This gluten free CHRISTMAS CAKE recipe is the BEST. No one would know that it is gluten free and Coeliac safe. Fruity, rich and delightfully boozy, it is exactly as it should be… a REAL Christmas cake.
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How to make the BEST Gluten Free Christmas Cake – a Step by Step Guide
Have you tried making a gluten free Christmas Cake? Are you Coeliac or gluten intolerant and sick of missing out on the annual Christmas fruit cake feast? Well wish no more… This traditional Christmas cake is exactly as it should be… just without the gluten!
This year I’ve decided to share my recipe step by step… I’m making it with you and sharing each stage as it happens…. And this is PART 1… The CAKE.
In later posts, I’ll share my recipe for easy home-made marzipan (which tastes way better than the shop-bought stuff) and then give some thought to decoration as well…
You’ll be surprised just how easy it is to make a proper gluten free Christmas Cake… So read on, grab the shopping list and get ready. This year, you shall join the feast!
The history of Traditional Christmas Cake
To find the origins of the Christmas Cake, you need to head back to the 16th Century. Actually, this British tradition began at that time (around 1573) as ‘plum porridge’… eaten on Christmas Eve at the end of a day of fasting. However, as the 16th Century progressed, the oatmeal from the porridge was removed and replaced with butter, flour and eggs. The new ingredients helped the mixture to hold together and although still boiled (ovens were not common place at that time), a Christmas boiled plum cake was born.
The recipe however continued to evolve and soon, not only was the cake being baked in ovens, but dried fruits, nuts and spices were being added as well. The spices were symbolic of the Christmas gifts brought by the Wise Men… and the cake morphed into ‘Twelfth Night Cake’… At that time saved for the Epiphany.
By the 1830’s (and with a decrease in celebrations of 12th Night), the Christmas Cake started to be eaten on or around Christmas Day… Marzipan and elaborate icings were added by fancy bakers for additional decadence and decoration and the modern-day traditional Christmas Cake was born.
There are in fact now two main types of British Christmas Cake. The classic rich fruit cake (like the one here), with added layers of marzipan and icing. And the Scottish Dundee Cake, which is lighter with less fruit and more sponge, no marzipan or icing and made with whisky.
Whichever you choose, and whether you love or hate fruit cake, the traditional Christmas cake is a part of the British Christmas… and is here to stay.
Is traditional Christmas Cake easy to make?
Let’s be clear… ALL Christmas Cakes (gluten free or not) have a long list of ingredients. And that makes them look like they are complicated to make. But every traditional fruit cake recipe that I have come across is easy to make. They may need careful weighing of ingredients and the specific lining of the tin, but the actual mixing is a doddle. The rest is about patience… Christmas cake needs a slow bake, time to mature and regular ‘feeding’ for moisture and seasonal booziness.
Why choose this gluten free Christmas Cake recipe?
Well… Most importantly, it tastes so good and with a texture to match, that no-one need EVER know it’s gluten free. It can be made dairy free too if you need it to be, with a simple butter for dairy free spread substitute.
Just like all the best Christmas cakes, it is super-moist and packed full of juicy, boozy fruit. But it is also well-balanced for flavour and texture with cake sponge which is neither dry or crumbly and avoids the nasty ricey ‘grit’ that comes with so many gluten free cakes.
And… like all good Christmas Cakes, it can be made well in advance of Christmas, so that it is not only at its best for the main event, but leaves you free to plan lots of other gluten free Christmas Treats.
Not all Traditional Christmas Cakes are equal – Choosing the best ingredients for YOUR cake
Whilst the basic recipe for Christmas Cake remains the same, I am firmly of the view that not all Christmas Cakes are created equal… The fruit will vary considerably from one to another and the texture and flavour will differ dependent on which gluten free flour and sugar is used as well as the choice of booze (or not). So let’s just walk through the options…
What is the best fruit to use in a Christmas Cake?
Christmas Cakes use dried fruit. This is both important to the structure they bring (and moisture once they have been soaked) and to the preservation of the cake. Beyond that however, pretty much anything goes…
Your ‘bog standard’ and old school cakes tend to use currants, sultanas, raisins, cherries and sometimes peel. Occasionally, the tradition is extended to Christmassy cranberries, figs and prunes. But choice of fruit matters… As a child, I avoided Christmas cake like the plague… I later worked out that this was because I hated too many currants and raisins in particular… both of which seemed to be the bulk of the cake.
This gluten free Christmas Cake recipe brings the iconic treat into the 21st Century. Of course, there is nothing to stop you using standard dried fruit only, but why not try something more colourful and altogether exciting? Although I used some of the usual suspects, this cake also throws Morello glacé cherries, blueberries, apricots, crystallised ginger, Iranian pistachios and flaked almonds into the mix. But even the standard fruit has been carefully selected for plumpness and juiciness… Flame raisins and Turkish sultanas are perfect. Oh… and I left out the peel!
