If you're one of the legions of professed fruitcake haters out there, stop reading this right now.
Those of us in what is, after all, a rather elite band of fruitcake lovers don't need your scorn around this much-maligned Christmas cake; your tales of fruitcake-tossing contests; or your "This fruitcake was SO bad..." stories.
We don't want to hear the joke starting "How many fruitcakes are there in the world?" - we've heard it. And we're not laughing.
Fruitcake lovers unite! This post is for you.
Truthfully, I never liked fruitcake, growing up. The occasional leaden cake, soaked in bad liquor, would arrive in the mail (or come home with my dad from an office party), and be surreptitiously placed under the tree.
And no matter how enticing the colorful tin, the red ribbon, the pictures of sleigh-riding bon vivants on the label – once you actually tasted the cake, with its bitter candied peel and rubbery citron, you'd know you'd been had.
It wasn't until I made my own fruitcake – forced into the process by my fruitcake-loving husband and mail-order fruitcakes way beyond my budget – that I discovered an important secret:
Fruitcake doesn't have to be made with icky dried fruits. It can be made with whatever fruits you like.
Dried cranberries and mango? Yes. 100% candied cherries? Go for it.
Whatever your heart's desire, it's perfectly fine. No Fruitcake Police.
And you know one of the best things about fruitcake? Giving fruitcake gifts puts you WAY ahead of the curve during the potentially frenzied holiday baking season.
I made the following gift fruitcakes in early October; now, six weeks later, they're just as moist and tasty as they were the day they were baked. I'll be giving them out, as part of my Christmas cookie gifts, four weeks from now – and I know they'll STILL be delicious.
The only issue with giving fruitcakes as gifts is getting the giftees to think of them as a welcome confection, rather than a doorstop or potential weapon.
My advice? Include a disclaimer with each gift: "You may THINK you don't like fruitcake, but I challenge you to let go of your prejudices and give this little cake the chance to change your mind. You'll be glad you did."
The following recipe makes a typical deep-dark, moist fruitcake, using the fruits of your choice. The recipe includes plenty of options for size – anything from 3 dozen mini cakes (as I show here) to 2 large, 3-pound loaves.
Let the fruit and flour fly! It's fruitcake season, the best time of the year.
Let's talk fruit first. After all, this is a FRUITCAKE. But that doesn't mean you have to use traditional fruitcake ingredients: citron, candied peel, or one of those scary-looking tubs of brownish/greenish sticky stuff you might see in the "gourmet" section of the grocery store this time of year.
Instead, use a mixture of dried fruits you like. Mango. Apricot. Pineapple. Tart cherries. Whatever you choose, you'll need 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of dried fruit.
Here's a mixture I like:
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) dried pineapple
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) golden raisins
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) diced dried apricots
1 1/2 cups (7 7/8 ounces) chopped dates
6 ounces candied red cherries (plus more for decorating the tops of the cakes)
1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) diced crystallized ginger
Now that all adds up to just about 2 pounds, 5 ounces of fruit; don't worry if you use a bit more or a bit less. For easy slicing of the finished cake, make sure all the fruit is in fairly small (chickpea-sized, max) pieces. BTW, our Favorite Fruit Blend is a tasty combination, if you don't want to "shop and chop."
Add 3/4 cup dark rum or brandy. Avoiding alcohol? Substitute apple juice or cranberry juice.
Stir everything together (above left), cover tightly, and let rest at room temperature overnight. Next day, the fruit will have absorbed nearly all the liquid, and become a bit plump and quite sticky (above right).
Too impatient to wait until tomorrow? Microwave for 1 minute (or until it's very hot), cover, and let rest 1 hour.
Next, preheat the oven to 300°F. This recipe makes enough batter for ONE (not all!) of the following:
Grease the bottom and sides of the pans of your choice; in the case of the individual cakes, line a standard muffin pan with papers, and grease the papers.
Put the following in a large bowl (at least 6-quart):
1 cup (16 tablespoons, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups (15 ounces) dark brown sugar
If you don't keep brown sugar on hand and are using it just for this recipe, feel free to use an entire 16-ounce box.
Beat the butter and sugar until well combined, then beat in the following:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
Beat in 4 large eggs, one at a time.
Whisk together 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, black cocoa preferred. The cocoa is strictly for color, so skip it if you like. Add this mixture to the batter, along with 1/2 cup golden syrup, boiled cider, or dark corn syrup; and 1/2 cup apple juice, cranberry juice, or water. Stir until combined.
Fold in the fruits, any remaining liquid, and 2 cups chopped, toasted nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts).
Right about now you're either A) suddenly understanding why you needed to use a BIG bowl, or B) wondering how to stir everything together without it spilling over the sides of the not-quite-large-enough bowl you chose. Am I right? This is a LOT of batter. The theory being, if you're making fruitcake, you might as well make a lot.
Spoon the batter into the pans, filling them about 3/4 full.
If desired, decorate the tops of the cakes with candied cherries, and sprinkle with coarse sparkling sugar.
Bake the cakes as follows: about 60 minutes for the individual cakes; 65 to 70 minutes for the small loaves; 75 minutes for the medium loaves, and 2 hours + 10 to 15 minutes for the 9" x 5" loaves. The cakes are done when a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few damp crumbs clinging to it.
Remove the cakes from the oven, and brush them with rum or brandy. Or simple syrup, or flavored simple syrup (vanilla, rum-flavored, etc.). If you like just a hint of rum or brandy flavor, add 1 tablespoon of liquor to 3/4 cup vanilla syrup or simple syrup, and brush this mixture on the cakes.
Do you HAVE to brush the cakes with alcohol or syrup? Well, it keeps them moist for weeks; in fact, I just unwrapped one of these cakes I made six weeks ago (and brushed with simple syrup just once, then wrapped in plastic); it's just as moist and tasty as it was the day it was baked. But if you want to leave them "un-brushed," understanding they won't stay moist long-term, that's just fine.
When the cakes are completely cool, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, then foil, and store at room temperature.
If you've made the small, muffin-sized cakes like I did here, wrap each one in plastic (but not foil), and store them in a large plastic container with a snap-on lid; or a sealed plastic bag. This will help keep them moist, and facilitate moving 3 dozen cakes around without a fuss.
Yes, this is fruitcake – classic, dark, moist, loaded with fruit and nuts. You either like it or you don't; if you don't you're probably not reading this. If you do – bet you're inspired to start selecting this year's dried fruits, eh?
All I need now is 3 dozen fruitcake lovers...
...or a couple of people who'd LOVE to find a 3-pound fruitcake under the tree this season!
Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Fruitcake Even Fruitcake Non-Lovers Will Love.
Print just the recipe.