I have been the Christmas fruitcake recipe queen in our family for many decades, since I was in grammar school.
My childhood fruitcake making began with a recipe my mother had made using an old Good Housekeeping cookbook. Because we had seven children in the family and she had a lot to do, she was happy to pass the Christmas fruitcake torch - and the fruitcake recipe - to me.
I would make the fruitcakes for Christmas every year, and because my mother shipped presents to her side of the family and had to mail them early, I had to make the Christmas fruitcake early enough so she could include fruitcake for everyone.
I’ve since adapted the recipe.
After I grew up and got married, I began to study the recipe and decided to make changes. Primarily, I wanted to enrich the fruitcakes by packing in even more fruit and nuts as well as much more spice flavor.
I doubled the nut amounts. Then I started using pecan halves instead of pieces. For the almonds, I eventually settled on a half and half mix of sliced and slivered almonds because I like both and love the look of the slivered ones.
I also wanted more fruit in the recipe, both because I love the colors and because the recipe now needed more fruit to balance out the nuts.
So I doubled the fruit, too. I also added green cherries because I love the color, which offsets the red cherries beautifully.
Then, after seeing several other kinds of preserved fruits in the grocery one year, I decided to augment the candied mixed fruit and red cherries with my own assortment of citrus: lemon peel, orange peel, and lime ("citron") peel.
All the citrus gives this recipe a dimension that balances the sweetness and satisfies a desire for bitter and sour flavors during cold weather.
Then for the spices.
With so many more nuts, so much more fruit, I needed to up the spice quotient considerably. So I tripled the nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
When I look back on my childhood days of making fruitcake, I'm amazed at what was commonplace at that time.
I remember many a late autumn night, soaking cheese cloth in brandy or bourbon and using the liquor-drenched cloth to wrap the fruitcakes before wrapping them further in wax paper and foil.
One year, we had triple sec on hand, so I used that instead because its orange flavor complemented the mixed fruits perfectly.
The alcohol was part of what made fruitcake rich and special. It (and the large amount of sugar) also helped preserve the cakes so people could store them safely and enjoy them over a long period.
A friend recently told me the fruitcakes her family ate every year were "last year" fruitcakes. Her grandmother would make fruitcake, wrap it in alcohol soaked cheese cloth, and put it away to rest and mature for the following year. Meanwhile, she'd unwrap the prior year's fruitcake for enjoying that year.
When I grew up, I eventually made a decision to make the traditional fruitcake recipe a no alcohol treat. Most of us know people in recovery, and it's an act of love to omit alcohol in family and communal cooking so that everyone - especially children - can partake of our culinary offerings.
Also, many people cannot consume alcohol for medical reasons or choose not to for spiritual or personal reasons. In the years since we decided to make the family fruitcake recipe alcohol free, I've felt happy knowing that anyone can eat these fruitcakes and everyone can share in the love that goes into creating them.
The result of all these changes: a traditional dark Christmas Fruitcake - only more so.
Essentially, it's a massive amount of colorful fruit and delicious nuts held together with the smallest amount of batter required so that all this goodness is mostly "stuff" with just a bit of dough.
It's "dark" because the chocolate turns the batter into a rich, dark blend.
It's rich thanks to the bright colors, dark chocolate, and warming spices.
It's for everyone, from my heart.
The astrology of fruitcake? Yes!
I've been thinking so much about how fruitcake fits in with astrology, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you.
Here in northern Illinois, the days grow shorter after the equinox in late September, and the temperatures start to drop (especially at night). As soon as the daytime temps also dip, I'm in the mood for fruitcake.
That mood can arrive in October, while the Sun is still in Libra, or more often it arrives at the end of October or into November, when it's Scorpio time. The actual making of fruitcake happens after Thanksgiving, when it's Sagittarius time.
So that makes fruitcake a treat associated with the zodiac signs of autumn:
With the changes I mentioned above, this recipe has now become our family's annual fruitcake recipe. In this form, it continues a family tradition, and I still make it every year.
It’s a massive job because one recipe makes a lot, but I do it because my husband and I love it and my siblings all do, too. Our parents are gone now, and it’s a connection to them and a precious memory of Christmases past.
Before getting to my fruitcake recipe, I wanted to take a moment to add a note to anyone who is tempted to make fun of fruitcake.
It seems to me that making fun of this winter treat has become a favorite sport in our lifetimes, often by people who have never tried a good, homemade fruitcake.
Where they see something to ridicule, I see love. I see centuries of tradition and the hard work it takes to turn fruit zests into candied fruit (it’s actually an intensely time consuming, laborious process, especially if you do it yourself – you’re actually replacing all the moisture in the fruit with a sugar syrup).
I also see investment.
Homemade fruitcake is a labor of love and requires time and care.
And money: the ingredients are costly, especially if you buy the finest nuts, spices, and fruit - and organic flour, butter, and eggs.
It’s worth it, every time. It’s one of the most important ways I show love to my family and friends and to my husband, who loves my fruitcake.
Fruitcake has many health benefits.
Nuts are nutritional powerhouses, and spices have not only physical benefits but emotional ones. The aroma of festive spices at holiday time promotes good memories and happiness.
Chocolate, especially the dark, unsweetened chocolate in this recipe, has been shown to have many health benefits.
The candied fruits' many colors please the eye and foster a spirit of celebration.
