Fruitcake: from novice to expert

Cynthia Stone
Published on November 22, 2013

If fruitcake gets a bum rap, it’s because of a lousy recipe, an inexperienced baker, poor quality ingredients or some combination of all three.

Let’s assume it’s not your fault, first.If someone you know hasn’t already made the cake, then at least get the recipe from a trusted cookbook. There are a few websites I find reliable, but I’m always suspicious the first time I try anything off the Internet.

Preparation is key. Gather everything — the spice mixture can be done days ahead. Have dry ingredients standing by before you start creaming and mixing and give the eggs and butter time to come to room temperature.

Watch for the word “divided” in a recipe. This means you will use the total quantity but in two or more different steps. In fruitcakes, it’s common to take out some of the flour to coat the fruit and nuts so it all doesn’t sink to the bottom.

Now, let’s talk about butter. In a cake with such a small amount of structural batter, substituting margarine or salted butter for unsalted is not a good idea.

If you haven’t graduated to a stand mixer yet, then today’s recipe is for you, because most of it is best accomplished with a spoon. Creaming the butter and sugar and beating in the eggs can be done perfectly with a small hand mixer.

Don’t beat the batter too aggressively after the eggs are in — if the cake soufflés in the middle it will fall later, I guarantee it.

Before you stir in the fruit, taste the batter. It shouldn’t be bland — whatever you taste here will be muted by the fruit and nuts, so if the spice isn’t clear, it will be less so later. When I test a new fruitcake recipe, I assume I will need about twice the amount of spices called for, but I start small and add, because you can’t take it out once it’s in. All of my recipes — including today’s — are already aggressively spiced, so don’t add anything until you taste.

You might be scared by the small amount of batter compared to the huge bowl of fruit and nuts, but don’t be. Fruitcakes are called that for a reason.

Speaking of the fruit, buy only what you need. If you’re not sure what substituting will do, then don’t. Experienced bakers can play with quantities and substitutions, but some fruits and nuts don’t play well together, and you don’t want to find out the hard way.

Chop fruit before measuring, not after. When you do measure it, press down lightly to fill air gaps, but don’t compact it.

Taste the batter again after you add the fruit. It should be as delicious now as it will be once it’s baked, and if it’s not, the cake probably won’t be great.

Finally, follow baking instructions carefully. Low temperatures help — don’t be tempted to up the temp to reduce the baking time.

Mixed Fruit & Nut Rum Cake

Medium-dark, moist and delicious, this is a huge cake, so if you don’t have a high-sided cake pan then use a tube pan or two smaller cake pans. Half this recipe fills a 10-inch springform pan.

Baking time depends not only on the pan but also on how much moisture is in the fruit. It’s not one size fits all, so be prepared to check early and check often.

There’s a substantial amount of alcohol in this cake, and it won’t all bake out, so if you have a problem with that, substitute apple juice.

2 cups golden raisins

2 cups currants

2 cups glazed cherries, halved

2 cups candied citron or mixed peel

1 cup glazed pineapple, finely chopped

3/4 cup amber or dark rum

1 cup each coarsely chopped pecans and

slivered almonds

3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1-1/2 tsp. each ground cinnamon, ginger,

cardamom, and allspice

1 tsp. each ground nutmeg, mace and cloves

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)

1-1/4 cups packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 eggs at room temperature

1 tbsp. good vanilla

Combine raisins, currants, cherries, citron, pineapple and rum. Cover and let stand overnight at room temperature. Just before using, stir in pecans, almonds and 1/2 cup of the flour; stir well.

In a separate bowl, sift together remaining 2-1/2 cups flour, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda; set aside.

Cream butter with sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time; add vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients and mix by hand or on lowest speed until there are no white streaks. Fold in fruit-nut mixture by hand.

Spoon batter into well-buttered and floured high-sided, 12-inch square or round cake pan or tube pan. Press down the extremely heavy mixture so it fills the pan completely and smooth the top.

Set a baking pan on the bottom rack of the oven and pour in a kettle of boiling water. Preheat oven to 300 F. Place cake pan on rack above water and bake 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cover loosely with foil and bake another 1-1/2 hours, or until a tester in the middle comes out fairly clean, with just a crumb or two clinging. A tube pan will take less time, so start testing within an hour of placing the foil on top. Cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack.

Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge and remove cake from pan. This cake will keep quite a while frozen or in the refrigerator if well wrapped, but if you wish, soak a 3-foot length of cheesecloth in 1/4 cup rum and wrap around cake. Cover in plastic wrap, then foil. Refrigerate until served, sprinkling on a little more rum whenever the mood strikes you.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her

c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s,

NL, A1E 4N1.