The History of Christmas Cakes
Explore some of the history behind the traditional Christmas Cake
We all have our own traditions when it comes to Christmas, from who’s house we spend it at, to doing things like secret Santa each year, and if there are games you just HAVE to play every year. Perhaps you have a film you put on every year, or go somewhere special. Whatever your tradition they seem to be the finishing touches that really make it feel like Christmas for us.
In other areas you may not have traditions, and think, maybe we should start one. What about Christmas cake traditions? Do you have a tradition you do with your Christmas cakes? Whether you do or you don’t you might be interested to know about some of the traditions that have been passed down when it comes to these cakes.
The History of Christmas Cakes
Let’s start by going back to the 16th Century when the Christmas cake first appeared. The original Christmas cake was a plum pudding, which was a porridge really, and because the lead-up to Christmas used to be a fasting period, the porridge would line their stomachs before the big day. It wasn’t until later on that it developed into a cake, as richer families had ovens to bake in.
You may wonder, what’s the difference between a fruit cake and a Christmas cake? Well traditionally Christmas cakes are a labour of love, there is a feeding process with the Christmas cake which gives it a richer flavour. The longer you feed the cake, the better it is, it is the motto. A lot of people who make their own Christmas cakes start the process around 6 months before the big day. Some even have a tradition where each member of the family gets to stir the Christmas cake mix in the lead-up to Christmas before it gets baked.
Once baked the Christmas cake usually has a layer of marzipan placed on top, and then there can be a disc of fondant, or it can be fully covered in fondant. It can be decorated however you want really; you could go down the traditional route with marzipan or fondant holly. Or you might want to use royal icing for decorating, or you could use food-safe figurines like Father Christmas or Rudolph, and create a whole Christmas 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 in Whiskey as opposed to brandy. It is often a plain fruit cake as opposed to being decorated with icing and 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 less common tradition. 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 started 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. This meant that the 12 Days of Christmas became less important, and big celebrations were concentrated on Christmas Day, and the Twelfth Night cakes became Christmas Cakes.
Christmas Cake Traditions
Ah the Christmas Cake – when we think about a traditional Christmas cake, we most likely think about a fruit cake with a marzipan layer covered in icing, as we’ve described above. It is one of those Christmas treats that can divide opinion, you either love it or you don’t. But there are actually more options than you think when it comes to Christmas cakes. If we take a tour around the world, a lot of countries have their own traditional Christmas Cakes.
In France (and Quebec, Canada) the traditional Christmas cake of choice is a Buche de Noel, or as we would most commonly know it by – the Yule Log. We all are likely to be familiar with the Yule log, the chocolate Swiss roll cake covered in a chocolate buttercream of sorts to create the illusion of a wooden log. Like many Christmas traditions, this actually comes from pagan traditions. On Christmas Eve, in medieval France, families would place a wooden log in the hearth – this was in the hope that it would bring in a robust harvest in the new year to come. They would then sprinkle things like holy water, salt, or wine on to the log before lighting it, and they would leave it to burn for at least three days.
More recently the wooden log was replaced with a cake that was decorated to look like such, and quite often extras were added to the log, such as meringue mushrooms and marzipan leaves to make it appear like it has come from a forest. And many more versions of the yule log cake have developed over time around the world.
Allahabadi Cake is the winter cake of choice in India. This cake actually shares some common history with a traditional English Christmas cake. Much like an English Christmas cake, it incorporates dried fruit soaked in alcohol (traditionally rum). However, there are some key differences, for instance instead of using butter as we know it, quite often home-made ghee (clarified butter - removing the water and milk) is used and spices such as ginger, nutmeg, fennel seeds, and mace are also added to create a flavourful fruit cake eaten around the Yuletide season. There is also a marmalade added to the cake, alongside candied fruit.
Stollen – it's becoming more available in the UK with many artisan bakers opting to offer this Christmas delight. This German Christmas cake is packed full of spices, almonds, currants and raisins, as well as candied citrus fruit peels. The dough is lovely and buttery and is brushed with butter and finished with a dusting of icing sugar. Some might say it is more like a fruit bread than a cake, but this indulgent delight full of richness puts a smile on many a face each year.
In Italy, the traditional desert of the festive period is a Panettone. A traditional Panettone is a fluffy bread pastry, filled with dried fruit, and it dates back to 1470, however it may date back even further. Although originally Panettone was actually a flattish bread, not the large structures we know it can be today. A lot of us like one of these yummy desserts around Christmas, with variations now available to suit everyone including plain and chocolate options now available.
Australia and New Zealand
Did you know, Christmas actually falls during Australian and New Zealand Summertime? That’s why quite often Christmas celebrations in the southern hemisphere involve BBQs and beach parties. Needless to say, they don’t particularly fancy a heavy, spiced fruit cake at this time of year. So, instead, they opt for a summer approach to Christmas day dessert, often celebrating with a fruit pavlova instead.
We found it very fascinating to explore all of the various traditional Christmas cakes from across the world. There are lots of others out there, so maybe you might want to try an alternative cake from somewhere else this year or next.
Gluten-Free Christmas Cakes
At Sponge we appreciate that having to follow a gluten-free diet is challenging, and can make people feel frustrated and excluded, especially at Christmas with its big focus on food. We are always trying our hardest to provide as many gluten-free alternatives as possible, for everyone to enjoy. If you, a friend, or a family member is gluten-free and coming over for Christmas, then make sure that you order one of our delicious gluten-free cakes to make them happy. You will not be able to tell that it is gluten-free and can be enjoyed by everyone.
Gluten-Free Spiced Orange and Cranberry - Make sure that you check out this festive gluten-free flavour, our delicious Spiced Orange and Cranberry cake. Orange-flavoured sponge with delightful and juicy cranberries within! Full of festive flavour and completely gluten-free to be enjoyed by all this Christmas. For adults, and children this Christmas it will help spread joy and make them feel included!
Gluten-Free Mince Pie – A gluten-free sponge with fruity mincemeat baked into it, along with mixed spice and brown sugar. It's sandwiched together with white-as-snow vanilla buttercream and topped with more vanilla buttercream and a festive crumble. Enjoy a wedge with a Christmas tipple or a cup of tea over the festive season!
Whether you like traditional Christmas cake or are looking for something a bit more to your taste this year, you’ll be pleased to know that we have lots of great options that are available for delivery all over the UK. This year we have a traditional Christmas cake on offer, and there are some other fruity numbers and some not-so-fruity options, so there is something for everyone in our Christmas cake range. We’re sure you’ll find the perfect one for the whole family to enjoy on Christmas day!
We’ll be delivering our Christmas Cakes, all over the UK as well. Delivery will be available up to the 22nd of December 2023; however, we do advise you to pick a delivery date a few days before Christmas to allow for any unforeseen delivery delays! Don’t worry, your cakes will still be delicious on Christmas day as they have a 7-10 day life span (depending on the flavour), from the date of dispatch.
Christmas Cakes for the Office
Is your workplace in the swing of the festivities yet? We all have that person in our office that had the decorations out on the 1st of December making it feel a bit more Christmassy while we get on with our day-to-day tasks. Perhaps they are subjecting everyone to Christmas songs all day every day. And maybe you all love it!
It’s at this time of year that a lot of us reflect on what has happened over the last 12 months, whether there were bad points or good points. And to celebrate our colleagues and employees for all of the hard work they have done for a business and give back to them in a little way to make them feel appreciated.
If you are organising a Christmas do, or just want a tasty treat for the office to enjoy we have a great range of cakes which are perfect for your festive fun! Here are a couple of packages perfect for any office Christmas party:
Office Party Pack
Office Cake Box - Super Sharing Sponge - 14 different flavours on one cake! 16 baby sponges, 15 x Birchall Tea Sachets, 15 x Little Coffee sachets and Napkins.
Office Party Pack - Super Sharing Sponge - 14 different flavours on one cake! 16 baby sponges, 15 x Birchall Tea Sachets, 15 x Little Coffee sachets, Paper party hats, Table sparkles, Party poppers and 12 Balloons.
Christmas Cake Card Corporate
If there are members of your team working from home, you can get them involved too, our Cake Cards are the perfect gift for these occasions. You could even organise a zoom Christmas party with tea and cake delivered directly to your staff.
All you need to do is choose a Christmas card design, write your message inside the card, and add a slice or two of cake inside with some extra goodies.
All of our cakes and treats can be delivered straight to your office or to the homes of your employees across the UK to make your Christmas celebration a bit more magical this year!
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 between the main day and then marking it with a delicious cake sounds like a great idea to us!