Fruit cakes are a unique type of pastry known for their high density and incredible shelf life! The cake’s rich history makes it a Christmas special in many regions around the world!
Although fruit cake recipes look simple, they require some special steps to achieve the ideal flavor and consistency. Unfortunately, many people don’t know about these steps, so the cake ends up lacking significantly.
In this guide, we’ll help you avoid these issues by walking you through the most common fruit cake problems you may run into. Let’s dive in!
One of the primary issues that many people experience when they eat a fruit cake is that it’s quite dry and crumbly. As a result, many people end up having a hard time chewing and swallowing the cake.
Unfortunately, a dry, crumbly cake is an effect caused by various factors. However, in the case of fruit cakes, inadequate ingredients are often the main culprit.
Inadequacy here is not only in terms of quality but also quantity. If you want a supple, soft, and delicious fruit cake, you need to address both problems.
For starters, do yourself a favor and use proper measuring tools while following a recipe. This includes kitchen scales, measuring cups, etc.
Also, make sure that you adjust the recipe’s units to be consistent and scaled up/down properly.
Additionally, use high-quality ingredients for the cake, such as:
- Brown sugar instead of regular sugar for a richer flavor
- Butter with higher milk fat content instead of average unsalted butter
- Toasted nuts instead of fresh nuts (better taste and improved crunch!)
- Locally picked and dried fruits instead of canned ones
The secret to a juicy and flavorful fruit cake lies in its fillings, especially the fruits. Many people end up using dried fruits with little to no pre-soaking before mixing them in.
This causes poor fruit cake consistency and chunkiness because the dried fruits end up drawing moisture from the wet ingredients surrounding them.
To avoid this effect, you simply need to soak the dried fruits for longer, whether you’re using water, juice, or liquor.
Ideally, soaking the dried fruits overnight will do the trick, especially if you’re using alcoholic liquids like rum or bourbon.
Yet, keeping it for longer (around 4 to 6 weeks) can make the fruits incredibly plump and juicy.
Nothing can be more disappointing while slicing your fruit cake open than finding all your hard work to spread the nuts and fruits go to waste.
This unfortunate outcome can happen for multiple reasons. The first one is using large fruit chunks. In that case, cutting larger ones into smaller pieces will help them float better.
The first reason why the fruits sink is the lack of cohesion. Luckily, you can solve this problem by coating the fruits and nuts with a layer of flour before mixing them into the batter.
The gluten in the flour keeps the fruits in place and prevents fruits’ juices from seeping into the batter and discoloring it. However, keep the flour layer thin to avoid creating lumpy bits inside the cake.
You’ve probably heard a joke about how dense a fruit cake is. Although high density is a property of fruit cakes, too much density is unenjoyable in terms of flavor and aesthetics.
To create a fluffy cake, you need to make sure that all the ingredients are combined together in a homogenous emulsion. This creates consistent air bubbles within the batter, so the whole cake rises simultaneously.
One mistake that often causes the ingredients to not combine well while mixing is inconsistent temperatures. For instance, cold eggs and butter don’t mix well with other ingredients.
That’s why you should warm them up by taking them out of the fridge and leaving them at room temperature for a while. You can also use the microwave at the low setting for a few seconds.
A good tip here is to also check the leavening agent you used in the cake and make sure it’s not expired.
If your cake isn’t dense but still develops a hard crust with a gummy texture, it’s most likely caused by overmixing the ingredients.
If you continue mixing ingredients after they’ve combined, you activate too much gluten and protein fibers inside the batter.
As a result, they end up tangling and creating a tougher, chewy texture as well as a hard outer crust. Instead, you should stop mixing the ingredients as soon as they’re fully combined.
Baking fruit cakes requires attention to both temperature and time in the oven. The cake starts cooking from the outside before the inside.
For that reason, if the bottom or middle is still wet, the cake simply needs a bit more time in the oven.
Keep in mind that internal temperature can help the bottom and middle to cook if you give it time.
That’s why you should always allow the cake to rest on a cooling rack for 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven.
Now that you know more about the common fruit cake issues you might run into, here are some helpful tips to greatly improve your fruit cake!
It’s perfectly normal to be both excited and anxious while baking a fruit cake. However, opening the oven door too frequently to check on the cake can yield poor results.
This is because every time you open it, you let out the built-up heat necessary for cooking the cake evenly.
You also let steam escape, which reduces the moisture level inside the cake and causes the edges to collapse.
While the cake is baking, prepare simple liquor syrup by mixing one part rum or juice with one part water, then add 1 part sugar for every 2 parts of the liquid.
Simple non-alcoholic syrup with water or juice can also work. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, use a brush to coat the cake with a layer of syrup.
This adds flavor and prevents the crust from cracking and collapsing by replenishing the lost moisture while baking.
Always make room inside the baking pan for the rise while baking. You can easily estimate the rise factor and adjust the quantity by following reliable recipes and calculating everything beforehand.
As a rule of thumb, fruit cakes rise about one-third of their batter volume. As a result, you should fill any cake pan to around two-thirds of its volume to avoid overfilling the pan.
One of the things that make fruit cakes unique is that they can taste even better when they’re aged. That’s why you shouldn’t miss out on this special effect.
One of the best ways to age a fruit cake is by brushing it with the previously mentioned syrup and then covering it to keep it away from air and sunlight.
You can do this by wrapping the cake with cheesecloth, then covering the whole thing with plastic wrap and aluminum foil.
The wrapped cake is best kept in an airtight container in a cool dry place for around 5 to 7 days. You age the cake for longer by taking it out, brushing it with more syrup, and covering it again for a few more days.
Done right, fruit cakes can be an incredibly delicious dessert with a complex, sweet flavor and texture.
However, like anything good in the world, it may take some time as well as trial and error, so you have to be patient and consistent while baking the cake.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.