Looking at local: How to make your own Christmas cakes

Recently, we had the pleasure of talking to a local man with a love of making prize-winning Christmas cakes. His name is John Treloar and he has made hundreds – maybe even thousands – of delicious cakes for loved ones, neighbours, and the judges at the Royal Easter Show where he won the 2019 Best Sponge category.  

His love of cooking came from time spent with his grandmother in the kitchen. Here she would spend a lot of time teaching him how to cook by sight “if it looks right John, it probably is”. And now that skill has followed him to adulthood, where he can tell how a cake will turn out just by the consistency of the mixture. 

After his retirement in 2015, he decided that he wanted to bake more. And now, he bakes at least once every 2 weeks. Filling his home with delightful smells and often dropping off delights for his elderly neighbours. 

And he has generously shared his two most popular recipes with us, so you can bake up a storm just in time for Christmas….

Rich Fruit Cake

(Based upon 1978 Australian Women’s Weekly Standard Fruit Cake)


In your largest mixing bowl, place:

450gm Sultanas

250gm Raisins (cut to be the size of Sultanas – optional)

200gm Red Glacé Cherries (cut in half or quarters)

300gm Currants

200gm Mixed Peel

Soak fruit overnight in half a cup of Rum or Brandy or Sherry, or if in a hurry, soak for at least a couple of hours.

This large bowl will be your final mixing bowl.

The cake mix

250gm of butter (room temperature)

1 1/2 cups of brown sugar

1 teaspoon of grated orange rind

1 teaspoon of grated lemon rind

4 eggs (Room temperature)

2 tablespoons of marmalade (Room temperature)

Using your original Sunbeam Mixmaster (as it is a 1978 recipe) or similar, mix the base of the cake.

First, cream the butter until soft, then add brown sugar until just combined and add grated orange and lemon rind

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition

Add the marmalade

Sifted Flour and Spices

2 1/2 cups of plain flour

1 teaspoon of mixed spice

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg

pinch of salt

Directly over the fruit, sift in all the dry ingredients.  Mix the dry ingredients with the fruit.  This helps the fruit stay well suspended in the final cake.  All the dry ingredients should be coating the fruit.

Now you are ready to complete the cake.

All you need to do is empty the bowl of cake mix into the fruit and flour and mix with a wooden spoon until there are no flour pockets and the wooden spoon stands up easily in the centre of the mixture.

Preparing the cake tin/s

The above recipe will make a 20cm square or round deep cake tin cake.  If you are making cakes as presents, double or triple the recipe!

Line the tin with two layers of brown paper and 2 layers of baking paper in either order. 

Place a double layer of brown paper on top of the cake with a small hole cut in the middle.

Bake in slow oven (140 degree Gas or Electric) for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  If the oven is fan-forced, do not turn this feature on.

Test with a wooden skewer after 3 hours.  If it comes out dry, the cake is cooked.

When out of the oven, I use the skewer to put holes all over the cake and pour over a few slurps of the rum, brandy or sherry used to soak the fruit.

Then wrap the tin and cake in Aluminium Foil and allow to cool.

When cool, remove from tin, make more holes, add more Rum, Brandy or Sherry, and wrap in greaseproof paper, two sheets of newspaper, brown paper, and tie up with string.

If you want to ice the cake, I suggest buying readymade almond icing and readymade white fondant icing.  I use rum or brandy on the cake to fix the almond and white fondant icing on the cake.  A small kitchen brush helps.  Finally, place in a tightly sealed cake tin or wrap in glad wrap.  Enjoy!

Fruit Mince Tarts

For the fruit mince tarts, use a simple shortcrust pastry recipe.

The Pastry

125 gm chilled, cubed butter

250 gm plain flour

1 egg yolk (beaten with a tablespoon of chilled water)

I make multiple batches of pastry to make more than one batch of tarts.  Just double or triple the ingredients, as long as the butter proportion is half the flour.  You can make the calculation then on the egg yolk.

Using a kitchen Wizz, mix the butter and flour until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.  With the motor still running, add the beaten egg yolk and chilled water.  The pastry should shake the Fizz as it forms a soft pastry around the blades.  If still a little dry, add a small amount of chilled water.

Remove from the Wizz, wrap in cling film and place in refrigerator.  

The filling is a simple fruit mince that you can make before and store in a large glass jar.  

Ingredients for the filling

625 gm mixed fruit 

1 medium Granny Smith apple – peeled, cored and grated 

250 gm light brown sugar light brown sugar

Zest of one lemon  and juice of half a lemon

2 tbsp water

200 gm shredded suet

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

100 ml brandy 

Soak the mixed fruit in the brandy and lemon juice for 1-hour minimum, then drain and set the brandy lemon juice aside. 

Mix all the ingredients together, then pour in the brandy when all else is well mixed.

Use straight away or press into sterilised jars to exclude any air (after dishwasher on the hottest setting). Cover and leave for at least a fortnight. Will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. 

To make the tarts, remove the pastry from the fridge, roll out between two sheets of baking paper with just a little flour on top and bottom of the pastry.

Rollout to the thickness of 10 cent piece. Using round cutters, cut base rounds for 9 or 12 pattypans.  You can use a mini muffin pan also.  

Place the cut rounds into the cups in the patty pan and then a teaspoon of minced fruit.  Either cut a smaller round for the top or use a star cutter to be the top of the fruit mince tart.

Brush with a light wash of milk and egg, sprinkle with a sprinkle of caster sugar then bake in a heated oven set at 200 degrees C.  Watch them for around 15 minutes as you don’t want to overcook them.  

When out of the oven, remove from patty pan after about 5 minutes and place on a drying rack.  Dust with icing sugar.  When completely cool, wrap in cellophane in lots of 6 or eight, tie with ribbon and give as Christmas presents.  Or put into an airtight container and share when people visit.

If you are short of time, you can use frozen shortcrust pastry and the bottled fruit mince by Robertsons.  This is found in major supermarkets in the dried fruit section, usually on the bottom shelf.