A rich, moist gluten-free fruit cake, laced with brandy ~ this is the perfect gluten free Christmas cake or traditional wedding cake.
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’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 my Dad was diagnosed with Coeliac disease and I had to start making a gluten free Christmas cake for our family, I realised what actually goes into a fruit cake, and which parts I didn’t like. And so I fixed them – making, what is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best gluten free fruit cake recipe.
One of those things I didn’t like 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.
Do you know that saying “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.
Fruit cakes take a long time to bake. 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 fruit cake tins in layers of brown paper and/or newspaper 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, since she always did hers the traditional way, but all the Grandmas out there are just going to need to trust me on this one.
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!
Check out the video below to see how I prepare my cake pans for fruit cakes, including my batter “trick” for preventing fruit holes in the sides of the cake (I talk more about that below).
How To Make A Gluten Free Fruit Cake
Making a fruit cake is a bit of a process and this gluten free fruit cake is no different in that regard, but the steps themselves 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.
For our cakes, I prefer to 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 like to use raisins, currants, dates, prunes, dried apricots and glacé ginger. Oh, and these polarising bad boys…
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 of that 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. Sometimes I do both. You can use whatever tickles your fancy.
And if you’re not keen on alcohol, then you can use orange juice to soak the fruit instead. Just be aware that if you don’t use any alcohol in your cake and if you don’t brush it with alcohol once it’s baked, it 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. Once you close the lid the liquid can’t evaporate – it 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. (Which also 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 creamed butter-sugar mixture curdles after adding the eggs, don’t panic, it will come back together once the flour is added. You can beat it plenty, anyway – we don’t have to worry about overworking the gluten! Gluten free baking has its advantages.
And even if you wanted to make this recipe with wheat flour (it works equally well), a little overworked gluten 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.
We’re using Xanthan gum in the gluten free version of this cake to replace the gluten. The gum helps to bind the mixture together and to stop it from crumbling when you cut it. You can leave the gum out of the recipe if you prefer, just be aware that the cake slices won’t hold together quite as well. Maturing a gluten-free fruit cake (I’ll talk about that more below) will also help it to cut neatly.
This next step is my favourite trick for preventing “fruit holes” in your cake. If you’ve ever covered a fruit cake in marzipan and/or fondant before, you’ll know that to get a smooth surface, you need to fill the little indents that the fruit causes in the sides of the cake.
Using this little trick will prevent most of those holes from occurring in the first place, and save you a ton of time!
After mixing up the batter 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. Just make sure you’re careful not to scrunch the baking paper with the spatula.
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.
In the pictures I took for this post, I only did this trick on the bottom, but I usually do this on the sides as well now, which you’ll see if you watch the video at the top of this post.
Then you can add in the rest of your drunken fruit to the batter.
If your mixer bowl is too small, you can 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 shouldn’t 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 doesn’t rise much at all.
I’m not gonna lie to you, this cake takes some to bake. 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 also help ensure the outside doesn’t burn before the centre cooks through.
Then, once it comes out of the oven you can brush the cake with more brandy.
“Maturing” Your Fruit Cake
Fruit cake is traditionally made at least several months in advance of when it is supposed to be eaten. “Maturing” the cake improves both the flavour and the ability to cut it into neat portions.
While the cake matures you can ‘feed’ it more alcohol, which keeps the cake moist. It also means you can store it for a long time without it going mouldy. For more info on maturing fruit cakes, check out this great post by Anges de Sucre.
I’ve often seen recipes for gluten free fruit cakes that say the cake should be made close to serving. I’m not sure why those particular ones say that, but this one here can be matured for just as long as an ordinary fruit cake.
In fact, it benefits even more as it helps to stop the cake crumbling, which can sometimes happen with gluten free cakes (and especially gluten free fruit cakes) depending on the flour you use.
I like to feed my cakes every one to two weeks, you should be able to see if the cake needs more alcohol by looking at the surface – if it looks dry, give it another brush. If it still looks moist, you can leave it another week.
Having said all that, if you find yourself close to Christmas and you haven’t baked your cake yet, don’t despair! This cake is still pretty darn good even when made as a last-minute Christmas cake. Some years I’m very disorganised and forget to bake our cake until mid-late December. In fact, the one pictured in this post was only made a couple of weeks before Christmas, and we had no complaints!
Check out the underside of the cake, and the lack of fruity indents…
As I mentioned above, I only used the “batter trick” on the bottom, so you can see the difference here between the bottom and the sides, which still have holes. If you do it how I showed in the video above, the sides of the cake should be hole-free as well.
And just a little note, if worst comes to worst and for some reason, your fruit cake does turn out crumbly, here are two ideas for how to still enjoy it…
- Heat up the cake and serve it with some nice vanilla custard, brandy butter or ice cream. Ice cream is a nice summer option if you’re in New Zealand like I am, or any country where it’s summer at Christmas time!
2. Make some nice gluten free fruit cake truffles out of it. Just crumble some of the cake into a bowl, make some brandy buttercream or some brandy or almond flavoured white chocolate ganache, and mix just enough of that into the cake crumbs until the mixture will hold together nicely when you roll it into balls.
Then dip them in some melted white or dark chocolate, or roll it in chopped nuts or sprinkles. A little bag of these would make a lovely festive gift!
- 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
- 75g (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/starch, 200g brown rice flour and 100g potato starch. If using a prepared flour blend that contains xanthan or guar gum, omit the xanthan gum from the recipe.
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 ganache or almond flavoured buttercream to make cake balls.
This recipe works equally as well with regular all-purpose or high grade wheat flour (also known as bread flour) if you don't need it to be gluten-free. Use the same weight of flour, and omit the Xanthan gum.
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.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 32 Serving Size: 1" x 2"
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 350Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 110mgCarbohydrates: 59gFiber: 4gSugar: 38gProtein: 4g
The nutritional information above is computer-generated and is only an estimate. Please do your own calculations with the particular products you're using if you have specific health needs or are following a special diet.
Happy baking, and if you’re making this as your gluten free Christmas cake, then Happy Christmas! 💜