Your fruitcake timeline: Bake now, gift later

Holiday cake bakers, let’s talk about your fruitcake timeline. Whether you’re gifting the traditional fruit- and nut-studded cakes or eating them at home, you should ideally start the process 6 to 7 weeks before you plan to enjoy them.

Learn to love fruitcake this year, and customize it just the way you like it! Click To Tweet

If you’ll be giving them away the week leading up to Christmas, you’ll need to start baking this week or next! I know, I know, it feels wickedly early for holiday baking. That’s why we’re here: to guide you through the process and to offer up helpful reminders of when (and what) to bake.

Fruitcake timeline via @kingarthurflour

We hear the same common concerns about fruitcake. First, does it really keep for weeks safely? Second, isn’t fruitcake really rather awful-tasting? And third, what if I forget to bake it ahead of time?

Let’s address the first concern. Fruitcake does keep for weeks! The buttery, eggy batter is dense with dried fruit, candied fruit, nuts, and often alcohol (traditionally brandy or rum). Dried and candied fruit have what we call “low water activity;” bacteria often require moisture to reproduce, so cakes packed with dried fruit are safe to keep for weeks, and will remain shelf-stable if tightly wrapped. To make sure your fruitcake doesn’t dry out, unwrap it every few days and brush it with rum, brandy, or a simple sugar syrup.

Fruitcake timeline via @kingarthurflour

Next up: the taste. Fruitcake is likely the most maligned dessert in the history of baked goods. Too many poorly made versions, sticky with dyed candied fruit and overly sweetened with sugar, have given fruitcake a bad rap.

That’s a shame, because the equation of buttery cake batter laced with good dried fruit and your favorite toasted nuts and doused with rum is nothing short of brilliant. (And head here to read about my conversion last year to a fruitcake-lover!) If you start with the right recipe (try this one, this one, or this one), you’ll end up with a delicious traditional cake that will convert all your friends, too.

Fruitcake timeline via @kingarthurflour

Lastly, what if you aren’t organized enough to start your holiday baking six weeks ahead of time (shocking, I know)? If you’re a procrastinator, or pressed for time, don’t fret. You can mix up a last-minute batch of our quick 90-Minute Fruitcake for gifting. It’s more of a quick bread than a traditional fruitcake, but has all the same traditional dried-fruit flavor and dense, moist texture.

Convinced? Even if you’re not, I hope you’ll trust us and give it a shot. I promise these recipes will win you over. And even better, if you follow our timeline, you’ll have a stash of homemade, edible gifts all wrapped weeks ahead of time for friends, colleagues, doormen, teachers, and more.

Let’s bake! Here’s your playbook for fruitcake success:

Fruitcake timeline

Up to 7 weeks out (or as close as the day before): Bake your fruitcakes. Let the cakes cool, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store the cakes at room temperature until ready to gift or eat.

You can bake your fruitcakes just before enjoying them, just be aware that the longer they “rest” and get brushed with liquid, the more moist and flavorful the end result will be.

Each week after baking: Unwrap your cakes, brush with the liquid of your choice (refer to your recipe), and rewrap tightly.

Fruitcake recipes

We’ve got a number of excellent fruitcake recipes for you to try. Here’s a sampling of our best-loved versions, but you can find even more here:

Everyone’s Favorite Fruitcake: The cake that will please even the most stubborn of fruitcake haters. A touch of cocoa powder gives it a dark color; use boiled cider and rum for the richest flavor.

Fruitcake timeline via @kingarthurflour

Chocolate Cherry-Berry Fruitcake: One more reason why chocolate chunks make everything better. Using our jammy bits creates melty pockets of sweet, bright fruit.

Golden Fruitcake: Simple and classic, this golden cake is easy to customize with your favorite dried fruits and nuts.

Taste of the Tropics Fruit Cake: Studded with coconut and nuts and moist with banana, this fruitcake is like a wintertime trip to the tropics. No need to pack your sunscreen!

Fruitcake finishing touches

Fruitcake timeline via @kingarthurflour

If you’re planning to gift your fruitcake, make it easy on yourself and bake it in pretty paper pans. You won’t need to transfer the cakes, and the pans make transport and wrapping simple. Wrap the pans in clear gift bags and tie them with festive baking-themed ribbon. Even better, label them using these beautiful hand-painted cake gift tags.

For decorating, you can top your cakes with candied fruit or candied citrus peel just before baking.