Ultimately, this is YOUR Christmas cake however… So be as flexible as you wish and choose whatever you love… Although it’s always good to have some of the traditional fruit fare in there, and the fruit must be dried and weighed to an agreed total, the rest is down to choice. Other optional additions could include everything from dried apple or pineapple to walnuts and pecans.
Whatever you choose, it is important for the fruit to be soaked in either booze or an alternative both to rehydrate and bring moisture to the bake.
Choose your booze… Or alternative.
A traditional gluten free Christmas Cake would normally have booze in it, both for flavour and preservation. But if the kids are going to eat it, then it’s fine to leave it out and soak the fruit in orange or apple juice before it is added to the cake mixture. If using fruit juice, then avoid adding more (‘feeding’) after the cake is baked and do not store for as long before eating.
The alternative to juice is to sub the alcohol with cold brewed tea (without milk obvs…). You can use this to both soak the fruit AND feed the cake as it contains no additional sugar.
As far as choice of alcohol goes, traditional recipes tend to use Brandy, Sherry or Whisky. But as with the fruit, the choice is yours as long as you choose a spirit with a good alcohol content. Favourites at GFHQ include Calvados (apple brandy), Cointreau (or an alternative orange liqueur) and Amaretti (almond liqueur).
The choice of sugar used in a Christmas Cake will particularly affect the flavour depth and colour of the cake. The darker the sugar, the more ‘treacly’ the cake. For this recipe I have used a combination of soft light brown sugar and coconut sugar (for caramel overtones) and a little natural honey too. But feel free to sub the crystals for dark brown sugar and honey for molasses if you want a darker crumb.
Does gluten free flour blend matter?
This is an interesting question and one which partly depends on what you like and what you are used to. I have been particularly struck by the ‘two-camp’ personal texture preference in gluten free bakes, which is possibly dependent on how old people are when diagnosed. I don’t have any scientific evidence for it (maybe I should do some research), but I’ve noticed that people who are diagnosed early and have only known or used rice-based standard gluten free products seem to tolerate and even like gritty dryness more than those of us with a lasting memory of wheat-based bakes.
For this gluten free Christmas Cake recipe, there are no absolutes on flour blend (a supermarket blend, such as Freee by Doves should work fine). Because the recipe uses ground almonds as part of the ingredients, the moisture and structure they bring should counter any obvious drying effect that would normally result from the use of rice-products.
Having said this, I personally used my rice-free home-blended Gluten Free Alchemist Blend B. The protein-rich darker flours offer a greater depth of flavour as well as supporting the body of the cake.
How far in advance should I make gluten free Christmas Cake?
Ideally, traditional Christmas Cake should be made about 2 months before Christmas. This allows plenty of time for the cake to be ‘fed’ with booze or tea and to mature into a perfectly moist and succulent treat. However, anything from a month to two is good.
Be aware however, that if you are making a cake that doesn’t use alcohol, the cake will not store as long (although it will still taste fabulous) and therefore should be made a little closer to the big day (no more than a month).
Either way, be sure to wrap the cake tightly in baking paper and foil once baked and cold and preferably store in an airtight container between ‘feedings’ and until ready to decorate and eat. Stored correctly, it should last at least 3 months.
Can I make this cake dairy free or vegan?
It is absolutely fine to make this cake dairy free, by simply subbing the butter for a good comparable dairy free alternative (like Stork baking block).
The recipe is not Vegan, as it contains both eggs and honey. While it is easy to substitute the honey for treacle or maple syrup, I have not tried making without eggs. As such, I would not recommend it as a vegan recipe and am unable to confirm the result or stability. Although… you are welcome to risk substituting the eggs with any usual alternative you are familiar with for bakes.
What to be aware of if making gluten free Christmas Cake for someone else
Being a sharing cake, it may be that you are making the Christmas Cake gluten free so that someone you know (who is gluten-intolerant) can enjoy it too. That’s absolutely brilliant and they will love you for thinking of them… But what do you need to think about other than not using wheat flour?
- Be absolutely sure ALL the ingredients are gluten free – Use only certified gluten free flours and be aware that gluten is found not just in wheat, but also in barley, rye, spelt, and kamut. It’s wise to avoid oats (even gluten free ones) too, as some Coeliacs are intolerant…
- Check labels to confirm that ALL the ingredients used are gluten free. That includes baking powder which may contain wheat. If a label indicates any gluten ingredient or has a ‘may contain’ warning, do not use in your cake, as it may make your gluten intolerant recipient unwell.
- When making anything for someone who is Coeliac, there are also risks that come from ‘cross-contamination’ in the kitchen… Check out my Guide to Safe Eating & Cross Contamination for more advice.
- Do not leave out the ground Psyllium Husk powder or Xanthan gum (whichever you choose to use). It is a vital ingredient in a gluten free cake that literally helps hold it together. Leave it out and you may end up with a crumbly mess.
What equipment do I need to make a gluten free Christmas Cake?
Although making Christmas Cake is pretty straight forward, there are a couple of bits of kit that you will definitely need.
- An 8 inch (20cm) loose-bottomed tin is a must. – High-sided and (preferably) spring-form. This is a deep, dense cake which needs to be well supported. This is the one I use.
