The way I see it, there are two kinds of people who have read the heading of this post. The ones who like fruit cake, and the ones who are about to stop reading now, because they hate fruit cake with the burning fire of a thousand angry suns.
If you do happen to be of the second sort, I would like to tell you that I used to be one of you. I had the t-shirt, and paid my subscription fee on time, every time. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to knock on your door and and shove cake in your face to try and convert you, but I am going to tell you what changed my mind – I started making them myself.
I’d tried fruit cake in the past, either bought or made by someone else, and I just really couldn’t bring myself to like it. Then when I started making gluten free fruit cake as Christmas cakes for my Dad, I realised what goes into them, and which parts I didn’t like, and fixed them.
One of them was mixed peel. I am not a fan of mixed peel. And that is putting it lightly. But we’re keeping it polite here so I’ll just stick with “I don’t like it.”
That’s an easy fix, I know I don’t like it so I don’t put it in.
But this one here is the big one: I cannot stand the taste of burnt fruit.
You know that saying about raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the reason I have trust issues? That is me, times 1000. But only because the raisins can get overcooked, and don’t even taste like raisins any more. Burnt dried fruit stops tasting sweet and fruity and takes on a nasty, bitter taste.
Everyone knows that fruit cakes take ages and ages to bake, and that’s why since the beginning of time (or whenever people started making fruit cakes, I’m not a baking historian but fruit cake has been around a long, long time) people have wrapped their cake tins in layers of brown paper and/or newspaper when baking their fruit cakes to protect the cake from the heat of the oven, and stop the outside of the cake from burning before the inside is cooked. I don’t know what the people whose fruit cakes I had tasted were doing, but whatever they were doing was not stopping the fruit from burning on the outside.
Then I started making foil-and-paper-towel baking strips for my mud cakes, and realised I could use them for fruit cakes too. Ok, it made my Grandma look at me strangely when we were discussing wrapping tins for fruit cake, but you just have to trust me Grandma (sorry, I’m calling you Grandma. She doesn’t use computers so she’ll never see this). The baking strips work so much better for insulating the cake than the newspaper ever could, and better yet your house will smell only of delicious fruit cake, and not of burning paper. Or burning fruit!
Making a fruit cake is a process, but the steps are all pretty easy.
First you need to choose your fruit. Big tip – buy fruit that already looks nice and plump, and you’ll have a head-start on a super moist cake. You can simply buy a dried fruit mix from the supermarket, but since a lot of them contain mixed peel, I obviously avoid them. But if you find a mix you like, then buy it! It’ll save you a bit of time.
I buy the fruits individually, and use them to make up the total fruit weight. I happen to really like sultanas (golden raisins) so I use a bit more of them than the other fruits. As well as the sultanas, I used raisins, currants, dates, prunes, dried apricots and glacé ginger. Oh, and these polarising bad boys…
Glacé cherries. By rights, I shouldn’t like these. I’m not a fan of anything that is kind-of-like-a-fruit-but-not-really. I don’t like fruit flavoured ‘things’ masquerading as fruit. Fresh cherries are my favourite fruit in the whole world, and while these maybe have started off as real cherries, they are nothing like real cherries.
But I love glacé cherries. There, I said it. You’ve seen my shame. For me, half the enjoyment of making fruit cake is eating these while making it. In fact I often add extra just because I know that every time I stir the fruit mix, I’m going to pick out and eat a few more cherries. It’s a thing, for me. A Christmas thing. It makes me happy.
But if you don’t like ‘em, by all means leave them out. Remember, we’re only using the fruits we like. It’s a fruit cake revolution, people!
So you just need to chop any larger fruits like apricots and dates into smaller pieces, about the same size as a raisin. Then rinse them under warm running water. This gets any sugary, dusty, cloudy stuff off them and also starts moistening and plumping the fruit up.
Your fruit needs to be plump. Just sayin’.
Then you can slosh over your alcohol of choice. I usually use brandy, but sometimes I use rum. You can use whatever tickles your fancy. And if you’re not keen on alcohol, then you can use orange juice, but just be aware that your cake won’t have quite the same keeping qualities as a boozy one.
I like to mix the fruit and alcohol in a large airtight container, so the liquid can’t evaporate, and has no choice but to be absorbed by the fruit. Plus it means that in between stirs, I can just shake the container to mix it all up. (Saves a few cherries from being eaten, just quietly.) It needs to be left at least overnight, (a few days is even better) for the fruit to soak up all of the alcohol.
Once your fruit has sat and done its thing, you can mix up the batter. If the mixture curdles after adding the eggs, don’t panic, it will come back together once the flour is added. You can beat the crap out of it anyway, we don’t have to worry about overworking the gluten! Gluten free baking has its advantages. And even if you wanted to make it with wheat flour (it works equally as well), a little gluten overworking in a fruit cake is really no big deal. Some people even use extra gluten-y bread flour in their fruit cakes, to help it all hold together.
If you’re planning to turn your cake upside down to decorate it with fondant, then here’s a tip for making the bottom nice and smooth (sorry, it doesn’t work on cellulite). After adding the flour to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and before adding the fruit, take a couple of spoonfuls of the batter and spread it gently into the bottom of the tin. You can do the sides too, if you like, but it is a bit trickier to get it spread along the sides without disturbing the baking paper. Then pop the tin into the fridge while you’re adding the fruit to the remaining batter. Some of the fruit may sink down through the batter, but generally you will get far fewer holes caused by the fruit that will need to be filled (with marzipan or almond icing, or fondant) before covering in fondant.
