When I was young, my mother made fruitcake every year. She started some time between Halloween and Thanksgiving — a fruitcake isn’t like a chocolate chip cookie that you can eat while it’s still warm from the oven. Fruitcakes take time to make, and time to age. You can’t cut corners. Not with the time. Not with the ingredients. If you do, you’ll end up with the kind of fruitcake that people joke about — hard, heavy, and useful as a bookend or a boat anchor rather than as something to eat.
But if you use the best ingredients you can find, and give the fruitcake all the time it needs, the result is something truly wonderful.
My mother made three kinds of fruitcake: light, dark, and black walnut. She made lots of all three kinds, and gave them as gifts to nearly everyone — friends, family, the mail carrier, her hair dresser.
Last year, I decided I wanted to make her light fruitcake. It was always my favorite. But I couldn’t find her recipe, so I reconstructed it as best I could. I really liked the way it turned out. It might not be her fruitcake recipe, exactly, but it’s very, very close.
To make the fruitcake, you’ll need 6 loaf pans, or a larger number of smaller pans. You’ll also need brown paper to line the bottoms of the pans, a very large pot or bowl, lots of cheesecloth, cooling racks, and aluminum foil or large size freezer bags.
And if 6 loaves of fruitcake seem like too many, you can cut the recipe in half or in quarters, and it turns out just fine.
1 pound dried tart cherries
1 pound dried pineapple, chopped or slivered
1 pound flaked coconut
1/2 pound candied orange or lemon peel *
2 1/2 pounds chopped pitted dates
2 1/2 pounds golden raisins
3 pounds dried apricots, chopped
1 1/4 pounds coarsely chopped pecans
1 pound butter, room temperature
1 pound light brown sugar
12 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
4 cups flour, sift before measuring
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
* If you can, avoid the candied peel that is dyed fluorescent colors and sold at the grocery store. If you don’t want to make your own, you can do what I did, and buy it from CompassPointCrafts on Etsy.
The night before, set the butter and eggs out on the counter so they can come to room temperature.
Before you start mixing, prepare the pans: Grease the pans with shortening. Cut out brown paper or parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pans, and line the bottoms with the paper. Grease the paper.
When you chop the dates, apricots, and pineapple, it’s easiest if you use kitchen scissors that you dip in flour. Or you can buy chopped dates. That works, too. If you want to, you can chop the fruit the night before, put it in a large bowl (I used my turkey roaster), and pour a cup and a half or two cups of light rum or apple cider over the fruit. Let it stand overnight, so the fruit will absorb all the moisture. My mother didn’t do that, but it’s a good tweak to the recipe.
If you don’t soak the fruit in rum or cider, then toss it with a half a cup of the flour from the recipe so it doesn’t all stick together. That’s what my mom did.
Once all the preliminaries are out of the way, you can make your fruitcakes.
- Stir the nuts into the fruit mixture.
- Sift the dry ingredients together.
- Using the large bowl on your stand mixer, beat the butter until it’s light and creamy.
- Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Beat in the eggs, a few at a time. Continue beating until the batter is well blended.
- Using your mixer at low speed, or stirring by hand, add the vanilla and the lemon and orange juices into the butter mixture, then slowly stir in the flour mixture.
- Transfer batter to a very large pot or bowl, large enough to hold the batter and all the fruits and nuts. With a long-handled wooden spoon, or clean hands, mix in the fruit and nut mixture. If you soaked the fruit in rum or cider, add the liquid that was not absorbed. Blend thoroughly.
- Spoon the batter into the pans and bake at 250° for about 4 hours. (Mini loaves may be done in an hour and a quarter.) The best way to tell if the cakes are done is by listening to them. When they’re singing, they’re not done yet. When they fall silent, or nearly silent, they’re done.
- When the cakes are done, set them, in their pans, on a cooling rack. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pans, and leave the cakes in the pans. Allow them to cool completely.
- When cool, remove the cakes from the pans and carefully peel off the paper from the bottom. Brush the cakes with light rum. Wrap the cakes in cheesecloth that you’ve saturated with more rum. Then wrap the cakes in aluminum foil or seal them tightly in a Zip-Loc bag.
- Once or twice a week, brush the cakes with more rum and reseal. After four to six weeks, you can seal them up and store them in the refrigerator.
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