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How to make a gluten-free Christmas cake

It’s December again. Christmas sales, decorations, carol singing at bedtime. End of the year madness with every week full of festivities. Then there’s the cooking –with the added challenge of making everything gluten-free.

My last years Christmas blog had some ideas for Christmas day menus and let you know it wasn’t that difficult to have an easy and very tasty gluten-free Christmas Day. This year, I thought I’d share my foolproof gluten-free Christmas cake with you.

I’ve been making this cake for nearly 20 years. My best friends and I got together and had a massive fruit soaking session , and a month later, I made my first ever Christmas cake. It just so happened that it was the first year of my married life, and I decided to make it a family tradition. I’ve made a Christmas cake every year since then, based on the same recipe. One year we used it as a christening cake for my eldest daughter.

I’ve tweaked the alcohol (often dependent on what was in the cupboard!) and have now successfully converted it to a gluten-free version. I give small cakes away every year and no-one can tell that they are gluten-free. I have scribbled notes year to year of the different variations and have taken out all the things that I don’t like and substituted them with things I do. So I guess what I’m saying about this cake is it’s a very flexible one! And that you too can substitute what you like to make it your own. Having said that, if you don’t like alcohol in your cakes, this may not be the one for you. Here it is.

Gluten-free Christmas cake

Preparation time: five weeks or so! (Even though I say to soak the fruit for a week and leave the cake for a month, I have made the cake right before Christmas and it’s been absolutely fine. So use the times as guidelines, rather than an absolute. It’s one of the things I like best about this cake – it’s very adaptable!)

3 tablespoons whiskey
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy
3 tablespoons port or peach schnapps
3 tablespoons drambuie
3 tablespoons water
1.5 teaspoons angostura bitters

The key is to combine some heavier, sweeter alcohol like a liqueur (so in this case, the port and drambuie) with some plainer spirits. The above is my favourite combination, but this also works well with rum, brandy, port and cherry brandy. One year I even used vodka and peach schnapps and that was very good, although not quite such a dark cake.

Step 1 Put all the alcohol into a saucepan – do not inhale! Then add:

1 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1 tablespoon molasses sugar
450g sultanas
225g currants
110g prunes, chopped into small pieces
80g candied peel
50g crystallised ginger, finely chopped
100g dried apricots, finely chopped

Step 2 Stir and bring mixture to the simmering point, then simmer for 15 minutes.

Step 3 Allow to cool completely then pour into an airtight container. Leave in the fridge for at least a week (longer is fine!) shaking or stirring daily.

To make the cake

250g butter, softened
250g brown sugar (demerara is best)
250g gluten-free flour
2 teaspoons xanthan or guar gum
2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder
5 eggs, or egg replacer, thoroughly beaten

Step 1 Preheat oven to 140°C. Grease and line cake tin.

Step 2 Cream butter and sugar.Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Mix in dry ingredients and stir until combined. Lastly, fold in the fruit mixture, including all the leftover alcohol!

Step 3 Cook cake in the centre of the oven for 3 hours without opening the door, then cover the cake with greaseproof paper and cook for a further hour.

Step 4 Cool for 45 minutes in the tin, then on a wire rack. Wrap in layers of greaseproof paper and store in an airtight container for a month or so.

If you are making smaller cakes, adjust the cooking time accordingly – until a skewer or knife comes out clean. This cake is fine eaten as is, but I normally ice it with almond and white icing – gluten-free of course!

Other options include substituting the ginger and apricots for glacé cherries and chopped almonds. If you didn’t want to use alcohol, I would use a combination of fruit juice and fruit nectar – you want some slightly heavier, stickier component which a nectar would address very well.

The cake keeps really well in an airtight tin. There’s only a couple of us in my house who like fruit cake, so my Christmas cake normally lasts through to the end of January, and is happily eaten with many cups of tea.

Do you have a favourite Christmas recipe you’d like to share?

Weight-loss update

I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough and have now lost 17.6kg, so I am only 4.4kg from my goal weight. I’ve kept up the walking (not quite so many steps as I was doing during our challenge, but am doing some exercise every day), swimming and water polo. I’m not tracking my food as consistently as I was, but I am still very much keeping an eye on portion sizes. If for some reason I don’t manage to do some exercise, there are no treats. I’m keeping any alcohol drinking to the weekends and keeping it to a small amount. We’ll see how Christmas goes – we’re having one dinner at our place on the day, and another a couple of days later at my parents.

Do you have any tips for making sure that you eat properly over the holidays? I’d be keen to hear them.


For those wanting more information on coeliac disease, check out the NZ Coeliac Society website www.coeliac.org.nz.

This blog is the opinion and experiences of its author and should not be taken as medical or dietetic advice. Healthy Food Guide has not verified the content and cannot endorse any advice given. Healthy Food Guide recommends seeking professional health advice for specific complaints or symptoms.

Date modified: February 22 2021
First published: Dec 2013

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