If traditional Christmas cake doesn’t rock your boat, then check out this light and fluffy Christmas tray bake cake! Packed full of festive flavour it’s easy to make, easy to decorate and perfect for slicing into bite-size pieces for holiday entertaining.
Lou’s recipe overview
TASTE: Fruity with a little touch of spice – Christmas!
PROS: Light, fruity and perfect for entertaining
CONS: Making it only for Christmas
The smell of Christmas cake baking is one that brings back so many memories for me, but I’ll be honest… I’m not a fan!
Although a deep, dark fruit cake covered with a slab of homemade marzipan and a thick slathering of Royal icing was always the showpiece of our Christmas festivities, I much prefer something a little lighter.
Plus, marzipan doesn’t really do much for someone who found out they had a mild nut allergy in later life. Ha!
But don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love a fruit cake – I can’t get enough of plump, juicy fruit inside a light fluffy sponge; just like my strawberries and cream cupcakes.
So if you’re like me and you love a fruit cake and are looking for a different take on Christmas cake, then keep on reading for all the lowdown on my Christmas Tray Bake Cake.
Oh and if you’re nut-free as well, then I’ve got the perfect alternative to marzipan, then you’ll want to stick around as well!
Ingredients and substitutions
Check out my shopping list for ingredients and equipment
This Christmas tray bake cake is packed full of vine fruits in a light sponge. Here’s everything you’ll need to make this twist on a traditional festive treat…
- Unsalted Butter – Unsalted gives you more control of how much salt you have in your recipe, just add a pinch of fine sea salt. You can also use slightly salted butter if you prefer
- Caster Sugar or Superfine Sugar – I’m using a white sugar so the fruit and festive spices come through, but you could also use golden caster sugar for a little caramel flavour
- Eggs – Remember to let your eggs get up to room temperature before using them. Take them out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you’re ready to start baking
- Plain Flour or All-Purpose Flour – This will help give the cake a light, fluffy texture but also help keep a sturdy structure
- Baking Powder – To help give the cake lift, but don’t add too much else your cake will rise too much
- Soured Cream – This helps bind everything together while keeping a light and fluffy texture. You can also use natural yogurt instead
- Mixed Spice
- Glacé Cherries
- Dried Cranberries
- Brandy – For giving the fruit a quick soak. If you don’t want to use alcohol, switch for orange juice instead
And to decorate you’ll also need…
- Semolina or Fine Cornmeal – Used instead of ground almonds in the nut-free marzipan
- Icing Sugar or Powdered Sugar
- Apricot Jam or Strawberry Jam
- Royal Icing Sugar – You can also use regular icing sugar, but we’re looking for that slightly thicker texture to ice the top of the cake with
Add the nuts back in
Use regular marzipan instead – I’ve gone nut-free with this recipe and made my own ‘free-from marzipan’ layer. But if you’re a marzipan fan you can easily swap out my version for ready-made marzipan or even give making it a go; it’s super simple.
Making decorating even easier
Ready to roll icing is now more frequently used to decorate cakes than Royal Icing. So if you don’t fancy using a water icing, although it’s my favourite for topping a Christmas cake, then use a ready to roll sugar paste or ready-rolled sugar paste instead. Go with plain white for that classic look or switch up with different colours.
Swap the fruits for your favourite mix
I know lots of people have a love/hate relationship with dried fruits, and although I’ve gone for a fruit mix similar to a regular Christmas cake, you don’t have to stick to tradition if it’s not your thing. Why not give dried apricots, dates, dried pineapple or papaya a go instead.
CONVERT TO CUPS: There is a cup conversion option in the recipe card to convert the ingredients. This is automatic and I can’t guarantee the accuracy. For best baking results, I recommend using digital scales and weighing the ingredients.
Equipment you will need
Although there seems a lot of ingredients on the equipment side of things, you’ll find you already got everything you need. These are the exact tools I use in my kitchen…
- 13 x 9.5 inch Tray Bake Tin
- Large mixing bowl
- Hand held mixer
- Rubber spatula
- Baking Parchment
- Angled Palette Knife – One of my essential pieces of equipment
- Silicone Pastry Brush
I like to use a stand mixer for ease; but if you don’t have one I recommend a hand held mixer and a large mixing bowl.
