Category Archives: Food

Tasty Tuesday Repeat: Christmas Cake

As it is the festive season and I’m feeling a bit tired and unoriginal, I’m giving you, dear readers, a repeat post from 2011. The Mysteries of Christmas Cake–Unveiled (Sort of). Enjoy!

*  *  *

Ah, the Christmas cake, or “fruitcake” as it is fondly (and not so fondly) known. In the UK, they call it “rich” fruitcake, though the reason escapes me a bit–I think it’s because there is more dried fruit in it than in a “regular” fruitcake.

Now in the States, we abhor the fruitcake. We love to hate it, don’t we? I’ve never tried an American fruitcake and I don’t believe I ever will–all those green and red and orange candied fruits look, well, pretty gross. This is one thing British fruitcake has going for it–none of that scary stuff. But I have to say, it’s scary in its own right. My husband made the Christmas cake this year, a bit late (he waited until November when ideally it would’ve been done in early- to mid-June).

Here’s what the batter looked like pre-baking:

The blue paper is wrapped around the outer edge of the pan to keep it from burning. In Simon’s family, it’s traditional to use this particular blue paper (it’s actually a bag from the pharmacist saved year-after-year for the purpose, don’t ask me why). The paper is tied on with a string, also saved from year-to-year, and the batter must be stirred by the children of the family so they can make a wish and for good luck. (Perhaps they wish for a good excuse to not eat the Christmas cake.)

After all that, the cake is baked for a good four or five hours (the thing is enormous) and then set aside to cool and be iced with marzipan and tucked away for Christmas Day. I’ll post a photo of the end result here in a bit.

So what goes in a Christmas cake, exactly? Here’s a recipe that would have been used in large manor houses round about 1845:

  • 2 lb. mixed fruit (dried)
  • generous 1.5 lb. flour and butter
  • scant 1/2 lb. peel (lemon and orange)
  • 10 eggs
  • 1/2 lb. treacle

Cream the butter and whisk the eggs. Add flour and eggs to the butter and mix well until a stiff batter is formed. Add in the fruit and treacle. Mix the cake by hand (it will burn out a modern electric mixer). Turn it into a well-greased 9-inch tin and bake in a moderate oven (140 degrees Celsius/280 Fahrenheit) for about 5-6 hours. Wrap the tin in several layers of paper to stop the edges of the cake from burning.

Anyone want to give it a try and let me know how it turns out? We bought rolls of prepared marzipan to lay over the finished cake; for a view of what a finished product might look like, check here (ours looks nothing like these).

For a really large cake, the recipe recommends 10 lbs. of fruit, 8 lbs. of flour, 8 lbs. of butter, 2 lbs. of candied peel, about 50 eggs, and a little treacle. (If you make that one, do let me know. And send pictures.)

Tasty Tuesdays on

Tasty Tuesdays

In an effort to liven up my blog–and because, quite frankly, I need to interact with other human beings, even if it is virtually–I’m linking up with a blogging group called BritMums. One of the lovely ladies who is part of the group sponsors a “link up” every Tuesday called, you guessed it, Tasty Tuesdays. Plus, I thought joining in would allow me to introduce some of my non-British readers to the delights of British food–and really, there is a lot of good British food!

The British have a reputation for boiling everything to death (cabbage, potatoes, meat). I think this is a relic of the post-war days when any food you were able to lay your hands on wasn’t the freshest or best. Yes, some of that boiling still happens, but they’ve come a long way.

For my debut recipe, I’ve chosen Toad in the Hole. I made it last week for the very first time ever, after having eaten it only once in my life, and fortunately, it came out well and my whole family enjoyed it. Don’t be scared by the name: it’s sausages in a kind of pancake-y batter (technically a Yorkshire pudding batter), baked in the oven. The American in me did say that it would probably be yummy with maple syrup as a breakfast casserole, though I expect many Brits would say that’s blasphemy and it should only be served with an onion gravy, mashed or roast potatoes, and other roast vegetables. Either way, it’s a nice comforting meal for a cold winter evening.

Why the name Toad in the Hole? The recipe dates back to about the mid-18th century, and with time, the reason for the name of the dish has become a bit of a mystery. Some say it’s because the sausages look a bit like toads peeping out of a hole once the dish is cooked, Another story says that the dish was invented in Alnmouth, Northumberland, to mark a golf tournament when a toad peeped its head out of one of the holes on the golf course, dislodging the star player’s golf ball and causing much merriment. For generations the dish was reviled by the upper classes as “common” but is now a favorite among the whole of England. During the war years, the batter was the perfect base to disguise tougher cuts of meat, and even, (I shudder to think) that cheap meat substitute, Spam.

Toad in the Hole

For the Yorkshire Pudding

3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 Tablespoon water
2 eggs

1. Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the milk and water gradually, beating with a wooden spoon.

2. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy. Add them to the flour mixture. Beat until bubbles rise to the surface. Pour the batter into a pitcher and refrigerate it for 1/2 hour.*

*Recipes vary on this last bit. Some will say to let it stand for 30 minutes, I did refrigerate mine but only for about 10 minutes, as we were getting hungry.

For the “Toad”

1. Brown 1 pound small sausages (breakfast-type) in a frying pan* until they are crisp and well browned. Drain most of the fat but keep enough to cover the bottom of a good-sized, preheated ovenproof dish.

2. Make sure the fat is very hot, then put the sausages in the dish and pour on the batter.

3. Bake for 10 minutes at 450°F. Reduce the heat to 350°F and cook for another 15 minutes to make sure the batter is well risen and has turned golden brown.

*I’ve also seen recipes that will tell you to cook the sausages in the oven on a high heat first, for about 10 minutes, then pour the batter over. I suppose the advantage to this is one less pan to clean up.




I am not a food photographer, nor do I play one on TV.


Tasty Tuesdays on