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Irish Traditional Christmas Cake

We love a good and moist Irish Christmas Cake and this recipe is one of the first we’ve learnt once landed in Ireland from Italy. It’s such a special dessert Irish people make just for Christmas and we simply love it! If you’re looking to try one of the best cake recipes (almost better than a chocolate cake. Almost), keep reading and take notes!

Every year we spend one full day baking this treat and this is now part of our holiday tradition: we bring it with us when we go back in Italy to celebrate Christmas with our families and friends and it’s always a pleasure to cut it and eat it.

This festive dessert is genuine, full of booze, and if you’re good at decorate with icing the result is even more incredible!

According to the Irish traditions, it should be prepared at least one month before Christmas, left to rest in a wet cloth and fed with more alcohol: the goal is to make sure it will completely soak in alcohol. It is supposed to be decorated with icing on the evening of December 24th, and then brought to the table on Christmas day.

It’s a real feast when you cut it and give it to the people you love: the ones who have never tasted it will be surprised, the ones who have already tasted it will be extremely happy.

Today this traditional festive cake is quite “easy” to prepare because the ingredients are available and a bit more affordable; years ago, it was considered a sort of reward after months and months of work and effort.

We can only imagine how hard it was to find candied fruits and how expensive they were!

Getting a slice really meant that Christmas had arrived, and it was time to eat something different from vegetable soup, bacon, and potatoes. When frugal living was not a thing but a necessity, this dessert really represented something to wait for!

Important thing when baking a fruit cake

There’s something you need to pay attention when baking your fruit cake for the holiday: the temperature of your oven.

The temperature of the oven is in fact the thing that most influences this recipe and varies depending on your oven.

Our oven works perfectly at a temperature of 130°C/266°F but this variable cannot be easily predicted so it’s best to check on the instructions attached to your appliance and take advantage of the past experiences in cooking.

Feeding the Cake

Feeding your “baby” is one of the funniest things to do: it looks easy but it requires quite a lot of concentration. You don’t want to spill the whiskey or break the loaf!

Every time you’ve to feed the cake repeat the following steps:

  • Turn the loaf upside down and pierce it with a thick skewer;
  • Pour about half a teaspoon of whiskey into each hole;
  • Leave it to rest for a few minutes then turn it up.

This process has to be repeated once a week up to Christmas.

Will the dough be soggy or too strong? No, the whiskey will blend with the rest of the ingredients, the fruit will absorb it and the result will be a delicious dessert to be served during the holiday season.

Ingredients for a 18cm/8″ round cake tin

    For the Cake

    • 225 grams all-purpose flour
    • 175 grams butter
    • 175 grams Muscovado sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt

    For the fruit Mix

    • The peel of a lemon
    • The peel of an orange
    • 1 teaspoon powder cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon powder cloves
    • 100 grams almond flour
    • 1 teaspoon powder ginger
    • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 6 tablespoons Irish whiskey
    • 200 grams sultanas
    • 150 grams raisins
    • 100 grams currants
    • 100 grams candied orange and lemon
    • 100 grams chopped almonds

    Instructions

    1. Put the raisins, the sultanas and the currants in a large bowl, add 4 tablespoons of brandy and mix well then cover and let the brandy absorb for 12 hours.
    2. Turn on the oven at 130°C/266°F and line an 18cm/8″ round tin with a double layer of parchment paper.
    3. Pour the flour, the butter at room temperature, the sugar, the eggs, the peel of the lemon and the orange, the mixed spices, the nutmeg and beat until a smooth and creamy mixture is obtained.
    4. Pour the raisins and candied fruits plus almonds and almond flour in the mix and mix well using a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well combined. Your mixture will be extremely sticky at this point.
    5. Transfer the mixture into the pan, leveling the surface and then bake for about 5 hours always at a low temperature (130°C/266°F). The cooking can be checked by using the toothpick test (Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. Pull it out and if it's fully baked, there won’t be any wet batter on it).
    6. Let it cool completely, wet it slightly with whiskey and wrap it well in three sheets of parchment paper. Store the cake in an airtight container, letting it soak in the whiskey and wetting it every 3-4 days with more whiskey so that it stays longer.
    7. If you want to decorate the cake, take some honey and spread it on the surface, then put a marzipan layer first, followed by a layer of white royal icing. Add other Christmas-themed sugar decorations and consume after at least 24 hours after it was decorated by cutting it into slices of the desired size.

    notes

    Preparation time: 16 minutes

    Cooking time: 5 minutes

    Total time: 21 minutes

    More advice for your perfect Irish fruit cake

    • Apparently, the candied peel is hard to get in the USA. You have two choices: leave it out if you like or make your own by following this method (omitting the chocolate cover);
    • If you want a stickier cake, with a browner color, you can add a tablespoon of Golden Syrup to the mix;
    • In fairness, you should use Irish Butter for your Irish Cake. Irish butter is richer and less watery, and this definitely makes a difference in baking this holiday treat;
    • The tin you use for the sweet treat has to be of high quality otherwise the cake won’t cook properly. If you can get one with the loose base, like this, is even better;
    • This cake lasts for months if wrapped and stored properly. Wrap it with greaseproof paper, then wrap this in tinfoil or put into an airtight tin. The only thing to do to make sure the cake will last is feeding constantly it with whiskey.

    Commonly Asked Irish Cake Questions

    When Should I Starting Baking my Fruit Cake?

    Ideally and since this Christmas sweet treat improves in flavour as it sits, we recommend to start as soon as possible. If you’re not the early baker type, give yourself a week in order to get a moist and pleasant fruit cake.

    Can I avoid icing?

    You surely can! The festive feeling would be missed but it will still be good. At the end of the day, it’s not about the look of the food we prepare but the taste and the love.

    Can I bake this fruitcake in a smaller round pan?

    We’ve tested this cake using a round pan of the dimensions stated in the article, but cooking means experimenting so: go for it! Please note that baking times and results will vary if you change the size of the tin.

    Can I add baking soda?

    The traditional batter doesn’t require baking soda: in fact, it’s not a leavened product and it doesn’t have rise higher. The goal is to blend together all the ingredients and then put the batter into a tin capable of holding the shape and of giving the dough the desired heigh. You won’t never get a sunken cake if you don’t add a leavening: by simply putting all the ingredients together they will start getting compact and in the oven they will never shrink. You can, of course, add baking soda to your recipe: there’s no harm in doing it, by not exaggerating. For our doses, you can go for 1/2 teaspoon, no more.

    How can I use the leftovers?

    This dessert lasts for up to 3 months if well stored. To avoid getting bored by it, use it to create delicious and unexpected recipes: a perfect bread and butter pudding or a “tiramisù style” cake can be the solution, but you can opt for something simpler. Why not breaking the cake, put into glasses and cover with whipped cream and/or gelato? Such a simple idea!

    Hope this Christmas recipe becomes a family staple! We cannot wait to cut our festive cake with our family again this year!

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    About the author
    Veruska Anconitano
    Veruska is a food and wine travel journalist awarded as Best Food Travel Journalist. Sommelier, in addition to cooking and traveling, she is often called upon to tell his experience during events and seminars.
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