How to make Christmas tray bake cake
Full measurements and instructions can be found on the recipe card
There’s a few different parts to making this fruity tray bake, but they’re quite simple. Here’s everything you need to do…
I use a reverse-creaming technique for my traybake cakes, as I find it gives it you the perfect texture and the best levelling on the rise.
- Start by adding all the fruit into a large bowl, pour over the brandy or orange juice, then mix everything together – this is just a quick soak
- Combine the flour, baking powder and mixed spice in another large mixing bowl. Add the salt, if using
- Add in the caster sugar and stir through until everything is combined
- Add in the butter and mix together with a hand held mixer until you get a sandy texture
- Add the soured cream and stir through, the mixture will start to look thick and wet
- Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. You should end up with a smooth, creamy batter that spreads easily
- Add the soaked fruit into the mixture and fold through with a rubber spatula until well combined
When your cake batter is ready, pour it into a tray bake pan lined with baking parchment and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden, then turn out onto a wire rack to completely cool.
RECIPE NOTE: The reverse-creaming technique starts with combining dry ingredients before adding the fats. This means the flour particles are coated with fat from the butter reducing the gluten formation. This gives you a finer, springy cake while still keeping it nice and light.
The nut-free marzipan
I love this free-form version of marzipan to give my Christmas cakes a traditional look without the nuts. It’s really easy to make, but if you prefer almond marzipan you can use that instead.
- Add the semolina, icing sugar, butter and vanilla extract into a large bowl then mix everything together until it forms a smooth dough
- Form the dough into a round patty and wrap in clingfilm, then chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes
TOP TIP: The nut-free marzipan can be a little crumbly so it’s really important to chill for 20-30 minutes before rolling out.
Decorating the cake
I love tray bake cakes for just being really simple to decorate, and even though this one has a layer of marzipan and icing; there’s nothing too tricky. Here’s what you need to do…
- Warm the jam in the microwave for 30 seconds so that it is runny and easy to spread
- Carefully turn over the cake over so the flat base is on the top – this will give you the smoothest surface to ice and decorate – then brush the warm jam all over the top with a silicone pastry brush
- Roll out the chilled marzipan between two pieces of baking parchment until it’s 5mm thick or the thickness of a £1 coin. Peel off the top layer of parchment.
- Place the marzipan on top of the cake, sealing it in place with the jam. Use the bottom layer baking parchment to position the marzipan and then remove
- Mix the Royal Icing powder with cold water until it forms a thick and glossy icing paste. It should still be smooth and spreadable
- Using an angled palette knife spread the icing all over the top of the marzipan and allow to set
TOP TIP: If you prefer you can swap the Royal Icing for ready to roll sugar paste. Remember to add another coat of warm jam to the top of the marzipan to help stick the sugar paste in place.
Step by step live video
Tips for success
I absolutely love making tray bake cakes; they’re adaptable, easy and there’s always plenty to go round. Here are my top tips to make sure your cake is a showstopping success…
- Weigh your ingredients – If you’re looking for the perfect bake, invest in a set digital kitchen scales and your baking will change forever! Did you know that 1 cup of flour can give you 150% of the correct amount required – that’s going to have a significant effect on your bakes, so always weigh!
- Use room temperature eggs – Using cold eggs in your cake batter can cause it to curdle, so take your eggs out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before you start baking. It also makes the eggs easier to whisk and gives them lots of volume, helping keep your cake light and fluffy.
- Make sure the butter is room temperature – For the perfectly light and fluffy cake, your butter should be nice and soft to start. Not only is it easier to cream into the batter, but it helps incorporate air into the mix giving you the lift your cake is after. Take it out of the fridge the night before and it will be just right.
- Let the cake fully cool before decorating – I know its tempting to get decorating as quickly as possible but let the cake fully cool first. Remove it from the pan after 10 minutes to fully cool on a wire-rack, it will then be ready for d
FAQs about Christmas tray bake cake
The recipe is best made in a 13 x 9 inch tray bake pan. Make sure the one you use is at least 1-inch deep. You could also make this as a layer cake using two 8-inch round cake tins and sandwich the layers with my favourite brandy buttercream recipe that I top my mince pie brownies with.
