You don't have to serve up Christmas fruit cake just because it's what you've always done. Save for a few elder aunties, very few people actually like traditional Christmas cake––a plum pudding-like affair that includes rum-soaked currants and raisins. Surprise your family (the few that may join you around the dinner table this year) with something extra-special and guaranteed to please.
We chose our three favorite cakes for Christmas and added our own flair to dress them up for the holidays. Rich and creamy gingerbread cheesecake, chocolate layer cake decked with candy cane pieces, and classic vanilla cake under a decorative snowfall. If you have time to make all three, we highly recommend you do! If not, choose your favorite and save the other two for a New Year's Eve treat.
3 Upgraded Cakes for the Holidays
Retro Christmas Cake
If you have a festive shaped cake pan, this may be worth some experimentation. If not, follow the preparation instructions below. This cake has a classic timelessness about it. Its main feature is its appearance, but the vanilla cake inside is absolutely mouthwatering and the buttercream icing describes itself… sensational. Presentation has everything to do with your imagination, but the suggestion in the preparation instructions makes an ordinary vanilla cake look classy, fun, and retro.
For the Cake:
3 ⅔ cups cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp baking soda
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs + 2 extra egg whites, at room temperature
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
For the Vanilla Buttercream:
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, softened
6 cups icing sugar
⅓ cup whole milk or heavy cream
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
⅛ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 3, 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper, greased.
Whisk the dry cake ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda). In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar on high speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs, extra egg whites, and vanilla until combined. Note: it may look a bit curdled. On low speed, combine the dry ingredients until just mixed in. Then mix in the buttermilk until just combined.
Pour the batter into the cake pans and bake for about 25 minutes until they're baked through. Allow the cakes to cook on a wire rack.
To make the frosting, beat the butter in a large bowl on medium speed until creamy. Add the icing sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Increase to high speed and beat for two minutes. Add more icing sugar to thicken the consistency or more milk to thin it out.
The goal is to stack one cake upon another with frosting between the layers. Then frost the whole stack, creating a textured "fresh snow" surface. Now, it's time to decorate! Use metallic confectionary balls to create strings of "garland", and add jelly beans at even intervals to achieve the look of lights (the kids will love this part!).
Spiced, rich, and dense, this gingerbread cheesecake combines the warming flavors of chewy gingerbread cookies with smooth, creamy cheesecake. It not only looks gorgeous dusted with aromatic cinnamon, it tastes like Christmas and kicks the indulgence factor up a notch. A lot goes into it, but it's surprisingly easy to whip up. Note the extra time required for cooling and setting. All creams should be a room temperature before mixing.
6 oz. graham crackers (roughly 11 crackers), extra for serving (chopped)
½ cups pecans, plus more, chopped, for serving
1 tbsp plus ¾ cup sugar, divided
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
⅓ cup sour cream, at room temperature
⅓ cup heavy cream, at room temperature
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 375°F. Put graham crackers, pecans, and a tbsp of sugar in a food processor and pulse until it reaches a fine crumbly texture. Add butter and combine. Then press into a 9-inch springform pan to a 1” thickness, covering the sides and bottom. Bake 7-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Reduce oven heat to 325°F.
Beat cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, molasses, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and ¾ cup sugar until smooth. Beat in vanilla, and egg yolks one at a time until just combined.
Spread the mixture onto the cooled crust. Bake about 40 minutes. The edges should be set but the center wobbly. Turn off the oven and keep the cake inside for 30 minutes. Remove and allow 4 hours to completely cool the cake then place in the refrigerator until chilled.
Transfer cake to a serving platter and top with chopped graham crackers and pecans. Dust with ground cinnamon.
Cocoa Candy Cane Frost Cake
Moist, lip-smacking, and with a hit of coffee, this cacao cake is a perfect partner to hot chocolate. Chocolate and peppermint make a delightful, festive combo that looks as good as it tastes. If you'd prefer a fine dusting of peppermint candy canes, use a stone mortar and pestle to grind them down. Or stick with chopped canes for a rougher texture (you may need a post-cake toothpick!).
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1 cup milk
4 tbsp flour
½ cup butter at room temperature (do not use margarine)
½ cup shortening (do not use butter)
1 cup extra-fine granulated sugar
2 tbsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp powdered sugar
4-5 peppermint candy canes, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly coat 3, 8-inch pans with flour. Then, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.
Beat the buttermilk, oil, and eggs on medium speed. Once combined, beat in the vanilla extract. Then beat in the dry ingredients until just combined, followed by the coffee.
Divide the batter among the 3 pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 30 minutes. Then gently place on parchment paper to completely cool.
For the frosting, whisk milk and flour together in a sauce pan and cook on medium-low heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Pour through a mesh strainer into a small bowl and use a rubber spatula to press through.
Cover and refrigerate until cold. Then combine butter and shortening, beating on high speed for 4 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for 4 more minutes. Add the cooled milk, flour mixture, and vanilla. Beat on high speed for 4 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat for 4 more minutes.
Layer the cakes, spreading frosting in between. Then cover the entire stack in frosting and garnish with chopped candy canes. Put 1-3 whole candy canes in the center of the cake for additional pizzazz.
Enjoy this collection of decadent non-traditional holiday cakes for Christmas and New Year's. From our kitchen to yours, we wish you warm, delicious, and aromatic cake-baking extravaganzas in the kitchen this holiday season!