Friends are the fruitcake of life – some nutty, some soaked in alcohol, some sweet.Jon Ronson
Do you make your own Christmas fruitcake each year? If you do it’s time to get ready to soak your fruit, in preparation for a flavoursome and moist cake. If you haven’t made a fruitcake before, don’t despair. Why not join us and make your own? I promise it’s easier than you think, and the taste of a homemade Christmas cake will always surpass a store-bought one.
My grandmother Marga taught me the importance of fruit soaking for a great-tasting cake, and I think of her every year when I prepare my fruit. This weekend I will be gathering all my fruit together, ready to soak it, and I will think of my beautiful and much missed grandparents, and have a little drink to toast their memory.
Here are my two favourite Christmas Cake Recipes. Both use 1.2kg of mixed fruit. Good combinations include raisins, currants, sultanas, mixed peel, glace cherries, cranberries, prunes and dates – but use what you prefer. I often buy a kilogram bag of mixed dried fruit and then add a 200g bag of glace cherries. To soak this much fruit I use a cup of liquid (250ml) – either alcohol or black tea. Don’t use a fruit juice to soak over time as it can ferment or go moldy!
This first recipe is for a traditional ‘Make and Mature’ cake. This involves creaming together eggs and butter, sifting in the flours and spices and fruit and then slow baking. The texture and aroma of this cake are so incredibly good. Traditional Christmas Fruit Cake
The second is my ‘Last-Minute’ Christmas fruitcake. You literally melt and mix this cake in a big saucepan on the stove. It has no eggs and is a condensed milk fruit cake. So good! I know, it’s a recipe that can be made in a hurry if you didn’t have time to soak your fruit and ‘feed’ your cake, but it will taste even better if you’re organised enough to soak your fruit in advance. Last-Minute Christmas Cake
No matter what recipe you choose, or even if you already have a recipe of your own to follow, the first step is to soak the fruit to make it plump and flavoursome.
What To Soak With And For How Long
You can use alcohol or black tea. With alcohol use dark rum, brandy, sherry, whiskey or bourbon. My choice is usually a dark rum or brandy, but this year I am also experimenting with a spiced bourbon cake as well as our standard rum cake. Soak your fruit with alcohol for up to one month.
With black tea you can use a standard cup of very strong plain tea, but it also tastes amazing to use a flavoured black tea. I have used a vanilla-scented black tea, and also a chai tea and both of these added depth of flavour. If using tea soak for up to two weeks.
Note: If you live in an especially hot place fruit can ferment. Make sure to keep it in a cool dark place (away from pets, small children and thieving partners) while it is soaking.
Cut Up Your Fruit First
Prepare the fruit by cutting any larger fruits into bite-sized pieces. Remove any pits or small stalks that you find. I usually leave cherries whole if small or cut them in half if they are super-big because I love the visuals of them studded through my cake, but feel free to leave whole or to cut as small as you desire.
Then make one of two choices.
1. Place your chopped and sorted fruit into a large ceramic bowl. Pour the alcohol or tea over. Stir well. Cover the dish with some kind of lid. Don’t let any metal touch the fruit.
2. Try my jar method. Take a large glass jar, big enough to fit your fruit. Layer the fruit or mix together and then spoon into jar. Add alcohol or tea. Place lid on tightly and then turn jar upside down a few times to distribute liquid.
Stir or upend the jar occasionally until the fruit is plump and moist and ready for your cake.
If the liquid is completely absorbed you can add a little more, a tablespoon at each time, every few days. This is known as ‘feeding your fruit’.
When you are ready to bake your cake take the fruit out of the bowl or jar and reserve any syrup that is left behind. This can be used to brush over the cooked cake (which is known as ‘feeding your cake’ but it is also good on ice-cream!
Sending kitchen happiness your way, Nicole xx