Well this is it, Christmas is here. The fire is lit, the presents are wrapped the mince pies are made, and we are all smiling, full of festive cheer and enjoying spending time with family and friends…Well that is the dream…The reality is that most of us are running about trying to get a hundred jobs done while we gallop towards Christmas Day, with a maniacal stare and sore elbows.

If you can find the time, why make a cake ready for people to tuck into when they drop by? Keep it in a tin and pop a bottle of bubbly in the fridge and you can serve your guests something festive and delicious over Christmas with no effort. I asked Vanessa to come up with the kind of cake that bread bakers would love to bake and she’s come up with a cracking sourdough Christmas cake made with chestnut flour, chocolate and orange and steeped in whisky.

Vanessa’s Easy Sourdough Chocolate, Chestnut and Whisky Cake

I’ve been asked to make a fruit-free Christmas cake on may occasions. This is my version and it uses bread flour to give the cake the kind of dense dry structure that then allows it to soak up the whisky and not fall apart. You could use rum or brandy if you prefer.

I have taken my inspiration for this from my recent trip to Sicily, when just a few months ago, far away from the deep, damp winter of England, I was eating roasted chestnuts on the market in Catania and picking oranges growing wild on the side of the road. I use a pinch of cinnamon to dust the cake with in the cocoa powder which blends beautifully with the orange and vanilla. The flavour that I want to come through in this is the chestnut, which takes centre stage. That little bit of acidity from the sourdough really adds to the umami and complexity of the flavours. It is also a ridiculously easy way to use up any left over sourdough starter.


Preheat the oven to 170C (350F). Place all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix thoroughly until smooth. Pour into your prepared cake tin.

Pop onto the bottom shelf of the oven and bake after about half an hour cover the cake tin with a piece of tin foil and drop the temperature to 150C. Bake for another 35 - 40 minutes.

Check for doneness by inserting a skewer - if it comes out clean then it is baked. The cake will be quite dry as the moisture comes from the whisky. Take the cake out from the oven then remove it from the tin while still slightly warm. Using a skewer make about 20 small holes in the top of the cake then spoon half the whisky over slowly allowing the cake to soak up the liquid. Do not worry if it runs onto the bottom of the cake it will get soaked up.

Leave it for at least 4 hours then repeat with the remaining whisky. If you can bear waiting until the next day it will have fully developed all the complex Christmassy deep flavours that are accentuated by patience. If you feel the cake will take some more whisky then feel free to add more, but don’t over do it as the cake will go soggy. Dust with cocoa powder with a pinch of cinnamon.
Keep for up to a week in an air-tight tin.

Sometimes muscovado sugar can get a bit lumpy so blend the two sugars together beforehand to break down any lumps.

The incredible red malt flour really adds to the overall richness of the ‘chestnut’ colour.

You might like to swap the orange extract for Amaretto Essence.

Serving suggestion
Dust with cocoa powder and serve with a dollop of thick brandy cream

Prep time: 20 minutes prep, 1 hour baking time, 4 hours rest time to allow it to

soak up the whisky

Number of servings: 8 generous portions

Equipment in order of usage:

20cm (8 inch) circular spring form cake tin (buttered and floured – essential to stop this cake from sticking)


250g granulated sugar
50g muscovado sugar
10g red malt flour
7g Bioreal Organic Baking Powder
200g Mulino Marino “00” flour
½ teaspoon Cornish Sea Salt
75g chestnut flour (sieved)
50g Steenbergs Organic Cocoa Powder
110g Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon Ndali Vanilla Powder
1 tablespoon of orange extract
3 large free-range eggs
100g sourdough starter (ideally has not been fed for at least a week)
200 - 250ml of good quality whisky

*Extra for tin: knob of butter and tablespoon of flour for greasing the baking tin

Orange oil

Here the essential oil of sweet oranges gives an intense sweet boost to any cakes, sweets and desserts that contain orange zest or candied peel. Paired with dark chocolate, mixed with fruit mincemeat, or added to water icing brushed over warm muffins.

Chestnut flour

Organic sweet chestnut flour from Italy's finest chestnuts for adding to cake recipes, pancakes, breads and pastries

Sourdough Starter

Fresh sourdough starter from Vanessa Kimbell, taken from a 200 year-old culture in France. It is fed on organic white wheat flour and water and at least 300g is delivered in a convenient pot to keep a small quantity in your fridge between use.

Stocking fillers under £5

Cotton Bread Bag

Stop your bread getting sweaty by keeping it in our attractive and washable bag rather than in a plastic one. High-grade natural cotton bag 40x50cm, made for us with a draw-cord perfect for keeping your artisan bake fresh.

Kamut Flour

Organic Kamut (Khorasan) flour is an ancient ancestor of durum wheat, tasty and excellent for pizzas, bread and pasta.

Lev Blé

Lev Ble is a dried wheat leaven combining the rising power of yeast and the flavour of sourdough starter. The sachet is sufficient to lift 2kg of flour to make reliable and really tasty bread.

Giant Chocolate Buttons

Montezuma’s Organic Milk Chocolate Buttons are smooth and creamy because they use only the finest Dominican Cocoa and rich organic milk.

Christmas gifts under £10

Bread board

Square Butcher's Block

Farm house tin

A 2lb or 900g farmhouse loaf tin with steep sides and folded ends, just right for the farmhouse loaf shape.

Christmas gifts under £25

Vanessa’s Panettone Recipe Kit

The ingredients and cases you need to make Vanessa's Panettone recipe.

The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard

The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard - the perfect book for getting started in the art of sourdough bread making.

Baking stone

A large oblong pizza stone (13" by 15" or 33cm by 38cm and 1cm thick) with its own removable rack, made from the same Superstone as all of our Sassafras products, this stone is excellent for pizzas.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

Suggestion Box

Are we missing something? An usual flour, a particular tin, or a special piece of equipment you’d like to see on our shelves? Let us know and if we decide to stock it, you will receive the very first one of the item you suggest.

Don’t forget to take a look at our clearance lines.