This is an easy fruit cake to make, taking minutes to mix together once the fruits have been soaked. It has bags of flavour, with a nice level of spice and little bursts of moist fruit inside. This fruit cake is suitable for any time of the year, not just at Christmas.
Whilst I adore marzipan and Royal icing, I actually prefer this cake just with whole almonds on top, Dundee cake-style.
This cake is particularly special to me, not just because it takes me back to making Christmas cakes as a boy, but also because it is the first cake I ever made for my partner many years ago.
About the recipe
This is a handed-down recipe that I have been using for about forty years, tweaking it occasionally to reflect my particular favourite flavours of the time: additions such as dried cherries, dried cranberries and dried apricots have now become staple ingredients.
Don’t be daunted by the list of ingredients: it only takes moments to mix up a batch ready for baking – especially if you have already soaked the fruits.
Use any variety of fruit & nuts
Any combination of the fruit mixture can be used, but as a guide go for about 1kg fruit per 4-egg mixture, as below.
For the chopped nuts I use about 150g of a mixture of whatever nuts I have to hand (almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts…..), sometimes using up to about half of the nuts in finely ground form.
With the sugar, I often use a mixture of soft, dark, demerara and caster, depending on what I have in the cupboard.
Soaking the fruit
Leaving the fruit to macerate in brandy or rum for at least 24 hours gives an excellently moist cake, bursting with flavour, but if you can leave it longer, even better. I often put the fruit and brandy in an airtight container for a week or so to really boost the flavour.
If you don’t want to use alcohol, use apple or orange juice instead.
Top tip (for left-over dried fruit):
You are likely to have a fair bit of the dried fruit from the bags they came in left over after using what you need for the cake. While you can store the fruit dry in airtight containers, why not pop the fruit in large jars or other sealed containers along with a glug of alcohol (rum, whisky, brandy, sherry, kirsch….)?
The alcohol then gets absorbed into the fruit as well as preserving the fruit for longer. Plus you have the bonus of having gorgeously luscious fruit that can be popped into cakes, tray bakes and the like at any time of the year!
Feeding and storing the cake
The cake doesn’t have to be stored to enjoy it as it tastes great once it has been made and cooled, but storing it for a few months or so, feeding it every one and then with alcohol, really brings out the flavour.
Once the cake has cooled, insert a cocktail stick or skewer several times in the top, going deep into the cake and give it a generous feeding of alcholgol of choice (brandy, rumn, whisky….).
Leave the cake in its greaseproof lining that it was baked in and wrap it in another layer of greaseproof. Store in a cool cupboard: it can be in an airtight container or not.
Every week or so, spoon over a little alcohol, allowing it to seep deep into cake, giving a very moist cake with a lovely kick of the alcohol. Wrap it back up and store until the next feeding!
Mini fruit cakes:
Rather than make one large cake, you can instead make several mini fruit cakes, using empty (and cleaned!) tins of beans or similar, lining the inside with greaseproof in the same way as with a cake tin.
Fill the mixture only up to about half the depth of the tin: just make sure there is no lip at the top of the tins, otherwise it is harder to remove the baked cakes.
For these smaller cakes, bake for about 1 and a half hours or until a skewer comes out clean.
Gluten-free & dairy-free versions:
For an excellent gluten-free and/or dairy-free cake, that does not taste in any way like a “making do” cake, simply replace the butter and/or the flour with the following:
- replace the butter with 200ml vegetable oil and 25g walnut oil – or use dairy-free margarine
- replace the plain flour with gluten-free plain flour
If using oil, mix the sugar with a little splash of brandy/juice first to start to dissolve it before whisking in the oil and mixing together the other ingredients. Bake as below.
Recipe for a rich fruit cake: makes one deep 8″ cake
Fruit mix for soaking (or use about 1kg of dried fruits of choice)
- 50g dried cranberries, roughly chopped
- 50g dried apricots, chopped fairly small
- 300g currants
- 250g sultanas
- 100g raisins
- 100g dried cherries, chopped
- 100g naturally coloured glacé cherries, chopped
- grated zest of a large orange
- a very generous splash of brandy or rum (or orange/apple juice) – about 150ml
Nut mixture (or use about 150g of nuts of choice):
- 50g pecans, roughly chopped
- 50g almonds, roughly chopped
- 50g walnuts, roughly chopped
Spice mix (or use 2½ – 3 teaspoons mixed spice)
- about ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
- about ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 225g soft light brown sugar (or use a mixture of light and dark sugars!)
- 225g unsalted butter, softened, or use margarine
- 4 large eggs, beaten well
- 225g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon black treacle (or use 2 tablespoons for a darker cake)
- whole blanched almonds
- brandy or rum for feeding the cake
- smooth apricot jam for glazing, optional
(1) At least a day (and ideally several days) before you want to make the cake, put all of the fruit in a large bowl along with the brandy or fruit juice. Mix well, cover with cling film and leave to allow the fruit to macerate and plump up. Give the fruit a stir after about 12 hours or so.
(2) Line the tins on the base and inside with a double thickness of greaseproof.
(3) Beat the butter, sugar and treacle until very light and smooth. Add the eggs, flour and the spices and beat gently to give a smooth mixture. Add the nuts and fruit and stir well until everything is incorporated.
(4) Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and flatten.
(5) Place the whole almonds over the surface, very gently pressing into the mixture. Place a small circle of greaseproof very loosely over the top.
(6) Bake in an oven preheated to 120C (fan) for 4 to 4½ hours: it is done when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
(7) When the cake is cool, make holes into the cake with a skewer and spoon over a little brandy or rum.
(8) Store the cake until needed: keep the greaseproof on the cake and wrap another layer of greaseproof around it. Store in a cool place until you want to eat it, adding a little more alcohol every week or so.
NB: a day or so before you are ready to eat the cake, you can heat some apricot jam in a small pan along with a little alcohol (yes even more of it!!) and brush it over the top of the cake. This gives the cake a lovely shiny glaze.