The BEST Christmas cake in the history of the Universe (and the EASIEST)
Can be adapted for any kind of special diet (except raw) and nobody will even know it’s “special”.
For anybody who thinks I may be overstating its appeal, I have two words - “Nigella” and “Lawson”. I saw her make the original on her Xmas show nearly ten years ago, and I’ve been making versions of it ever since. Although I’ve made a gazillion changes to the original recipe, it is still moist and delicious, and I like to think it still has her spirit of largesse and joy. If you don’t need to be so careful in what you eat, here’s a link to the original recipe though I have to say it seems a little different than I remember.
But this version is for my dear fellow Steemians who are Paleo, are repairing their gut, have autoimmune issues or food allergies or just want to eat more healthily. It can be made free of gluten, starch, dairy and/or eggs. So although it’s not raw, it can be adapted to be vegan as well.
It’s a beautiful dark cake, and because it's a boiled cake, you don't need to mature it for a month. If you use the version with brandy or rum, and store in the bottom of the fridge for a month, it will improve with maturing, but it can be eaten the same day, and still be delicious.
I’m posting this right at the start of December in case you do want to mature it, or in case you want to make smaller ones for gifts, as I do.
The first part of my forward planning is to have a think about who I want to give cakes to, what functions I might be going to, and what the family are doing for Christmas. Then I look at what dates I need them to be made by. This happened towards the end of November.
So, this year, I know that I want my first cakes to be made for two get togethers on Friday, the 2nd. Yes, the sad fact is, I have only two Xmas functions to go to this year and they’re on the same night! So I bought my supplies and planned to make the first batch on Thursday (today), and take some extra photos.
If you are going to make gift cakes in smaller sizes, you may want to cut your brown paper and baking paper tray liners a bit ahead. I also start prepping the fruit the day before, if I can.
Notes on the different flour options
The original recipe uses plain flour, and no ground almonds (maybe because it has chestnut puree in it).
The gluten free option I’ve made before:
• 1 cup ground almonds
• 1/2 cup white rice flour
• 1/2 cup arrowroot
• 2 tsp pectin, guar gum or xanthan gum (optional)
But 1 cup of your preferred GF flour or blend, instead of the rice flour / arrowroot blend should be just fine.
If you need to be starch free:
• Replace the white rice flour and arrowroot with 1/2 cup coconut flour (total – not each - it soaks up more liquid than other flours, so less is needed)
If you need to be nut free:
• Choose one of the above options and double your flour, and all will be well.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”. Sorry, a minor digression as I’m reminded of a song we’ve done in choir.
It’s a very forgiving recipe, so you may be able to substitute other favourite flours. One year, when @sift666 wasn’t eating nuts, I used carob and arrowroot. It was rather different, but still worked.
Notes on the fruit
This is the most time consuming part of the process, so put on your favourite music, or get the family to help.
A single mix requires about 900gms of dried fruit. Now, you can just buy a packet of pre mixed dried fruit, designed for Christmas cakes, and “all shall be well”. But I like to make up my own mix. It might be: 250g raisins, 250g sultanas, 150g prunes, 150g figs, 100g currants. Or it might be 300g raisins, 300gm sultanas, 150gm dried apricots, 150g dried pineapple. Sometimes it’s whatever I have in the cupboard. By choosing different fruits, you can subtly change the flavour.
If you liked glace cherries or candied peel, feel free to add them into the mix.
I’m rather fussy about my dried fruit. To me, biting on a stalk ruins the whole experience of the soft, moist cake. So I mix up my raisins, sultanas and currants first, in a very large bowl. I stir it round and turn it over, possibly somewhat obsessively, looking for stalks. When I can stir and turn three or four times with no stalks appearing, I call it done.
Then I chop up the remaining fruit and stir it in. I use kitchen scissors for this bit; easier than a knife.
That’s actually a very small amount of stalk. Maybe I wasn’t obsessive enough!
• 1/2 cup water
• 1/4 cup brandy, rum or extra water
• Juice of one orange
• Rind of the orange, plus rind of a lemon, finely grated
• 170g butter or coconut oil
• Up to 1 cup rapadura, muscavado, other unrefined sugar or natural sweetener (optional; to me it’s sweet enough without)
• 2 tsp mixed spice & 1 tsp ginger
• Your chosen dried fruit
• Your chosen flour mix
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 3 large or 4 small eggs
Prepare your fruit. Take a large pan, and melt together the water, brandy, orange juice, citrus rinds, butter or coconut oil, optional sugar and spices.
Add the fruit to the pan & simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, till the fruit has soaked up all the liquid. There may be some of the fat not soaked in, and that’s ok. Leave to stand for 30 minutes, stirring periodically, while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
The full recipe fills a 8” x 8” (20cm x 20cm) square tin. Line the tin with a double layer of brown paper, which comes up to about double the height of the tin. Then line with a double layer of baking paper.
Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and mix well. Beat up the eggs in a medium sized bowl.
When the fruit mix has cooled to lukewarm, stir the beaten egg through. Then mix in the dry ingredients. The mixture should be a thick batter and quite hard to stir. If it's too runny, add a little more flour.
