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This Old Fashioned Fruit Cake recipe is a moist, heavily spiced cake full of dried fruit, candied citrus, and nuts. Disregard all your pre-conceived notions about fruit cake because this one is flavorful and rich.
Today I bring you a fantastic Old Fashioned Fruit Cake! She is often mocked and overlooked, but we aren’t so quick to judge around here. No, no this fruit cake is full of flavor and intrigue. How many cakes can say that!? The sheer number of ingredients in this cake is astonishing. There are 7 types of dried fruits, 2 varieties of nuts and 4 spices. There is molasses, apple cider, brandy and, yes and, strawberry preserves! Tell me you aren’t curious about this cake!
I used my Quick Strawberry Jam for this cake but you could also use Mixed Berry Jam for even more flavor variety. In this cake the egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks, and folded in after making the batter. This adds a little levity to an otherwise very dense cake. The density mostly comes from the plain fact that there are more mix-ins than cake! It’s kind of like my Sourdough Raisin Bread or my Thick Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies where it is all about the add-ins!
Table of Contents
What is Old Fashioned Fruit Cake?
Old fashioned fruit cake is a rich cake that is flavored with spices and brandy. Fruit cake 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.
What does traditional fruit cake taste like?
Traditional fruit cake has an intense flavor from the spices, dried fruit and alcohol. Over time the flavors meld to create a heady spiced aroma that is unlike anything else. Every bite is full of a variety of nuts, fruits, candied citrus peels and spice. The texture is dense because of all the mix-ins and the soaking.
- Dried Fruit: The recipe uses a combination of raisins, golden raisins and currants. They add sweetness and they absorb some of that booze! Think of them like slow-release moisture vessels.
- Candied Fruit: Use any combination of candied orange peel and candied lemon peel, candied cherries and candied pineapples. I purchased all my candied fruit this year but you can also follow my recipe for candying citrus peels. Just drain from the syrup, chop and add to the mix.
- Nuts: Untoasted pecans and almonds bring this cake a little crunch. They balance out the sweetness of the dried and candied fruit.
- 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 over mix 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 Soda: Do check the freshness of your baking soda! It does lose potency over time. If it’s not fresh, send it to the back of the refrigerator to absorb some odors, or clean your marble countertops with it!
- Cinnamon: I use Saigon cinnamon but any cinnamon would be lovely.
- Ground Allspice: Allspice is a powerful spice. She will take over all the other spices in the old fashioned fruit cake if you let her. I always use allspice with a light hand.
- Mace: Mace is the protective webbing around the nutmeg seed. Ground mace is made from grinding this dried coating. While they come from the same plant and their flavors are similar, I would describe nutmeg’s aroma as earthier and the aroma of mace as more floral.
- 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.
- 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.
- Light Brown Sugar: Using light brown sugar adds sweetness along with a little moisture. This will keep the cake softer while adding a nice, rich molasses flavor.
- Whole Egg: The eggs are here to add fat, moisture and leavening.
- Molasses: Molasses adds the perfect amount of sweetness in addition to bringing its robust, complex flavor to the old fashioned fruit cake party!
- Fruit Juice: Use any fruit juice that you have on hand or apple cider. This is the liquid in this cake and it is here for moisture as well as flavor!
- 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.
- Preserves: Folding strawberry preserves into the old fashioned fruit cake adds even more moisture and flavor. Choose a variety that isn’t too sweet for the best results. I used my Quick Strawberry Jam but any fruit preserves will do.
- Dried Fruit: I love all raisins and I will take any excuse to use currants, but if you don’t enjoy one or any of those options, substitute any dried fruit you wish. 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 to make old fashioned fruit cake. Next time I will use all candied citrus and omit the candied cherries and pineapple.
- 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 variety!
- Fruit Juice: I used orange juice because that is what I had on hand, but I think apple cider would be phenomenal.
- Fruit Preserves: I used my Quick Strawberry Jam but my Mixed Berry Jam would also taste sensational in this old fashioned fruit cake. You can, of course, use any store-bought preserves that you adore. If you enjoy the flavor, orange marmalade could also be an interesting twist.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Choose an alcohol with an aroma that appeals to you! I love the smell of regular brandy but apple or pear brandy would also be fabulous choices. You could use whiskey or Bourbon for a Southern twist on this old fashioned fruit cake.
