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What’s in a Traditional Fruit Cake? (A Look at Ingredients)

What’s in a Traditional Fruit Cake? (A Look at Ingredients)

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Fruit cakes are synonymous with Christmas. Yet, it makes for a wonderfully tasty snack at any time of the year.

Plus, it’s easy to make. So, if you’re interested in wowing your family by making your very own fruit cake from scratch, you’ve come to the right place!

In this post, we’ll tell you all the ingredients you need to make it. We’ll also tell you a few dos and don’ts to ensure your fruit cake turns out scrumptious.

Let’s get started.

The History Behind the Traditional Fruit Cake

Fruit cakes date back to the Romans who used to bake this sort of cake with a bread texture. They added honey, barley, dried fruit, and wine.

This ancient baked treat was their version of an energy bar and was typically consumed by soldiers in battle to keep up their energy.

The fruit cake was also popular during the Middle Ages in Europe. Because they were full of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, they were considered symbols of culinary refinement.

They weren’t that easy or affordable to find either. So, whoever had fruit cake meant they were well off and had a sophisticated palate.

Over the years, the ingredients of the fruit cake have evolved. Yet, two things haven’t changed: its sweetness and staying power.

The former is likely why these cakes were so popular before mechanical refrigeration. People could ‘age’ their cake, store it for three months before serving, and it’ll taste as fresh as the day it was made.

Fast forward to the 1950s, the fruit cake had become an integral part of American holiday tradition. A Los Angeles Times article published in 1953 called it ‘a holiday must,’ while in 1958, the Christian Science Monitor asked in earnest, ‘What Could Be a Better Gift Than Fruit Cake?’

And by the end of the 20th century, the ever-popular fruit cake had lost its appeal.

However, people are once again starting to acknowledge its value in terms of its rich flavor, moist consistency, and long shelf life.

What Ingredients Are Used in Fruit Cakes?

Every cake on the planet is made using seven basic ingredients: flour, eggs, sugar, salt, butter or oil, leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda, and a liquid, usually milk.

As for the traditional fruit cake, the extra ingredients include a combination of fruits and nuts. Most also contain a bit of alcohol to enhance the flavor, add moisture to the texture, and make it last for a long time.

You can easily substitute alcohol with something less potent, such as flavored tea or freshly squeezed fruit juice. It’ll give you the same rich consistency and amazing taste.

Yet, it’ll only stay fresh at room temperature for about 3–4 days.

In addition, there are two types of fruit cake depending on the ingredients you use.

  • Light fruit cake: uses light corn syrup, granulated sugar, golden raisins, pineapple, apricots, and other similar fair-colored ingredients.
  • Dark fruit cake: uses brown sugar, molasses, and dark-colored fruits, such as dates, prunes, currants, and cherries.

Now, it’s time to get baking. Here are the ingredients you need:

  • 1 pound of mixed dried fruit
  • 5 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 5 1/2 ounces of dark brown or muscovado sugar
  • 10 ounces strong black tea, brewed and chilled
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cane molasses or dark treacle
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 ounces ground almonds
  • 8 ounces candied orange peel
  • 8 ounces glace cherries, halved
  • 3 ounces brandy or sherry

Fruit Cake Recipe: Step-by-Step

  1. Gather the ingredients.
  2. The day before, place the dried fruits in a bowl, add the tea, and stir.
  3. Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight
  4. The next day, when you’re ready to bake the cake, start by preheating the oven between 250℉ and 325℉.
  5. Line the sides and bottom of a greased 8×3-inch round pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  6. Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
  7. Using a hand whisk, fork, or egg beater, cream the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy.
  8. Beat one egg into the creamy mixture and add 1/4 of the flour. Repeat until all the flour and eggs are used.
  9. Mix in the brandy, nutmeg, treacle, and lemon juice. Stir gently with a spatula or spoon, then add the baking powder. Set aside.
  10. Get the bowl with the dried fruits and drain them from the tea.
  11. In a separate bowl, add the almonds, candied peel, and cherries. Stir in the dried fruits.
  12. Add the mixture to the cake batter, folding gently using a spoon or spatula until the fruits and nuts are combined into the batter.
  13. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake pan. Tap gently to level the surface of the mixture.
  14. Bake for about 2–2 1/2 hours or until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.
  15. Place the pan on a rack and let it cool for up to 40 minutes.
  16. Remove the cake from the pan and place it on the rack again to cool completely before serving.

