Tasty fruitcake?
October 4, 2010 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me make delicious fruitcake.

I want to try making fruitcake this year. My great aunt, it seems, made the best fruitcake ever, but nobody had the foresight to get her recipe (if there even was one) and she has long since made her way through the pearly gates. She passed away before I was born, so I don't even have the memory of what hers tasted like to go by; all I know was that she soaked it in whiskey for many days. I don't know what method she used, or anything else about how she made it. I think it was probably dark fruitcake.

I have googled it and I came up with a million variations. I am a reasonably accomplished baker, but I don't have any experience with this (as in, I tried fruitcake for the first time last Christmas) so I'm not sure where to start, and I understand there are many, many ways fruitcake can go wrong. So, I pose this challenge to the hivemind: Help me make delicious, old-fashioned fruitcake that would do my great aunt proud.

Many thanks!
posted by torisaur to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have not made fruitcake. However, I have watched the Good Eats episode about fruitcake. I believe in Alton Brown, so I suggest you start there.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:41 PM on October 4, 2010

Indeed, the Alton Brown fruitcake is surprisingly good.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:54 PM on October 4, 2010

Rose Levy Beranbaum's is the best, and her website has many variations.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:59 PM on October 4, 2010

Be sure to buy good candied fruit. You don't have to use exactly what any recipe calls for, as long as the overall quantity of fruit is the same, but if a dried fruit isn't delicious when you eat a piece of it, don't put it in. Choose the fruits and nuts you like best, and buy the very best quality. I use a mixture of raisins, currants, pecans, dates, dried pineapple, and dried sweetened cranberries, in the dark fruitcake recipe from the Joy of Cooking. I've had to throw away cheap artificially-flavored and colored dried fruit from the regular grocery store, because it would have ruined the fruitcake.
posted by Ery at 3:04 PM on October 4, 2010

I've never made it myself, but I LOVE the Texas Pecan Fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery.

Recipe here:
posted by cyndigo at 3:14 PM on October 4, 2010

Don't make fruitcake. Make black cake, which is what all fruitcake wants to be when it grows up. It's the same basic idea as fruitcake, but uses burnt sugar (which makes it black and rich) and the fruit and bits are macerated into totally tiny little pieces, absolutely married to the cake, instead of sulking separately as lumpy dry or oversoaked bits. People will argue whether the best black cake is Guyanese, Trinidadian or Jamaican, but like the roti from the various countries, it's all awesome.

If I can't get Auntie Betty to share her recipe, I'd advise starting with one of these:

- Guyanese Black Cake
- Jamaican Black Cake
- Trinidad Black Cake
posted by maudlin at 3:31 PM on October 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

Here is the one I use. It's black cake. Seems to be a big hit with most folks.
posted by FauxScot at 3:49 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Collin Street Bakery's fruitcake is pretty bland.

I'd recommend something similar to this:


Minus currants, raisins, dates.

Add some pecans toasted in butter, coconut extract, rum extract, and a small amount of orange and lemon extract.
posted by mhuckaba at 4:29 PM on October 4, 2010

My late maternal grandmother would spend October making twenty or so Christmas cakes for family. They were lovely. She left her recipe, though not her cooking skills; I don't have it at hand, but in lieu: Delia's Christmas Cake, from the land where "fruitcake" is not associated with grimaces.

nthing Ery on going the extra mile for good candied fruit, and good currants and raisins too, and if you're baking it now for Christmas, feed it with the dark spirit of your choice (rum, brandy, whisky) every week or so.
posted by holgate at 5:37 PM on October 4, 2010

I think that the thing that makes most people dislike fruitcake is those nasty little bits of candied citrus peel - I always find them to be horrible little notes of bitter chewyness messing up an otherwise yummy cake. I'm sure that some people like them, but I think the cake would be appreciated by more people if they were left out.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:53 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes to good fruit, and to using whatever pleases your palate (I like figs and dried tropical fruits). The "nasty little bits of candied citrus peel" mentioned above are candied citron, which is definitely an acquired taste so you might leave it out if you aren't a convert. In contrast to maudlin's black cake recommendation, I like a high proportion of fruit in fairly large pieces so that slices look almost like stained glass.

Don't expect it to rise like a normal cake. You can use the spring test to see if it's done (gently prodding it to see if a finger indentation bounces back), but the fruit will be too sticky to test doneness using a skewer. English wedding cakes are traditionally made of fruitcake, which is then covered in marzipan and then covered again in royal icing. I've always wanted to try this in miniature for Christmas gifts, it would keep the moisture in well and royal icing is hard and reasonably durable.
posted by cali at 9:10 PM on October 4, 2010

Nthing Alton Brown's Free Range Fruitcake! I have converted so many haters with this cake!

