Monday, December 14, 2009

Not Your Mother's Fruitcake

As an American, I get a very specific image in my head when I hear the word fruitcake. It's an image of a very dense and dry yellow cake with big chunks of candied fruit in radioactive shades of red, green, and orange among the more familiar dark raisins. Like this:

I remember fruitcakes that looked like this.
Image from:

As a kid, I never new what those colors were about. I figured the red was maraschino cherries (we always had them in the house because my dad drank Manhattans), but I had no idea what those other bizarre fruits were. As it happens, the recipe for the cake I've shown above calls for dried apricots and jars of red and green maraschino cherries. Mystery solved. Still, the cakes I ate didn't taste all that good. The fruit was too chewy or something and it never really tasted like fruit.

My array of fruits and nuts for fruitcake.

But last year, an Australian friend of ours gave us a fruitcake she had made from an old family recipe. The cake was moist and dark brown. It smelled delicately of spice. There were no odd colors at all. After tasting the cake, I felt bad about having told our friend the old fruitcake-as-doorstop joke.

After we devoured the cake, I asked her for her recipe and she gladly shared it. So this year I've made my version of (Susan's) Daisy's Best Boiled Fruit Cake. It's not quite as good as Susan's was, but it's close. I suppose it all comes down to the ingredients you have on hand; there are many options in the cake recipe.

The delicious resulting fruitcake.

I used toasted pecans for the nuts. I was prepared to use walnuts but realized too late that our nutcracker had broken last year (it's on the shopping list now). I also had dried apricots and raisins, both very traditional.

My twist on the recipe was to add chopped prunes, candied ginger, and dried cranberries to the mix. I used maple syrup instead of English golden syrup (it's only a tablespoon's worth). A tawny port was my wine of choice.

C'mon and have a slice!

I got two loaves from the recipe. We cut into one right away, once they had cooled. I've not imbibed it, but we may begin sprinkling a little kirsch on top as we go. The second loaf went into the freezer for later.


  1. There's nothing like a good old-fashioned fruit cake.
    Will you be having a Christmas cake ? Do the French (or Americans in France) decorate their fruit cakes at Christmas like we do in the UK ?

  2. I've always loved fruit cake minus the fruit. As a child I would just pick around the colored bits (ok, as an adult too). They reminded me of twister but on a cake... too weird to eat. But that other fruit cake looks pretty tasty, must give it a try :-)

  3. You'll probably be bombarded with fruitcake recipes now, so I'm resisting the temptation to send you mine. It's Eudora Welty's family recipe, "White Fruitcake," published as a limited edition pamphlet after she had long been a famous writer. I made it for years, and even people who don't like fruitcake asked for another loaf the next year. The ingredients are more like the traditional fruitcake, but the taste is not.

  4. My mom used to make a wonderful pound cake with maraschino cherry bits and chopped walnuts. It's delicious! But, the batter is so thick and heavy that you need a strong mixer to make it, so she hasn't made it in years, nor have I. Your fruitcake sounds quite intriguing!


  5. The fruitcake looks wonderfully delicious. My husband makes good ones too.

  6. I deliberately drove through your lovely town in September on the way to Le Blanc from Paris just to get a sense of where you two were hiding out, in plain sight, of course, because we share paths crossed, no doubt, in San Francisco, too. Naturally, I wanted to stop in the center of town and while away the hours but home was calling.

    I will eat anything with ginger in it! Your fruitcake looks fantastically yummy!


  7. Well, I'm HERE! So, where's my slice?!! hehe!

    Not a fan of fruit cake, even though that first top photo actually looked YUM... we used to get the yearly Christmas fruitcake in the mail every year from my Great Aunt Issy... and I always wondered, "WHY fruit cake?" Maybe it's our Hungarian/Yiddish roots? Who knows.... But... anyways, I'm going to make some Panetonne this year b/c that's my FAV. Christmas delish...
    If we come for a visit in Jan... maybe I'll bring some...
    Take care,

  8. Delicious! One of my favorites. In spite of the fact that I'm often made fun of for liking it.

  9. Hi Eva,

    I wondered if you'd see this post;-) Walt's cake looks good. I bet Eudora's is equally good if friends ask for it.

  10. We used to get these dense dark fruitcakes that looked, felt, and tasted (shudder!) like they could still be circulating long after even cockroaches had perished from the earth.

    Most of them came as Christmas packages from business associates of my Dad's. He finally put a stop to it by letting them all know that anything but a nice bottle of booze would put them on his shit-list.

  11. My new addition to a good boiled fruitcake recipe is to add dried sour cherries. If you can see more cake than fruit, I call mine a failure

  12. I've never understood why a lot of people seem to think they have to deny liking fruitcake.

  13. jean, I don't know about a christmas cake this year. In the past I've made the traditional buche de noël, but I'm kind of over that for the time being. We shall see.

    sara louise, thanks for coming by! Let me know if you try it out!

    eva, that sounds interesting. I'd love the recipe.

    judy, is the resulting cake dense as well?

    larry, it is good. Glad to hear you get to enjoy some!

    pliers, and where is home? :)

    leesa, I've never made panetonne. Something new to try!

    alewis, well, you can't hate everything! ;)

    evelyn, I just asked for it!

    john, good man.

    simon, that sounds good. I presume that they are the cherries from your trees that you dried yourself?

    starman, I think it's because there's so much bad fruitcake out there. But a good one is really good!

  14. No, Walt, the cake itself isn't particularly dense. It's the consistency of pound cake. Quite good!



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