Cake competition offers an early taste of Christmas

You could call it a recipe for success.

Cake competition offers an early taste of Christmas

The Irish Examiner Christmas cake baking competition attracted hundreds of entries from all over the country and yesterday an overall winner was chosen amid a festive coffee morning at the newspaper’s office on Lapp’s Quay in Cork.

As the UCC choir put the 12 finalists and their friends in Christmas mood with seasonal carols, the judges, Irish Examiner food writers Darina Allen, Joe McNamee, and Michelle Darmody tasted the final selection with the help of Pamela Black from Ballymaloe Cookery School.

From traditional to gluten-free to dairy-free to downright daring, the cakes came in all shapes and sizes. “Very mixed” was how Michelle Darmody, owner of the Cake Café in Dublin, described the selection.

Some were more mixed than others. One stratified entry was either a layering triumph or a culinary faux pas. Another eschewed the traditional icing in favour of toasted almonds on top while the most daring of all — a cheese cake with hints of black pudding — tested the testers but was reassuringly delicious.

Editor of the Irish Examiner, Tim Vaughan, said he had never before entertained the notion of baking anything, let alone a Christmas cake.

“I never wanted to, until now,” he told the gathering of culinary enthusiasts.

He said he was “blown away” by the response to the competition and was particularly gratified that the proceeds will go to the St Vincent de Paul Society. He was visibly moved when a woman in the audience approached him to pass on a donation to the charity. It was a cheque for €10,000.

Given our recessionary times, it was appropriate that the overall winning cake was entitled “Penny Pinchers” and, according to its baker, Caitriona Anderson from Cobh, it lives up to the name.

“I got the recipe from my mother-in-law,” the busy mother of three said as she was presented with her prize of a weekend in the Aghadoe Heights hotel in Killarney. “It’s very quick and easy to make and I use sherry, which is cheaper than brandy and just as good.”

Darina Allen agreed, as she announced the winner. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make something delicious.

“I am delighted to see a revival of interest in baking. It harks back to childhood days when making the Christmas puddings and cake were huge events and involved everyone in the family.”

Finalists in the competition were each given baking goodie bags and the cakes were donated to charity.

Home bake


* Ingredients:

1kg mixed fruit

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tbsp golden syrup

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup dry sherry

3/4 cup sunflower oil

1/2 tsp baking soda

Zest and juice of 1 orange

4 large eggs

2 cups plain flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

* Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees

2. Double line a 20cm round tin

3. Put fruit, syrup, water, sherry and oil in a large pot

4. Gently bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins

5. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda

6. Allow to cool

7. Stir in zest, juice and beaten eggs

8. Sift flour and spice and mix

9. Bake for 2 and 3/4 hours.

10. Cool completely and decorate

Category 1 - Traditional

Eimear Dennehy – A Rich Ten Inch Round Christmas Cake


450g raisins

375g currants

375g sultanas

125g cherries – quartered, washed and dried

125g mixed peel, chopped

100g chopped almonds

75g ground almonds

50g crystallised ginger - washed, dried and chopped

1 tablespoon marmalade

Grated rind of 1 lemon

Grated rind of 1 orange

450 g tin of strawberries - well drained and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons Jamaica rum

350 g butter at room temperature

350 g dark brown sugar

6 small eggs (size 3), well beaten

450g of plain flour

Pinch of salt

Sieve together the following:

1 level teaspoon of mixed spice

1 level teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 level teaspoon ground cloves

1 level teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Cake tin size

10 inch/25cm round tin

Oven Temperature

Fan Oven: Bake in a preheated over at 145 degrees Celsius for half an hour.

Reduce oven temperature to 125 degrees Celsius for 5 hours.


Remove the butter from the fridge about 3 – 4 hours before using.

To prepare the tin, line with a double layer of buttered greaseproof paper. Tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin.

