Classic Victorian Christmas cake


175g (6 oz) raisins
350g (12 oz) glacé cherries, rinsed, thoroughly dried and quartered
500g (1 lb 2 oz) currants
350g (12 oz) sultanas
150ml (¼ pint) sherry, plus extra for feeding finely grated zest of 2 oranges
250g (9 oz) butter, softened
250g (9 oz) light muscovado sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon black treacle
75g (3 oz) blanched almonds, chopped
75g (3 oz) self-raising flour
175g (6 oz) plain flour
1½ teaspoons mixed spice

To finish and decorate
about 3 tablespoons apricot jam, sieved and warmed icing sugar
1kg ready made marzipan
1kg ready made royal icing

Classic Victorian Christmas cake


Remember to allow 3 days for marinating the fruit in sherry. This is essential to plump up and flavour the fruit. If you cut the soaking time, there will be surplus liquid which will alter the texture of the cake. (If you don’t want to use alcohol, you could use the same quantity of orange juice.) You should make this cake at least 3 weeks ahead of Christmas, for if eaten too early it is crumbly. Decorate as you wish with ribbon, animals or stars. This is not a very deep cake.



Grease and line a 23cm (9 in) deep round tin with a double layer of greased greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 140ºC/Fan 120ºC/Gas 1.

  1. Put all the dried fruit in a container, pour over the sherry and stir in the orange zest. Cover with a lid, and leave to soak for 3 days, stirring daily.

  2. Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and almonds into a very large bowl and beat well. Add the flours and mixed spice and mix thoroughly until blended. Stir in the soaked fruit. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.

  3. Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 4–4½ hours or until the cake feels firm to the touch and is a rich golden brown. Check after 2 hours, and, if the cake is a perfect colour, cover with foil. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.

  4. When cool, pierce the cake at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little extra sherry. Wrap the completely cold cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper and again in foil and store in a cool place for up to 3 months, feeding at intervals with more sherry. (Don’t remove the lining paper when storing as this helps to keep the cake moist.)

  5. Decorate with marzipan and royal icing.


I always cook my Christmas cake in the Aga, mixing it a day ahead, then baking it the next day. I put it in the Simmering Oven first thing in the morning, then watch it during the day. Cook on the grid shelf on the floor of the Simmering Oven for 5–15 hours. Simmering Ovens do vary a great deal, hence the time difference. If your Aga is old and the Simmering Oven exceedingly cool, start the cake off in the Roasting Oven on the grid shelf on the floor with the cold plain shelf above on the second set of runners. Allow to become pale golden, then carefully transfer to the Simmering Oven to bake until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the centre.


Prepare the fruit and soak in sherry 3 days ahead. Make the cake and wrap as in step 4. Store in a cool place for up to 3 months, following step 4. You could also freeze the cake before decorating, for up to 3 months; defrost at room temperature.


Instead of covering with marzipan and royal icing, you could simply brush sieved warmed apricot jam over the top of the cake, then arrange glacé fruits and nuts over the jam. Brush again with jam.


This recipe is taken from: Mary Berry's Family Sunday Lunches

Photography by Georgia Glynn Smith