Fruitcake: For some of us, it’s a time-honored Christmas tradition that we can’t do without. Others consider fruitcake to be about as tasty as a brick — better suited as a doorstop instead of dessert. And the candied fruit, with its bright colors can be a little off-putting. But love it or loathe it, fruitcake was once the food of kings.
The first true fruitcakes date back to the Middle Ages. Recipes varied around Europe, but they all had one thing in common: candied or dried fruit. The fruit made fruitcake a rare and expensive delicacy. Different fruits had to be imported from exotic locales like the Mediterranean, but since it took trading ships so long to sail between trading ports, the fruits were dried or candied to preserve them. Only the wealthiest people could afford it, and they would often turn the preserved fruits into fruitcake, a dessert that was both a delicious delicacy and a show of wealth.
Today’s fruitcakes aren’t much different from those in the Middle Ages. The Victorians added rum as a flavoring and preservative, and modern candied fruit is brightly dyed to make the cake more colorful.
This recipe is a wonderful alternative to the classic recipe as it uses real dried fruits and nuts, and doesn’t require days or weeks soaking in rum.
Easy No-Wait Holiday Fruitcake
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried figs
1/3 cup dark rum
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons orange zest
2/3 cup chopped pecans
Grease an 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan with butter and set it aside. You can also use a 6-inch by 4-inch round cake pan or an 8-inch by 2-inch cake pan. Preheat your oven to 300º F.
Mix the rum and fruit in a small saucepan and warm it on the stove. Once warm, set the saucepan aside for 15 minutes or so to let the fruit soften. Then sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, molasses, and orange zest on medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix thoroughly. Then add the flour mixture slowly, mixing on low speed. Avoid over mixing the dough — just mix until everything is moistened.
Once mixed, fold in the fruit and nuts, then pour into the pan. You can top the loaf with pecan halves. Bake for 1 ½ to 2 hours. A skewer inserted in the middle of the fruitcake should come out clean when it’s done. Make sure to let the fruitcake cool for two or three hours before you serve it.
To make this fruitcake, you can use any kind of fruit that you want, as long as you are using roughly two cups of dried fruit. Currants, cranberries, dates, apples, peaches, prunes, and mango all work well.
Similarly, you can use whatever nuts you like — Brazil nuts, almonds, and hazelnuts all work well. Or, if you are baking for someone with allergies, you can omit them entirely.
If you don’t have molasses on hand, you can use 2/3 cup brown sugar instead, but molasses is preferred because of its robust flavor.