Quick history lesson! Before your grandma graced the Christmas table with a fruitcake centerpiece, the ancient Romans shaped pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, barley mash, raisins, and honeyed wine into a fruitcake-like concoction they named “satura.” And according to the New York Times, the Romans’ sweet and sour satura cake actually inspired the word satire. Pretty cool, huh?
While most folks have a love-hate relationship with this treat, everyone can basically agree that it certainly embodies tradition. Boasting a slew of festive ingredients like dried or candied fruits, rum, and butter, many families’ Christmas dinners are incomplete without fruit cake for dessert. So, why not make it a hit with everyone at your table—even the skeptics—with these tips?
While brandy’s hints of oak and plum notes marry well with the cake’s fruity sweetness, folks who aren’t too fond of the booze can definitely switch it up. If you fancy vino, opt for using red wine instead. Or if you want to keep your cake alcohol-free, feel free to use your favorite fruit juice.
Before you add your dried fruit and nuts to the batter, coat them in flour first. This will ensure that all the good stuff won’t sink to the bottom of the cake when it bakes—and it will leave your guests wondering how they shoveled in the perfect bite each time.
Since fruitcake is sometimes spiced with warm seasonings like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, you’re going to want to use the freshest spices possible to ensure your cake is worthy of a second helping.
If you’re not a fan of the candied fruit that traditional fruit cakes call for, you can totally swap it out for some yummier alternatives. We especially like golden raisins, cranberries, dates, and figs (Which are HIGH in potassium). If you’re swapping out any fruit or nuts, make sure you’re adding the same amount as the original recipe calls for. So if the OG recipe requires one cup of candied cherries and you’d prefer dried cranberries, substitute the cherries for the same weight (one cup, in this case) of crans.
Make sure you’re filling your tins only two-thirds of the way with batter. Pouring past that mark can cause your fruitcake to overflow the rims of the baking dish—which means extra clean up time for you.
Never bake your fruitcake at a temperature higher than 325 degrees Fahrenheit. (250 degrees to 325 degrees is best!) Baking your cake at a lower temperature ensures it will cook through evenly without drying out. To ensure it is done before you pop it out of the oven, insert a toothpick in the center of the cake. It should come out moist but not raw or doughy.
Along with setting your oven to the right temperature to ensure your fruitcake doesn’t end up unpleasantly dry, try adding a cup of applesauce to the batter. And to further prevent your cake from drying out, keep a pan of hot water on a lower rack in the oven to add moisture while it bakes. Genius, right?!
Since fruit cakes take their time to bake in the oven (about two and a half hours or more), line your baking pans with double layers of brown paper or waxed paper before you pour the batter; this will prevent the cakes from browning too much in the oven. Once it’s done, say hello to a perfectly moist and golden fruitcake!
If you have trouble sticking to just one slice of the sweet stuff, opt for baking your fruitcake in muffin or cupcake tins for a perfectly portioned bite. Just remember to adjust the baking time; fruitcake muffins will take a shorter amount of time to bake. (You can use our toothpick trick mentioned above to test them.)
Just like good wine and cheese, a fruitcake must also age in order to reach its full potential. After your cake is baked and cooled, first wrap it in a layer of plastic wrap followed by foil paper, and then stick the entire thing in an airtight container. This will ensure that your fruitcake won’t take on any funky smells or flavors. Store it in a cool, dry place (not the fridge or freezer because the super low temperatures will halt the aging process, which you don’t want!) like your pantry or cupboard. I recommend aging your fruit cake for one to three months, if possible so that all of the ingredients marry well. In fact, with the right preservation methods and a quality air-tight container, an auction house was able to sell a 27-year-old fruitcake for $6,000!
Make sure to also “feed it” every week. Feeding, or moistening the cake with alcohol, will ensure your cake ages properly and doesn’t go dry. (The alcohol is also the reason a fruitcake can last without going bad!) Simply coat the cake evenly so that you don’t end up with any soggy parts.
I like pouring the liquor of choice (from brandy to rum to whiskey or cognac) into spray bottles, poking evenly-spaced holes into the cake, and then spraying away. This will ensure the cake is evenly fed. Repeat this weekly. Speaking of booze, if you like to hit up cocktail parties and happy hours.