Fruit Drops: downsizing the daunting (fruitcake) doorstop


Pity the poor fruitcake!

It’s derided mercilessly. It’s re-gifted shamelessly.

It’s the butt of many a joke: “Best thing to do with fruitcake: use it as a doorstop.”

Manitou Springs, Colorado, holds an annual Great Fruitcake Toss, “a strangely compelling spectacle in which participants fling fruitcakes through the air, competing in events that emphasize distance, accuracy, and showmanship.”

This according to Failure magazine, an “online publication full of humankind’s boldest missteps.”

Fruitcake: a bold misstep!

Why all the negative karma about fruitcake? If you like fruit… and you like cake… why don’t you like fruitcake?

Two answers: Candied peel, and citron.

Lemon and orange peels are bitter. Soak ’em in sugar syrup, and what happens? They’re still bitter, only now they’re gummy and sticky, too. OK, candied peel is somewhat sweeter than un-candied. But does it taste good? Not really.

Ditto citron. This less-common citrus fruit isn’t prized for its pulp, nor its peel. No, the bitter pith is what citron-lovers the world over (all 50 of ’em) value most.

Why, I don’t know.

What I’m convinced of, though, is that citron and candied peel are the chief contributors to fruitcake’s sorry status in the pantheon of holiday goodies.

Thus, each year when I make fruitcake, I eschew those two ingredients in favor of more delectable (to my mind) dried fruits: candied cherries, apricots, golden raisins, tangy pineapple, sweet dates, flavorful cranberries…

Enter Fruitcake Drops, two-bite cookies that’re the perfect solution when you just don’t feel like making “real” fruitcake. Or when you forgot to start your annual fruitcake in October, and it’s just not the same if you don’t let it rest for weeks and weeks, brushing it with brandy every few days or so.

Or for when your best friend has just now revealed, for the very first time, her obsession with fruitcake.

Or for when you need ammo for the Great Fruitcake Toss?

Read on…

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease (or better yet, line with parchment) a couple of baking sheets.

Put the following in a bowl:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Beat until smooth.

Add 2 large eggs.

Beat until smooth and creamy.

Add 1/4 cup bourbon, rum, brandy, or apple juice; and 1/4 cup boiled cider, apple juice concentrate, or cherry concentrate.

Mix, scraping the sides of the bowl. The batter will appear curdled; that’s OK.

Add the following:

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1 3/4 cups (7 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Mix until smooth.

Stir in 3 pounds (9 cups) of chopped dried fruit; smaller fruits, such as raisins, can be left whole. Here I’ve used a combination of our favorite fruit blend; and chopped candied red cherries.

The batter will be heavy and sticky; this is best done in a stand mixer, or using a heavy spoon and lots of muscle power.

Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, or a spoon, scoop out balls of dough about the size of a ping pong ball.

Space them on the baking sheets, leaving about 1″ to 1 1/2″ between them; they won’t spread much.

They’ll hold their shape well. And why not? They’re  chunky fruit with just enough batter to keep them together.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes.

Remove them from the oven.

They’ll appear fairly set, but may still be very slightly shiny/wet looking.

The bottoms will be lightly browned. The cookie on the left is perfect; the one on the right, slightly over-baked.

Let the cookies cool until they’re just barely warm, then loosen them from the parchment or pan using a spatula.

Store at room temperature up to a couple of months; yes, they’ll stay good at room temperature for at least a couple of months, making them ideal for do-ahead gift packages, or for shipping cross-country, or overseas. Keep the cookies in an airtight canister in layers, with parchment or waxed paper between the layers (to keep them from sticking to one another). For longer storage, freeze.

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Fruitcake Drops.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...


  1. brightbakes

    hmm..Intriguing! I might have to give this a whirl…and I’m with you on the citron thing…Dried fruit is MUCH better…
    thanks for the inspirations…
    cathy b.

  2. vel

    I must admit that I like fruitcake and bitter flavors. I think that a well-preserved e.g. liquored up, fruitcake is the better for them.

  3. tommix

    Similar recipes recommend soaking the dried fruits overnight in spirits or fruit juice, as much as a cup. I’ve had success with that as it softens the fruit. If I do that should I still add the juice as per your recipe? As far as I can tell an overnight soak pretty much is absorbed by the fruit

    Also do you recommend chilling the dough for an hour or so before baking?

