For the longest time, I would do everything possible to avoid eating winter fruit cake. I found the cloyingly sweet cake with its fluorescent candied fruit strange and unpalatable. To be fair, I never had the opportunity to eat a traditional winter fruit cake until later in life. My first bite happened at a local organic bakery and then I came across a recipe for traditional winter fruit cake in a issue of Taproot Magazine. This recipe had no neon fruit! Instead the cake was packed with roasted nuts and real (unsweetened) dried fruit. All the good stuff. Since then I’ve been tweaking and perfecting my own recipe of traditional fruit cake and it’s become a winter treat that my entire family looks forward to eating.
I think it’s important to mention that a traditional winter fruit cake takes time and love to make. It’s baked with rum soaked dried fruit and roasted nuts then wrapped in a spiced rum soaked cheesecloth and left to sit for a week or two before enjoying. Traditional winter cake is truly slow food.
What kind of dried fruit should I use?
There is no right or wrong combination of dried fruit to use but sweetness and price are a couple factors to consider when choosing your dried fruit. Some dried fruit can be very sweet, like dates, so use less of those. Typically I use a combination of dried cherries (homemade), apricots, dates, figs and raisins. Dried fruit can be quite pricey but raisins are more affordable and are great for the bulk of your dried fruit, especially combination of different types of raisins. Some years I will also use dried apples, peaches and pears if I’ve preserved them over the summer and fall.
Does this bread need to age?
The winter cake can be eaten right away but it’s best wrapped in a rum soaked cheese cloth and left in a cool dark place for at least one or two week to age.
Do I have to use alcohol for this fruit cake?
The alcohol in this fruit cake helps to moisten the dried fruit, as well as preserve and flavour the cake. I have never made it without spiced rum but you could try substituting spiced apple cider or apple juice instead.
Traditional Winter Fruit Cake
- 8-9 cups dried fruit (unsweetened, a combination of dried apples, apricot, blueberries, cherries, currants, dates, figs, peaches, pear, prunes, raisins.*see notes)
- 2 cups nuts, roasted and chopped (almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts. NOT peanuts.)
- 1/2 cup spiced rum or rum
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 eggs, yolk and whites separated
- 1/2 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)
- 2 cup flour, unbleached
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 – 1 cup rum or spiced rum (for brushing on cooked loaves)
- Soak the dried fruit (the day before): The day before baking, chop the dried fruit into smaller pieces (about the size of raisins). Add the chopped dried fruit and 1/2 cup spiced rum into a large bowl. Stir the mixture, cover the bowl and let the mixture sit overnight on the counter.
- Roast the nuts: Preheat the over 350°F. Spread your nuts on a cookie tray and roast them in the over for 8-10 minutes or until fragrant and golden. Take the nuts out to cool. Chop the nuts coarsely and set them aside.
- Make the fruit cake: Preheat the oven to 250°F and prepare two 9 by 5 inch or six 5 by 3 inch loaf pans by buttering and lining them with parchment paper.
- Separate the eggs ensuring that is no egg yolk in the egg white. If there is any egg yolk in the egg whites they will not whip up properly.
- In a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat until well combined.
- Mix the flour, spices and salt (if using) in a medium sized bowl and then add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until combined.
- Before adding the dried fruit and roasted nuts remove the bowl from the mixer. Most mixers won't be able to mix such a large volume of dried fruit and nuts and you might break your mixture by trying. Add the rum soaked dried fruits and roasted chopped nuts to the dough and mix with a study wooden spoon.
- In a medium clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the beat eggs whites into the thick dough mixture with a wooden spoon.
- Divide the dough evenly between the prepared bread pans and place them into the preheated oven.
- Bake large sized loaves (9 by 5 inch) for 3 or 3.5 hours and the small loaves (5 by 3 inch) for 2.5 to 3 hours. Use a wooden skewer or toothpick to check the middle of the cake for doneness, it should come out clean when ready.
- Cool the fruit cakes on a wire rack for 15 minutes and then remove from them from the pans. Let them fully cooled to room temperature.
- Age the fruit cake: Winter fruit cake can be eaten right away but it tastes much better after one or two weeks of aging. To store the fruit cake brush the loaf generously with spiced rum and then wrap each loaf separately in rum soaked cheese cloth. To soak the cheese cloth place it in a bowl and pour spiced rum over it until damp but not dripping wet. Then wrap each loaf in plastic and store them in a cool dark place.
I hope your family enjoys this traditional fruit cake as much as ours. If you have any questions about making this fruit cake don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.