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. David

    I am a lifelong (74 years) fruitcake lover and now I am going to make my first one. I am making everyone’s favorite fruitcake. I would like to bake it in a springform pan. Should I use an 8 or 9 inch pan and how long should I bake it?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Congrats on making the leap to baking your own fruitcake, David! We haven’t tried baking Everyone’s Favorite Fruitcake in a springform pan, but we suspect that no matter which size pan you use, you’re going to have more batter than you can fit in there. You may have to experiment a bit with exactly how much of the batter to use, taking care not to fill your springform pan any higher than 3/4″ from the top, and using any excess batter to make a small loaf or muffins. Bake time too will take a little experimentation, so we’d check first around 30 minutes. Alternatively, if you’re looking for more of a layer cake, you might also consider tour recipe for layered fruitcake, which is baked in 2 x 8″ pans. Mollie@KAF

  2. Deborah

    I love experimenting with different fruit cake recipes from year to year. Plan to try your cranberry-orange one soon. I have a very old (60+ yrs-old) recipe for “black cake” that calls for 20 cups of chopped fruit and brandy for curing it. [I use Gran Marnier.] My easy-to-remember timeline is this: on Halloween, chop the fruit and soak in brandy (or rum or other alcohol) in an airtight container. Thanksgiving weekend, bake the cakes. From baking day to Christmas Eve–cure the cakes: brush with brandy (or other alcohol) every 3rd day. Keep tightly wrapped while curing. Hubby sometimes eats it warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    Reply
  3. Elaine

    Everyone in my family, including me, hates candied fruit. But we want to love fruitcake! Butter, eggs, sugar, spices, nuts…swoon!…and then candied fruit. Ugh. I noticed all of the recipes you list include some candied fruit, and you make a point that dried/candied fruit ratio helps keep the cake fresh for weeks. Does it HAVE to be partly candied fruit, or can I replace the candied fruit with an equal amount of dried fruit (added to the dried fruit already in the recipe)? If it makes any difference, we would brush the cakes with simple syrup, not alcohol. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Elaine, as you mentioned, using candied fruit does help extend the shelf life of fruit cake. But if candied fruit isn’t something that pleases your palate, feel free to leave it out or use dried fruit in its place. This just means that you’ll need to enjoy the cake within a slightly shorter time frame (one to two weeks), or freeze your cakes for longer storage. Brushing with simple syrup will help the cake stay soft and fresh, so definitely include that step. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Irene in T.O.

    I bake fruitcake at 300F and turn it carefully to ensure it is not overcooked.
    .
    For liquid, I give a dose of rum/brandy/sherry once every 3 weeks. Initial dose is about 3 ounces per 8 x4 x 4 loaf.
    .
    Cakes sit in airtight plastic storage bin at room temperature. After 3 doses cake needs a new dose once every 3 months. I am now sampling cake from December 2016 and it is excellent without overkill by booze. In fact after this time there was little taste of alcohol but the cakes were still moist.

    Reply
    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

  5. 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

  6. 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
  7. 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

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