    The dough doesn’t need chilling; it’s quite stiff as is. And, I think you could cut out the liquor in the recipe, but keep the boiled cider or juice – that should work. Good luck – enjoy! PJH

  4. nelll

    Mmmm…. these look good. I’m a take-it-or-leave-it person when it comes fruitcake, but when I take it, it’s Gethsemani Farms fruitcake, because it’s made in the monastery where my uncle is (they use Kentucky bourbon – yum!). I once lugged a Gethsemani Farms fruitcake from Kentucky to Poland through I-can’t’-remember-how-many airport security checks to bring one to a Polish priest-friend who once visited the Abbey (in July) and remembered the fruitcake. About 14 Polish priests demolished the entire thing in one evening (in September; it’s not traditional over here, so they don’t know they’re supposed to eat it at Christmas). I think those guys are getting these cookies in their Christmas cookie tin this year. Now to find Kentucky bourbon to flavor them with…

    You say they can be stored. Can they be brushed with bourbon while in storage, to add to the flavor? Or what would happen if you soaked the fruit in bourbon for awhile? I don’t drink alcohol, but really, the flavor of bourbon is amazing in fruitcake (and fudge). So if I’m going to buy it, I want to use it to the greatest…advantage.

  5. ngastineau2002

    The look absolutely fabulous. When I was a wee sprite, my German grandmother used to make a fruit cake bar cookie that had a really nice glaze on top. then the glaze was dry it was crunchy, that glaze would go really nice on top of these cookies, but I think that I would have to do that as needed instead of before storing the whole lot of them, maybe I’ll just stick with them the way they are, perfect! Thanks for this one. Noreen

  6. amazonium

    Yes, pity the poor fruitcake. I am one of the minority since I loooooove a good fruity nutty moist heavy-as-a-brick fruitcake. That being said I am not so fond of the not-from-nature colored fruits that are used in most of them. So I look forward to trying the cookie route- hey, who can turn down a home-made cookie- I just won’t tell them they are mini fruitcakes…. heh, heh, heh, evil laugh…
    As always, you guys rock!

  7. cbrownsf

    oh look – CHRISTMAS ROCKS!! that’s what they’re called in our family. my grandmother used to make them every year and put them away in coffee cans with wax paper between the layers. then at xmas, wherever we lived, we’d get coffee cans full of cookies… and they are wonderful. now my brother makes them and his are even better than hers (maybe because he’s big and strong enough to wrestle the dough – our grammy was 4’10”). your recipe looks much like ours – which calls for a cup of coffee and a little jar of jelly.

    everybody: make these, they are luscious.

  8. munden

    I like fruitcake and these cookies would be excellent with hot tea on a cold day. I also like the KAF favorite fruit blend so will put this recipe on my to bake for Christmas list. Like others on this list I put together a cookie tin for shipment overseas and these cookies look like they will make a great addition to the usual shortbread cookies I send.

  9. Jen

    Darn you, I’ve been looking for a dried fruit filled cookie or bread for a dinner I’m doing tomorrow and I don’t have time (or money) to go out and get all the fruit I need. These would have been perfect. I know what my newest cookie for Christmas will be.

  10. weeklypizza

    To make a “fruit cookie” I just place mixed dry berries (cherries, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries and raisins) instead of just raisins in the standard oatmeal cookie recipe. It is delicious. Not the same as fruit cake, but it travels better and tastes better in my estimation.

  11. milkwithknives

    Oh my gosh, these DO look good! I have never been able to get on the fruitcake train because of the bitterness and especially the glowing red and green….things in them. I can’t believe the amount of dried fruit in these. It seems like there wouldn’t be enough cookie to hold everything together, but there they are in the pictures.

    Would your little jammy bits be good in these, or is it better to stick to the normal dried fruit?

    Yes, Jammy Bits owuld be just fine – good idea! PJH

  12. Anita

    These have been a staple of my holiday baking for the last four years. Everyone who recieves them LOVES THEM. I use brandy and they turn out great. Thank you for a great recipe and a great blog.

  13. biobaker

    I fall into the fruit cake-loving party, too, and I think it’s only right to point out that fruit cake-lovers aren’t in the minority on this page thus far. Fruit cake, I think, became a standing joke on the merits — or lack thereof — of the terrible, horrible, unthinkably artificial color and preservative-laden commercial versions that replaced Grandma’s good homemade version for an unfortunately large fraction of the “convenience food” generation. For those of us who remember Grandma’s version and/or who make our own, made with the fruit you like best, is a treat.
    And while not everyone may like candied peels, those are my favorite part. It’s a shame that most Americans don’t have an appreciation for good, bitter flavors!

  14. elianna

    Totally not related to fruitcake (I too am the “load up oatmeal cookies with all kinds of fruit” type!)… but anyways…
    I LOVE the picture of the backs of the cookies. Barring a too-high oven temp, this gives a really accurate way to judge if they’re done! Thanks tons – and I would LOVE to see that become a habit on cookie posts. You guys are awesome! :)

    Good point, Elianna – I’ll suggest it to the ladies for cookie posts going forward… PJH

  15. JuliaJ

    Will definitely have to try these–these fruitcake drops are a lot less intimidating than trying to finish a whole fruitcake! But I think I’ll sub in some pecans or walnuts–and bake them in mini-muffin papers for truly bite-size goodies (and a less messy presentation on a cookie plate). Thanks for the idea!

