Christmas cake is an English tradition that began as plum porridge. People ate the porridge on Christmas Eve, using it to line their stomachs after a day of fasting. Soon dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture, and eventually it turned into Christmas pudding.
In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped hold the mixture together and in what resulted in a boiled plum cake. Richer families that had ovens began making fruit cakes with marzipan, an almond sugar paste, for Easter. For Christmas, they made a similar cake using seasonal dried fruit and spices. The spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men. This cake became known as "Christmas cake."
Christmas cakes are made many different ways, but generally they are variations on classic fruitcake. They can be light, dark, moist, dry, heavy, spongy, leavened, unleavened, etc. They are made in many different shapes, with frosting, glazing, a dusting of confectioner's sugar or plain.
The traditional Scottish Christmas cake, also known as the Whisky Dundee, is very popular. It is a light crumbly cake with currants, raisins, cherries and Scotch whisky. Other types of Christmas cakes include an apple creme cake and a mincemeat cake. The apple creme cake is made with apples, other fruit, raisins, eggs, cream cheese and whipping cream. The mincemeat cake is made with traditional mincemeat or vegetarian mincemeat, flour, eggs, etc. It can also be steamed as a Christmas pudding.
All Christmas cakes are made in advance. Many make them in November, keeping the cake upside down in an airtight container. A small amount of brandy, sherry or whisky is poured into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called "feeding" the cake.
In Japan Christmas cake is a frosted sponge cake with strawberries, chocolates or seasonal fruit. It was an expression that to call women over the age of 25 "Christmas cake," meaning that they are out of season, as the cake is after December 25th. Now the age is raised to 31, linked to toshikoshi-soba, a noodle dish eaten on December 31st.
In the Philippines Christmas cake is a yellow pound cake with nuts or the traditional British fruitcake. Both cakes are soaked in brandy or rum, a palm sugar syrup and water. Rosewater or orange flower water is usually added. The cakes have a long shelf life, usually lasting many months. Sometimes they are eaten the following Easter or Christmas.
If you don't have the time or patience to make a homemade Christmas cake, high-quality store bought Christmas cakes are good options. You can find many different varieties and flavors.