Basic “Rules”

I use the term “Rules” loosely as there are really no actual “rules” to cake making as the beauty of it is that you can adapt recipes to your own individual taste. It is a case of trial and error. However, I have found a few procedures are worth the effort to avoid upsetting disasters. The following are a few do’s and dont’s:

  1. Do – Prepare the Cake Tin

See Preparing a Cake Tin for Fruit Cakes and Sponge Cakes

  1. Do Weight All Ingredients out First

This can seem a waste of time when you just want to get on to the interesting part of making the cake. However, if you have ever forgoten an important ingredient, like sugar, or the scales has reset halfway through adding another ingredient you will agree it makes sense to get everything ready first (see picture), it also makes the actual mixing quicker and more enjoyable.

3. Do – Use Butter (hard fat)

Butter really does make the difference to both texture and taste. A soft margarine will make the cake too crumbly and possibly unable to hold the fruit, so it sinks to the bottom. Also the taste is supurb. Any worries about butter being unhealthy should be ofset by the fact that you do not eat huge amounts of Celebration cakes and if they taste that good, you will soon be helped to eat it by family and friends.

If you really cannot use butter for health/diet reasons, try to use a hard fat, I find trex makes a good alternative for my dairy free mother. Another good alternative is coconut oil. The texture, for both of these fats, is similar to that made with butter and the taste can be improved with the use of a little extra spices and vanilla extract, although this is not so necessary when using coconut oil.

4. Do – Use the Highest Quality Ingredients you can afford

You might think you are saving a few pence buying cut price dried fruit, but if it is out of date it can be dry and hard and family and friends will overlook the fantastic taste and look of the cake if they are biting on fruit seeds and stalks.

5. Do – Warm the Treacle/Syrup

Warming the treacle/syrup makes it much easier to measure and ensure you are using the right amount. (Do not boil it).

6. Do Wrap the Outside of the Tin with Newspaper

To make sure the edge of the cakes does not dry out, I wrap the cake in newspaper. After putting the mixture in the tin take two sheets and fold them horizontally into three. Repeat this until you have enough to go round the tin. Then tie in place with string.

7. Don’t Worry too much about Ingrdients Amounts

If you find you are short of raisins, then use sultanas or currents to make it up. The total quantity of fruit is more important than the breakdown. The main thing is not to leave out an ingredient as this will certainly make a difference.

8. Don’t – Set the oven too High

I find most recipies give too high a tempurature setting which can result in the cake rising and or burning before it is cooked.

No matter what size cake I am making, I always use 160 C for the first hour and then 150 C until the cake is cooked. Using these tempuratures I do not need to make a hollow in the mixture prior to cooking and the cake comes out level and golden. I also check the cake regularly after the first hour and adjust the temperature accordingly as each cake can cook at different rates. If it looks like it is starting to “crack” I lower the temperature and check every quarter of an hour, lowering the temperature further if necessary.

I use a metal scewer to test if my cakes are cooked. To ensure the cake does not “sink”, I only check once it is firm to the touch in the centre. Then I warm the skewer by inserting it between the tin and the lining paper for a few seconds before inserting into the centre of the cake. When the skewer comes out clean, the cake is cooked. Also to prevent “sinking” after testing the final time, I turn the oven off and leave the cake in for 15 minutes. I then place it on a wooden board still in the newspaper for at least an hour. I then remove the newspaper and leave the cake in the tin until it is completely cold.

9. Don’t Soak the Cake in Sherry

Ever wondered why that delicious looking cake is bitter, well it is possibly because it has been soaked in sherry.

I like cakes to be ‘fed’ with alchahol. It keeps them moist and also preserves them. (I have eaten cakes up to 18 months after I made them.) However both sherry and brandy alone makes the cake taste bitter and harsh.

I like to use a mixture of both. For very special cakes I make a syrup with sugar and water and use one part brandy, one part sherry and one part syrup. However for most cakes such as Christmas and family cakes two parts brandy and one part sherry will give a lovely mellow flavour.

10. Don’t Drown the Cake

Whilst it is best to “feed” the cake to give a moist texture and mellow flavour, you are not trying to achieve a sticky pudding or put your guests at risk of being ‘over the limit’ from eating your cake. I have had people boast that their cake is ‘so boozy’ or that they have ‘used half a bottle of brandy in it’. This is neither necessary or desireable.  (see comment below regarding using glycerine)

Make up your mixture of brandy, sherry and syrup (if using) and using a pastry brush, liberaly brush over the entire cake once. It will only be necessary to feed the cake a second time if a) it has cooked to long and is very dry or b) you cannot give it enough time to mature (a minimum of 4 weeks is necessary). Once you have ‘painted’ the cake, wrap it up in greaseproof paper and put it in a sealed container.


  1. A great information article.
    Your section about feeding the cake is interesting. I have seen cakes where people have ‘over fed’ – and then marzipanned and iced – what happens is the alcohol tries to escape, and in doing so takes the colour of the cake through the marzipan and the icing, making your lovely white icing patchy with all sorts of unwanted colour!
    I find mixing a bit of sherry and brandy together along with a few teaspoons of glycerine and brushing this on the cake just once is enough to feed the cake and keep it moist as glycerine naturally attracts moisture.
    cake decorator

  2. This looks so yummy! I am going to try. Thank you so much for the recipe and instructions. Steph

  3. Dear Katy – First of all do not panic. “Feed” your cake with the brandy/sherry mixture and wrap it up well in greaseproof paper, then store it upside down in a airtight container. If the cake has not risen up and cracked very much,the weight and moisture will compress it back down. Any slight rise can then be made up with marzipan.
    If your cake has really risen up to a point and has not flattened out during storage, simply trim the top off it at the point where you marzipan it. (This has the added benefit of being able to sample the cake!!).

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