Favorite Fruitcake: Learn to love a much maligned dessert

Poor fruitcake: it arrives in December, all dressed in its most festive holiday outfit, adorned with bright red candied cherries, and yet it’s the laughingstock of the party.

The bad reputation? It comes from too many bad fruitcakes, the sort that are laced with neon-bright, poor-quality candied fruit and have sat around for months. They’re heavy and leaden and far from delicious.

Johnny Carson joked on The Today Show in 1985 that “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

Yet fruitcake has a much more elegant history than we attribute to it. Europeans discovered it centuries ago, realizing that a high quantity of dried fruit and sugar will keep cake from going bad. Princess Diana and Prince William both celebrated their weddings with fruitcake. If it’s good enough for a royal, who am I to say no?!

I didn’t grow up with a tradition of fruitcake. Instead, my mother makes cinnamon rolls to give to friends and family. She wraps them up in foil and ties them with a festive bow. The very sight of a waxy spool of red ribbon still gives me a thrill: It heralds the coming of baked goods.

Giving sweet breads and cakes is such a beautiful holiday tradition. And despite being mocked endlessly, fruitcake is a perfect candidate for gift-giving.

It’s simple to make and gets better over time, so you can bake it weeks in advance, which will take some stress off your plate during the chaos of the holiday.

Shockingly enough, I had never tasted fruitcake, bad or good, before now. But I knew its reputation, so I felt a good amount of trepidation about testing a recipe.

Imagine my surprise when the pans emerged from the oven, fragrant with allspice and cinnamon and sugar. The buttery golden cake was sweet and exceptionally moist. Studded with rum-soaked dried fruits, I could barely keep from devouring slice after slice.

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

“This is for gifting!,” I kept reminding myself. I brushed each cake with rum and dusted them with powdered sugar.

The key to making an excellent fruitcake is using good ingredients. Don’t use fake candied fruit! Choose naturally sweet dried fruits that you like best.

I’ve used our King Arthur Fruitcake Blend (a mix of dried pineapple, dates, raisins, currants, and cranberries), but you can use any kind you prefer as long as you stick to the same volume of fruit.

Candied cherries are entirely optional! I like the festive color they add to the cake. If you choose to include them, spring for a high-quality jar with real fruit flavor.

As for the recipe itself, I like Everyone’s Favorite Fruitcake. It’s classic, straightforward, and includes directions for baking smaller sizes that are ideal for gifting in pretty paper pans. I’ll show you where I’ve adapted the recipe to fit my tastes in a few places; it’s quite forgiving so feel free to do the same.

Let’s walk through the recipe so that you’ll be all set to bake your own this holiday season.

Important note! You need to start this recipe the night before to give the fruit time to soak. If you absolutely don’t have time, you can cheat by microwaving the fruit and liquid on high for a minute, and then soaking for an hour.

The Recipe:

Approximately 5 1/2 cups of dried fruit, cut into small pieces if necessary
1 cup candied cherries
1/2 cup diced crystallized ginger (optional)
3/4 cup rum, brandy, apple juice, or cranberry juice
1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons cocoa (optional, for color)
1/4 cup boiled cider, golden syrup, or dark corn syrup
1/2 cup apple juice, cranberry juice, or water
2 cups chopped, toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds)

The Technique

Measure out your dried fruit. Use anything you like! Raisins, currants, dried apricots, dried pineapple, and dates are traditional, but any dried fruit works. Add your crystallized ginger and candied fruit here, too (if you want to skip this, I understand! Just add extra dried fruit.). Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflourPour your choice of liquid over the dried fruit. You can use rum, brandy, apple juice, or cranberry juice. I chose rum because frankly, I always say yes to rum.

Cover the fruit and let it soak overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 300°F and grease your pans. You can either use six medium loaf pans (3″ x 5″), two standard loaf pans (9″ x 5″) or muffin tins (the recipe makes 3 dozen muffins).

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar.

Note! If you, like me, discover that you run out of brown sugar partway through your recipe, you can substitute an equal amount of granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon of molasses for every cup of sugar.

Add the salt, spices, and baking powder.

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition.

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflourAdd the flour, cocoa, and boiled cider (or golden syrup or corn syrup). I used boiled cider, because it is delicious, and I chose to omit the cocoa, because I prefer a more golden cake.

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

Next, add the liquid of your choice (apple juice, cranberry juice, or water) and the dried fruits, along with any liquid that has collected in the bowl.

Fold the fruit in along with the nuts.

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

Spoon the batter into your prepared pans. The batter should fill the pans about 3/4 full.

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

Bake the cakes: about 60 minutes for muffins, 75 minutes for medium loaves, and 2 hours plus 10 minutes for the larger loaves.

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush the tops with rum or brandy (or simple syrup).

Let the cakes cool completely. Once cooled, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for 6 to 8 weeks.

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

If you’ve baked your cakes in paper pans, just wrap them in a ribbon and you have an instant gift! I like to dust the tops of mine with powdered sugar (do this right before gifting as the powdered sugar won’t last).