    Great idea, Julia – I’ll have to try that, too. That way, you could keep them right in the muffin papers and pack them into a cookie gift pack that way… PJH

  16. cartvl219

    Can’t tell you how much I have missed fruit cake. My mother had a recipe (that I now have) that made 11 pounds. It was mixed in the dishpan! I could never understand why people developed such an aversion to it. To me it represented the holiday season and yummy gifts for friends – never mind that we were still eating it in February. So these mini’s will be great to add to the holiday cookie assortment. Just have to cut down and make a half recipe (in muffin papers – great idea) so I’m not finishing them for Easter!!

  17. bakeraunt

    These look luscious, and I will run them by my fruitcake hating family, although I might have to add some chocolate chips to tempt them.

    Re: citron. King Arthur used to carry the most wonderful citron, which I ordered every year to use in my Pfeffernusse cookies. Then a couple of years ago, KA stopped selling it, and I cannot find it anywhere. Does anyone know of a good source of high quality citron? (The junk they used to sell in grocery stores is not so great.) Thanks!

    Hi – As I recall, we ran into a lot of trouble with our citron vendor (hard to get enough to sell), and finally had to drop it. But I’ll definitely pass this request along to our merchandise team. PJH

  18. robynb

    Now, see, I am a lover of fruitcake. I LOVE fruitcake. Make it every year. My favorite part is the orange peel, followed by dates and nuts, and I do like citron. The candied cherries? Blech. I tolerate them in other’s fruitcakes, or eat around them.

    To eat their own (fruitcake), right? :-)

    Indeed, Robin – I agree. I love the candied red cherries – they’re so over-the-top red and sweet and squishy… And unlike most people, it seems, I LOVE dates. My favorite cake would be dates, pecans, and red cherries. To each his own… :) PJH

  19. nthompson

    I love the picture of the back of the cookies, too! Great idea!!

    I’ve never made cookies with bourbon or rum in them (in fact, I dislike “rum balls”) and I’m wondering how it affects the flavor of the cookie. I want to make a cookie my kids will eat (because, try as we might, my mom and I can’t eat them all on our own)!

    Also, could I use orange juice concentrate in place of apple juice concentrate? Just because I usually have some frozen OJ in the house. Would orange juice concentrate work if I used apple cider also? or would those two flavors “fight”?
    Hi there,
    I’m thinking you may want to choose either the apple direction or the orange direction to head in, using both may muddy up the flavors. You can definitely skip the alcohol completely and use fruit juices instead. Definitely more kid friendly.
    ~ MaryJane

  20. SMJ

    I just baked these yesterday. They turned out great. I hope they make it for the holiday cookie trays, but my husband keeps eating them!

    Hey, that’s what secret hiding places are for… :) PJH

  21. tiney723

    My mom just told me this weekend that for Christmas she wants me to make her a similar cookie to this one that my grandmother used to make. Personally, I don’t think you could pay me to eat them, but they were always my mom’s favorite every year. I even had to ask her what candied cherries were and where to find them! Luckily you of course sell them!

  22. Sara

    My grandmother made these, or very close. She didn’t use quite so much variety in the fruit, just cherries, mostly. But they are everyone’s favorite. I can eat fifty of them in a sitting, and my cousin Brian, well, I don’t know how many he can eat. But no one has the recipe. We’ve tried, but it seems everyone’s version is missing something, and none of them quite matches up to another. I will try these and see if they will do it. I’m so excited!!!

    Sara, hope these are THE ONES you’ve been searching for… PJH

  23. Sylvie

    These are baking in my oven now, can’t wait to taste them! I have a few questions; why do you not mix in the spices and espresso powder when you mix in the salt and baking powder? Why are there no nuts included – isn’t that a standard in fruitcake? And would it be possible to include some maraschino cherries rather than candied cherries, or would that add too much moisture? Thanks!

    Hi Sylvie – you can mix the spices/espresso powder in whenever you like; no reason not to add them with the salt and baking powder. You can add any nuts you like; substitute for some of the fruit, so as not to disrupt the solid/liquid balance. And maraschino cherries are fine; sometimes candied cherries are so juicy, they’re almost as “wet” as maraschino… Be sure to press your maraschino cherries to expel as much liquid as possible, then wipe them dry with a paper towel. Enjoy! PJH

  24. Steph

    In one of the top pictures you’re mixing butter and sugar without having first melted or visibly softened the butter. I’ve never heard of doing this and I’m curious. Is it something special for these cookies? How does it work?

