Love it or hate it

Fruitcake is an ancient tradition that endures

Cathi Litzenberger looks at the history of fruitcake and offers a variety of recipes

Attention everyone: there is still time to get those traditional Christmas cakes baked. Just, mind you, but there’s plenty of time to make lighter or non-traditional cakes for this holiday season.

Fruitcake has a long history going back as far as the ancient Egyptians who placed them on the tombs of their newly departed. The Romans followed, adding a few ingredients and sending these cakes with their soldiers heading to battle. By the Middle Ages, fruitcakes were popular with the Crusaders, and by then, Mediterranean fruits had been added. As fruitcakes spread to the New World, more things were added to the initial mixture and by the time fruitcakes came to the colonies, a good deal of sugar was added.

During Victorian times liqueur made its way into the cakes, which helped preserve them for much longer periods. Fruitcakes were banned for a while in Europe during the 18th century because they were deemed, “sinfully decadent” but that didn’t last very long as the English insisted they needed it with their tea. With today’s modern drying methods and amazing varieties of fruits available, fruit cakes have made a comeback in many Canadian families.

The recipes below include both light and dark fruitcakes, give one a try.

Golden Brandy Nut-Free Fruitcake

1 cup (250 mL) golden raisins

1 cup (250 mL) dried figs, trimmed and chopped*

1 cup (250 mL) coarsely chopped candied pineapple

2/3 cup (150 mL) coarsely chopped dried pears

1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup (125 mL) candied citrus peel

1/3 cup (75 mL) dried currants

1/3 cup (75 mL) candied cherries, halved

1/2 cup (125 mL) brandy, (approx)

2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour

1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder

1/2 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon

1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground ginger

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground nutmeg

1 cup (250 mL) butter, softened

1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla

*If you don’t like figs, replace with chopped dates


10 dried apricots, halved

8 dried figs, trimmed and quartered*

8 candied cherries, halved

6 dried pears, halved

6 candied pineapple rings, halved

1/4 cup (60 mL) apricot jam

1 tbsp (15 mL) brandy or water

In large bowl, combine raisins, figs, pineapple, pears, apricots, citrus peel, currants, cherries and brandy; toss well. Cover and let stand for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.  Line 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Wrap outside of pan with triple-thickness newspaper; tie with string. Set aside. In bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and nutmeg; remove 1 cup and toss with fruit mixture.

In another large bowl, beat butter with brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture just until incorporated. Stir in fruit mixture until combined. Scrape into prepared pan, smoothing top.

Set shallow pan on bottom rack of 250 F  oven; pour in enough water to come halfway up side. Bake cake on centre rack for 4 to 4-1/2 hours or until cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; peel off paper. Let cool on rack.

Cut double-thickness square of cheesecloth large enough to wrap cake; soak cheesecloth in brandy. Wrap around cake; wrap in plastic wrap then foil. Refrigerate for 1 month.

(Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 3 months.)

Topping: In bowl, toss together dried apricots, figs and candied cherries. Arrange pears and pineapple alternately around outside edge of cake; heap fig mixture in centre.   In small saucepan, heat apricot jam with brandy over low heat until melted; brush over fruit. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 1 week.)


grandma’s fruitcake recipe

2 cups packed brown sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons ground cloves

2 tablespoons ground allspice

2 tablespoons ground nutmeg

4 eggs

2 tablespoons lemon zest

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup brandy

1-1/2 cups raisins

1-1/2 cups chopped nuts

1-1/2 cups dried mixed fruit

1-1/2 cups butter, melted

1-3/4 cups brandy

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Grease and flour a tube pan. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, soda, spices, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, 1/2 cup brandy, fruit, nuts, and melted butter or margarine. Mix thoroughly. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Wrap cooled cake in foil. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons brandy over the cake every day for 2 weeks. Original recipe makes 1 – 9 inch tube cake.

texas fruit cake (light)

1-1/3 c. candied red cherries, cut in quarters

1 cup candied pineapple, coarsely chopped

1-1/2 cups pitted dates, coarsely snipped

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 lb. coarsely chopped pecans

4 oz. flaked coconut

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Grease and flour tube pan with removable bottom.

Combine cherries, pineapple and dates in very large bowl. Sprinkle with flour; toss to coat well. Add pecans and coconut and mix well. Add sweetened condensed milk; stir well. Spoon evenly into prepared pan, smoothing top.

Bake for 1-1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack. Remove from pan. Wrap tightly in foil. Refrigerate at least 2 weeks. Cake cuts best when cold. Slice very thin with serrated knife.

dark christmas fruitcake

1/4 pound butter

1 cup dark-brown sugar, firmly packed

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 eggs

1/2 cup molasses

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon mace

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

2 cups small pieces mixed candied fruit

1/2 cup small pieces candied citron

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter two 9×5-inch loaf pans, line them with foil, then butter the foil.

Cream the butter, add the brown sugar, and beat until light. Add the lemon extract and eggs and beat well. Stir in the molasses and blend.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, mace, cloves and salt; beat into the first mixture. Add the milk and beat until smooth. Stir in the candied fruit, citron, raisins and pecans, and mix well. Spoon into the pans and bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Turn out onto racks to cool. When completely cool, wrap well and store in an airtight container.

brandied fruit cake

Soak two large pieces of cheesecloth in brandy. Wrap each fruit cake in the cheesecloth, covering all sides, then wrap well in foil. Moisten the cheesecloth with additional brandy every few days for about a week. The brandy will flavour the cake and help preserve it, too.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.


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