Christmas cakes are generally the heaviest cakes served on any holiday during the year. Maybe it has something to do with the perception of the season; cooler weather and more substantial desserts. Or maybe it's just gluttony; the most elaborate desserts for the most decadent holiday. Whatever the reason, it is a fact that the cakes are heavier during the Christmas season in our house.
There are two types of Xmas cakes that immediately comes to mind; fruitcake and butter pecan pound cake. Both these cakes weigh as much as the Christmas turkey but only one is used regularly as a door stop (what other cake do you know that does double-duty year round?) And as for ingredients, I probably don't need to discuss what's in a fruitcake (what's not!), but I can tell you that the Butter Pecan Pound cake is a mound of buttery, melt-in your mouth, nut infused, heavily cakey heaven.
Pies are an accompaniment, but Christmas cakes form the centerpieces on the holiday dessert table in our family. And the pound cake rules. Now that I think about it, at Christmas, we have cake for breakfast as well. Most people call them breads, but pound cake can also be served like banana nut or zucchini bread. Poppy seed and apple, cranberry and blueberry, they all look like cake to me. What is the intrinsic difference between the two? What makes banana nut bread not a cake? And why can't lemon pound cake serve as a bread? Could it be the amount of butter? I think the bread thing is just hype. During the holidays, it's all Xmas cake to me.
When serving English tea, I have been told that fruit bread is sometimes used. I have participated in many afternoon parties, and both pound cake and fruit and nut breads were served. And I believe that most of these breads are generally served during the fall and winter months. Denser desserts served during cooler days and there's no better time than Christmas.
I remember when I was a bit younger, and living in the country near Nashville, Tennessee, we had a cold storage room off the kitchen porch in back where we kept perishables during the winter months. My granny would make pound cakes, wrap them in a brown paper bag and put them away. They never spoiled, possibly because we pounced on the Xmas cake like ravenous wolves, but I think pound cakes never tended to spoil; I think they lasted longer than regular cake. But it didn't matter during the holidays, because Christmas cakes never lasted very long.
Another reason for heavier cakes in cooler climates is our traditional image of body fat. Pack on the pounds and keep warm, was the belief of that day. "Pleasingly plump" always followed my name, as pronounced by my granny, who thought women in general were either "stick-thin" or plump. She herself was exceedingly plump, and quite beautiful, so I didn't mind very much.
Our Christmas cake tradition still stands. I eat far less of it myself, and no longer am inclined to prepare it, but I have found several nice places that will do that job for me quite well. Let us all eat Xmas cakes during the holidays!