    Steph, I often use butter straight from the fridge, ice cold and rock hard; I seldom` remember to take it out ahead of time. It’s a bit hard on your beaters (if you don’t have a powerful mixer), but I’ve never noticed that it makes any difference in the finished cookies… PJH

  25. Lovejoy53

    I cannot wait to try these cookies (I’m a homemade fruitcake lover also) with my family at Thanksgiving. If they pass the grade, the cookies will be on the to-do list for Christmas gifts to neighbors. And for those of you who need to hide any treats from those raiders in your family, here’s a hint: I store mine hidden in a linen closet shelf behind the “feminine” products. No one dares visit that area and I am able to serve a lovely selection of goodies on my holiday table without making triple batches!! The secret hiding place works well for other surprise gifts and Halloween goodies too! LOL

  26. marilyngo

    I made the cookies, used orange juice concentrate – no apple or cherry – and they came out great. Used dried fruit and dried cherries.
    Question – with 9 cups of chopped dried fruit, why do you need the sugar in the batter?

    Sugar adds structure, a bit of spread, and flavor. You could try cutting it in half, but I wouldn’t cut it out entirely. You might also try a downsized version with any changes, before using 3 pounds of dried fruit and finding out you don’t like the result… PJH

  27. cartvl

    Haven’t made these yet but will soon. Noticed in the directions (5) to add spices, espresso powder and ‘flavor’. The ingredient list doesn’t include vanilla extract or any other flavoring. ???? Also, why espresso powder? I can understand in a chocolate recipe and I do it all the time, but, why in fruitcake?

    Thanks for catching that; the “flavor” was from an earlier experiment – now removed. I feel that espresso powder, aside from pointing up chocolate’s flavor, also tends to add a pleasant “edge” to very sweet recipes. You can certainly leave it out – PJH

  28. Barb

    I made these using the mini cupcake pan as one poster mentioned and they came out great. I got about 60 mini fruitcakes out of the recipe. I used candied cherries and pineapple, dried apricots, dates and some walnuts and pecans. I didn’t have any ground ginger, so I added a scant 1/2 t. of apple pie spice instead. It worked great. For the liquids I used Rum and O.J. concentrate.

    It’s a great recipe and it got 2 thumbs up from all the folks I gave them to…..of course they were all fruitcake lovers. :) Thanks for a great recipe KA!

  29. MangoChutney

    Setting aside the fact that I am one of the 50 people who likes the bitterness of citron and of candied citrus peels, I think fruitcake has a bad name because people give cheap, dried out specimens bought on sale for the sake of the pretty metal can they come in. These can be salvaged by pouring rum in the can and letting it marinate for as long as you can stand to leave it alone. If you are in a real hurry, you can crumble dry cake into a bowl, pour rum over it, and eat it with a spoon. You could also just drink the rum and throw the cake away, but that is not sporting.

    I like your idea of making miniatures. They might help with portion control at my house, assuming we can stop ourselves after one or two each.
    Your post made me smile…I like the way you think! :) ~Mel

  30. icjc1118

    Hi, I love these cookies. I want to try to make them this year. I have a question, if I want to make these in the mini muffin paper liner, do I line the mini muffin paper liners on the baking sheet or do I put the mini muffin paper liner in the mini muffin pan? also, will these cookies stick to the paper?
    For best results, place the papers in the muffin tins and spritz them with cooking spray first. That should give support and cut down on the sticking. ~ MaryJane

  31. margaretann

    This looks like a good recipe, I saw one in the Bangor Daily News, years ago and lost it. But why is there not a “printable” version so I don’t have to print out a bunch of coments ? Yes I can preview the printout, but even then, I am looking at 3/4 page of comments. I don’t need them. I’ve had this trouble with several recipes on your site lately.

    Are you going to the actual recipe (not this blog – the recipe), and printing the “printable version”? That should work… PJH

  32. Ginny L.

    What can be substituted for the boiled cider, apple r cherry concetrate? Also, can salted butter be substituted for the unsalted in our favorite fruitcake?

    Ginny, sure, substitute salted butter – cut back the salt in the recipe to 1/4 teaspoon. And sure, apple or cheery concentrate can be substituted for boiled cider; as can maple syrup, or any fruit-flavored syrup. Enjoy – PJH

  33. Liz g.

    Theses cookies are disgusting I thought they were gross I was excited to make them and they smelled really good too but I tried them multiple times just in case and I hated them and the rest of my family said the same thing that these were gross
    I’m so very sorry to hear that these didn’t work out for you. Hopefully another of our 2000+ recipes will hit the spot next time. ~ MaryJane

  34. Irene in T.O.

    Try these without the spices or espresso. The fruit flavours will balance better with the boiled cider or other liquids. You can also use marmalade if you prefer.


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