- You’ll need large bowls both for mixing and infusing the fruit and for mixing the bake batter.
- A good set of kitchen scales is also important. Whether making Christmas Cake or any other bake, accuracy is key. I have a set of dual platform digital scales, which are brilliant whether you need larger or tiny measurements.
- Although you could try making the cake without any, I would thoroughly recommend a decent hand whisk. Thoroughly whisking the eggs, sugar and butter together gives extra airiness to the mixture and ensures the ingredients are well-blended. I have a K-Mix hand mixer, but it seems to have been unavailable for months (including on the Kenwood site)… The Dualit seems to be the closest alternative and the reviews seem good.
- Good quality, robust baking parchment. I always use Lakeland Parchment and it has never failed me yet either for strength or non-stickness.
- A good, robust mixing spoon. I love my Zeal silicone spoon… it’s perfect for the job.
Let me know if you make my gluten free traditional Christmas Fruit Cake
Do let me know if you make my traditional gluten free Christmas Fruit Cake. And don’t forget to keep your eye out for the posts coming up on how to make easy marzipan and decorate the cake too.
Tag me on social media (links at the top). Or leave a comment and star rate the recipe. If you love the cake and rate the recipe, then the Google god will enable more people to find it and enjoy it too!
And don’t forget to check out our dedicated Christmas Recipe inspiration Index for all your gluten free Christmas eats and treats…
Gluten Free Christmas Cake – The Fruit Cake
- very large mixing bowl
- Kitchen scales
- measuring spoons
- wooden/silicone spoon
- 8 inch/20 cm deep-sided loose-bottomed (preferably springform) cake tin
- baking parchment/paper
- whisk (hand or electric)
- cake skewer
- kitchen foil
900g dried fruit – I used:
- 100 g currants
- 75 g raisins Flame raisins are extra juicy
- 150 g sultanas I used Turkish sultanas
- 75 g cranberries
- 125 g glacé cherries cut into quarters (I used Morello glacé cherries)
- 100 g dried blueberries
- 100 g dried apricots chopped
- 50 g dried figs chopped
- 75 g dried prunes chopped
- 50 g crystalised ginger chopped
80g chopped/flaked nuts of choice – I used:
- 50 g flaked almonds
- 30 g Iranian Pistachios
- 1 orange – juice and finely grated zest ** ➘ **)
- 1 unwaxed lemon – juice and finely grated zest ** ➙ **) the total juice should be about 100 ml for the cake
- 150 ml Calvados (apple Brandy) or standard Brandy/Cointreau/Amaretto/ Whisky (or cold brewed Tea (no milk) or apple/orange juice)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
Cake Sponge – dry ingredients
- 175 g gluten free flour blend I used GFA rice free Blend B – See NOTES
- 125 g ground almonds (almond meal)
- 2 tsp psyllium husk or 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp GF baking powder
- 2 tsp mixed spice powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon powder
- ½ tsp all spice powder
Cake Sponge – the rest
- 275 g unsalted butter or DF block – eg Stork baking block – melted
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- 220 g brown sugar I used a combination of 150g soft light brown sugar + 70g coconut sugar
- 4 large eggs UK large – lightly beaten
50 ml booze of choice (the one used in the cake is best) – Or cold brewed Tea (no milk)
+ Extra Booze to Feed or Tea (not juice)
- Weigh the fruit and nuts and juice and zest into a large bowl and add the booze and vanilla.
- Stir through, cover the bowl and leave to soak for about 24 hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
- Prepare your cake tin – Double line an 8 inch (20 cm) deep tin with good quality non-stick baking parchment. (I cut a wide strip long enough for the circumference and folded it in half lengthways to make a double layer). And base-line with a 2 circles of parchment (pre-cut).
- Mix the dry ingredients together and set aside (TIP : Weigh into an airtight container and shake vigorously)
- Pre-heat the oven to 150 C/300 F/Gas 2. (If using a fan oven – set to 130 C)
- In a very large mixing bowl and using a whisk, beat together the butter, honey, sugar(s) and eggs until evenly combined.
- Add and thoroughly stir in the dry ingredients and fruit.
- Transfer the mixture to the lined tin and smooth the top.
- Bake for 1½ to 2 hours until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the cake feels firm to the touch.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin.
- Once cold, carefully take the cake from the tin (be sure to remove the baking parchment from the bottom of the cake also) and place on fresh baking parchment.
- Pierce the cake with a skewer all across the surface.
- Using 50 ml apple brandy/booze of choice/cold tea, brush the cake all over and drizzle or syringe it into the skewered holes.
- Once the liquid has been absorbed, wrap the cake tightly in a double layer of baking parchment and a double layer of foil.
- Store in an airtight container if possible.
- ‘Feed’ the cake every couple of weeks (about 3 to 4 times) with a couple of tbsp booze or cold tea to give both moisture and maturity, being sure to wrap tightly before further storing.
- Ensure at least a week between the final feed and covering in marzipan and icing (to give the surface time to dry fully).