Then you can add in the rest of your drunken fruit to the batter. If your mixer bowl is too small, you should transfer the batter to a larger bowl or saucepan. I use our giant pasta pot. When doing an extra large batch for multiple cakes, I’ve been known to use my Mum’s enormous preserving pan.
Now you can cram it all into your prepared cake pan. The batter lining should have firmed up in the fridge, and hopefully not move too much as you add the rest of the batter. I like to add a few spoonfuls at a time, and press it in with a spatula to make sure there aren’t any gaps. You can fill the tin up almost to the top, the cake has no raising agents, so it won’t rise much at all, if any.
I’m not gonna lie to you, this cake takes some baking. Because it’s being baked at such a low temperature, it will take a good few hours to bake through. This low, slow baking will ensure the outside doesn’t burn before the centre cooks though. Then, once it comes out of the oven you can brush the cake with more brandy.
Fruit cake is traditionally made months in advance of when it is supposed to be eaten, this improves both the flavour and the cutting ability of the cake. While the cake matures you can ‘feed’ it more alcohol, which helps to keep the cake moist and means you can store it for a long time without it going mouldy. Obviously since this here cake is our Christmas cake, and I’m posting this recipe halfway through December, it’s not going to be matured for too long. But luckily it tastes pretty darn good without having to wait.
So if you haven’t baked your Christmas cake yet, you still can!
Check out the underside of the cake, and the lack of fruity indents…
This recipe works equally as well with regular all purpose or high grade (bread) wheat flour if you don't need it to be gluten free.
- 1.5kg mixed dried fruit*
- 200g glace cherries (optional, replace with equal weight of another fruit if not using)
- 50g glace ginger, finely chopped (optional)
- zest of 1 lemon or orange
- 150ml brandy
- 500g gluten free flour**
- 1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
- 400g butter, at room temperature
- 400g brown sugar or muscovado sugar
- 1/4 cup golden syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- Extra brandy for brushing
Cut any bigger dried fruit (like dates, apricots, prunes, etc.) into smaller pieces, about the same size as a raisin. Place the fruit and glacé cherries (if using) into a colander and rinse it under warm running water. You may need to do this in batches (I do each fruit separately as I weigh and cut it) Drain and place into a large bowl or plastic container. Add the glacé ginger, citrus zest and brandy. Stir well, cover and leave overnight (stir or shake it occasionally, if you remember).
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Line an 8” square cake pan with baking paper, and wrap it with baking strips. Make a foil lid. See this post for details.
Sift the flour, xanthan gum and spices into a large bowl, and whisk to combine.
Place the butter, sugar, vanilla and golden syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer and a large bowl). Beat until fluffy, scraping down the bowl a couple of times. Lightly beat the eggs together in a small jug, then add gradually to the butter mixture, beating well in between additions. Don’t worry if it starts to curdle.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly begin adding the flour mixture a few spoonfuls at a time. Once all of the flour is added, scrape down the bowl and mix again.
To make the bottom of the cake smoother (if you’ll be decorating the cake with the bottom as the top) then take out a few spoonfuls of batter and spread it over the bottom of the cake pan. Pop the pan into the fridge while you mix the fruit into the remaining batter.
If your mixer bowl isn’t big enough to fit the fruit in as well, transfer the batter to a larger bowl or saucepan. Add the fruit (and any remaining brandy that hasn’t been absorbed by the fruit) and mix well until evenly distributed into the batter.
Place a few large spoonfuls into the cake pan, and use a spatula or spoon to press it into the pan, especially the corners. Repeat until the pan is full. Wet your hands or a spatula and smooth the top.
Bake the cake for 4 - 4.5 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out mostly clean. To double check, once the skewer comes out clean insert a thin bladed knife into the cake and check that it comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached. Leave to cool for 30 minutes, then brush or spoon over some more brandy. Fold down the baking paper, then cover the whole cake pan with foil and leave overnight to cool.
To store and mature the fruit cake, turn the cake out onto baking paper, brush all sides with more brandy, then wrap well in the baking paper, and store in an airtight container. To further flatten the top of the cake, store it upside down. The weight of the cake will help it to flatten. You can continue to brush more alcohol onto the cake at regular intervals until the cake is served.
*You can use a packaged dried fruit mixture or choose individual dried fruits to make up the 1.5kg of fruit. I used 500g sultanas (golden raisins), 300g raisins, 200g currants, 200g dates, 200g prunes and 100g dried apricots. Dried cranberries, apples, pears or figs are also great additions. If you like nuts in your fruit cake, you can also add in a handful or two of almonds or your favourite nuts, you don't need to leave out or adjust anything else, just chop them up and add them to the batter when you add the fruit.
**The gluten free flours I used in this cake are: 200g tapioca flour, 200g brown rice flour and 100g potato flour.
If using a prepared flour blend that contains xanthan or guar gum, omit the xanthan gum from the recipe.
Ideally this cake should be made 2 - 3 months before you want to serve it, but it still tastes fantastic even if only matured for a week or two.
If you find that with the gluten free flours you've used the cake is crumbly, don't despair! Warm it up and serve it with custard like a christmas pudding, or mix it with dark chocolate ganache or almond flavoured buttercream to make cake balls.