You’ve got everything you need now for fruitcake success, so kick off the holiday baking season today!

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You bet they can, Regina! Our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour will produce a delightful gluten-free fruitcake. And the best part? You can use any of the recipes that pique your interest here and just swap out the all-purpose flour. No other changes will be necessary. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  1. Bakermary

    If I bake the fruit cake in the paper pans, do I still brush it with rum? Would I remove it from the pan to brush it all over or just brush the top of the loaf? If I don’t use the paper pans do I brush the ckae all over or just the top?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Great questions. We love using paper baking pans because they’re hearty enough to treat just like regular pans. You can brush your fruitcakes right in the paper pans, giving them a heavy application along the top. If you bake your fruitcakes in regular pans and are able to brush the sides of the cake too, consider that a bonus! It’s not necessary but will help maintain a moist texture throughout the cake. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The chocolate and cherry combo sure is delicious, especially in a fruitcake. While fruitcakes can be frozen, it’s best to age them (while brushing with syrup or liquor weekly) before freezing. This will ensure your frozen fruitcakes maintain a moist texture and the characteristic delicious flavor that makes them so special for the holidays. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sure thing, Reneé. Just keep in mind the high ratio of dried fruit and nuts to cake is what helps preserve the cake for many weeks before serving. You might want to shorten up the resting time and serve it a bit earlier than you otherwise would if you cut back on the fruit. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Viv

    A very stupid question, but does the rum brushed on the cake every few days make it inappropriate for children and recovering alcoholics? Could apple juice or some other juice be substituted for the rum, brandy, or simple syrup?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Viv, not a stupid question. Because the fruitcakes aren’t baked again after the rum or liquor is applied, some alcohol may remain in the final product. The cakes are usually aged for a while before serving so some of the alcohol evaporates, but if you’re trying to make these family-friendly, you might want to skip this step or use apple juice instead. It will still be delicious! Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Heather Hepler

      Can you still age fruitcakes if you brush with simple syrup or boiled cider? I know the alcohol is to preserve them as well as keep them moist. But I’d like to make an alcohol free cake that I can age if that’s possible. It would break my heart to unwrap it only to find it spoiled.

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Heather, although alcohol does act as a preservative, so does sugar. Most of these recipes do offer you the choice to use simple syrup instead of alcohol, so I’m sure a blend of simple syrup and boiled cider will work, but you may want to shorten the aging process to a few weeks, rather than a full 7 weeks. Barb@KAF

  3. Emma

    Would it be possible to make a fruit cale with very little candied fruits ? As I don’t really like them. Would the cake preserve ?

    Or would it be possible to use bristles of candied chestnut (marrons glacés, as I am french I am not sure that marrons glacés are candied chestnuts) instead of other fruits ?

    thank you
    Emmanuelle

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Yes to both! You’ll want to use some sort of dried fruit to help preserve the cake, but it’s fine if they aren’t candied. I often forego the candied fruit altogether in favor of nice-quality dried fruit, like raisins and dried tart cherries and dried cranberries and apricot, then add a generous amount of dried ginger as well. Just be sure you’re using the same amount of dried/candied fruit as the recipe calls for. Good luck! -Posie

  4. Regina

    So if using brandy or rum, do you use that straight or make a simple syrup to brush on them. And if using a simple syrup could you post a recipe for that? I was thinking of making the chocolate berry one with the Measure for Measure flour.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern

      Regina, it just depends on how much brandy or rum flavor you’re looking for. You can brush the liquor right on the fruit cake or choose to use simple syrup if you want a milder alcohol flavor. Here’s our recipe for simple syrup. Barb@KAF

  5. Patricia Lowell

    I love fruitcake and have memories of my mother making them for the holidays back in the 1940’s. After the cake was baked, she would moisten a clean kitchen towel with brandy and wrap the cake in the damp towel. The wrapped cake would then be placed in a tin with a tight fitting cover and this would then be carried up to be placed in the attic. Once a week or so, she would go up and check the cake to make sure (I think) that the towel was still moist. I am now in my 70’s and still make fruitcake every year for the family. I now use a fruitcake recipe that KAF posted several years ago and it is even better than the original one I used to make.

    Reply
    1. Arlinda Atwood

      Could you give the name of the recipe or post it? Pretty please?
      Or King Arthur, do you know what it might be?