Favorite Fruitcake via @kingarthurflour

Resist the lure of fruitcake if you can’t get past its reputation, but you’ll be missing out. I think if we all found ourselves the recipient of one of these ribbon-tied cakes come December, it would be a very happy holiday indeed.

comments

  1. Tiara

    We grew up eating fruitcake every Christmas season. Our family loved the one made by a local department store that closed it doors over 20 yrs ago. Then we tried ordering from another well known out of state until shipping prices went astronomically high. So when I finally tried your Orange Cranberry Nut fruitcake, it was a hit! Of course, I made a few changes – used my own fruit blend (both the dried and candied), omitted the nuts b/c of allergies, and skipped the glaze. Now I can continue our family tradition of fruitcake every Christmas season – thank you!

    Reply
  2. Kathryn

    Have been making Christmas fruitcakes for family members who love them for many years. Last year, for the first time, used the KAF Golden Fruitcake recipe instead of the traditional dark, for half the recipients, and it was a big hit. So this year am doing all Golden. I substituted dried pineapple for the apricots. I buy ingredients at a bulk food market that sells several varieties of KA flour as well as every dried fruit imaginable. The sixty (one way) mile trip to the store is a holiday in itself. Sometimes I make pies for the two siblings who don’t like fruitcake. It’s their loss!

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood , post author

      They don’t have to! Feel free to dive in right away (I did..!). But they will keep if you want to make them ahead and gift them or enjoy them closer to the holidays.

  3. Jill Budzynski

    I always make the Hawaiian fruitcake because of the candied pineapple (self-candied fresh pineapple is best!) and the light cake batter. My mother-in-law adores it. It is really scrummy, and gone by shortly after Christmas. She prefers it non-alcoholic, so I use either cider or orange juice to hydrate the dried fruits.

    Reply
    1. Leah Buckley

      How do you candy the fruit? I have made over 20 fruitcakes this Christmas and the cost of the fruit is a killer. I would love to learn how to candy my own cherries, and pineapple.

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Leah, you can candy your own fruit by boiling it in simple syrup (or a syrup that’s one part sugar and three parts water) for about 40 to 50 minutes at a medium-low heat, turning the fruit occasionally. The fruit should look slightly translucent but still intact. Feel free to add a splash of alcohol or flavor extract of your choice for an extra kick. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Marlene

    I need to make a fruitcake without nuts. Grandson is allergic to tree nuts. How would omitting the nuts impact this recipe? Substitute ideas?

    Reply
  5. Nikki

    I make fruitcake in mini loaf pans every year on the weekend after Thanksgiving so they are perfectly aged for Christmas gifts. I usually do three different recipes, but the one that I absolutely must make or face a family mutiny is your Taste of the Tropics Fruitcake. It is so delicious, especially if you use macadamia nuts instead of pecans. This year I am going to try your Orange-Cranberry-Nut fruitcake and I’m sure it will be a big hit too.

    Reply
  6. Catherine of College Park

    Please Help! My “A Very Light Fruitcake” from the KAC invariably sticks to the pans no matter how I grease with pam, butter or crisco. I have tried using greased parchment paper but still have sticky results. Should I grease and flour? Or try using aluminium foil? I use dark metal pans and paper gift pans.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Catherine, I’m not sure why this recipe is proving such a stickler. Most of our fruitcake recipes call for lightly greasing the pan, so I wouldn’t predict that this would be a problem. I would recommend greasing the paper gift pans, even if they say they don’t require greasing. And maybe our Everybake Pan Spray will do the trick. Barb@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Joanne, I wouldn’t recommend trying this recipe with gluten-free flour as the wealth of ingredients will be hard to hold together without the structure that wheat flour provides. We do have a recipe for a lovely gluten-free stollen, however. Barb@KAF

  7. Dora Miller

    Do you sell the 3×5 Medium “Bakable Paper Pan” sets? All I see in your catalog is the 4 3/4 x 2 3/4 “Mini Loaf” pans.

    Reply
  8. Susan

    Not sure what I did wrong, but mine didn’t come out very light. It’s quite dense, but the flavor is wonderful! Was it suppose to rise?? Mine only did a very little. I baked for almost 2 hours in medium sized pans. Any feedback as to what I may have done wrong? Or is this the way it’s supposed to come out? Thanks!!

    leaving for Posey

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood , post author

      Susan, it’s definitely quite a dense bread so it shouldn’t rise much at all. It’s quite moist and shouldn’t be airy or domed the way a typical yellow cake (for example) would be, so it sounds like yours came out just right!

    2. Susan

      Well someone just asked for the recipe, so it must be good! We loved it. I just expected a different consistency. This is in the recipe box and on the MUST MAKE list each year now! Thanks!!

  9. Josie Hyde

    I want to print out this recipe but there is no choice to do that. Is there any place to find this recipe in “printable” form?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Absolutely, Josie. Simply click through the link to the recipe page itself (linked at the top of the article): http://bit.ly/1QELcSj and click on the “print recipe” button. Enjoy! Mollie@KAF

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