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This is my grandmother’s recipe for a moist, incredibly flavorful fruit cake. The cake is well spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg and then packed with dried fruit and nuts! It is moist even without soaking and can be eaten the day it is made for an easy Christmas cake.
This really is the best fruit cake recipe because it is moist, perfectly dense and mellow. You can even eat it fresh without soaking for a delightful Christmas cake. It is lighter and less intensely spiced than my old fashioned fruit cake recipe.
It doesn’t need an icing but it is delicious with a dusting of powdered sugar, a simple cream cheese glaze as I did here, or you could make the best cream cheese buttercream! While you’re in the holiday cake baking spirit, try this caramel molasses cake, gingerbread cake or chewy molasses sugar cookies!
I also have a wonderful old fashioned fruit cake cookies recipe. They have all the spices, dried fruit and nuts and texture you crave in cookie form.
Why This is the Best Fruit Cake
- So moist the cake doesn’t need to be soaked! This cake is rich and moist fresh from the oven. Soaking the cake in brandy enhances the flavors, adds moisture and preserves the cake for longer storage.
- No pre-soaking dried fruit needed. The dried fruit is baked right into the cake. There is no extra step of soaking for nights on end.
- The cake is light but dense with fruit and nuts. I cream together the butter and sugar for a light, airy cake, but then stir in an epic proportion of fruit and nuts which makes a rich, dense fruit cake.
- My grandmother’s recipe. This is Nana’s recipe that people would elbow to get every single Christmas! I am bringing you all her margin notes, my expertise and everything I learned the hard way.
Professional Tips for Making Fruit Cake
- Chose the right pan. For the most moist cake try a standard tube pan. The center tube allows the dense cake to bake evenly in less time. Loaf pans also work well. I would not recommend a bundt pan or a removable bottomed tube pan. I learned this the hard way so you don’t have to.
- Bake the cake above a water bath, not in it. This cake bakes in a low oven with a pan of steaming water on the rack below it. This allows for air circulation and even baking while adding moisture to the air in the oven. A win, win.
- Wrap the cake with a few slices of apple in the center. Before soaking and wrapping the cake, place a few pieces of apple in the center (where the tube was). This is my grandmother’s trick for making the cake extra moist and flavorful.
What is Fruit Cake?
Fruit cake is a rich cake flavored with spices and brandy, and typically has a large proportion of candied fruits and nuts baked in the cake, giving it a dense texture. Often fruit cake is soaked several times a month with brandy, which flavors and preserves the cake. The decadent soak also keeps the cake moist. It is an old fashioned wedding cake but modern bakers typically bake it as a Christmas cake.
- Dried & Candied Fruit: The recipe uses a combination of golden raisin, candied pineapple, and candied cherries. They add sweetness and they absorb some of that booze! Think of them like slow-release moisture vessels.
- All-purpose flour: All-purpose flour has just the right amount of gluten to make a tender, soft cake. To avoid holes and “tunnels” in your cake, be careful not to overmix the batter. Add flour in several additions without waiting for all of the previous addition to be incorporated before adding the next. When in doubt, finish folding in the flour by hand.
- Baking Powder: Double acting baking powder will react instantly when it is mixed with an acid and then again when it is heated. Because it is double acting, it has a slower, more stable rise than baking soda.
- Kosher Salt: Kosher salt is less salty than table salt and a teaspoon weighs less than other finer ground varieties. It heightens the flavor here and will keep your cakes from tasting dull or flat.
- Cinnamon: I use Saigon cinnamon but any cinnamon will do.
- Ground Nutmeg: This recipe is written for pre-ground nutmeg. If you use freshly ground, then you’ll need to adjust the quantity by half or even 2/3rds. Fresh nutmeg has a completely different and wonderful flavor but it is stronger.
- Pecans: I love to use Southern pecans in baking. Nothing beats fresh, plump pecans. But any pecan halves will do. If you keep them for longer than a month or your kitchen is consistently warm, store them in the freezer to preserve freshness.
- Butter: I use unsalted butter for baking, because you want to control the amount of salt you are adding. Every brand is different and it makes adjusting the recipe a challenge.
- Sugar: I use granulated sugar in this cake. It is here for the more obvious flavor reasons, but also to aid in leavening, moisture, texture and stability.
- Eggs: Whole eggs allow you to emulsify all that oil into the batter, resulting in a moist, not greasy, cake. They also help with leavening by trapping air with the sugar.
- Brandy: Adding brandy or alcohol to a cake is for moisture and flavor. Alcohol does not hydrate the gluten in flour the same way that water does, so it will create a tender, moist cake.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Substitutions & Variations
- Dried Fruit: If you don’t enjoy one or any of the dried fruit in this fruit cake recipe, substitute any that you do. Chopped dried apricots, pears and apples would also be a fun twist. Dried Tart cherries would bring a welcome burst of tart to balance the sweet.
- Candied Fruit: Use any combination of candied fruit that you desire. Next time I will use all dried fruit and omit the candied cherries and pineapple. Bring on the raisins!
- Nuts: Use any of your favorite nuts! Almonds, pecans, walnuts and pistachios all make great options. You could even use macadamia nuts for a tropical option!
- Non-Alcoholic: Substitute fruit juice or apple cider for the brandy in the recipe. You can soak the cake in apple cider or simply serve it fresh and forgo the soaking process completely. It will still be delightful.
How to Make Fruit Cake
Use these instructions to make the best fruit cake! Further details and measurements can be found in the recipe card below.