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Arlinda, without a little more information it’s hard to pin down exactly what recipe Patricia is referring to. Patricia do you have more clues? Barb@KAF

    3. Mary Mauer

      Patricia, I too am in my 70’s and still do fruitcakes the old way. I wrap them in cheese cloth and dampen it well with rum or brandy, put them in plastic bags and into a tight fitting tin in the cool basement. Of course every week they get another dowsing of liquor. By Christmas they are well aged and ready for a slice of dried pineapple and a cherry on top then I brush them with corn syrup, just enough to give them a little glaze before wrapping in plastic wrap.

  6. Sally Anderson

    When I was a child, my mother and I would bake fruitcake. We wrapped the cakes in clean cotton sheeting and doused them with rum once a week. Should I use cotton or plastic wrap to wrap the cakes???
    Tx

    Reply
  7. Heather Rawlins

    I am making my Not Your Mother’s Fruitcake today and I thought I’d check your recipes for hints, which are great. I have one suggestion too. I heat up my fruit with orange juice and some spices (that I have in a reusable tea bag-instead of cheesecloth) and will let simmer for a while. That juice will be what I use to soak the cake. And I hate fruitcake, even this, although my cake smells so good, but I love to make for family and friends.

    Reply
  8. Sue Thorman

    I think I fell in love with my husband because of his mother’s fruitcake! I make it every year and for everyone (once you try it, you want one next year!). I only use golden raisins and I heat up a pint of brandy to plump them in. I do start early, so as to douse them once a week in Manischewitz wine. I keep her handwritten recipe with her photo in a frame on the wall of my kitchen. The best Christmas tradition.

    Reply
  9. Galia Hutchinson

    The Golden Fruitcake sounds delicious, and my kind of fruitcake.i plan to gather the ingredients and bake next week. Can’t wait till it’s time to eat. Thanks for posting all the information about baking and preserving fruit cake.

    Reply
  10. Joyce Harrington

    I am over 75 and have made steamed fruit cakes and steamed plum puddings for the holidays for at least 40 years . I store them for weeks in re-sealable freezer plastic bags. They are easier to use than plastic wrap; and it is so much easier to put the TBS, or two, or three, of brandy on the goods each week, and the brandy will not seep through.

    Reply
  11. Evan Williams

    I have a bag of Gluten Free Bread Flour (King Arthur). I’m thinking of incorporating some into one of the fruitcakes. Do you have a formula for doing something like this? I don’t need a GF only loaf. I just want to be using the flour.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This fruitcake should work just fine with the Gluten-Free Measure For Measure flour, using it one for one for the flour in this recipe. If you’re using the Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour, then you’ll also need to use Xanthan Gum (1/4 teaspoon for each cup of gluten free flour). Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  12. Cea

    Thanks! I didn’t do any canning this year and was wondering what to share for the holidays. I’m setting aside time this week to bake Everyone’s Favorite for my colleagues.
    I got hooked on fruitcake after a group of Jamaican students came back from the winter holidays and shared their fruit cake(s) with me. Who knew!!! One of those students’ mom figured out instructions for her recipe and sent them on to me. I think it would be cool to make mini cakes, Everyone’s Favorite” and “Sophie’s Mom’s”, and let my friends figure out which they like better.

    Reply
  13. Penny Moss

    I am used to the British tradition of icing a fruit cake for Christmas with marzipan or almond paste and then covered completely with white royal icing. Do you sell suitable almond paste to cover a cake or do you have a recipe so I can make my own?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Penny, we sell both marzipan and almond paste. The almond paste is less sweet, so given the sweetness of the cake itself, plus the addition of royal icing, I’d guess almond paste would be the better choice. Good luck! PJH

  14. Barbara Prince

    I have many fruitcake lovers in my family. I use my grandmother’s recipe because it is the best I’ve ever eaten. I must admit that it is expensive to make. I tried using “fruitcake” diced fruit one time. That was a total waste of good money. I make my fruitcake usually starting the first of November using only the best dried fruit and nuts I can find.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You bet! Our Fruitcake Fruit Blend is a combination of raisins, pineapple, currants, cranberries, and dates, so unless the recipe specifically calls for another kind of dried fruit you’d like to use, this is a great option. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  15. Kelly Rainwater

    How could you possibly leave out the KAF recipe for Orange-Cranbery-Nut Fruitcake? That is the most amazing fruitcake I’ve ever had or made. 😍😍😍 Its not Christmas around here without it.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We didn’t mean to leave out your favorite, Kelly! We’ll admit, the Orange-Cranberry-Nut Fruitcake surely is divine in both flavor and texture. For those who are fans of the cranberry-orange combo, we highly recommend giving it a try! Kye@KAF

  16. Gretchen Wagner

    My grandmother made fruitcakes when her children were small, to my father’s glowing memory. I never got to taste hers, but before she passed I was able to talk with her about how she made them. She said she never liked the candied citron or peel that often came in fruitcakes, so she just left that out — and my bet is many people dislike that bitterness too. Her recipe is amazing — she always used her own, chunky homemade applesauce in her cakes and I have found it is worth the effort to do that too. All that being said, I am eager to try some of these KAF recipes as well this year!

