Feeding the Irish Christmas Cake

As December draws near, all over Ireland households are breaking out the whiskey and liberally sprinkling the family’s traditional Christmas Cake.  These cakes are baked 8 to 10 weeks before Christmas, wrapped tightly and  allowed to mature in flavour whilst being kept moist by regular applications of whiskey, which soaks through to the middle and results in a rich and spicy traditional Irish Christmas cake:

Spiced, sweet desserts like this cake have been a part of Irish holiday celebrations for centuries and were highly prized because they included spices and dried fruits that were once difficult and expensive to obtain. The traditional topping for the cake is a layer of whiskey-flavored marzipan followed by Royal Icing.

According to at least one recipe, “the spices and dried fruits in the cake are supposed to represent the exotic eastern spices brought by the three Wise Men to the newborn King.” Regardless of its murky origin, the Irish Christmas Cake is “the traditional pièce de résistance into which every Irish cook sinks her reputation” and as such, every family’s recipe will be slightly different, as evidenced by these three variations. As the Dochara recipe notes, “It is quite a hassle, but it certainly is worth the effort and no Irish Christmas would be complete without ‘the cake’.”

While it’s late in the year to bake your own Irish Christmas Cake for this season’s holidays, a Mason jar with pre-measured candied fruit, nuts, spices and the dry flour and sugar ingredients makes a great gift that’s fun to put together and wonderful for your Irish-loving friends and family to receive. Attach the recipe on a tag or recipe card, and if Santa is feeling generous, you can even provide a bottle of whiskey towards next year’s cake!

Photo credit: Tim Regan

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