A Christmas Cake

May I introduce (again) Maida Heatter.... The Queen of Desserts. I've bought each of her books the minute they came off the press. I never stop singing her praises because her books are a delight, cover everything you've ever wanted to make AND her attention to detail results in no-fail desserts. Her instructions are amazing and she often relates an interesting background behind each recipe. 

Because of my odd aversion to fruit cake I was thrilled to find this recipe in one of her books a number of years ago. It's basically a Christmas Cake. There's no candied fruit- it's chock full of nuts. And it's drizzled with brandy....a big plus for a Christmas Cake. The only resemblance to fruit cake is the dough before baking- loaded with nuts and not much batter.

When I'm asked to bring a dessert for a large group this time of year I always take Maida's Southern Nut Cake. Which I did last weekend and for three excellent reasons: it's very much a holiday cake and it looks super surrounded with holly; it serves a LOT of people and lastly, you don't need a plate because it's so firm a cake. This year I actually got phone calls from people who wanted to tell me how good it was and wanted the recipe. I've made it for tea at other times of the year by dividing the recipe in half and baking it in a loaf pan but this original recipe fills an angel food cake pan as you can see. Another winner from Maida! You'll love it.

Southern Nut Cake
From Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts


1 pound walnuts (4 ½ cups)
1 pound pecans (4 ½ cups)
3 ½  cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
½ teaspoon mace
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
¼ cup brandy or bourbon
¾ pound butter (1 ½ cups), room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
extra brandy or bourbon for the finished cake


Adjust oven rack 1/3 the way up from the bottom. Preheat oven to 325°. Butter a 10 by 4 inch tube pan (like an angel food cake pan). Line the bottom with wax or parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust all over with fine bread crumbs.

Break or cut the nuts into large pieces. They should NOT be finely chopped. Place them in the largest bowl you have.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, mace and salt. Set aside. Combine the milk and brandy or bourbon. Set aside.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat for a few minutes, scraping the bowl as necessary. On moderate speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating until thoroughly incorporated after each egg and scraping the bowl when necessary to keep everything well mixed. Increase speed and beat until light and fluffy- about 3 minutes. The batter may look curdled at this point- that's OK.

On lowest speed alternately add the sifted dry ingredients in three additions with the milk mixture in two, scraping the bowl as necessary with the spatula and beating only until smooth after each addition.

Pour the batter over the nuts. Stir with a large wooden spoon until the nuts are all coated with the batter. Turn into the prepared pan and level the top.

Bake for 1 ¾ hours or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place the cake pan on a rack. Generously sprinkle or brush the brandy or bourbon on top of the hot cake. Let cake cool in the pan for about 20 minutes.

Cover the cake with a rack and invert to remove pan and paper. Cover with another rack and carefully invert again to cool. It's better if it sits for 24 hours before cutting.

Using the cake for a tea: 


  1. I'm will be printing this and making this next week! Thank you, thank you for sharing!

  2. Yes! Yes! Thank you Barbara. Just cleaned out the fridge and found so many half opened packets of nuts. Now I know what to do with them :)

  3. I am a little embarassed to say I've never heard of Maida Heatter. Shame on the housewife, no?
    I also dont like most fruitcakes. I actually like candied fruit, but when everything is all combined into the cake, I usually find that I dont like it.
    Your cake looks fab, and you displayed it so beautifully daaaaaaahling.
    *kisses* HH

  4. I'm loving all the nuts in this yummy cake and the addition of brandy is great!

  5. Barbara,
    What a delicious looking cake. We love nuts around here so this will be a good recipe to try.

  6. Foodie: Hope you like it!

    Shaz: We're the same way- small leftover packets of nuts. No reason you can't mix them in this cake. It's very forgiving.

    HH: She's brilliant. Ask Santa for one of her books! ;)

    Natasha: I agree and it's better with brandy than bourbon for some reason.

    Mimi: I make it quite a bit; not as sweet as some, but plenty sweet enough.

  7. I have an aversion to fruit cake as well, I find that most have an overwhelming and odd flavor!

    Your cake sounds and looks divine! Thank you for another fabulous recipe sweet friend!

  8. I want to try that recipe, but I think I want to buy her book. (One to start, but then...) I love to READ cookbooks, especially the ones with sidebars and stories sprinkled throughout!

  9. Looks like a great recipe--anything soaked in bourbon or brandy seems festive and delicious. I've never used any of Maida's recipes, I'll have to give this one a try. Thanks!

  10. I'm e-mailing this to my MIL to see if she wants to make it with me when we're down there...

  11. This Cake look really amazing and delicious Barbara, gloria

  12. I'm not the biggest fan of nuts in cakes, but this makes me at least want to try it :)

    (or I can just stick to the other yummy desserts on your blog...endless options, I think!)

  13. I'm a fan of Maida too! I wish I had all her books. I've only ever made a few of her recipes, but they were great. Your cake looks fantastic!

  14. oh this looks so good, adn so packed with flavor, i love it!

  15. We love nuts, have to try this one!
    Looks delicious!

  16. I have never heard of this type of christmas cake. It's so refreshing to see a new recipe. Bookmarked it!

  17. I think you are one of many who do not like fruit cake. I just hate the texture of candied fruit. Doesn't do it for me.

