celebrated in England at least since the 3rd century and the festival of Yule or Noel long before that, the tradition of baking a type of rich fruit cake for the season seems to be relatively new. The tradition of rich fruit and spice plum pudding and pottages is very old, but the traditional English Yule Cake, while certainly an enriched bread, a bit like stollen, doesn't seem to have come anywhere near the fruitsome-ness of today's Christmas Cake.
We can't find even find the phrase "Christmas Cake" anywhere before a little entry in The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 75, of 1794, and that is just to explain what a Yule Cake is. Even by the time of Mrs Beeton in the mid-19th Century the Christmas cake, though rich, is by no means as fat with fruit as it is now...
Original Receipt from Mrs.B
1754. INGREDIENTS. - 5 teacupfuls of flour, 1 teacupful of melted butter, 1 teacupful of cream, 1 teacupful of treacle, 1 teacupful of moist sugar, 2 eggs,½ oz. of powdered ginger,½ lb. of raisins, 1 teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, 1 tablespoonful of vinegar.
Mode. - Make the butter sufficiently warm to melt it, but do not allow it to oil; put the flour into a basin; add to it the sugar, ginger, and raisins, which should be stoned and cut into small pieces. When these dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed, stir in the butter, cream, treacle, and well-whisked eggs, and beat the mixture for a few minutes. Dissolve the soda in the vinegar, add it to the dough, and be particular that these latter ingredients are well incorporated with the others; put the cake into a buttered mould or tin, place it in a moderate oven immediately, and bake it from 1-3/4 to 2-1/4 hours.
Time. - 1-3/4 to 2-1/4 hours.
Average cost, 1s. 6d.
This poem from from Aunt Affable's Stories, of about 1830, suggests a highly decorated cake, if not necessarily a densely-fruited one.
The Little Mouse - who made itself a house in a Christmas cake
This, richer, receipt from 1867 adds almonds, wine and brandy...
Original Receipt from 'The Young Englishwoman' of 1867
Christmas Cake Wash one pound and a quarter of butter in water, beat it to a cream, beat ten eggs yolks and whites separately half an hour each have ready a pound and a quarter of flour well dried and kept hot also three quarters of a pound of sugar, half an ounce of pounded mixed spice, a pound and a half of currants washed picked and dried, a quarter of a pound of almonds blanched and sliced, and four ounces of candied peel, also sliced. Mix all these and keep them by the fire. Strain the eggs and mix them with the butter, add to them a teacupful of sweet wine and a wineglassful of brandy. Then add the dry ingredients by degrees and a quarter of a pound of chopped raisins. Beat all together for a full hour. Butter a piece of white paper and line the moulds with it and fill them about three parts full. Bake in a quick oven two hours
Decorated Christmas Cakes on board HMS King George V, 1943
Image: Royal Navy Photographer http://www.iwm.org.uk/
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