Spoon the mixture into the pan, press it down firmly and bake at 150C for 1.75 to 2 hours.
Use the usual skewer test, or listen - when it stops sizzling, it's ready. Cool completely before removing from tin. Wrap in some baking or greaseproof paper, then in a teatowel and store in the bottom of the fridge. It’s easiest to cut when it’s cold, straight out of the fridge, then nicest to eat at room temperature (if you can wait that long).
Other variations for special dietary needs
To make a cake that is compatible with the SCD, GAPS or other starch and sugar free diets, make the following adjustments:
• Choose the coconut flour option
• Replace the brandy with water
• Omit the sugar. (Or stir in a little honey after the fruit has finished simmering, if you must.)
• If you’re being very strict, you can omit the baking soda, but for most people that small amount is ok
For dairy free, egg free or vegan:
• The coconut oil option works fine for dairy free
• If you need to leave out the eggs, it will still work, it will just be a bit heavier and more crumbly. But when it first comes out of the fridge, it will be quite firm, due to the coconut oil. So that’s the best time to cut it without breaking it.
• Or if you regularly cook egg free, fell free to use your usual egg replacer. I think either a flax egg or a gelatin egg replacer would work fine. One day I’ll test those.
Different shapes and sizes
You may have noticed that the amounts in the photos look rather large. That’s because I was making a double mixture, to make a variety of gift sizes. Out of a double mixture, I typically get something like:
• 24 mini muffins – these bite sized morsels get taken to the arthritis exercise classes I teach, on the last day of term. These take about 30 to 35 minutes to cook.
• 6 stars – these serve 5 or 6 people and look very festive. They are for people who have helped us out during the year, like our courier, @sift666’s chiropractor or my homeopath. Some people get just a cake, others get a basket of goodies with the cake taking centre stage. Stars take about 50 minutes to an hour to cook.
• 2 small round cakes or mini loaves – these might go in a basket that’s for a group of people, or they’re great as a small cake for a family member who lives alone. These take about 1 to 1.25 hours to cook. One will also go with me to my kinesiology network Xmas function tomorrow!
• 1 medium sized loaf – this will be cut up and put out during Xmas week, for people who come to our house to pick up their raw milk or CSA vegetables. These cook for 1.25 to 1.5 hours.
• If there’s any left over mixture, I’ll make a few standard sized muffins, which take about 45 minutes to cook.
For Xmas Day with my family, it will either be a medium loaf or a variety of shapes and sizes. That might depend on how many batches I make, and what we have spare.
This year I’m planning to make two double batches. So there will be some spare that will go into the freezer, so we have treats available all through the Xmas holidays - but not in the fridge where we’ll scoff them down too quickly!
There have been a lot of beggars and homeless people on the main street of our suburb recently, so some of the spares may find their way down there. There is one young woman who I know has children, so I would especially like to give her one.
As the smaller ones have less cooking time, you don’t need to be as particular about double brown papering the tins. But I still cut a brown paper liner and a baking paper liner for each tin.
• I don't usually bother with marzipan and icing. If they are already a decorative shape, they are festive looking enough. I wrap them in a cellophane and tissue paper and tie with a ribbon.
• The mini muffins that I take to class will be in coloured paper cups, so already look festive.
• When I've made a square or loaf shaped cake for Xmas with my (standard NZ diet) family, they often insist on icing. I usually just buy standard marzipan and royal icing from the supermarket - it's only one day of the year, after all.
• Or I've used pre-made cake decorations made from hard icing, which are very cute.
Marzipan / almond icing recipes:
• If you prefer to make your own almond icing, there's a recipe here. Still full of sugar, but at least you know there's no other dodgy stuff in there.
• If your family are on special diets, and are hankering for marzipan icing, here’s a recipe for honey marzipan from the Paleo Mom.
• Here is a version made with maple syrup and no egg whites. I've tried this one - it's easy, and suitable for vegan, WAPF & Paleo diets, though not GAPS.
• Or try this coconut marzipan recipe.
Thanks for reading and I hope this is helpful for starting to get into the Xmas spirit.
Versions of this recipe are already on some of my other websites, but this version has been rewritten and has some extra photos taken this week. Photos by @kiwideb or @sift666 unless otherwise stated.
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RECIPES AND KITCHEN TIPS: Choc Blackcurrant Smoothie ~ Paleo Cottage Pie ~ Feijoa Pear Smoothie ~ Grain free, dairy free Pumpkin & Cashew Bread ~ Tip for storing ginger & tumeric ~ Grain Free Banana Cashew muffins ~ Warming winter soup ~ Healthy Chocolate & Fudge ~ Jerky with vegetables ~ Breakfast ideas ~ Choco-mallow protein bars ~ Equipment for the real food kitchen ~ Carrot Almond bread ~ Grain free Fruit & Nut bar ~ Vegetable muffins ~ Finger food for a gathering ~ Real food ideas for snacks and road trips ~ For MORE RECIPES and my 15 step Whole Food cooking course, see my recipe website.