Fruit cake has been a staple dessert in the Holiday season for hundreds of years. The dense cake is made with dried fruits along with nuts and is often soaked in liquor.
Since fruit cakes have a long and illustrious history, many people like to prepare them in large batches. However, they’re often concerned about their shelf life and how long they stay fresh and good to eat.
In today’s article, we’ll answer all your questions regarding fruit cakes’ longevity and whether you need to keep them refrigerated.
Fruit cake is known for its remarkable resilience to spoilage for multiple reasons. While most cakes typically last for a maximum of 4 to 7 days at room temperature, fruit cakes will survive much longer.
In optimal storage conditions, you should expect fruit cakes to last up to 30 days without refrigeration.
However, you should keep in mind that the average temperature where you live can greatly impact the exact number.
For example, if you live in an area where the average temperature is fairly high, fruit cakes may only last for two weeks outside the fridge, especially in the summer.
On the other hand, if you live in a relatively cold region, the cake may last even longer. In fact, a 2017 report by Time magazine showcased a 100-year-old, perfectly preserved fruit cake recovered from Antarctica.
Refrigeration is one of the most reliable methods of preservation because it heavily slows down bacterial activity.
A typical cake will last anywhere between 2 to 7 days in the fridge before it starts showing signs of spoiling and a change of flavor.
However, you can keep a fruit cake in the fridge for up to 2 to 6 months without worrying about spoiling. You can extend the cake’s freshness by keeping it in an airtight container.
The best thing about storing fruit cakes in the fridge is that you can serve them right away without having to wait for them to warm up.
If you want a fruit cake to last you for a very long time, you should keep it in the freezer. Unlike other cakes that lose their flavor and texture when frozen, fruit cakes remain fresh for a very long time.
If you store a fruit cake at a temperature below 5 °F (-15 °C), the cake should last up to 12 months or longer!
Unlike refrigeration, you’ll need to thaw the cake properly to restore its original condition after freezing. For that reason, you should only consider freezing if you’re planning to keep the fruit cake for longer than 4 months.
Many factors play a role in the relatively high shelf life of fruit cakes, so here’s a brief look at them:
The key variable that makes fruit cakes stand out as long-lasting pastry is their relative dryness when compared to other cakes.
Like other living organisms, bacteria and microbes responsible for spoiling food need moisture to survive and reproduce.
According to various studies on different samples of cakes, fruit cakes have very low moisture levels. For that reason, the drier the cake, the longer it’ll last.
Sugar has been long established as one of the most powerful inhibitors of bacterial and fungal growth. In fact, high sugar content has been used as a preservative for centuries.
Combined with the previous reason, you can see why dried fruits with high sugar content last longer than fresh ones.
A lot of people like to age fruit cakes by soaking them in spirits like rum, brandy, and bourbon. This technique doesn’t only make the cake softer and juicer, but it also helps in the preservation process.
High-proof spirits contain high concentrations of alcohol, which is a well-established sanitizer used to kill pathogens, but it’s also effective at inhibiting bacterial activity inside the cake.
For that reason, fruit cakes soaked in rum and other alcoholic liquids will typically last a bit longer than dry ones.
Despite lasting longer than most cakes, fruit cakes will eventually expire. Besides obvious signs like changes in flavor and smell, here are two important signs of a spoiled fruit cake to watch out for:
Fruit cakes are fairly hard but they shouldn’t be tough as a brick. If you notice that the cake is too hard to even slice, you shouldn’t eat it.
Different types of mold can develop on the outer layer of the cake, including greenish or whitish fuzz, dark spots, etc.
Even if little mold grows on one side of the cake, you should discard the entire cake.
This is because the mold spores spread microscopic strands deep into the cake, and you shouldn’t be eating these too.
This marks the end of today’s guide that walks you through everything you need to know about fruit cake preservation.
As you can see, fruit cakes last longer than most other cakes, whether cooled or at room temperature.
You can also extend the freshness of the cake by storing it in an airtight container or preserving it in marzipan or sugar.
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.