Old-Fashioned Fruitcake Baking Secrets
I don’t know about any of you, but to me, the commercial fruitcakes are some of the most terrible things that I have ever tasted. My father used to love them, but he and I used to see opposites on just about everything. Anyway, there really can be an art to making fruitcake, from some of the simplest and most flavorful breads to some of the most wonderful cakes that will literally melt in your mouth. Welcome to Fruitcake 101!
General Hints for the Holiday Cakes
To chop suet, sprinkle it well with flour while chopping, as it won’t stick to the knife.
To separate raisins and candied fruit, immerse them in a bowl of flour. Rub them until they are coated and separated before adding to your batter.
When your cake is first baked, it could have a hard dry crust. Never fear, as this is normal. During the aging process, the crust and fruit moisten, the flavors blend well, and it ages.
To Age a Fruitcake
A properly made, old-fashioned fruitcake should keep for two or three months, and that isn’t even counting freezing. You will need an airtight pan to store your cakes in, and these can be found in cooking stores or at the hardware store. Look for some at garage sales, too, as many can be picked up very inexpensively. Then you can make more fruitcake, if not buying tins. Keep the tin with the cake in a cool place to prevent mold, such as your refrigerator, a cellar, or basement. To help the cake last or put it through the mail, soak the outside in a brandy bath. You can paint the brandy on with a pastry brush, by giving it two or three coats. If it molds anyway, just trim it off. Mold will not harm your fruitcake. If you plan to eat it soon, just cover it with plastic wrap or foil. You can actually make it last a year or so with more rum, brandy, or any other kind of strong spirits, as alcohol prevents mold. Then wrap your cake in cheesecloth or some kind of cloth that has been soaked in the alcohol. Then wrap over the cloth with plastic wrap or foil, and place in an airtight tin in a cool place. Another way you can ready the cake for longtime storage is to bury it in powdered sugar in an airtight tin in a cool place. For very long storage, poke the cake with a skewer, and pour a little brandy or rum in the holes. The reason for the airtight packaging is to keep the alcohol from evaporation.
When you first begin making fruitcakes for storage, it is all right to keep a watch on things. In fact, I encourage it to bolster your confidence. Begin by soaking cheesecloth in brandy or rum, and wrap each cake with four lengths of cheesecloth. Then overwrap tightly with plastic or foil. Put it in a tin with a lid and store in a cool area. Every two weeks(mark it on your calendar!), unwrap the cake to take a look and try a small piece. Resoak the cheesecloth, rewrap, and repack the cake. This system is good for an easy six weeks.
To decorate cakes to serve, wait until the storage time and you’re ready to serve. It doesn’t matter if it has been two weeks or two years. Make a glaze by combining a half cup light corn syrup with two tablespoons water in a pan. Bring to a full boil, then allow to cool a bit. Brush the surface crumbs off your unwrapped fruitcake, then brush on the glaze. Decorate with walnut halves, candied cherries, and/or citron, then brush again with the glaze.
Now that you’re armed with all this information for the way that the old time bakers used to do this, make your fruitcake!
Mix 4 ½ cups whole wheat flour, 2 ½ cups rye flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ cup canola oil. Add a cup raisins, ½ cup roasted sunflower seeds, ½ cup roasted almonds, pecans, or a mix(except peanuts), and ½ cup dried fruit, cooked enough to chop, like apricots or prunes. Add enough water to make a dough, about 2 2/3 cups. Knead, then make a loaf. One large loaf is better than two small ones!
Place in a loaf pan and allow to rest overnight. Brush the top with water, then bake at 275 degrees F for 1 ½ hours. When cooled to lukewarm, wrap tightly in foil or plastic and allow to season for at least two days. This will allow the crust to soften and the flavor to improve.
Mix 2 cups honey with ½ cup water. Then beat in 4 ½ cups rye flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 3 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon allspice, and 1 ½ cups dried fruit. Bake at 350 degrees F in two round pans with a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven, for about 40 minutes. Age for about a week, wrapped tightly in plastic or foil.
Some say that the fruitcakes made and frozen are the best of all, and they’re definitely less work. Just bake, wrap, and freeze.
Combine 2 ounces white raisins, ½ lb. each light citron, candied pineapple and candied cherries, 1 small, grated fresh coconut(save the milk), and one pound chopped, blanched almonds. Sprinkle the fruit and nut mix with 1 cup flour, and set aside. Cream 2 cups sugar with 1 cup shortening. Add alternately to creamed mix, 1 cup coconut milk(add water if nut was short on milk) and 3 cups flour(presifted with 2 teaspoons baking powder). Add 1 teaspoon each vanilla and lemon extract, and then the floured nuts and fruit. Mix well. Beat 8 egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold them in gently. Bake ½ hour at 250 degrees F in a round tube pan(10 x 4 ½). When ready to serve, decorate with citron slices and cherry halves.
- fruitcake pans | Williams-Sonoma
fruitcake pans from Williams-Sonoma.
Old Fashioned Fruitcake
Place 6 ½ cups fruit and a pound of nuts in a bowl and pour a cup dark rum over it. Stir, cover, and let rest overnight. For fruit, use your favorite combination—candied pineapple, candied cherries, citron, candied lemon and orange peel, and raisins. The golden or Muscat raisins toss better than the dark raisins. You can even add dates, figs, dried apricots, prunes, currants, etc. For nuts, use pecans, walnuts, almonds, filberts, etc., anything but peanuts.
Cream together a pound each of butter and brown sugar. Add 12 egg yolks(keep the whites). Now add 4 cups flour, a teaspoon each nutmeg, salt, and ground allspice. Then add 2 teaspoons each mace, cloves, and cinnamon. Stir in fruit and nuts. Whip the 12 egg whites stiffly, then fold in. Bake in four 9 ½ x 4 ½ inch or 12 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pans that have been oiled and preferably lined with parchment paper, then lightly oil again.
Brush the tops of the cakes with milk. Use about a 250 degree F oven. Bake 3 ½ hours for the large loaf pans, 2 ½ to 3 hours for the smaller ones. Use the toothpick test to check when done. Let cool for about 15 minutes before you peel the paper off the cakes.
Combine 3 cups dark raisins, pitted prunes or chopped dates, 2 cups golden raisins or chopped dried apricots. Add two 16-ounce packages of candied fruit. Stir in rum, brandy, or apple juice if you don’t want to use alcohol. Allow to soak overnight. Cream together 3 cups butter and 2 ½ cups sugar. Beat in 12 eggs, then add a tablespoon vanilla extract, and a 12 ounce bottle molasses. Add a tablespoon each grated lemon and orange zest. Sift together 7 cups flour, 2 tablespoons each nutmeg and ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons each salt and baking soda, and a tablespoon ground cloves. Then add 4 ½ cups chopped walnuts or pecans. Combine with egg and molasses mixture. Bake at about 300 degrees F for 2 hours in floured 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pans greased and lined with baking paper that has been oiled on the top. Use the toothpick test to check when done.