Because it does not contain the neon-colored candied fruit, people do not immediately recognize it as fruitcake. I psych them out further by calling "Christmas Cake" then reveal they have eaten the maligned fruitcake after they oooh, ahhh, and ask for more Bwahahahaha!

Some options:
1) You can also crank this up old-school style by making it in advance, wrapping it in cheese-cloth, storing in a heavy metal cake container. Every couple of days lightly drizzle some more rum or bourbon over the top. This will soak in to the dense cake infusing it with yummy decant goodness. If you get a buzz just opening the container, then it's done. Slice in thin slices and serve with good strong coffee ;)

2) Cover the cake with thin layer of marzipan. Sweet with the savory!

3) In the same vein as above, cut the cake into small squares and dip in chocolate (milk or dark).

4) Crumble the cake and make cookies using a box of spice cake mix (Claxton Fruit Cake's site). These are also good with the bottoms dipped in chocolate.

posted by tar0tgr1 at 9:34 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone! I'm thinking I'll try to make my own candied citron. Apparently you can boil out the bitterness before candifying it, and you end up with a better quality product.
posted by torisaur at 6:26 AM on October 5, 2010

If you get really into this, prepping the fruit will start to take longer and longer.
For example, I feel that the little containers of candied pineapple at the supermarket are (a) ridiculously expensive and (b) only vaguely pineapple-flavored. Do a web-search for recipes to candy your own pineapple, starting with canned or frozen chunks or rings. I didn't have much luck candying cherries, but I tried with fresh cherries, not with marachinos as recommended here.
No matter what fruits I start with, I like to soak the whole mess of fruit in my booze of choice first (mine is a 50/50 mix of brandy and rum - whiskey has always made my face turn red in even tiny amounts, so I stay away), for several days.
In the past, I've used candied ginger, as well as using a ginger-infused rum left over from a dark-n-stormies party one summer. But then, I'm nuts for spices.

ps - your timing's great; I'm thinking to get started on my Christmas batch sometime in the next couple of weekends.
posted by aimedwander at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2010

Kind of a novelty, but here's a recipe for Emily Dickinson's fruit cake (which she called "Black Cake" -- pasted in full because of supremely annoying ad on the source site):

Emily Dickinson's Black Cake Recipe
updated for modern kitchens

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 225 F.

2 cups sugar
1/2 pound butter
5 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp mace
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 nutmeg, ground
1/4-1/2 cup brandy
1 pound raisins
2/3 pound currants
2/3 pound citron

Add sugar gradually to butter; blend until light and creamy. Add unbeaten eggs & molasses. Beat well. Resift flour with soda and spices. If you're using unsalted butter, add 1/2 tsp salt.
Beat sifted ingredients into mixture, alternately adding brandy. Stir in raisins,

currants, and citron.
Pour batter into two loaf pans lined with waxed paper.
Bake at 225 F for 3 hours (this is not a typo). Remove pan of water for last 1/2
hour. Let loaves cool before removing from pans.
Remove paper and wrap in fresh paper.

The submitter's notes from experience:
Keep the water pan 1 inch full; otherwise, you'll have a black brick.
I find that kitchen parchment works better than waxed paper. This cake is so rich,

you'll think you're tasting heaven (well, of course you are). I usually use only
half the listed amounts of raisins, currants, and citron -- and the cake still
weighs a ton.

The longer the cake sits (in a cool, dark spot), the better it will taste. ED used
to put hers in the cellar for a month, but I think 19th century people had a
different attitude toward mold than we do ... :-)
I've had great success with this recipe and make it every year on ED's birthday.
posted by Ouisch at 9:58 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel that the little containers of candied pineapple at the supermarket are (a) ridiculously expensive and (b) only vaguely pineapple-flavored.

I've found three grades of dried pineapple. The one from the regular grocery store is too sweet for me to eat, though my husband likes it; I wouldn't put it into any fruitcake. The one from Whole Foods is sweetened but much more pineappley, just right for fruitcake. The one from Central Market is unsweetened and weird-looking, but has IMO the best flavor of all, for eating straight.

You hear a lot about people hating fruitcake, but everybody so far says they like my fruitcake. I think it all comes down to the quality of the fruit.

I forgot to say that I always include a significant dose of good crystallized ginger in any fruitcake.
posted by Ery at 6:35 AM on October 6, 2010

The whole soaking in whisky thing (while also sounding like a perfect plan for my weekend) screams Dundee Cake to me, as this is traditionally finished by pricking it all over with a skewer and then slinging some scotch over it to soak in. Mebbe every day for a week. Mmmm-mmmm.

I haven't tried the recipe linked above, btw, but it looks about right.
posted by kxr at 12:05 AM on October 7, 2010

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