Put the currants, sultanas, raisins, cherries, mixed peel, lemon rind, orange rind, crystallised ginger, strawberries, marmalade and Jamaica rum into a large bowl. Ensure the rum is evenly dispersed. Mix well, cover and allow to steep overnight.

In a separate bowl, sieve the plain flour, salt and spices.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs, a little at a time. Beat well after each addition. Add a little flour towards the end to prevent curdling. When all the eggs have been added, gently fold in the remaining flour and spices.

Add the ground almonds and chopped almonds to the fruit mixture and stir thoroughly.

Stir the fruit mixture into the creamed mixture. The mixture should have a soft dropping consistency.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and make an indentation in the centre of the cake. This helps ensure an even rise.

Bake in a preheated oven at 145 degrees Celsius for half and hour. Reduce oven temperature to 125 degrees Celsius and continue to bake for a further 5 hours approximately. Check at intervals after 3 hours. To prevent over-browning, it may be necessary to cover the surface of the cake with several layers of greaseproof paper.

Test the cake by pressing the centre top with the fingers. It should feel firm. Thrust a clean warm skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean with no uncooked mixture adhering to it, the cake is ready. At this stage there should be no sizzling noise to be heard from the cake. Leave the cake to cool overnight in the tin.

To Store

To store the cake, remove from the tin turning out onto a wire rack.

Peel off the greaseproof paper.

Pierce the cooled cake with a skewer and drizzle over a tablespoon of whiskey or rum.

Wrap the cake in several layers of greaseproof paper and then in kitchen foil.

This cake will improve with storing.

Repeat the process of drizzling the cake with the whiskey or rum weekly for four weeks. Re-wrap and keep in an airtight box.

Catherine Colbert – Mam’s Christmas Cake

Tin Size: makes one 10”/25cm round or 9”/23cm square tin. Have tin lined the day before.


1lb/450g sultanas

1lb/450g raisins

12oz/340g currants

3oz/85g shelled almonds

3oz/85g peel

4oz/112g cherries

11oz/312g plain flour sieved with ¾ of a level teaspoon of mixed spice

11oz/312g moist brown sugar

11oz/312g butter

5 medium sized eggs

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

A glass of whiskey

Approximate baking time 3 ½ to 4 hours


Prepare fruit, removing any stalks. Wash and dry cherries and cut these in half.

Put all fruit in a bowl and pour over half of the whiskey and lemon juice, leaving to soak for a few days.

Half the almonds and add to mixture towards the end.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/300 degrees Fahrenheit/150 degrees Celsius.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Gradually beat in the eggs a little at a time. Add the lemon rind.

Fold in a little of the flour and spice mix.

Alternately fold in the soaked fruit and shelled halved almonds. A large metal spoon does this nicely. Continue until all flour and fruit mixture is used up.

Mix well and then place in prepared tin, with the back of a wet tablespoon, press mixture down the side and smooth top. Make a slight hollow in centre to allow for a little rose and even finish.

Place in shelf just below the centre to allow for a little rise and Even finish.

Place in shelf just below the centre of preheated oven.

Lower the oven temperature gas mark 1/275 degrees Fahrenheit/140 degrees Celsius and bake for 3 ½ to 4 hours.

After most of this time has elapsed, test the progress of the cake by probing the centre of the cake with a skewer. If it comes out clean the cake is ready.

Remove from oven and leave cool overnight on a wire rack. The following day remove cake from tin, leaving the greaseproof on the cake. To ensure moistness, pierce the surface of the cake with a skewer and pour over the remaining whiskey. Wrap in a double layer of greaseproof and foil and store in dry places for up to 4 weeks before icing.

