Long gone are the days when children were excited to receive an orange in their Christmas stocking. The gift of an orange in your stocking comes from a story about St Nicholas who threw three bags of gold down the chimney of a cottage belonging to a poor man who could not provide a dowry for his daughters. The girls, who had hung their stockings to dry in front of the fireplace, were surprised to find a bag of gold in each one and were able to marry. So, oranges were regarded as a ‘gift of gold’ from St Nicholas, and it became customary include one in children’s Christmas stockings though there was a slight hiatus during the Second World War, as exotic fruits such as oranges and bananas, which were imported by ship, were hardly ever seen. Indeed, many children didn’t see them until imports resumed after the war.

A long time ago, when I was a midwife, I asked one of my students if she was ready for Christmas. ‘Almost,’ she said. ‘I just have to buy the satsumas.’ Oh, to have just that left to do, I thought. In recent decades, the orange has been superseded by smaller citrus fruits, ones which are easier to peel and sweeter such as mandarins, tangerines, clementines, and satsumas. Mandarins are a type of orange, sometimes known as a mandarin orange; mandarins are the overarching category that tangerines, clementines, and satsumas come under. So, they are all in essence oranges.

This month’s recipe is a zesty alternative to the rich fruit cakes of Christmas, it features orange marmalade and is brushed with an orange flavoured syrup. This recipe also works well with gluten free flour. Some marmalades around Christmas time are infused with alcohol flavours which is ideal for this cake.

Great British Life: Christmas orange cake. (Photo: Richard Budd)Christmas orange cake. (Photo: Richard Budd)

Maggie Richardson’s Christmas Orange Cake recipe



175g unsalted butter softened

175g caster sugar

3 large eggs

175g self-raising flour

110g good quality orange marmalade

For the sugar syrup

100g caster sugar

100g water

flavour of your choice such as marmalade or Cointreau


icing sugar or caster sugar

dried orange slices

orange zest


Preheat your oven to 160°C fan/180°C/ gas mark 4. Line a 20cm baking tin with baking parchment. In a mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, until each one is fully incorporated. Beat in about half the flour, then fold in the other half. Fold in the marmalade. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin and bake for 40/50 minutes until risen, and a skewer put into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for at least 10 minutes to cool. Then carefully turn the cake out onto a wire tray – it is quite a ‘floppy’ cake.

Make the sugar syrup: In a saucepan, bring to the sugar and water to the boil and simmer for about 15 - 20 minutes until the sugar has completed melted and some of the water has evaporated. Stir in your flavouring – Cointreau or more marmalade.

Brush the cake liberally with syrup. You can do this while the cake is warm or cold. When it is completely cold, decorate with a sprinkling of caster sugar or icing sugar and some dried orange slices (see note) or orange zest.

Drying Orange Slices: These look wonderful on this cake as well as on a Christmas wreath or hanging from a Christmas tree. Slice the orange, crossways. Place the slices on a parchment lined baking tray and put into a very low temperature oven (100°C fan/120°C/gas mark ½) for 2 to 4 hours. For cake decoration I like them to be quite light and moist, so a couple of hours is enough, and I sprinkle them with a little sugar; for wreath and tree decorations leave for longer as you want them very dry.