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Christmas Cake

gluten free christmas cake
This healthier Christmas Cake is alcohol free and packed full of dried fruit and nuts.

A while back, Lisa (and several other readers) asked me to come up with a gluten-free Christmas cake.  Being Jewish, and never having sampled Christmas cake, I had no idea what it was.

Lisa was kind enough to send me this definition:

A festive cake for celebrating Christmas here in Australia. Commonly full of dried fruits (a variety) soaked in alcohol.   Flour, brown sugar, eggs cinnamon, nutmeg. It’s generally a heavy consistency and very moist.

I don’t cook with alcohol and really make a point of avoiding it since it is high in sugar and basically empty calories. So I substituted an orange for the usual brandy in this dessert and then took some other liberties from there.

It seems from this definition that Christmas cake is a type of fruitcake and can be many things to many people, though the one key element is that it is super sweet and full of dried fruit. My friend Patricia (of Scottish descent) told me that it can also have nuts. After checking in with her, I came up with this recipe.  Hope you enjoy it.

Christmas Cake


  1. Wash the orange and boil it whole (peel and all) for 1 ½ hours, or until soft
  2. Place whole orange (peel and all) in a food processor and blend until smooth
  3. Process in eggs, agave, almond extract, almond flour, salt and baking soda until well blended
  4. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in cranberries, apricots, pistachios and walnuts
  5. Pour mixture into a greased, almond flour dusted 9-inch springform pan
  6. If cake begins to brown on top before center is done, cover with tin foil
  7. Bake at 350° for 45-55 minutes, or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean
  8. Cool in the pan for 2 hours
  9. Serve

Serves 6-8

On totally separate note, I found this article by New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicolas D. Kristof to be quite inspiring.  In it he discusses changing the name “Secretary of Agriculture” (head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) to “Secretary of Food.”  His persuasive point is that while less than 2% of the U.S. population farms, 100% of that same population eats food.  The article is very liberal and reformist along the lines of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma or Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

The New York Times’ Op-Ed page is a hotbed of brilliant writing lately churning with fascinating ideas regarding food, as well as environmentalism and economics.  Between Maureen Dowd (she is ironic and hilariously funny), Kristof and Friedman they’re a triple threat with some of the best and brightest columnists in the industry.

posted on December 16, 2008, 40 comments

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve celebrated Christmas my whole life, and still haven’t ever heard of “Christmas Cake.” It’s amazing what some geographic and cultural differences will do :-)

  2. I’ve also never heard of Christmas cake, but this looks delicious.

  3. I’m confused with the orange directions. It says peeled and sliced, then to boil them whole like in the orange cake.

    Cake sounds yummy! I just discovered coconut milk ice cream at whole foods. Bet that would be yummy alongside this cake.

  4. We celebrate Christmas, but I hadn’t heard of this either :-)

    Looks and sounds amazing! I love how you use orange!

    Cheers, Kelly

  5. Margaret

    I used to make a fruit cake with a spice cake mix, nuts, and candied fruits. This sounds much healthier. Thanks. God bless you. Margaret

  6. Nicole

    sounds like a healthy and tasty version of the ‘ole fashioned fruit cake

  7. Athena

    Oh I love Christmas cake! It’s a very old recipe that was a huge tradition for my grandparents and great-grandparents. Today we know it as “Fruit Cake”, but today’s fruit cakes are not even close.

    This sounds very good! Fruit cakes often have rum or whiskey instead of brandy and contain dried apricots, prunes, figs, pecans or filberts, cranberries, candied orange rind, whatever you like. It is also traditionally made with blackstrap molasses or sorghum and not white sugar.

    The most beloved story about Christmas cake is A Christmas Story by Truman Capote, about he and his great cousin when he was a little boy. We read it every year. http://www.geocities.com/cyber_explorer99/capotechristmas.html

    Thanks for the gf recipe!

  8. Haha, the New York times IS certainly liberal! Thanks for reminding me to bust out my old copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s full of valuable information!

    The cake looks great, Elana. I hope you have had a blessed Hanukkah!

  9. Dawn -It is certainly amazing; hope you enjoy this recipe :-)

    Hayley -Thank you. Yes, it looks and tastes delicious.

    VeggieGirl -Thanks!

    Hannah -That was my fault. I changed the directions so that they make sense now. I haven’t had the coconut ice cream yet, it does sound yummy served with the Christmas Cake.

    Kelly -Thanks for the compliment on the photo and for stopping by.

    Margaret -Yes, this is definitely a healthier version of the fruit cake. Thanks!

    Nicole -Yes, I agree!

    Athena -Thanks for your lovely comments and for the link.

    Lauren -I am a big fan of Michael Pollan’s work. I hope you have a blessed Hanukkah as well.