    Reply
  17. Donna S. O'sin Jones

    I make fruitcake most years, using a recipe from King Arthur Flour (no longer on the site, sadly) that calls for Signature Secrets Culinary Thickener. I have enough to get another batch done, but have you a suggestion for a substitution for 3 tablespoons of signature secrets culinary thickener, which seems to be a discontinued product?

    Thanks in advance,

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Without seeing the recipe, Donna, I can’t be sure; but I suspect you could stir 2 tablespoons cornstarch into the batter as an acceptable substitute. Good luck — and enjoy your fruitcake! PJH

    2. Donna S. O'sin Jones

      Thanks, PJ, here’s some more info.

      The recipe I use is called ‘Our Favorite Fruitcake’, and I got it from one of your catalogues from probably 2003 or so, and printed off a copy from your website on 3rd December, 2008. Here’s the recipe, typed in from my printout since I can’t find it on your site any longer, and google wasn’t helpful!

      Our Favorite Fruitcake
      Fruit:
      1 bag our Fruitcake Fruits, or 4 cups or your favorite dried fruits
      3/4lb candied cherries
      1/2 cup (4 ounces) brandy, rum, or whiskey; OR apple juice or water – I use 10 yo bourbon, YUM.
      1 tablespoon vanilla extract

      Cake:

      1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
      1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
      1/2 cup (3 1/4 ounces) brown sugar
      2 teaspoons baking powder
      3/4 teaspoon salt
      1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
      1/8 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia
      5 large eggs
      1/4 cup (2 3/4 ounces) light corn syrup -I used golden syrup
      3 1/4 cups (13 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
      3 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) Signature Secrets Culinary Thickener <— this is what the item for which I need a substitute!!!!!
      3/4 cup (6 ounces) milk
      2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) diced pecans (optional) -I always use 'em

      Fruit: Combine the dried fruit, the liquid of your choice, and vanilla, cover, and let it steep overnight. -sometimes I let it go up to thee days.

      Cake: Preheat the oven to 300F (I use 300 on convection so it converts it to 275 with the fan). Lightlyl grease the loaf pans of your choice (3 medium, 6 small, or 12 mini pans).

      Beat together the butter, sugars, baking powder, salt, and flavors. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the corn syrup. Whisk the flour with the Signature Secrets, and add it alternately with the milk, beating until smooth. Mix in the fruit (don't drain it), and the nuts.

      Spoon the batter into the lightly greeased baking pans, filling them three-quarters full.

      Bake the cakes for 45 to 70 minutes, depending on the size of the pans; smaller pans will bake in the shorter length of time. When th4e cake is done, it'll be a light golden brown all over, and a cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean. Remove the fruitcakes from the oven, cool for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the pans. Brusth them with brandy or the liquor of your choice while they're still warm. When they're completely cool, wrap them well, and let rest at least 24 hours (up to a month, brushing with liquor weekly), before serving.

      will 2 tbs of cornstarch be helpful in helping to keep it from crumbling when it's sliced? that was the function of the signature secrets. Why was that product discontinued, do you know anything about that?

      thanks in advance,
      -d

    3. PJ Hamel

      Donna, I remember this recipe — I believe the Signature Secrets was for added moisture and to keep the fruits from sinking, but honestly, I think you can just leave it out; the current recipe this morphed into (Golden Fruitcake) gets good reviews without it. It’s a thickener much like cornstarch but, unlike cornstarch, it doesn’t need to be heated to work. I’m not sure why it was discontinued, but I suspect lack of sales… Good luck with your cake, I’m sure it’ll be just fine. 🙂 PJH

    1. PJ Hamel

      Not at all, Nancy; they don’t have to age to be delicious, but it’s nice to give them a couple of weeks if you can. Enjoy! PJH

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