“How many fruitcakes does it take to hammer in a nail?”
You’ve probably heard all the fruitcake jokes which tend to make their round this time of year…. I personally think we should be applauding the folks who invented fruitcake, because it’s a rather ingenious cake. In a time when there is no refrigeration, people figured out how to use dried and candied fruits and nuts and alcohol to create a longer-lasting festive dessert.
While there does seem to be a lot of folks who won’t even try fruitcake, a substantial number of people do actually enjoy and make fruitcakes as part of their holiday tradition. An older gentleman emailed me a couple of weeks ago because he’s now gluten sensitive, and his wife told him he couldn’t have fruitcake anymore. He wanted to know if I could help….
Fortunately for him, I like fruitcake. I even like the versions with the traditional candied lemon and orange peels, cherries and citron. Fruitcake, however, doesn’t have to include these. I often make a fruitcake with just dried fruit like apricots, prunes, dates, and currants. What’s lovely about fruitcake is that you can do just about anything you want.
Some things to keep in mind:
Traditional fruitcake is basically a butter cake recipe. You can choose between a light cake recipe or a dark cake. Light means you’re using “light” sweeteners like white sugar, honey and/or corn syrup and usually lighter dried fruits and nuts (macadamia nuts, apricots, etc…); dark usually uses sweeteners like brown sugar and molasses and darker dried fruit and nuts (walnuts, pecans, currants, etc…).
Since I try to avoid refined sugars a much as possible, I tend to use a combination of coconut sugar, Agave, and date molasses because I can use much less than the sugar amounts normally called for in fruitcake. This means my fruitcake tends to be a “darker” recipe. I also cut the quantity of butter because traditional butter cake recipes use a lot of butter. And of course, because of my dairy allergies I’m really using a vegan “butter” instead of cow’s milk butter.
Fruitcake recipes also call for a lot of eggs. One, because fruitcake is really a lot of fruit and nuts with just enough batter to hold it together, so eggs are very necessary to the binding and baking process. Two, fruitcake is normally made in large quantities which requires a lot of eggs. To minimize the cholesterol, I use half egg whites and half whole eggs. You can use all egg whites but it will make for a drier fruitcake.
Whatever you decide to do for a batter, make it to your liking. Since I like spice cakes, I make my fruitcakes with spices like cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. If you like more of a yellow cake, use vanilla. If you like fruit, use orange or lemon peel.
The Dried Fruit and Nuts:
Traditional fruitcake has candied peels, cherries, and citron with nuts like walnuts and pecans. If you don’t like those, you don’t have to use them. You can use any type of dried fruit you prefer and any type of nuts you prefer. I omit nuts because I’m allergic to them. For the fruits I use a combination of the traditional and the non-traditional. Dates, dried plums, apricots, and currants are my favorite dried fruits to mix with the candied peels, cherries and citron.
A tip: I have found that what most people don’t like about fruitcake is that the fruit and nuts are too large. I use a food processor to chop everything into tiny pieces so they’re evenly distributed throughout the cake to give flavor without the chunkiness. Paradise also makes an Old English Fruit and Peel mix which has everything already chopped into tiny pieces.
Alcohol was traditionally used in fruitcake to keep the cake from getting moldy and stale in addition to adding flavor and moistness. The most common alcohol for fruitcake is either rum or brandy. Recipes vary as to how the alcohol is used. Some will tell you to soak the dried fruits and nuts in alcohol. Most, however, soak the cake in alcohol after it’s been baked. Many recipes do a combination of the two. Others simply put alcohol in the cake batter.
The main difference between which versions you choose is exactly how much of the “boozy” taste you want. Alcohol cooked into the batter will not be as strong as if you soak the fruits and nuts and/or the entire cake in alcohol. Another difference is time. Soaking fruits and nuts usually takes some hours before you can make up the fruitcake. Soaking the entire cake usually requires days.
I don’t use alcohol in my fruitcake recipes. One, I don’t particularly care for rum or brandy. Two, I don’t have the patience to wait for anything to soak. Three, we have refrigeration which keeps my fruitcake from getting moldy and stale. Instead I like to use unsweetened orange use or apple cider. Makes for tasty cakes without the alcohol.
Fruitcake needs to cook at a lower temperature to prevent the cake from becoming too dry, so usually it requires several hours to bake. I cut the time by baking my fruitcake in smaller mini-loaf pans or only filling regular size pans half full. Then instead of a couple of hours, the cakes cook in about one hour which fits with my schedule much better.
Cooking in the mini pans also means they’re a good size for gifting. I make a lovely chocolate fruitcake which I have given to neighbors for the holidays for years and which they actually really enjoy and look forward to each year. What’s nice about fruitcakes is that they store well if you wrap them well in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.
Many recipes will tell you to cook the fruitcake at 250 or 275 degrees. I find that 300 degrees work just as well, allowing the cook time to be slightly less. If, however, you do choose to make a large fruitcake in a bundt or tube pan, you should opt for the lower temperatures to ensure even cooking throughout.
My favorite fruitcake recipe is the chocolate fruitcake I mentioned above. I use a combination of two gluten free flour blends – one which is a lighter brown rice flour blend like King Arthur’s; the other a more high fiber/high protein blend like Bob Red Mill’s garbanzo bean blend. I use unsweetened cocoa powder and add allergy friendly chocolate chips to the dried fruit blend. If I use the candied peels and citron, I usually just add dried dates and plums. If I opt to use only dried fruit, I like to combine dried dates, plums, apricots, currants, and unsweetened coconut. Both versions make for tasty fruitcakes.
Allergy Friendly Chocolate Fruit Cake
(This recipe makes 12 mini 4 x 8 loaves)
7 cups favorite dried fruits, nuts, and/or candied peels, cherries and/or citron, chopped into tiny pieces
1 cup Enjoy Life miniature chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup vegan olive oil “butter”, melted
2 cups coconut sugar
1/4 cup date molasses
3/4 cup Agave
1 cup unsweetened orange juice
1 cup liquid egg whites
2 cups high protein/high fiber gluten free flour blend (like Bob Red Mill’s garbanzo bean flour)
2 cups brown rice flour blend (like King Arthur)
1 cup gluten free oat flour
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Arrange your oven racks so they are evenly spaced so you can cook on both racks at teh same time. Line 12 mini loaf pans with parchment paper so the paper hangs over the side like wings. This will make it easier to pull the cake out of the pans. Arrange the pans on two cookie sheets so they have some space around each pan for air to circulate.
- Mix the dried fruit, nuts, and/or candied peels and fruit with the chocolate chips. Set aside
- Mix the melted butter with the coconut sugar, date molasses, agave, orange juice, egg whites, and eggs. Set aside.
- Combine the two gluten free flour blends with the oat flour, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Stir the wet ingredients well before adding the dried fruit mixture to it. Carefully add the dry ingredients, along with the apple cider vinegar.
- Mix the batter well until all the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened.
- Divide the batter evenly among the 12 loaf pans. The pans will be only 2/3 full. (If you’d like to make these in larger 9 x 5 pans, fill the loaf pans only half full.)
- Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes and then switch the cookie sheets between the two racks for even cooking of both trays of mini-loaves. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until the fruitcakes are puffed, pulling from the sides, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and put the mini loaf pans onto a wire cooling rack. Cool for 10 minutes, and then carefully remove the cakes by lifting the parchment paper wings. Cool the cakes completely on the wire racks.
- To store the cakes, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil. They store in the fridge for about a week or you can double wrap them with foil and freeze them for a couple of months.