Once decorated, you can either cut the cake into slices and keep in a air-tight container, or if serving shortly after decorating cover with kitchen foil.
The Christmas tray bake cake will keep for up to 5 days stored at room temperature or up to 1 week in the fridge. You can freeze the cake either un-iced or with the ‘marzipan’. The cake can be stored for up to 2 months in the freezer.
The beauty of this cake is that as it’s a light sponge rather than a rich and dense fruit cake there’s no need to ‘feed’ the cake; doing so would result in a soggy sponge.
Christmas Tray Bake Cake
For the Sheet Cake
- 350 g Plain Flour or All Purpose Flour
- 3 tsp Baking Powder
- 1 tsp Mixed Spice
- 1 tsp Fine Sea Salt
- 200 g Soft Light Brown Sugar
- 100 g Caster Sugar or Superfine Sugar
- 250 g Butter Salted
- 150 ml Soured Cream or Natural Yogurt
- 4 Eggs Medium
- 1 tbsp Brandy
- 150 g Raisins
- 150 g Sultanas
- 150 g Currants
- 75 g Dried Apricots Chopped
- 75 g Dried Cranberries
- 100 g Glace Cherries Chopped
For the Icing and Decoration
- 400 g Royal Icing Powder
- 3 tbsp Cold Water
- Sprinkles or Cake Decorations
- To make the sheet cake: Preheat oven to 180C/350F and line a 13×9 inch sheet pan with baking paper. Alternatively, coat the pan with homemade cake release.
- Add the currants, raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, dried cranberries and glacé cherries into a mixing bowl. Add the brandy and mix everything together until well combined. Leave to soak while making the cake batter.
- In a large bowl or a stand mixer bowl, sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt and mix together.350 g Plain Flour, 1 tsp Fine Sea Salt, 3 tsp Baking Powder
- Then add the light brown sugar and caster sugar. Mix together until well combined.200 g Soft Light Brown Sugar, 100 g Caster Sugar
- Add the butter to the flour mixture and beat with a handheld mixer until everything is well well-combined and the butter evenly distributed. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with the beater attachment.250 g Butter
- Add the soured cream and beat the ingredients again. The mixture should be well combined and start to look thick and wet.150 ml Soured Cream
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk between each addition on medium-high until the cake batter is smooth, thick and spreadable.4 Eggs
- Add the soaked fruit into the mixture and fold through with a rubber spatula until well combined150 ml Soured Cream
- Pour the cake batter into the lined sheet pan, and level if required using an offset spatula.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until springy to touch and skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
- To make the nut-free marzipan: Add the semolina, icing sugar, butter and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Using a handheld mixer or stand mixer, mix the ingredients until everything comes together to form a smooth dough.100 g Butter
- From the dough into a round patty and wrap in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.150 g Icing Sugar
- To assemble the cake: Carefully flip the chilled cake so the flat base is now the top of the cake. This will give you the smoothest surface to ice and decorate.
- Place the jam in a small microwave-proof bowl and warm in the microwave for 30 seconds, or until the jam is runny and easy to spread. Alternatively, place in a small saucepan and gently warm over a low heat. Brush the warm jam all over the top of the cake.
- Place the chilled marzipan between two pieces of baking parchment and using a rolling pin, roll out the marzipan until its large enough to cover the top of the cake. It should be about 5mm thick or the thickness of a £1 coin. Remove the top layer of parchment.
- Use the bottom piece of baking parchment to move the marzipan and lay it marzipan side down on top of the warm jam. When in position, remove the parchment and trim the edges with a sharp knife if necessary.
- To decorate the cake: In a mixing bowl, add the Royal Icing powder and add cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Mix between each addition until the icing forms a thick and glossy icing paste. The mixture should be thick but still spreadable. If it's too runny, add a little extra icing sugar; too thick a drop of water. Be careful not to add too much otherwise it will end up too runny.
- Use an angled palette knife to spread the icing all over the top of the marzipan. Move the icing around with the palette knife to give the icing texture. Add any decorations or sprinkles to the icing while it is still wet, then allow the icing to set.
The nutritional information provided is approximate and is calculated using online tools. Information can vary depending on various factors, but we have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible.