I’ve never understood the near-universal distaste for fruitcake — how it has become a much-ridiculed physical representation of the gaudiness of the holidays. I blame the candied cherries, particularly those neon green ones — while even syrupy maraschinos and glacé fruit are adored by many, particularly when bits are nestled atop a swirl whipped shortbread, tasting of sweet, chewy nostalgia, their cloying sweetness can be over the top.
Cakes packed with raisins, figs and apricots in their natural state tend to be more appealing these days, and though traditional British fruitcakes, both light and dark, tend to be the first to come to mind, there are cakes and rich yeasted breads around the world with batters and doughs designed to bind large quantities of dried fruits and nuts. Historically, these were special, celebratory ingredients, and ones that kept and travelled well. Honey and spices were added throughout the Middle Ages, as fruitcakes gained popularity across Europe — and then people began soaking them with booze; the fruit itself, to plump it up, and then the finished cakes.
Whether or not you’re a fruitcake fan — or perhaps you want to stray from your usual — here are a few versions you may not have tried yet, that are worth stirring up this holiday season.
Jamaican-style Dark Fruitcake
- 2 1/2 cup mixed dried or candied fruit of your choice(cranberries, cherries, dates, figs, dark raisins, apricots, candied orange peel)
- 1 1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
- 1 1/2 cup currants
- 1 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup rum
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup dark molasses
- 1 orange, zested and juiced
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
- 3/4 cup red wine or grape juice or orange juice
- 2 cups coarsley chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine the dried fruit and rum; toss and set aside to soak.
- Grease a Bundt or tube pan well, or line a few loaf pans with parchment.
- Place the sugar in a small saucepan or skillet set over medium-high heat and cook, swirling the pan as the sugar melts, until it turns deep golden. Remove from the heat and gently stir in 2 Tbsp water — it will splatter. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes, until light and creamy. Beat in the molasses and orange and lemon zest and juice.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the wine or juice in 2 parts. Stir in the fruits (with their juices), the caramel sauce and nuts and scrape into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 2½-3 hours, until dark golden and set. If the cake is darkening too quickly on top, cover it loosely with foil for the last 30-60 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack, then invert onto a plate.
- Store well wrapped at room temperature.