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The History of Christmas Cakes

Explore some of the history behind the traditional Christmas Cake

Christmas is possibly the most magical time of year, and on Christmas day, after our meal (once we have a little bit of room again), a lot of us enjoy a slice of Christmas cake. But, how much do we really know about the festive pudding? Well, we wanted to know more, so we have had a look around and pulled together some interesting facts about the humble Christmas cake.

Christmas cakes are delicious cakes which incorporate dried fruit that has been soaked in alcohol such as brandy (brandy is the traditional alcohol of choice although some prefer rum). On top of the baked fruit cake, a disc of marzipan is added and then the whole cake is usually covered in a fondant royal icing, and decorations are added to make a winter wonderland scene.

In Scotland, the “Whiskey Dundee” is the cake of choice – also known as Dundee Cake. The key difference is that the fruit is soaked Whiskey as opposed to brandy. And it is often a plain fruit cake as opposed to being decorated with icing ad marzipan.

A tradition that is sometimes still done (but less frequently now) is hiding a coin in the Christmas Cake. More often it is hidden in a traditional Christmas pudding instead, however, again, this is a tradition which is less common. The coins are usually added for good luck, whoever has the fortune of finding the coin is said to have good luck in the year to come. The coins are usually silver, and traditionally would have been a sixpence, which was sometimes wrapped in greaseproof paper packages.

The Christmas Cake originally was called the Twelfth Cake, and would have more traditionally been served at parties on the Twelfth Night ending the 12 days of Christmas on the 5th of January. And these cakes actually started out as enriched fruit cakes, something more akin to an Italian Panettone.

A reason that we no longer celebrate the Twelfth Night is because during the Industrial revolution time off work was limited, and more people had to start working again directly after Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Which meant that the 12 Days of Christmas became less important, and big celebrations were concentrated to Christmas Day, and thus the Twelfth Night cakes became Christmas Cakes.

There are lots of variations to what the British know as a Christmas Cake, and there might be one or two you weren’t aware of. We’ve explored some of the wonderful Christmas treats from around the world in our Christmas Cake Traditions blog.

We loved finding out some of the history of Christmas cakes this year, it makes us wonder if some of these traditions should be brought back to celebrate a bit more of the history surrounding the festive period. The Twelfth Night celebrations sound like a good idea, we think we are all a bit guilty of overindulging on Christmas day, so leaving sometime. the main day and then marking it with a delicious cake sounds like a great idea to us!