There's one in every crowd - a holiday traditionalist who loves and looks forward to fruitcake. This has always mystified me as every fruitcake I have ever had has been heavy and chaotic and boozy and not very well thought out. I'm sure at one time someone came up with a very nice recipe that called for a rich cake full of fruit and nuts but over the years it has evolved into what can only be described as a culinary clusterfuck of the highest magnitude. It takes some genuine skill to pull off a confection of candied fruit and hard liquor and quite honestly for most of us at-home bakers it's pretty far out of reach, especially if you only bake in December.
Then a few years ago, I chose Tradition as the theme for my annual holiday baking and decided to try my hand at this most maligned of traditional holiday fare. I found the following recipe on the epicurious website and got it right on the first try. It's been a regular feature of my holiday cookie tins ever since. There are a couple of reasons why this works:
1. No candied fruit
. It calls for dried fruit, and only a couple of varieties.
2. No booze.
Although the recipe calls for it, I omit it. Sometimes you gotta stay in your own weight class, and boozy desserts are strictly heavy-weight material.
3. Scale back on the fruit and nuts
so it's not so much potpourri but actual cake.
You will need:
a bag of dried cherries, minced
a bag of dried apricots, minced
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup golden raisins - I leave these out, mostly out of a personal bias against them
There's some debate about whether or not to simmer the dried fruit before adding it to baked goods. I say yes, simmer it, it will bake better. The debate in my house was when to simmer - before or after you mince. I always do it before, which usually leads to some difficulty when it comes time to mince. My counterpart stepped in today and provided proper technique - use the Sudoku knife, cut at a nice angle (photos below) - and also suggested that I mince first and then simmer.
Dried fruit simmered with whole cloves
Line up the large fruit on your board
Slice the large fruit
However you do it, once the fruit is minced and cooled, toss it with the almonds and 1/2 cup flour to coat.
Fruit coated with flour
Sift together and set aside:
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup flour
Beat together until smooth and fluffy:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature (this is 1 stick)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
Then mix in:
6 eggs, one at a time
3 tbsp amber rum - I use rum extract or almond extract
3 tbsp pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
1 tbsp vanilla
Add the flour mixture and blend until combined. If you're using an electric mixer, remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Fold in the dried fruit mixture.
This is what the batter should look like
Preheat the oven to 325 and grease your pan. You can use a 10-inch angel food or bundt cake pan, two 8-inch loaf pans, or 5 mini-loaf pans. I've got several people on my cookie list, so I used mini-loaf pans. Just like we did for our
, use a small soup ladle to spoon the batter into whatever pan you're using. Bake for about 90 minutes. If you are making mini-loafs, cut the time in half and keep an eye on things after the first 30 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool. and that's really it - no hard sauce or syrup to mess around with. It's lighter and simpler that any other fruitcake I've ever had with a nice, tart cherry flavor and a smooth, slightly dense texture. This is a fruitcake that should satisfy both traditionalist and skeptic alike.
If you have a favorite recipe that you would like to share, please email me at
and let me know how you would like to be identified (ie "a reader in Ellicott City" vs your actual name). Include any traditions or memories associated with the dish if you like.