Store alcohol soaked fruit cake well wrapped at room temperature for up to 6 months. After two months it will begin to dry out if not re-soaked. Once done soaking, store the fruitcake well wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
You can absolutely freeze fruitcake. Wrap well in plastic wrap and store for up to 6 additional months.
You can make larger batches of this cake. You are only limited by the capacity of your mixer.
A tangy Cream Cheese Buttercream would be a wonderful icing for fruit cake. The creaminess and slight tang will balance the strong, spiced flavors of the fruit cake.
What to serve with old fashioned fruit cake?
I served this old fashioned fruit cake with a simple swoosh 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 vanilla bean anglaise would be a welcome addition! The creaminess of the dairy mellows the strong flavors of the cake and it highlights individual notes like the spices!
Old Fashioned Fruit Cake
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup currants
- 3 oz candied lemon peel chopped
- 3 oz candied orange peel chopped
- 8 oz candied cherries chopped
- 8 oz candied pineapple chopped
- 8 oz citron sliced, I omitted this
- 1 cup pecans chopped
- 1 cup almonds blanched, chopped
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour for coating fruit and nuts
- 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour for the batter
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon mace
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅔ cup unsalted butter softened
- ⅔ cup light brown sugar packed
- 4 eggs separated into yolks and whites
- ⅓ cup molasses
- 3 tablespoons fruit juice or apple cider
- 3 tablespoons brandy
- ⅔ cup strawberry preserves I used my quick strawberry jam
- Preheat oven to 250°F
- Spray and line a tube pan with parchment paper. Use the bottom of the pan to trace the concentric circles and then cut them out to fit.
- In a large bowl combine all dried fruits and chopped nuts. Toss with ⅓ cup flour and set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk together remaining flour, spices and baking soda. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in another bowl using a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until lightened and fluffy.
- Add the egg yolks one at a time and beat well. Add the molasses, fruit juice, and brandy. Beat well. Add the strawberry preserves and beat well. Reduce the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, being sure not to overmix. Fold in the fruit and nuts.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
- Fold egg whites into batter.
- Pour into prepared pan. It should be about ¾ full. Cover with heavy waxed paper or parchment paper that extends about 1 inch over the edge. Tie tightly with kitchen twine, a large rubber band, or cinch it down with aluminum foil.
- Place covered cake pan in the preheated oven and place a large roasting pan with about 1 inch of hot water under it. Do not place the pan in the water, this is not like a water bath.
- Bake about 2 hours or until a cake tester comes out clean. After 1 ½ hours I removed the covering from the cake pan and allowed the cake to brown a bit.
- Allow to cool 1 hour before turning out.
- Soak a cloth in brandy and wrap the cake while still warm. Wrap in waxed paper or in plastic wrap. If desired, you can remoisten the cloth with brandy 1-2 times per month as the cake absorbs the moisture. I did this once a month for 3 months.
Let’s get into it like a PROFESSIONAL CHEF:Presentation – 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 a nice pairing. I would avoid any garnish adding additional sweetness like caramel, but a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or vanilla bean anglaise would be a welcome addition! The creaminess of the dairy highlights the spices and tames the richness of this fruit cake recipe! Flavor Tips – 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. My grandmother would soak her fruit cakes twice a month for 3-4 months. It just depends how boozy you want your cake! Technique – Homemade fruit cake is commonly dry from overbaking, 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! The original instructions call to steam the cakes in a steamer for 3 ½ hours then bake, but I just placed a roasting pan full of hot water in the bottom of my oven for the full time. Who has 5 hours to bake a cake? Helpful Tools – A non-removable bottomed 10-inch tube pan lined with parchment paper will work best. Bonus points for nonstick. Variations – You can omit the raisins and pecans, or substitute for another dried fruit or nut of your choosing. 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 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. I baked the whole recipe in a tube pan but you could also divide it into 4 smaller cakes that will only steam/bake for about 2 hours. Storage – 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. You can absolutely freeze fruitcake. Wrap well in plastic wrap and store for up to 6 additional months. Recipe from Woman’s Home Companion, 1946 Edition. I made a half recipe for the photos shown. The recipe above is the full recipe yielding 5 pounds of cake.
Before You Go!
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