In addition, the citrus fruit used in a traditional fruitcake recipe plus the marmalade in my recipe below provide both sour and bitter tastes, which can be lacking in during the holidays. These tastes offset the sweet tastes that tend to prevail as we all eat more candy, cookies, and other treats at holiday time.
I'm writing this post in December, 2020.
In this year of so many challenges, give yourself the gift of trying something new, either by making a real fruitcake or trying some made with love by someone who loves you.
Remember that, in centuries past, a fruitcake was a precious gift.
It provided a mixture of flavors that gave people a feeling of richness and a contentment after the hard labor of autumn harvest.
There is nothing like the aromas of spice and baking when you’ve made fruitcake: the house suddenly feels festive, as if the holidays are here and their specialness will stay forever.
Thank you to all who may read this.
Please think a loving thought for me and all who bake fruitcakes. We do it out of love, and what we do makes many people happy. Through us, they taste and eat LOVE every year. May you have the privilege of doing the same.
I extend my heart to you all. And I share my fruitcake with you virtually. Let’s all taste it in our hearts and minds, love one another, and go in peace.
1 cup dried currants*
3 cups raisins
16 ounces orange marmalade
2 cups (16 ounces) candied mixed fruit
2 cups candied red cherries, halved
1/2 cup candied green cherries, halved
2 cups candied pineapple*
1 cup candied, diced lemon peel*
1/2 cup candied, diced citron (lime peel)*
1/2 cup candied, diced orange peel*
3 cups pecan halves
3 cups blanched almonds, slivered or sliced (or 1.5 cups of each)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons nutmeg
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (or vegan butter), softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
6 eggs, separated
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/3 cup orange juice
NOTE: If you have both a stand mixer and hand mixer, take out both and use the hand mixer for the butter/sugar mixture and the stand mixer for whipping the egg whites.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. You can do this when you start, although assembling the dough takes some time, so you might wait until you're ready to make the batter. I've added a note below to remind you when to turn on the oven.
Prepare several loaf pans by oiling them. The cakes have a tendency to stick and can be quite difficult to remove without breakage unless you line the pans, too, so after oiling them, line with waxed paper or foil and then oil the paper or foil, too.
NOTE: You can use a tube pan or a springform pan for part of the dough, but you’ll still need some loaf pans to hold the excess dough. For example: 1 recipe will make 1 small round (7 inch dia.), 2 medium loaves (8.5 X 4.5 inches), and 7 mini loaves (5 3/8 X 3 1/8 inches). OR: 1 recipe will make 2 medium loaves, filled to the top, plus 5 mini loaves.
In a very large bowl, combine the currants, raisins, marmalade, mixed fruit, red cherries, green cherries, pineapple, lemon peel, lime peel, orange peel, pecans, and almonds. Sprinkle or sift 1 cup of the flour over the fruit and nuts and mix until all the fruit and nuts are coated. Set aside.
NOTE: If you haven't yet preheated the oven, do so now. Also, this point is a good time to melt the chocolate so it's still liquid yet cool enough to add to the batter.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until they are light and fluffy. (Use the hand mixer for this step; save your stand mixer with whisk attachment to whip the egg whites.) Add the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves and mix thoroughly.
Over a small bowl, crack one of the eggs and separate so the white falls into the clean bowl; then put the egg white into the bowl for your stand mixer and put the yolk into the butter/sugar mixture and mix thoroughly
Do the same with the other 5 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each yolk to blend into the butter/sugar mixture.
Now blend in the melted chocolate. Then blend in the baking soda, the remaining 1 cup of flour, and the orange juice and mix until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the very large bowl of fruit and nuts and stir the entire mixture by hand to blend. Set aside.
If using only one mixer, wash the beaters well to remove all traces of oil and dry thoroughly. Then use them (or your stand mixer) to beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the fruit/nut mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pans and bake for about 1 ½ to 2 hours for loaf pans and 2 to 2 ½ hours for tube or large springform pan. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you used mini loaf pans, check them early, at about 1 hour and 10 minutes, as they finish baking the fastest.
Allow the cakes to cool a while on a rack. When cool enough to handle, remove the cakes from the pans and finish cooling on the rack. (Leave the foil or waxed paper on the cakes.)
When completely cool, enjoy a slice - or an entire loaf, especially one of the mini loaves - with a cup of coffee or tea. If you like crunchy things, this is the time to enjoy fresh fruitcake, when the tops and ends are wonderfully "day one," "just cooled from baking" crisp.
Wrap all the other cakes in wax paper and then with foil.
Store at room temperature for a few days (if you’ll be giving them away quickly or eating them yourself promptly) or else freeze them, wrapped with two or three plastic bags (the kind groceries have in the produce section is fine) to preserve the flavor. Freezing can make them easier to slice.
NOTE: We love to have fruitcake on hand throughout the cold weather months. Consider making enough to have several loaves to freeze. It's wonderful on Valentine's Day. Also, set aside at least one loaf in the freezer to enjoy the following fall, just as the temperatures drop and before you've made new loaves for that holiday season. It's a slice of heaven and a precious memory to have homemade fruitcake later in the year when the days start getting so short, right from the freezer, without having to make a batch immediately.
Recipe by Anne Nordhaus-Bike, inspired by our family’s traditions and based loosely on an old dark fruitcake recipe from the early 1960s.