Fruit cakes have been around since the Middle Ages because of their sweet flavors and staying power.
Although, it was during the time of Victorian England when these baked treats became an integral part of family gatherings, weddings, and, of course, the holidays.
Because it was such an integral part of British tradition, it wasn’t long before it made its way into American tradition as well.
Sometimes called Christmas or plum cake, many enthusiastic bakers often wonder, ‘Does fruit cake have alcohol?’
The quick answer is yes. Although that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. The alcohol in the fruit cake recipe can be replaced with almost any type of tea or fruit juice.
Yet, will that change the consistency or flavor of the fruit cake? Will it even still be called ‘fruit cake?’
In this post, we answer these questions and more. So, let’s get started.
Most people prefer to steep the cake in bourbon, brandy, rum, or fruit liqueurs overnight.
These liquids give it a light, moist texture. In addition, they prevent the cake from over-baking and becoming dry and difficult to chew, thus tasteless.
These alcohol-based additives also serve as a preservative that keeps the cake for months at a time, which makes it a perfect gift or year-round snack.
Another variation of the recipe is that some people soak or steep the dried fruits in alcohol. This makes them more tender and plump before adding them to the cake.
The most common types of filling for this holiday cake include a wide variety of colorful and tasty fruit mixes, such as:
- Golden raisins
- Red and green cherries
- Dried apricots
Professional bakers say you can use almost any type of alcohol. However, they prefer to use strong spirits with a high alcohol by volume (ABV), which is the measure used to pinpoint the concentration of alcohol in alcoholic beverages.
These are the most flavorful, which makes them ideal for making the most delicious and mouthwatering fruit cakes.
The following are some of the main types of alcohol used in fruit cakes:
In most fruit cake recipes, the average amount of alcohol added is between 1–2 tablespoons. When adding the liquid, carefully spoon it over the entire cake to make sure it’s evenly covered.
If you prefer your cake to be more boozy, then you can double that amount. Traditional recipes often call for a maximum of three fluid ounces of your choice of alcohol. That comes to about 18 teaspoons or roughly six tablespoons.
You can opt for fruit-flavored beverages, such as orange liqueur or cherry brandy. Though it’s worth noting that liqueurs tend to have a higher sugar content than traditional liquors.
If you’re not planning on eating the cake in a day or two, it’s better to preserve it and extend its shelf life.
This process is called ‘aging’ the fruit cake, and there are two ways to do it.
The first is by brushing the cake after it’s cooled down with your choice of alcohol. Then, store it in an airtight container.
With this technique, you’ll need to reapply the liquor for the first two months of storage.
The second option is to soak a piece of cheesecloth in the liquor and wrap it around the cake. Next, cover the cake in plastic and place it in a cool, dark corner.
After a week, resoak the cheesecloth and re-wrap the cake. Continue doing this for up to 6–12 weeks.
Though if you’re thinking of storing it for longer than three months, it’s best if you freeze it. First, wrap the cake in plastic then a second layer of foil before placing it in the freezer where you can keep it for up to a year.
No, adding alcohol to fruit cakes isn’t intended for intoxication.
Almost all fruit cake recipes call for only a small amount of alcohol just enough to improve the taste and aroma of the cake. Alcohol is also added to preserve the cake and enhance its consistency.
Yet, to make sure, we have to take into consideration that fruit liquor, also known as fruit spirit, has an alcoholic strength, or ABV, of 37.5%. Whisky and bourbon have an ABV of 40%, whereas sherry has only 16%–18% alcohol.
Alternatively, the ABV in brandy ranges from 35% to 60% depending on the ingredients used to make it and the distillery it comes from.
Nevertheless, the couple of tablespoons added to the cake make the total amount of alcohol less than 0.5%. Given that in most US states the alcohol limit to legally drive a vehicle is 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC), that’s slightly above the legal limit.
According to one study, the longer you cook any type of food that contains a certain amount of alcohol, the more the alcohol will cook out.
This means that, depending on how much alcohol you use, there will remain between 5%–85% alcohol in the cake after baking.
You can replace alcohol and its variants with other non-alcoholic liquids. Choose any type of tea or juice that adds depth and richness to the cake.
To make the most of these liquids, wait until the cake cools down. Then, add 5–6 tablespoons of your choice of liquid and soak the cake overnight in the fridge.
Some of the most commonly used alcohol replacements include:
- Cold tea in the flavor of your choice
- Apple juice
- Fresh orange juice
Without alcohol, the fruit cake will certainly have a shorter shelf life.
The alcohol acts as a preservative that prevents it from getting moldy or spoiling for up to a year. Thus, if it lacks the preserving agent, it’ll likely keep for 3–4 days maximum if stored at room temperature.
You can always freeze it if you want to store it for up to six months.
In this case, wait until the cake cools down completely. Then, cover it with cling film and place it in an airtight container before putting it in the freezer.
You can cut the cake up into slices or layers before freezing to make it easier when it’s time to thaw it out.
Thawing a fruit cake takes up to eight hours depending on the time of year and how warm it is in your kitchen.
Remember to keep the cake slices or layers in their wrapping. It’ll help prevent condensation from forming, which will ultimately make the fruit cake wet and soggy.
In general, fruit cakes are known for their sweet, rich taste.
This is mainly due to the amount of sugar added. Traditional recipes call for about 150 grams of sugar along with one tablespoon of cane molasses for an extra punch of sweetness.
Then, of course, there’s all that dried or candied fruit in the cake.
Add to that the type of liquid these fruits are steeped in, which gives them a deeper flavor.
Even if it’s only the cake that’s soaked in alcohol, tea, or fruit juice, the end result is pretty much the same: an enhanced taste and rich moistness.
Either way, fruit cakes with or without alcohol are known to be a good source of antioxidants, thanks to the ample amounts of polyphenols in the dried fruits. They’re also loaded with fiber to help improve your digestion.
So, does fruit cake have alcohol? Yes, but you can always switch it out with something non-alcoholic if you prefer.
For example, say you want a cake that doesn’t increase your BAC. or, maybe you have kids and want them to enjoy some of this delicious baked treat.
Then, you can always substitute the alcohol for something else like flavored tea or any type of fresh juice. Remember to soak the cake overnight to get the same rich flavor and moist texture you’re looking for without the alcohol content.
With or without alcohol, fruit cakes have been part of our holiday traditions for centuries. And because they’re so tasty and appetizing, it’s easy to see why.
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.