Don’t roll your eyes! There IS a universe in which fruit cake can actually taste good and have a place on the holiday dessert table. I promise, this fruit cake is not the doubles-as-a-doorstop variety. I also promise, this fruit cake is worth making. It better be considering the price of dried fruit these days!
But seriously, it really is worth using the good stuff (in this case the dried fruit, not the bourbon) because the result is a cake that is so yummy you’ll want to keep it all for yourself instead of bringing it to the holiday party. If you’re anything like me, you’ll even start eating a little for breakfast, convincing yourself that the inclusion of dried fruit makes that perfectly acceptable.
How is this fruit cake different from the hard-as-a-rock, neon “fruit” studded versions that have rightfully gone the way of the Jell-O salad? First, it’s full of real ingredients – just like any other cake you’d actually want to make, eat, and serve to loved ones. No prefab fruitcake mix or high fructose corn syrup here! Second, you don’t have to make it weeks (or months) in advance, regularly changing its brandy-soaked dressings, as the truly old-fashioned recipes require. The only thing that gets soaked here is the dried fruit, until it is thoroughly plumped, and there are two really important reasons for this. 1: It gives the fruit a pleasant texture in the cake, not too chewy or sticky. 2: It prevents the fruit from sucking the moisture out of the cake as it bakes. Dry cake = not festive!
Speaking of dry cakes, another big difference with this recipe is the much shorter baking time. Some fruit cakes bake for as long as 3 hours! No wonder they’re dry as the desert. A much shorter baking time retains a lot more moisture, and just to make sure, I like to bake this cake covered with aluminum foil for the first 30 minutes. This technique comes from the pressure cooker version of this cake, which I originally developed for the Ninja Foodi.
Did you know that you can successfully bake a cake in a pressure cooker? It turns out that dense, moist cakes such as fruit cake work particularly well in the moist environment. When done right, it bakes even faster than the oven and locks in the moisture. If you have a pressure cooker, give it a try.
One holdover that I kept from the recipe is the booze, but not quite as much. I choose bourbon rather than brandy because it complements the warm holiday spices without adding sweetness. Rather than soaking the entire cake, I simply soaked the fruit and added a bit more to the apricot jam glaze. This gives the cake just the right amount of festive punch, without giving you a buzz.
This cake keeps well at room temperature in an airtight container for about a week, so you can make it in advance of your holiday festivities. Just be careful it doesn’t all disappear before the party.
Happy Holidays Fruit Cake
Yield: 12 servings
Note: If you can’t find maraschino cherries, Morello cherries are an acceptable substitute. Avoid Amarena cherries, they are far too sweet!
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup chopped, pitted dates
- 1/3 cup diced candied pineapple
- 1/3 cup diced dried apricots
- 1/4 cup diced crystallized ginger
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon bourbon or apple juice, divided
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons dark molasses
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1/3 cup maraschino cherries, chopped
- 1/4 cup apricot jam
1. Combine the raisins, dates, pineapple, apricots, ginger, 1/3 cup bourbon or apple juice, and 1/4 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until liquid simmers, about 1 minute. Keep covered and let sit until cool and most of the liquid has been absorbed by the fruit, about 2 hours, shaking occasionally. (If you don’t have a microwave, you can also bring the mixture to a brief simmer on the stove top, cover and let cool.)
2. Heat oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the middle position. Grease a bundt pan with a removable bottom; set aside. Place the softened butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then molasses, scraping the bowl after each addition.
3. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, allspice, and nutmeg. Using a rubber spatula, stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined. Fold in the pecans, maraschino cherries, and the soaked fruit with all of its liquid, until combined (but don’t over mix). Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove foil and continue baking until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in pan for 15 minutes.
5. Carefully remove the cake from the pan and set on a wire rack or serving platter. Combine apricot jam and the remaining 1 tablespoon bourbon or apple juice and microwave until warm, 20 to 30 seconds. Spread evenly on top of the warm cake and let cool. When the cake is completely cool, serve or cover tightly and store at room temperature.