    This, on the other hand, sounds delicious. Brandy and nuts! Count me in.

  18. Karyn: We are not alone!

    Channon: I think the one pictured was her first.

    Hungry: Imagine you can get her books used from Amazon.

    Duck: Crossing my fingers for you!

    Gloria: It is and thanks!

    Phoenix: Normally, I'm not either, but this one is really good.

    Lisa: She's great. I love her detailed instructions.

    Teresa: Agreed!

    Dishes Done: Hope you have a chance- it freezes well too.

    Ellie: I call it a Christmas cake because of all the nuts and the brandy!

  19. Barbara, this cake brings back some great memories of a neighbor in Connecticut. Every Christmas she would make 6 -inch round cakes and deliver them to our doors. She would suggest that we make a "spirit" whipped cream to dollop over a slice. Oh, what a treat!

    Many thanks for posting this terrific recipe. Happy Holidays...

  20. Delicious cake! I love the brandy and nuts in it :)

  21. A southern nut cake....What a nice alternative to fruit cake. Very nice.

  22. This looks like a piece of heaven for me - all nuts and no nasty candied fruit! That darling, dainty tea loaf would definitely NOT end up as a doorstopper.

  23. While I'm not very fond of fruit cake, a nut cake is right up my alley! Sounds delicious and looks lovely, especially served with tea!

  24. So perfect for the season, sounds like it will be great with tea!

  25. Barbara - I'm taking your stellar advice & I am going to make this lovely cake for holiday gifts. I am really looking forward to doing some cooking. I wanted you to know I so appreciated your incredibly thoughtful comment this week. The vet called to say our pup is cancer free but although she may need surgery, the news came as a huge relief. I am terribly sorry your father passed at Christmas. I am just praying my mom can hold on a bit longer so we could spend my birthday together. Barbara I wish you a joyous holiday season. You are such a kind woman & oh so talented. All the best xx deb

  26. That's a wonderful looking tea bread! I spent years creating the fruitcake everyone would like- but the joke is too firmly planted in everyone's mind to give it a fair break.. Imagine the cake blonde, the fruit all cherries (candied red, green,and dried cherries)..the only nut is sliced almonds, and it is soaked in a mix of Amaretto and Cherry brandy for 2 months..

  27. George: I had an aunt that did the same thing. When I was young, most of our family lived in the same town and the rest less than an hour away. Not so these days!

    Erica: I do, too!

    Velva: I hate to say it, but ANY cake would be better than fruit cake!

    Lynn: Agreed.

    Faith and Natashya: Yes, it's really lovely with tea. Just don't put nearly so much (if any) brandy on it.

    Deb: So pleased to hear your good news! Dad passed in 2002 but I can't help but think about him every year at this time. Have a wonderful holiday, Deb, I've loved following you and your blog!

    BD: The brandy part is lovely, but any candied fruit makes my tummy turn over. I really do think it's all those years of making those damn cakes and now the embarrassment of remembering that I did it each Christmas! Cripes.

  28. Barbara, I've been looking for a recipe like this! I don't like fruitcake either, but I LOVE nut cakes. This looks like just the thing. Now if I could only find some pecans here in Belgium!

    Thanks for posting this.

  29. What do you think of Dallas Jean?

  30. there are a few adjectives that accurately describe awesome food and me, and nutty is one of 'em. what a fabulous cake. incidentally, i have no idea what mace tastes like. i should look into that. :)

  31. Kate: Imagine you could use any nut you like.

    Duck: I get very annoyed with her lack of support for Grayson and think she is much too self involved. He seems to be a good man. (Is he???) I know, I know, this is only a tale.

    Grace: Once, while vacationing in the Caribbean, we saw a nutmeg tree and someone told us mace is the dried "lacy" reddish covering of the nutmeg seed. It's the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices.
    I can find mace here but if you can't, I have always thought allspice was a decent substitute, if not, nutmeg, of course.

  32. This does, indeed, look perfect for tea! And there's booze in it! Better still!

  33. OK, I'm sold! Looks marvelous! I was looking for something new for Christmas Dinner. This looks like just the ticket! Love nuts, and I have 5 pounds of pecans in the freezer!
    I will have to give her books a look! Happy Christmas! Pam

  34. Hi Barbara, This is some recipe!! The addition of Bourbon or Brandy with all those nuts paired with a cup of tea...HEAVENLY. Your recipes are all so inspiring and your photos are so clear and detailed, you really make us want to get in the kitchen and cook. Your a great teacher.
    Hope all is well

  35. TKW: We're on the same wave length!

    Pam: Aren't you lucky?!!!!

    Bunny: Thanks so much!

  36. Yum! That cake looks awesome!

  37. This looks and sounds great! a good way to get rid of random nuts I have in the pantry!

  38. So many nuts which means it will be a favorite of my hubby. He adores nuts in cakes and in cookies and in muffins and in bread. I think you get what I am saying. It is all nuts.

  39. What a fantastic cake this is!!! Superb!!!

  40. That cake must be divine! I love those flavors!



  41. Wow Barbara, this looks awesome! I think it tastes great even without the mixed fruits in it. Such great recipe! Thanks for sharing.

  42. Oh my!! I was suppose to be back on low carb starting tommorrow. But this may just change my mind. Wow does that look wonderful!! Thanks for the great recipe



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