Offer up Christmas fruit cake for dessert and be prepared for a lot of different reactions that generally lean toward a turned-up nose and “no thanks.” We remember the fruit cakes from our childhood and unless they came from a kitchen that made quality ingredients a priority, the once popular mail order versions shipped cakes in pretty tins with great old graphics but failed to produce a loyal following even though in 1958, the Los Angeles Times called fruitcake a “holiday must”.
Versions of fruitcake have been around since ancient Roman times and may have been the original energy bar that sustained soldiers in battle. Once made from a mash of barley, honey, dried fruit and wine, the Middle Ages saw the addition of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg as signs of culinary sophistication. Fruitcakes became popular due to their legendary shelf life in an era before refrigeration and were once served at weddings where everyone would get a piece wrapped in a tiny doily and if you were single, you would put it under your pillow and dream of your future partner that night.
This fruit cake recipe is all about using the best dried fruit and other ingredients you have access to. The recipe contains a lot of dried fruit: golden and dark raisins, currents, prunes, apricots and dates. To add amazing flavour the nuts together with the dried fruit and cherries are soaked in brandy, cognac or rum for a minimum of 12 to 24 hours prior to mixing up the batter and baking.
This recipe used golden and regular raisins, currents, dried apricots, prunes, dates, almonds and a mixture of lemon and orange glazed peel.
Put all the fruit and nuts in the largest bowl you have - in this photo, we used a large roaster. If you don’t have a very large bowl or roaster, borrow one from someone who does, or you will run into problems when you add the batter and mix it up.
The cherries add a gorgeous pop of colour to the nuts and dried fruit. Later, green cherries were also added.
The dried fruit will soak up the brandy, cognac or rum so don’t skip this step. The soaked dried fruit is folded together with the cake batter, and the pineapple, sugar, honey, maraschino cherry juice, brandy, cognac or rum and jam reduction the following day.
Use the best quality flour you can. We used organic white wheat flour from a local supplier, eggs that came from a family member’s back yard, and locally produced butter.
Divide the batter between the loaf pans and add nuts or cherries on top if you like.
Bake at 275 °F for around three hours or more.
Allow the cakes to cool completely before removing them from the pans.
Resist the urge to slice the cake for as long as you can as it will slice better over time. Every slice is a variation of the combination of ingredients. Fruit cake should be sliced about 5/8 of an inch thick and served up in small, very small portions together with a glass of milk, cup of tea or coffee.
To decorate or not to decorate, that is the question.
This cake was decorated with pecans, red and green cherries glazed into place with melted quince marmalade from the Okanagan Valley as glue.
After the cakes have cooled wrap them tightly in a cheesecloth soaked in sherry or triple sec or skip this step and just wrap in plastic and store. Either way, the flavours of the cake mellow and deepen over time. The alcohol cuts the sweetness and makes the cake fragrant and delicious. Generally, it is recommended to age the cake for three months; however, 4 – 6 weeks will do. If you are tempted to taste the cake at milestones along the way, by all means do so. You will notice that even just a few days or weeks will have an impact on the flavour of the cake.
Wrap up tiny pieces of fruitcake reminiscent of weddings gone by. Tie it with a festive ribbon and give as holiday cheer: add a card and gift certificate to a favourite coffee shop. Voila! A little something that says, “I was thinking of you”. This cake packs up well in a shoe box for shipping. Add a jar or two of John Russell honey, or beeswax candles.
Since the cake improves over time, the earlier in fall the better. Start a tradition where you bake it in October right after Thanksgiving or Hallowe’en. We generally bake ours by Remembrance Day.
Yes, by all means. Some people like more of one thing and less of another. This recipe has been adjusted to include more dried fruits and less glazed products.
Sure, but with consequences because the flavour will differ if you soak it in your favourite juice. Functionally, juice will plump up the dried fruit; however, we recommend refrigerating during the soaking process. The end product will result in a less complex flavour, slightly drier cake and reduce its shelf life.
Prep:1 – 1 ½ hours
Cook: 30 min.
Bake: 3 hours or more
Cake pans: Use 9.5 x 5-inch loaf pans that are at least 3 inches high. Finished batter measures about 24 cups. As you can see by the photos, this recipe makes five loaves. You can use other pans but always make sure you leave space at the top for the batter to rise. Lightly grease the pans, then line with parchment paper. Grease the paper well.