  10. Kristin

    This cake was terrific – far better than any “Fruit Cake” I ever tasted! It was even better the second day! So moist and rich – thank you!

  11. Kristin,

    You are very welcome!


  12. Sarah Schatz - menus for limited diets @ heartofcooking.com

    Hi Elana,
    The cake is in the oven right now. I am excited to see how it turns out. I made some modifications since I am on GAPS so I used honey and I separated the eggs instead of using baking soda. (then whipped the egg whites till stiff and added them into the mixture.)

    Also, I noticed that after the first two steps with the orange, you don’t talk about what to do with it. It seems reasonable you would add it to the almond flour mixture (this is what I did), but you may want to edit it to include it in the next step.

    Thanks so much,

  13. never heard of christmas cake… hmmm. but what you describe sounds like what my grandmother used to make – fruit cake.

    though she used to make it with “jellied fruit” not “dried fruit” and about a bottle of liquor. (bascially gluten, tons of red an green dyes. HFCS and rum) it was just plain awful (sorry Nana). this one sounds MUCH better ;)

    leave it to the jewish lady to come up with a better “christmas cake” than my southern granny lol!

  14. Lisa J MacMillan


    Thanks so much for another wonderful recipe! I divided this into three small spring form pans, so I could give a whole small cake to my sister, as I do make her a homemade fruitcake every year.

    My boyfriend is diabetic and doesn’t always eat as he should. But I have been making more and more of your nutritious and delicious recipes for the both of us and he certainly is not complaining. He LOVED the Christmas Cake as much as when I would make fruitcake, but this was so much better for him. I think you are a life saver… literally. I love your Gluten Free cookbook. Thanks again.

  15. I made the Christmas Cake recipe, having never heard of Christmas Cake but was attracted to the ingredients. It was marvelous! The boiled orange (I substituted a large clementine for a little extra tang) was perfect for imparting both flavor and moisture. I cut back a little on the agave and the cake remained quite sweet. Next time I would cut back even further and rely on the natural sweetness of the dried fruits. My family kept saying it tasted “normal”, meaning not like a lot of commercially available gluten-free desserts. They loved it and so did I! Thanks, Elana, so much for this extraordinary dessert.

  16. QueenJellyBean

    Nutrition Facts
    (for those who are healthy by counting calories/carbs/fats/protein, like me)
    Serving Size – 1/16 of Cake
    Calories – 249
    Calories from fat – 50
    Total Fat – 13.5 grams
    Total Carb – 28 grams
    Dietary Fiber – 3 grams
    Sugars – 23 grams
    Protein 6.7 grams

    Doing the calcs before tasting it helped me to plan ahead – to have a small piece. I can freeze the rest or share it. It’s called Christmas “Cake” not “bread” for a reason.
    I put it in the oven at 5:30 this morning before work. Despite the 90-degree weather I’m going to find a way to bake without roasting myself.
    Thanks for the beautiful recipe, Elana. It’s like your “Orange Cake”, but graduated to have all these fabulous flavors and textures in it. Happy baking everyone!

  17. Lisa Felger

    My Grandmother was from Madeira Island, Portugal and used to make a Christmas Cake that I didn’t like as a child. It was full of walnuts and spices and wasn’t very sweet. Now that I’m an adult I’d like to make this and continue the tradition, just GF. Thanks Elana! This will work perfectly. I’ll just substitute different nuts and fruits.

  18. Kevin McMahon

    If say your Jewish than how often do you go to the Synagogue. (I of coarse am a Christian so I didn’t no that Jews go to Synagogues.)

  19. QueenJellyBean

    I made this again – substitutions this time:
    – fresh cranberries instead of dried
    – chopped a cup of cranberries in the Vita-Mix for 8 seconds
    – reduced Agave to 1/2 cup (perfect sweetness)
    The Orange:
    – If you try this with orange juice concentrate, please blog about it here.
    – If you do try OJ concentrate, would you use no agave?
    – I always boil 2 oranges (or alternative citrus fruits) and reserve 1/2 in the freezer for the next time I make it.

  20. Hi Elana,

    I’ve pinned your recipe to my Gluten-Free Christmas board. http://pinterest.com/freefromguru/happy-gluten-free-christmas/ For those who are not familiar with our (Irish/British) Christmas cake see The Gluten Free Foodie’s entry on my Pin board or this google images view https://www.google.com/search?num=10&hl=en&site=&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1366&bih=643&q=british+christmas+cake&oq=british+christmas+cake&gs_l=img.3..0i24l2j0i5i24l2.1491.4571.0.4731.…0.0…1ac.1.bitSowlxV20

    I’d like to try yours because I’m the only one in our household who likes our traditional Christmas cake, but any recipe or bought one is enormous and a small one that is gluten-free is ridiculously expensive.

