PimmsPimm’s, fortified wines and Belgian wheatbeer are sampled this week as I get started baking the Christmas fruity puds and cakes. Recipes for booze-soaked Christmas fruit cake always say you should let the cake 'mature' for at least a week before you ice it. But the cake will still taste wonderful if you start munching when it’s only been out of the oven for an hour and just (about) cooled down.

Christmas cakeBut you'll find as you eat the rest of the cake over the coming week(s) it will become ever mellower and smoother. The sharp tangs resulting from the alcohol in the soaking liquor of choice become less obvious and finally disappear making for a more balanced cake.

You don't need an 'O' level in Home Economics to make a really good Christmas cake - in fact the more feeble your efforts the better the resulting cake.

M&S Belgian cherry wheatbeerFirst cover and soak the dried fruit overnight in more than the recommended eighth of a pint of sherry, liqueur or dark ale. I have experimented with sweet sherry (good but the sherry flavour can get lost amongst the fruit), rum (over dominates) and have now settled on Pimm's or Belgian cherry wheatbeer as the alcohol of choice. They won't overpower your fruit cake and either makes for a very satisfying drink before, during and after the cake making process.

To make the cake, don't beat the butter and sugar as you would normally, just stir in the remaining ingredients and this will help keep the cake mix stiff enough to support the huge amount of fruit and stop this from subsiding to the bottom of the cake. Then bake in a cool oven (gas mark 1, 140 degrees C) for three hours.

PG Cake Soaking Choices

Pimm's No.1 (1-litre)

£15 Asda, £17 Sainsbury’s and £20.89 Tesco

This gin-based liqueur makes an interesting cake addition. Its orange, Madiera cake and milk chocolate flavours lighten the densely-packed richness of Christmas cake. For even more orangeyness try sloshing it into a trifle topped with tinned mandarins.

Marks and Spencer Belgian Cherry Wheat Beer (330ml)


The added 29% Griotte cherry juice does have the effect you would expect – cherry colour, cherry aromas and cherry flavours. All mixed with a bit of lemon and malty bread. You’ll need to use the entire bottle contents to soak your fruit, so buy a second bottle if you want to slurp it.

Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry

£7.67 Asda, £8.27 Tesco (down from £9.57 until November 22nd) and £9.57 Sainsbury's

Christmas wouldn't be complete without a blue bottle of dependable Harveys Bristol Cream. Lots of raisin and brown sugar flavours to meet all Christmas cake and trifle-soaking needs. Or just use it to complement that restorative bag of nuts you'll be nibbling after all that baking.

Fletcher’s Fine Ruby Port

£5.99 Aldi

Aldi’s own-label port is really rather good: raisin, blackberry and chocolate aromas followed by blackberry with a dash of brown sugar flavours. Quaffable, in or out of the cake.

Campbells Australian Rutherglen Muscat (half bottle size)

£10.99 Waitrose

Quite an expensive soaking liquor of choice but boy, will it taste good. Oh and leave a smidge to taste for yourself: butter and toffee flavours with a warming ginger edge.