Category 2 – Quick

Karyn Ryan – Mrs Clauses Christmas Cake Christmas Cake Recipe & Method

* "Every year I make a Christmas cake and Every year I say never again, because I'm the only one who eats it! Last year I broke the tradition, no Christmas cake, grand no problem until Christmas Eve when my 9 year old son informed me that he was worried and that I should have made a cake but I said you never eat it and he said "that's not the point its a tradition and Santa’s not going to like it" . So at 8.00pm on Christmas Eve I was guilted into making a cake. As soon as the kids were in bed, I raided my presses for a bit of this and some of that, 1/2 bags of assorted fruit. I soaked the fruit in baileys biscotti (cause that's what I was drinking at that moment) added chocolate for good measure. It baked in 2 and half hours. I let it cool while I helped "Santa with the present wrapping". I topped it with rolled white icing, raided the Christmas tree for some decorations to put on top. Viola! A masterpiece. Amidst the excited cries on Christmas morning, my son comes running from the kitchen "Mam quick look what Santa left on the counter, a Christmas cake, Mrs clause must have made it for you because you didn't make one this year, I told you so" he said, and do you know what there wasn't a crumb left by New Years Eve (the little traitors ate every bit). It was simple and delicious. It will definitely be "Mrs Clause's Christmas cake" that I make from now on! Category 2. Quick Mrs Claus's quick and delicious Christmas cake 800g mixed fruit (blueberries, cranberries, cherries, apricots, raisins) 1/2 jar mincemeat 7 tbsp (100ml) baileys biscotti 250g dark chocolate 6 tbsp milk 175g light muscovado sugar 4 medium eggs 1tsp mixed spice 200g plain flour 40g self raising flour 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda 75g ground almonds 150g ready to roll white icing apricot glaze 150g apricot jam, 1 tbsp water. Melt jam with water and put through sieve. 1. Soak the fruit and mincemeat in baileys biscotti for 30 minutes. 2. Pre-heat oven 150c/300f, double line a 20cm deep round tin with baking parchment. 3. Melt dark chocolate, milk, 1tbsp baileys together in a bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. 4. Sift flours, bicarbonate soda, mixed spice and ground almonds together. 5. In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs and add in gradually mixing in between. 6. Fold in flours, melted chocolate mixture, soaked fruit (including baileys) into butter mix. Gently mix with spatula, don't worry batter will be thick. 7. Pour in prepared tin for 1 3/4 - 2 hours or until top of cake is firm. Allow to cool and remove from tin. 8. When cold, brush top of cake with apricot glaze. 9. Roll out white icing to fit top of cake and place on top. 10. Decorate to your hearts content or raid your Christmas tree like I did!

Caitriona Anderson – Penny Pinching Christmas Cake – Overall Winner Christmas Cake Recipe & Method

* Penny Pinching Christmas Cake Ingredients: 1kg mixed fruit 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar 2 tbsp golden syrup 1/2 cup cold water 1/2 cup dry sherry 3/4 cup sunflower oil 1/2 tsp baking soda Zest and juice of 1 orange 4 large eggs 2 cups plain flour 1 tbsp mixed spice Method: 1. Pre heat oven to 150 degrees. 2. Double line a 20cm round tin. 3. Put fruit, syrup, water, sherry and oil in a large pot. 4. Gently bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. 5. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. 6. Allow to cool. 7. Stir in zest, juice and beaten eggs. 8. Sift flour and spice and mix. 9. Bake for 2 and 3/4 hours. 10. Cool completely and decorate.

Diana Duarte de Cadogan – Cadogan’s fruit cake

Ingredients 1lbs crystallized fruit 1/2 lbs unsalted butter 1/2 lbs brown sugar 1 cup cold water 1 tsp. mixed spices 1/2 cup kirsch 3/4 lbs self raising flour Method Preheat the oven 140C 1. Pour in a medium size pan the sugar, butter, fruit, mixed spices and water. Bring to the boil and leave it simmer for 10 minutes. Leave it cool for 3-4 minutes. 2. Add the Kirsch to the mixture and reserve. 3. In a bowl whisk the eggs and add the fruit mixture. The mixture should be cool to avoid curdling of the eggs. 4. Add the flour and mix well. 5. Prepare a deep cake tin (21cm - square) lining it with parchment paper. 6. Poor the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 1hour and a half. (Fan assisted oven 1hour and 15min). 7. Leave it cool and it's ready to eat! Note: It tastes better and gets moist if left to mature for a day.