Fruit Cake Baking Dos and Don’ts

Here are 10 tips and tricks to bake the most delectable fruit cake ever.

  • Don’t use cold ingredients because they’ll make the batter clumpy and chunky rather than smooth and creamy.
  • Don’t overmix the batter as it’ll result in too much gluten developing, which will harden the crust and make the cake tough and chewy.
  • Don’t open the oven door too many times during baking because it’ll cause fluctuations in the temperature within the oven, and the cake won’t rise, which will affect its final consistency.
  • Don’t be too quick to remove the cake from the cooling rack. Because fruit cake is denser than typical cakes, it takes longer to cool.
  • If you can’t find brown or muscovado sugar, you can substitute it for maple syrup, white sugar mixed with molasses, or coconut sugar
  • For added flavor and texture, you can add a cup of chopped pecans or walnuts to the fruit cake batter.
  • Make sure all of the ingredients are as fresh as possible.
  • Soaking the dried fruits in strong dark tea enhances the rich flavors of the fruits.
  • After draining the fruits from the tea infusion, coat them in some flour to ensure they spread evenly in the batter and don’t sink to the bottom of the pan. Coat the nuts as well.
  • If you prefer something with fewer hints of plum and oak notes, use red wine instead.
  • To keep the cake alcohol-free, substitute the alcohol with your choice of fruit juice or flavored tea.
  • Fill the pan only two-thirds of the way to avoid the batter from overflowing.
  • To prevent the cake from drying, place a pan of hot water on the oven’s bottom rack as it’s baking to add moisture.
  • Add a cup of applesauce or buttermilk to the batter to give the cake the perfect consistency.
  • To age the cake after it’s cooled, use a silicone brush to evenly spread a layer of your favorite liquor over the cake, cover it in plastic wrap, place it in an airtight container, and set it in a cool, dry place. Repeat weekly to keep it moist and fresh.
  • Fruit cakes can stay fresh for up to 1–3 months at room temperature provided they’re made with alcohol to help extend their shelf life.

What Makes a Fruit Cake Dry?

Baking is like a chemical experiment. Everything has to be the right amount baked for a precise time at just the right temperature.

Thus, if the ratio of fruits and nuts isn’t up to par with the batter, the cake will turn into a stiff, dense lump. It doesn’t matter which unit of measurement you use. The key thing is to measure all the ingredients correctly.

Plus, make sure you always place the measuring cups on a flat surface to ensure the ingredients are level.

Also, as with most other baked goods, over-baking is another major reason why cakes turn out dry. Timing is crucial when baking anything, especially fruit cakes because the ingredients come together after a certain time of heat exposure.

Too much time in the oven will affect their consistency, resulting in a dry, stiff cake.

Another reason is baking at extremely high temperatures. We recommend setting your oven to between 250℉ and 325℉ for best results.

So, make sure you follow the recipe to the letter, including temperature and baking times, to prevent the cake from drying out.

What Pairs Well with Fruit Cake?

Being such a sweet and tasty dessert, there are plenty of drink and food choices that pair well with fruit cake.

Take a look.

  • A cup of warm tea
  • A scoop or two of ice cream, preferably vanilla or chocolate
  • A slice of cheese to balance the sweetness of the cake
  • A cup of dark, strong coffee
  • A scoop of classic English custard sauce or brandy sauce

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve learned everything about this tasty dessert, it’s time to try it out for yourself.

You can always buy a cake mix from the supermarket, combine everything in one bowl, and pop it in the oven. Yet, these often turn out stiff, dry, and not as full of flavor as the ones you make from scratch.

All the fruit cake ingredients are easy to find. If not, you can find substitutes that work just as well. There are also some great options you can add to ensure your fruit cake comes out perfectly delicious.

Happy baking!

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