  21. Hope

    Amazed by the number of people who’ve never heard of Christmas cake… Had assumed it was as common in the states as here in the UK. This looks like a great option now we’ve gone paleo. Thanks Eleanor! By the way, in the UK the tradition is to top the cake with a layer of marzipan and then top that with royal icing. Swirl the icing to look like snow, add some plastic decorations like santa’s sleigh, snowmen and Edible silver balls and then tie a red ribbon round the cake and you then had a feature. of our Christmas table circa the 1970’s.

  22. Brandi

    Just made this cake. It is cooling right now. Looks amazing…can’t wait to try it.

  23. Michelle Heath

    Could you substitute xylitol for the honey/agave? In New Zealand often the Christmas cake is decorated on top with nuts and glace cherries and pineaple. But more often with marzipan icing and royal icing. Has anyone tried decorating this cake with nuts or a sugar free marzipan and did it work?

  24. Christina Alexander

    Now THIS is something I am actually going to make! Immediately. And thank you for a recipe with easily obtainable ingredients.

  25. Karen

    Can this be made without eggs? What would be a substitution?

  26. linda clinton

    Im Scottish and and make about 10 Christmas cakes, you make in October and then feed with alcohol until Christmas.

    Im going to try this recipe today!

  27. Deanna

    This cake looks fantastic, but does anyone know how well it keeps? With a “normal” Christmas cake one keeps feeding it with brandy every week, and it keeps for ages (years). I’m just wondering if I can make it now or if it would be best left as a job for Christmas Eve lest it dry out or moulder by the day itself. Thanks!

  28. I baked it last week but substituted the cranberries for sultanas. My husband wanted to try it straight away, so I had to cut the cake. But I noted that it doesn’t last long like the “normal” Christmas cake full of alcohol, as it was going mouldy after a few days. I will have to bake another one a day or two before Christmas as it was a success at work as well!

  29. THANK YOU ELANA! This Christmas cake was unbelievable! On Christmas Day I chanced the recipe and made it for a family gathering! The boiled orange sounded so curious to me… had to try it. Fabulous! I did hesitate with the cinnamon and clove bottles for just a second. Held them over batter trying to decide if more flavor would enhance or not. I decided… nope… Elana is the expert. Let me just make it as she describes and see how we like it (we chose the honey as sweetener). We did have to substitute dates for apricots, but other than that.. followed exactly. and WELL WELL… IF EVER ANYONE DOUBTS THAT GLUTEN AND DAIRY FREE CAN BE MOIST AND DELICIOUS, THIS LITTLE CAKE WILL BE JUST THE PROOF THEY NEED! Thank you! Divine…

  30. Amy Alexanian

    This is the third time I’m making this cake since discovering it a week ago. It is so good that I’m afraid to make any change. Thank you for this delicious recipe!

  31. Sharon

    The only fruitcake I like is a no-bake fruitcake, can’t stand the baked ones.

  32. Mine didn’t get to pouring consistency! It was quite moist and crumbly. I did use almond meal because I couldn’t get almond flour, then added a bit more agave and an extra egg. Any other ideas on getting the right consistency.

    • Maureen

      Kelly, I used almond meal too but mine was good. I wonder if it’s because I used honey instead of agave. I tend to prefer honey. The only issue I had was that I only had an 8″ springform pan and mine had to cook longer. I think it would be fun to try this in 2 small loaf pans, like banana bread. I adore this cake!

  33. Made this on Sunday night and it has been a hit… I didn’t have walnuts or pistachios so instead used some store bought mixed peel, and lots of flavoured raisins from Nakd foods (pineapple, cherry). Everyone who has tried it cannot believe it is made from ground blanched almonds. They’ve all said it’s delicious and I have to agree… the smell coming from the oven was divine.

  34. Maureen

    I made this for our family’s Christmas gathering and it was wonderful. I substituted 4 clementines for the orange since I had them on hand. I soaked the fruits and nuts in some orange liqueur while they boiled, abd used 1 tsp of Amaretto instead of almond extract.

  35. Maureen

    Also, i used honey not agave.

  36. Christi Richmond

    I made this cake as our special Christmas dessert. The cake was delicious, however, the process of making the boiled orange completely ruined my food processor. All of the plastic parts are now permanently etched due to processing the hot orange. I will not be making this cake again.

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Comments are greatly appreciated! Unfortunately Elana is not able to answer substitution questions, as the only way to know if something works is to test it, and she does not provide this service. If you have a substitution question, please don't hesitate to leave a comment here, and another reader may jump in to answer. ↑ back to top