As we get closer to Christmas, the demand for holiday foods grow, especially the sweet ones. While sugar cookies are baking and gingerbread houses are being constructed in the US, over in the UK people are whipping up or purchasing Christmas cakes.
The German stollen cake (Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen in German), Italian panettone, the French bûche de Noël (also known as Yule Log Cake) all share the same thing with the British Christmas cake. They are all their own nation’s variants. One day I hope to delve into the other Christmas cakes but today I will be comparing the British and American. The American version is not called a Christmas cake but the plain and simple fruitcake, which is sadly not as celebrated as the British version since it does not suit the American palate. Much like its English counterpart, the American fruitcake has candied fruit, peels, spices, and is also usually soaked in brandy or other liqueurs, sometimes even alcohol free. There are popular fruit cake companies in the US but many Americans have either not tried a good fruitcake or even tried one in general. Whenever one does sample a piece, many don’t fancy the taste and simply just chuck it in the bin or pawn it off on someone else.
The American fruit cake is usually frowned upon and even considered a joke because people often re-gift it or give it as a joke, thanks to a quip by the late Johnny Carson. He joked that there was only one fruitcake and it was passed down from one generation to the other. He is sort of right with that one. There has been a history of fruitcakes that have lasted for generations. I remember reading a story of a 70 year old fruitcake in 2011 that sold for over $500. It was owned by a family who bought it Christmas week in 1941 but kept it until the 1970s when they returned it to the company from which they bought it. As of this writing, the fruitcake is STILL unopened in its original tin and everything! The alcohol helps preserve the cake which helps keep it moist. As it goes, everything gets better with age!
The Christmas cake in Britain is made with candied fruits, peels, spices, and “marinated” in brandy or liqueur. The difference with this is that this cake is usually frosted and decorated very beautifully for the holidays. They are in many shop windows and in popular British retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Marks and Spencer. Some people even make their own. According to the British, it’s not Christmas without one on the table! The Christmas cakes are usually made at least two months in advance for the cake to obtain a good flavor and to moisten, much like a good wine or cheese!
And we can’t forget the icing! Unlike the American fruitcake, many British Christmas cakes are frosted with a snow white icing. I am sad to say that I have never tasted an actual English Christmas cake with frosting (forgive me for saying frosting here and there), but from what I have seen so far, they look so beautiful but I want to gobble it up because it looks so sweet! It often looks like cream cheese icing to me, but I know it’s not. There are people who outdo themselves when it comes to decorating Christmas cakes. The most common one I have seen is usually topped with little holly berries and leaves or ribbons on the cakes, yet many of them look like mini winter wonderlands. It’s probably no wonder why the British respect that cake so much
As I compare these two similar yet different cakes, it baffles me as to how the Americans don’t like fruitcake. Is it the nuts? The candied fruit pieces? Or the brandy? The British eat Christmas cake just fine. It’s crazy how on one side of the pond a simple cake can go from one of the most respected things about the holidays to one of the most ridiculed and misunderstood.
Editor’s note: I love American fruitcake. I can eat a whole one myself in a matter of days!