Category 3 – Special Diet

Margaret O’Donoghue - Gluten Free Christmas Cake- for Coeliacs


14 oz/400g raisins 14 oz/400g sultanas 4oz cherries 4 oz grated raw cooking apple 2 oz ground almonds 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon & mixed spice 8oz /225g butter 8oz/225g soft brown sugar 6 eggs free range 10 Tritamyl Gluten free self raising flour 1/2 glass of dark rum Tin Size: 9 inch round tin, 150C, 3-3.5 hours Line tin with 2 layers of baking parchment. Tie a layer of cardboard, e.g. old cereal box or 2 layers of brown paper around the tin to prevent the sides of cake from burning. Method Put all the fruit, grated apple, ground almonds and spices into a large mixing bowl and pour half the rum over it. Cover bowl with a dinner plate and leave the fruit to soak overnight. Next day cream butter, and then add brown sugar until light and creamy. Add in eggs one at a time, adding some of the sifted flour after each to prevent mixture from curdling. After all the flour is added, add the soaked fruit to the egg mixture. Fold in thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Put mixture into prepared tin and cook for about 3 to 3.5 hours in a preheated oven at 150c. If the top of the cake is getting too brown cover the cake with brown paper for the last hour. Test with sharp knife to see if cake is fully baked....When the knife comes out dry it is fully done. Take out of oven and pour the rest of the rum over the cake while it is still hot. Leave to cool in tin till next day. Wrap the cake in extra greaseproof paper and finally cover with brown paper and keep in a dry place till the week before Christmas when the gluten free icing of your choice can be put on the cake.

Carmel Donaghy - Gluten free Vegan Christmas Cake

Tin size: Oil and line the base and sides of a 24cm/9 inch tin with a double layer of baking parchment. Pre-heat oven to 150C (fan) Ingredients 1kg mixed fruit 150g caster sugar 250g vegan margarine e.g. Vitalite or Pure sunflower spread 450g Gluten Free flour (I use my own blend of potato, rice, soya and maize flours) 450ml soya milk Pinch of salt 1tsp GF baking powder 1 level tsp bread sod. 1tsp each of mixed spice and ground ginger 1 generous tsp vanilla paste Grated zest of 1 orange 2 tbsp brandy (optional) Method Place dried fruit mix, soya milk, margarine and sugar in a large saucepan over a low heat until margarine is melted. Add vanilla paste and stir well. Sieve flour, baking powder, bread soda, spices and pinch of salt together. Combine ingredients and add orange zest. Pour into tin and smooth the top using a wet spatula. Place in the centre of oven and bake for approximately 1 hour 30 minutes. You may have to cover the top and turn down the heat if the outside of the cake starts to brown too much. Cool in the tin. When cold remove from the tin and turn over. Prick the base with a skewer and pour over the 2 tablespoons of brandy. Decorate with vegan almond paste and sugar paste as required.

Joan Healy - Captain Morgan's Gluten free Christmas cake

Ingredients 300g sultanas 100g raisins 100g currants 100g dried cranberries 100g cherries 50g diced almonds 50g grated apple 5g mixed spice 150ml Captain Morgan Rum 200g golden caster sugar 200g butter 4 eggs 240g gluten free self raising flour (Dove's Farm) Method Preheat the oven to 160C. Prepare an 8" baking tin by lining with double silicone paper cut to the size of the tin. Also place a strip of brown paper cut to the same size of the height of the tin around the sides to protect from overbrowning. Place all the fruit together into a microwavable bowl and pour on the Captain Morgan Rum Microwave for 3 minutes, stirring after every minute. Cream the butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs gradually and fold in the gluten free flour. Add in the fruit and mix well. Place into the baking tin and bake for 2 hours. Protect the top of the cake from over browning by covering with brown paper for the last hour of baking. Check that the cake is baked by inserting a skewer and if it comes out clean, the cake is baked.

