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Earl Grey Christmas Cake with Cardamom and Brandy Buttercream

Christmas cake. It has its lovers and its haters, but it’s a tradition that’s a little younger than we think. The Georgians were fond of a ‘twelfth cake’, which they ate before kicking off a night of merrymaking. Queen Victoria was none too pleased with this raucous though, and that is how we got the richly fruited, and iced version we eat today.

Serves 10-12 Total Time  2.5 hrs mins, plus overnight soaking.


  • 650g mixed dried fruit
  • 75g almonds, roughly chopped 
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon 
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange 
  • 200ml hot Earl Grey tea
  • 2tbsp cold Earl Grey tea
  • 4 tbsp brandy, plus extra for feeding
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g light soft brown sugar 
  • 3 tbsp dark treacle 
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 
  • 275g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder 2 tsp mixed spice
  • Pinch of salt 

Ingredients for the decorations:

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp brandy 
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste


  1. Tip the dried fruit into a large bowl with the almonds, citrus zest and juice, 150ml hot Earl Grey tea and the brandy.
  2. Mix well, cover and set aside overnight for the fruit to soak.
  3. The next day, butter the inside of a deep-sided 20cm cake tin and line with double thickness baking parchment, making sure the paper is 2cm above the top. 
  4. Preheat oven to 150°C/ 130°C fan/gas 2. 
  5. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and light. Add the treacle and mix to combine. 
  6. Gradually pour in the beaten eggs, mixing well after each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle, add 1 tbsp of flour, mix, then carry on adding the eggs. 
  7. Sift the remaining flour, baking powder, mixed spice and pinch of salt into the bowl. Add 2 tbsp cold Earl Grey tea and mix again to thoroughly combine. 
  8. Scoop the cake mixture into the prepared tin, level the top.
    Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15 mins, then remove from and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. 
  9. Wrap in foil and leave at least overnight before icing. If making the cake ahead of time, it will keep for 3 months and can be fed every 15 days with 1 tbsp each of cooled Earl Grey tea and brandy, if liked. To feed the cake, poke several holes in the top using a skewer, then spoon the liquid over, letting it soak into the cake. 
  10. To ice the cake, make a buttercream frosting by creaming the butter and icing sugar together with an electric whisk until smooth, light and fluffy. Whisk through the maple syrup, brandy and vanilla paste, then spread the icing over the sides and top of the cake using a palette knife. 
  11. Finish with dried orange slices (optional, see cook’s tip).

Cook’s Tip: Dried orange slices add a simple festive touch. Thinly slice two oranges and brush both sides with sugar syrup (mix 100ml water and 100g caster sugar). Arrange the slices on an oven rack and dry in a preheated oven at 100ºC/80ºC fan/ gas 1/4 for 2½ hrs. Brush them with more syrup, then leave on the rack in a cool place overnight. Once dry store in an airtight container.

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