As you know, I am an American living in England.  As such, I do plead guilty to sometimes approaching some English things with skepticism, or at least an American preconception – fruitcake was at the top of that list.

For my British readers, let me explain.  In the States, fruitcake is the punchline to pretty much every Christmas joke.  American fruitcakes have a longer half-life than plutonium.  They neither look nor taste like anything found in nature.  That’s probably because they’re filled with yellow and green glace cherries in a cake that is hard enough and heavy enough to serve as a door stop … at Fort Knox.

So, you can understand my reluctance when my then-fiance’s mother offered me my first slice of Christmas fruitcake, my initial reaction was along the lines of oh-no-thank-you-I-couldn’t-possibly-eat-another-thing-no-really-I’m-stuffed (so much more polite than running screaming from the house).  But, then, I saw the man who is now my mister walking away with a slice of gorgeous, rich, dark, glistening cake that smelled faintly of molasses and heavily of booze … and, yes … I succumbed.

And, ohmygod, am I glad I did.  And, the fun thing about English Christmas cake is that you make it about 3-4 weeks before Christmas – and then feed it regularly with booze until it’s time to decorate it.  Doesn’t that sound like the epitome of a decadent mid-winter treat???!!!  Traditionally, you use brandy, but I’m making mine with rum this year.  More about the decoration at the end.

Christmas Cake

  • 1/2 lb + 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 eggs
  • About 1 1/2 lb mixture of dried figs, prunes, glace cherries, apricots, chopped
  • 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 lb chopped pecans or hazelnuts
  • 3/4 lb mixture of golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried currants
  • 3 Tbsp brandy or rum
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 315 F.  I used an 8″ square cake pan, but you can use an 8″ round spring-form pan, if you like.  Just be sure to line it well with parchment paper, with the paper coming up the sides a couple of inches.  If you have one, you want to use a standing mixer for this recipe – your shoulders will thank you.

Beat the butter and sugars until fluffy, then add eggs one at a time.  Be sure to scrape down the sides to make sure everything is mixing well.  Pour in the chopped dried fruit and mix to incorporate.  Add the ground almonds and nuts and incorporate.  Then add the raisin mixture, booze, orange juice and zests and mix well.  Remove from the standing mixer.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, then fold into the cake mixture.  Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake 1 hour at 315 F before lowering it to 300 F for another 90 minutes.  Test – you may have a couple of crumbs stick, but you shouldn’t have any batter sticking to your tester.  Let cool overnight, then give it its first feed the next day – prick the cake all over with a toothpick or bamboo skewer, then drizzle with the same booze you used in the batter.  Do this once a week until Christmas.

Even without the booze and decorations, doesn't it look yummy?

So … the decorations – you need some apricot jam, marzipan and fondant icing – I’ll give you a recipe for marzipan Christmas week, when it’s time to decorate, but most grocery stores and bakeries sell it, too.  The same with fondant icing.

Turn your cake upside down onto your serving plate so that you’re working with the smooth sides of the cake.  Heat your jam over medium heat until it loosens and is liquid, then brush it on the cake.  Roll the marzipan out to about a 1/8″ thickness and cover the cake completely.  Then, do the same with the fondant icing, making sure it’s completely smooth – like a blanket of snow.  After that, go wild decorating your cake!  Store the finished product in a cool, dry place.

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