Make the cake:
Step 1: Spray and line a 10 inch tube pan with parchment paper. A non-removable bottomed tube pan works best. Bonus points for nonstick. 2 loaf pans will also work. I would still line them with parchment paper.
Step 2: Preheat oven to 275°F.
I preferred to bake it in the convection setting because the top got a nice golden brown and the cake baked faster.
Step 3: In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add pecans, pineapple, cherries, and golden raisins. Toss to coat.
Step 4: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Step 5: Beat in the eggs one at a time, waiting until the first has incorporated before adding the next. Beat in the brandy.
Step 6: Add the dry ingredient/nut mixture to the batter and fold to incorporate. Pour into prepared pan and place in preheated oven.
Step 7: Fill a large baking dish or roasting pan with hot water and place below the cake in the oven. Do not bake the cake in the water.
Step 8: Bake 2 hours or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Once the top crumb has set, but the cake is not done baking (after about 90 minutes), brush the top with warmed honey. Continue baking until done.
Step 9: Cool and unmold cake. Proceed to soaking if you want.
How to soak a fruit cake:
Step 1: I find the easiest way to soak a fruit cake is to stretch out a piece of plastic wrap on your counter and place the fruit cake upside down on the plastic wrap.
Step 2: Measure ½ – ¾ cup brandy or rum in a large measuring cup. Soak the kitchen or tea towel in the measuring cup until saturated.
Step 3: Place the soaked towel over the bottom of the fruit cake. Flip over while holding the towel to the sides. Cover the top of the fruit cake with the soaked towel.
Step 4: Wrap cake using the plastic wrap underneath and adding additional layers of plastic wrap until well-sealed.
My grandmother would soak the cake twice a month for 3-4 months. I soaked my cake twice, one month apart.
Chef Lindsey’s Recipe Tip
Line the bottom of your tube pan with parchment paper for quick release! I trace the outside of the pan bottom then reach my marker down the tube and trace a circle inside. Fold the paper and cut inside the marker for a perfect donut shape!
Why is my homemade fruit cake dry?
Homemade fruit cake is commonly dry from over-baking, baking in too hot an oven, or not adding moisture from soaking. Un-soaked fruit cake should be served within a week of baking for the best flavor and texture. This fruit cake recipe is delightful un-soaked when eaten fresh!
Frequently Asked Questions
Choose an alcohol with an aroma that appeals to you! I love the smell of brandy but apple or pear brandy would also be fabulous choices. You could use whiskey or Bourbon for a Southern twist.
You can soak fruit cake in apple cider instead of alcohol. You can also omit soaking the whole cake and simply soak the fruit in apple cider before making the cake. It will have similar results. The resulting cake will not be shelf-stable and should be refrigerated. You can substitute the 1 ½ tablespoons of brandy in this fruit cake recipe with apple cider or another fruit juice. You can also serve fruit cake within a few days of baking and forgo soaking completely.
Store alcohol soaked fruit cake well-wrapped at room temperature for up to 6 months. After one month it will begin to dry out if not re-soaked. Once done soaking, store the fruitcake well-wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator or freezer.
I used an easy cream cheese glaze for this fruit cake recipe. The creaminess and slight tang will balance the strong, spiced flavors of the fruit cake. A simple orange glaze with orange juice and confectioner’s sugar would also be delicious and lock in the moisture.
I topped this fruit cake with a cream cheese glaze and served it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, but a crème fraiche whipped cream would also be nice pairing. I would avoid any garnish adding additional sweetness like caramel, but a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or crème anglaise would be a welcome addition! The creaminess of the dairy highlights the spices and tames the richness!
If you tried this recipe and loved it please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it goes in the comments below. I love hearing from you; your comments make my day!
Best Fruit Cake
For the Cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 ½ cups pecans chopped
- 1 ½ cups candied pineapple ¾ lb
- 2 cups candied cherries ¾ lb
- 1 ½ cups golden raisins ½ lb
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened
- 2 ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1 ½ tablespoons brandy for the batter
- 2 tablespoons honey for brushing cake
- 1 cup brandy for soaking, optional
- ½ apple peeled & sliced, for storing, optional
Make the Cake:
- Spray and line a 10-inch tube pan with parchment paper. A non-removable bottomed tube pan works best. Bonus points for nonstick.
- Preheat oven to 275°F. I preferred to bake it in the convection setting because the top got a nice golden brown and the cake baked faster.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add pecans, pineapple, cherries, and golden raisins. Toss to coat.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time, waiting until the first has incorporated before adding the next.
- Beat in the brandy.
- Add the dry ingredient/nut mixture to the batter and fold to incorporate.
- Pour into prepared pan and place in preheated oven.
- Fill a large baking dish or roasting pan with hot water and place below the cake in the oven. Do not bake the cake in the water.
- Bake 2 hours or until a cake tester comes out clean. Once the top crumb has set, but the cake is not done baking (after about 90 minutes), brush the top with warmed honey. Continue baking until done.
- Cool and unmold cake.
- Soak a clean kitchen towel in about ½ cup brandy. Wrap the cake in the kitchen towel, place a few slices of apple in the center and wrap the whole cake in plastic wrap. Allow to sit 2 weeks before unwrapping and serving. I repeated this soaking process one additional time. My grandmother would soak the cake twice a month for 3-4 months.
Optional Cream Cheese Glaze
- Whisk together softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and milk until smooth.
- Add additional milk to thin it to your desired consistency. I kept mine thick and then drizzled it across the top with a spoon.