The English Manner, The UK’s Leading Etiquette and Protocol Training Institute 1200 627

William joined The English Manner in 2008 before taking ownership in 2019. He is widely regarded as the freshest and most trusted authority on etiquette and civility, with his relative youth and old-fashioned values making him an arbiter of modern manners.

Connect with William Hanson on LinkedIn Follow William Hanson on Instagram

12 November 2023


Each winter, a Christmas cake is a staple in many houses, including mine. Some are very strict and insist it cannot be eaten before Christmas Day itself, others are more relaxed. Yet there are some poor souls who blanch at the very prospect of a dried fruit cake and can’t stomach it. I pity them. Maybe they have had too many dry cakes in their time.

This cake, which Alexandra Messervy, my friend and colleague, copied down from a magazine many years ago, is the best Christmas cake I have ever tasted and I am yet to find a more moist one.

Having posted about my cake-making on my Instagram recently, I was inundated with people asking for the recipe. So, in the spirit of Christmas, here it is!


225g dried apricots, chopped

90ml brandy

225g butter, at room temperature

225g light muscavado sugar

225g plain flour

5 large eggs

225g currants

450g sultanas

350g glacé cherries, rinsed, dried & quartered


  1. Soak the chopped apricots in brandy overnight (cover with cling film).
  2. The next day, preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (120 degrees C fan oven, or gas mark 1).  Line a 20cm or 23cm deep round cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper.
  3. In a very large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to mix until well blended. 
  4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread out evenly with the back of a spoon. 
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 4-4 ½ hours or until the cake is a pale golden colour, feels firm to the touch, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Check after 2 hours, and if the cake is a perfect colour, cover it with foil.  When finished, leave to cool in the tin.  (If doing this in a 23cm tin, then cook for 3 ½ – 4 ¼ hours)
  6. When cool completely, wrap and store. 


Wrap in baking paper and foil and store for up to three months.  If freezing, wrap in clingfilm/saran wrap, place inside a large freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months.  Defrost for 8 hours at room temperature after removing the wrapping.  

Feed the cake with brandy several times before Christmas (every 10 days or so, depending on how moist you like it).  Turn upside down, pour a tablespoon or two over the base, and let seep in before returning to wrappings. 

Almond paste and royal icing are a must for a Christmas cake – put almond paste on a few weeks before Christmas (at end of November is good; at this point stop feeding the cake) and ice a few days before needed.  You need to let the almond paste dry out before adding the icing, or else the icing will turn yellow.

Ideally, this cake is made at least two weeks before eating so it is not crumbly. 

It makes a delicious fruit cake on its own, without the paste and icing, for the rest of the year.

Learn afternoon tea etiquette

Learn tea time manners and pastry protocols while enjoying a classic afternoon tea in London with our masterclass

Find out more Contact us