Christmas Cake Tray Bake

Here’s a wonderful twist on the traditional Christmas Cake. Make it instead or in addition to your usual one. I made mine to share with work colleagues. It’s cram-packed with booze-laden fruit, as any great Christmas Cake should be, but it bakes in half the time and doesn’t need you to feed it alcohol for weeks on end. (But you can if you want to. Personally, I’d sooner just eat the cake then drink the alcohol.)

Makes: 16 – 20 pieces, depending how big or small you want them.

Time: 10 minutes the night before.  On the day: 80 – 90 minutes for the cake + cooling. Timing for the decorating option is less definite, depends how organised, dexterous and patient you are. (That’s why it took me quite a while, but it was good fun.)

Level: Fairly easy for the actual cake, but the decorating option provides an interesting challenge, as mentioned above.

Equipment: A 30cm x 20cm / 12” x 8” tray bake tin with reasonably deep sides. Some Christmas style cutters (stars, bells, robins etcetera) for the decorating option.

Ingredients for the Cake (Tray bake)

  • 200g/7oz dried apricots
  • 200g/7oz glace cherries
  • 400g/14oz other dried fruit (select from: raisins, sultanas, currants, prunes etc.)
  • 50g/1.75oz dried peel
  • ½ an orange – zest and juice
  • At least 125ml/4fl oz alcohol (Select from: brandy, cherry brandy, sherry, port etc.)
  • 175g/6oz butter, softened
  • 175g/6oz light brown soft sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract (Omit if you want it less almondy.)
  • 175g/6oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger*
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon*
  • 1 tsp ground cloves*
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg*
  • 1 tsp mixed spice*
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp milk (if needed)

(*Don’t worry if there’s one spice you don’t have, just put in as many as you can.)

Ingredients for the optional decorative topping

  • Icing sugar to dust the work surface
  • About 500g/1lb 2oz marzipan
  • Red & Green food dyes
  • A small amount of apricot jam, warmed with a tsp water (or brandy – why not?)
  • 1 egg

Method

1. The night before baking (or even earlier, if possible): Put all the dried fruit, peel, orange zest and juice in a bowl and pour in the alcohol. Cover and leave, but stir frequently prior to baking.  

2. On the day: Preheat the oven to 160C / Fan 140C / 325F / Gas 3. Grease the baking tray and line* with baking parchment. (*I double lined it, not sure if it’s essential, but I thought it worthwhile.)    

3. In a large bowl, and using an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar. Mix in all the other ingredients except the flour, spices and salt. Beat in the eggs one-by-one, with a tsp of flour each time to avoid the mixture splitting. Stir in any flavouring extracts you’ve decided to use.

4. Fold in the flour, spices and salt. Mix in the macerated fruit. Stir in a little milk if the mixture seems very dense. Mix gently just until no flour is showing. Avoid overmixing.

5. Spoon the mixture into the tin, level the top and give the tray a few bangs on your work surface to settle the mixture and release any trapped air.  

6. Bake for 55 – 65 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

Optional decorative topping suggestion.

The following option is my suggestion. It doesn’t include icing. Please feel free to omit the decorative stars or similar embellishments and add the traditional layer of white icing instead. (A 500g packet of “ready-to-roll should provide more than enough.) Personally, I don’t like the stuff, but I love marzipan, so that’s what I’ve gone for here.

7. Heat the oven up to 200C / 180fan / 400F / Gas 6.

8. Measure the surface of your baked cake. Dust a suitable surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan then cut a piece to fit the cake. (You’re only going to cover the top, not the sides.)

9. Set the slab on a board and brush the upper surface with warmed apricot jam. Set the cut marzipan on top. Gently rub and smooth from the centre outwards then trim the sides if necessary.

10. Use the remaining marzipan to cut decorative shapes and attach these to the cake using more apricot jam. Knead in a small amount of each food dye if you want to colour your decorations. (I recommend wearing surgical style gloves. I didn’t and still have red and green fingers.) 

11. Brush beaten egg over the whole marzipan surface then bake for 5 – 10 minutes. Check at 5 minutes in case it’s starting to burn. (Alternatively, use a cook’s torch.)

12. Set aside on a wire rack or leave in a cool place until ready to cut into pieces.

I hope you make this and enjoy the process, and also enjoy eating it. In the mean time I’d like to wish you a very happy, safe and wonderful Christmas. May God bless you in the year ahead too.

For more Christmas recipes and ideas have a look at these below; I’d love you to give them a try. In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and may God bless you in the coming year.

Christmas Chocolate Barks

Cherry and Almond Christmas Cake

Christmas Scones

Finally, If you want to print the recipe without all the pictures above, here’s a plain version to simply copy, paste and print.

For the tray bake itself

  • 200g dried apricots
  • 200g glace cherries
  • 400g other dried fruit (select from: raisins, sultanas, currants, prunes etc.)
  • 50g dried peel
  • ½ an orange – zest and juice
  • About 125ml alcohol (Select from: brandy, cherry brandy, sherry, port etc.)
  • 175g/6oz butter, softened
  • 175g/6oz light brown soft sugar or demerara
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 175g/6oz plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger*
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon*
  • 1 tsp ground cloves*
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg*
  • 1 tsp mixed spice*
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp milk (if needed)

(*Don’t worry if there’s one you don’t have, just put in as many as you have.)

Ingredients for the optional decorative topping

  • A small amount of apricot jam, warmed
  • Icing sugar to dust
  • About 500g/1ib 2oz marzipan
  • Red & Green food dyes
  • 1 egg

Method

1. The night before baking (or even earlier, if possible) Put all the dried fruit, peel, orange zest and juice in a bowl and pour in the alcohol. Cover and leave, but stir frequently prior to baking.  

2. On the day: Preheat the oven to 160C / Fan 140C / 325F / Gas 3. Grease the baking tray and line* with baking parchment. (*I double lined it, not sure if it’s essential, but I thought it worthwhile.)    

3. In a large bowl, and using an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar. Mix in all the other ingredients except the flour, spices and salt. (Beat in the eggs one-by-one with a tsp of flour each time to avoid the mixture splitting.

4. Fold in the flour, spices and salt. Mix in the macerated fruit. Stir in a little milk if the mixture seems very dense. Mix gently just until no flour is showing. Avoid overmixing.

5. Spoon the mixture into the tin, level the top and give the tray a few bangs on your work surface to settle the mixture and release any trapped air.  

6. Bake for 55 – 65 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool.  

Decorating option

The following option is my suggestion. It doesn’t include icing. Please feel free to omit the decorative stars and add the traditional layer of white icing. (A 500g packet of “ready-to-roll should provide more than enough.) Personally, I don’t like the stuff, but I love marzipan, so that’s what I’ve gone for here.

7. Heat the oven up to 200C / 180fan / 400F / Gas 6.

8. Measure the surface of your baked cake. Dust a suitable surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan then cut a piece to fit the cake. (You’re only going to cover the top, not the sides.)

9. Set the slab on a board and brush the upper surface with warmed apricot jam. Set the cut marzipan on top. Gently rub and smooth from the centre outwards then trim the sides if necessary.

10. Use the remaining marzipan to cut decorative shapes and attach these to the cake using more apricot jam. Knead in a small amount of each food dye if you want to colour your decorations. (I recommend wearing surgical style gloves. I didn’t and still have red and green fingers.) 

11. Brush beaten egg over the whole marzipan surface then bake for 5 – 10 minutes. Check at 5 minutes in case it’s starting to burn. (Alternatively, use a cook’s torch.)

12. Set aside on a wire rack or leave in a cool place until ready to cut into pieces.