Category 4 - Creative

Ethna Reynolds - Goat’s cheese and Chive Cheesecake with a Panko, Oat and Black Pudding base served with baked apple slice and Balsamic pearls.

This is a lovely savoury cake that is perfect sliced as an impressive starter, served with rocket for an exciting lunch, or cut into portions and served as canapés. I have added a sweet apple bakes slice which complements the creaminess of the cheese, and a touch of Molecular Gastronomy with my Balsamic Pearls. You will be surprised how easy they are to make!

Ingredients: Panko and black pudding base 75g parmesan (grated) 1 ½ cups Panko breadcrumbs ½ cup oats 2 inch piece Clonakilty black pudding 6 walnuts (roasted and crushed) 5 tbsp butter (melted)

Method: Slice the black pudding and gently fry until cooked. Set aside to cool, and then crumble. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Press into a round or square tin (approx 8 inches) and place in the fridge to set.

Ingredients: Filling 500g cream cheese 300g goats cheese 2 eggs 3 tbsp cream ½ tsp wholegrain mustard 2 tbsp chives (chopped) 1 leaf gelatine (soaked in cold water until soft)

Method: In a large bowl, mix the two cheeses until well combined. Add the chives, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper. Warm the cream and add the gelatine and stir until dissolved. Mix the eggs together and add to the cheese mixture. Mix well (its best to use an electric mixer). Pour the mixture into the greased tin and bake for approx 45 minutes. Ingredients: Bacon Sprinkle ½ cup of finely chopped cooked smoked bacon 2 tbsp maple syrup

Method Mix the bacon and the maple syrup well and place on a lined baking tray. Bake at 170c until bacon is crisp.

Ingredients: Caramelised apple slice 1 apple (sliced). Brown sugar

Method Slice apples thinly and de-seed. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and bake until crisped up. (190c for about 30 minutes - it depends on the water content of apple) Ingredients: Balsamic Pearls 100ml balsamic vinegar Half tsp agar-agar 1 cup of oil

Method Place the oil in a tall container (a tall glass is best) in the freezer for about 40 minutes. Pop the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan, warm and add the agar-agar powder, whisk constantly to ensure that it is dissolved. Remove from heat and leave cool slightly (about 50’). Fill a syringe with the balsamic and drop into the glass of cold oil (about 3 inches up from the rim) not putting too many in at once. Strain and rinse the pearls in cold water and pop in the fridge until ready to use.

Ann Kennedy – Spiced Rum and Carrot Cake


300g/ 10oz cream flour

250g/ 8oz butter

150g/6oz brown sugar

125g/4 ½oz chopped walnuts

125g/8oz raisins

50ml/2fluid oz Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum

5 free range eggs

¼ teaspoon baking powder to ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 cups of finely grated carrot

Grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Few drops of orange oil

Topping: 2 oz good quality chocolate (72% dark chocolate gives excellent results) and 2 drops of orange oil

Tin: Line a 9” round or 8” square tin with greaseproof paper and line the outside with brown paper. Preheat oven to Gas mark 3/170 degrees Celsius

Baking Time: 2 hours


Soak raisins, grated orange rind, grated lemon rind and 2 to 3 drops of orange oil overnight or longer in rum.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.

Sieve flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.

Whisk the eggs.

Gradually, alternately mix the egg and flour into the butter and sugar, until it is all combined.

Add the raisins (make a wish!).

Fold in the walnuts and carrot.

Turn into the prepared tin.

Bake at gas mark 3 for the first hour. Reduce temperature to gas mark 2 for the second hour.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tin until cold.

Topping: Melt the chocolate gently in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water, ensuring the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Add the oil (not too much!).

Drizzle over the top of the cake, adding a few chopped walnuts for decoration.

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