Every December, our daughters look forward to two special cakes: Sachertorte (directions and recipe here), and a creamy, buttery almost-fruity British Christmas cake. I found the original recipe in Tasha Tudor’s holiday book, Take Joy!.
If you’ve never heard of her, Tasha Tudor, who died in 2008 at age 92, was an amazing, quirky artist who loved the clothing styles and living ways of the early 19th century. (She came by that eccentric nature easily, as the daughter of author Thornton Burgess and artist Rosamund Tudor. The family counted many American celebrities as friends, including Ralph Waldo Emerson.)
She lived for many years in New Hampshire, raising four children in a house without running water or electricity. Eventually, Tasha moved to a house in Vermont built by her son, copied from an old New England farm owned by friends. Tudor was best-known for her incredible illustrations for children’s books… although many adults were enchanted by her, too.
Tudor loved Colonial America, so it’s no wonder that a British traditional cake figured in her choice of this cake as a major part of her family’s celebration. (I’ve also noticed it mentioned often in the books of Miss Read, an English novelist whose gossipy countryside “cozies” are a personal favorite.) Technically, with its heavy concentration of dried fruit, orange peel and juice, as well as nuts, this could be considered a ‘white’ fruitcake. The Brits also serve it with a heavy topping of marzipan, then iced over with stiff frosting. I’ve often made it without.that extra sugar..and it was still tasty. They also enjoy decorating it with flowers, edible balls, and that perennial favorite: robins.* (Go here for a helpful “how-to-ice” video.)
Tudor included the preserved ginger and other sticky fruits that appear in a traditional fruitcake. My family does not care for these, so I adapted it to make best use of ‘craisins’ (dried cranberries). You may want to add or substitute raisins, dried cherries or dates, instead.
Whatever you do, make it at least 24 hours — and up to a few weeks — before you serve it. The cake only gets better with time. Slice thinly, and enjoy with a strong cup of tea — God Save the Queen, and Christmas!
Tasha Tudor’s Christmas Cake
- 1 1/2 cups butter (can be cut to 1-1 1/4 cups)
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 8 eggs
- 1 cup chopped almonds, pecans, filberts (your choice)
- 4 tablespoons orange juice (I also grate a bit of the orange rind in)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 5 cups flour (make this 5 heaping cups if you’re cooking at high altitude)
- 1 cup ‘craisins’ (dried cranberries)
- 1 cup halved maraschino cherries
- Optional: package of almond paste (marzipan), rolled thin
- Thick white frosting, decorative goodies
Cream butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing as you go, then the other ingredients, all but the flour. Stir in the flour, a cup at a time. Mixture will be very thick.
Line your pans with foil — I can generally get a 10″ springform pan, plus 3 or 4 little patty pans out of this, but you might prefer two round cake pans or an angel cake-type pan (the kind with a funnel in the middle). You’ll get approx. two round cake pans, or a round (or loaf) pan plus the angel food cake pan. Now ‘glop’ the mixture into the pans, smoothing on top when they’re done. (About half-full)
Bake at 275 degrees for approx. 1- 1 1/2 hours. Cake is done when it’s firm in the middle…test by gently pushing against it, or using a toothpick poked in. (Clean means it’s done.) Let cool in pans, then fold foil over and store in a cold place for at least a day, up to a few weeks. (Tasha does it for months, but I have had these spoil when held that long.)
For a true British sugar rush, fit the marzipan to the cake top, press down and trim. Then frost with heavy white frosting, and decorate with your favorite motifs.
Makes one good-sized cake, approx. 12 servings — plus a second one for a friend, or your freezer. Intensely rich and memorable.
An even easier way: order your Christmas cake or plum pudding from the English Cousins! Their recipes are based on c.1910 versions from their grandmother.