If it’s late November, my birthday has passed and the run-up to Christmas can officially begin!

That means filling the house with the warming, spiced scent of a Christmas cake baking.

Yes, I know, for some it’s a little bit late to start making the cake, let alone feeding it brandy. But the last Sunday of November is Stir Up Sunday, traditionally the time to make your Christmas pudding. It’s also a useful reminder to get baking other Christmas treats in advance, including your Christmas cake.

If you haven’t already started your Christmas cake, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time. Why not get all the family involved in Stir up Sunday and give everyone a chance to stir the ingredients? Below are some top tips to help you bake a fantastic cake.

What’s in the mix?

Not everyone is a great fan of raisins and currants. Why not try out different mixtures of dried fruit in your cake – figs, cranberries, cherries, dates could all go in.

If you’re adding in nuts, try gently roasting them beforehand – 10 minutes in a 150C oven should be fine. Roasting brings out their flavour and adds some extra crunch to your cake.

Soak your dried fruit well before adding it to the cake. I soak the dried fruit in brandy and ginger wine, but you could use rum or even Calvados for an apple flavour.

Or try a non-alcoholic alternative – perhaps fruit juice or a diluted cordial such as spiced ginger. You could even soak your fruit in a strong tea of your choice.

Add in a dash of orange or lemon zest to create some wonderful aromas. Cover the bowl well and keep in the fridge whilst the fruit soaks.

Baking tips

To keep the cake moist, chuck a grated carrot into the final mixture before baking. It won’t add flavour but will add in some extra moisture to keep your cake from drying out.

Whatever tin you use, you should line it really well.

Sometimes, lining the tin takes me as long as making the final cake mix! Here’s how I do it.

Grease the tin really well with butter. Then fold a long, wide strip of baking paper in half and line the sides (a double lining). Fold up the bottom 1cm of the paper so that it sits against the bottom of the tin. Once the sides are lined, line the base with a single layer. Re-grease all the lining (told you it was a long process!). Finally, wrap a double layer of brown paper, or newspaper, around the outside of the tin and secure with string. This layer insulates the tin and stops the outer parts of the cake baking too quickly during the long bake period.

Be patient whilst baking. A large fruit cake is best baked at a lower temperature for a longer time to stop it burning and keep it moist.

Storage and decoration

The Epsom Bakehouse mini Christmas cakes

Once baked and cooled, wrap your cake in layers of baking paper and then a layer of foil. Pop it in a tin and keep it somewhere cool until you want to ice it. If you have time, you can ‘feed’ it more alcohol (if you’re using it) in the run up to Christmas.

There are plenty of ways to decorate your cake, from the traditional marzipan and icing, to royal icing made to look like snow or even a simple topping of dried fruit and nuts, arranged in a pretty pattern.

If using marzipan, brush the cake with a little boiled apricot jam before putting it on – this helps the marzipan stick on.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, do let me know in the comments! Or why not check out the other breadmaking recipes, hints and tips on my blog.

You can also join my supportive community of home bread bakers over on Facebook. From sharing great bakes and recipes to asking and answering key breadmaking questions, there’s plenty to learn and join in with.