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How to Make the Perfect Fruit Cake

Posted 15/12/2006 by Anna Hollisey

Homemade fruitcake

Everyone knows the perfect fruit cake is deeply spiced, full of surprises and ideal after dinner with a fresh cup of tea. But it’s hard to find one that we can all agree on. And whose perfect fruit cake are we talking about here, anyway?

So here’s a guide to making your perfect fruit cake. How to add your own flavourings without losing density, what fruit to swap, even new flavours to add. If you’ve been recreating Gran’s rock-hard Christmas Cake every year since 1979, it’s time to make it your own…

Making Your Perfect Fruit Cake

The amounts given here are to be used as a guide; feel free to choose your own fruit and spices. Daughter who hates raisins? Husband who doesn’t drink? Pick and mix from the ingredients below, and create a cake that’s perfect for your family.

Planning Ahead

Your fruit cake will benefit from being made early. Some writers suggest making it 8 weeks ahead of serving; others claim fruit cake will keep and improve for up to a year!

The Cake Batter

Delia, Nigella, Gary and Nigel agree on numbers: use equal amounts of flour, butter, and brown sugar, and balance with an egg to every 50g (2oz) butter. For an 8″ cake, you’d use 225g (8oz) each of flour, butter and sugar, with 4 eggs. A tablespoon of treacle heightens the dense, rich sweetness. Tamper with these minimums at your peril: the cake batter must be sturdy enough to support the weight of fruit and nuts, and skimping on flour in hope of a lighter result will result in a cake where fruit has sunk to the bottom.

Sometimes extra flour is added to balance out a liquid ingredient such as marmalade or fresh orange juice. Look at the mixture when you dollop the mixture into the tin: it should be the consistency of clotted cream, slowly dropping from the spoon.

The quality of your ingredients will, as always, dictate the deliciousness of the finished result. Choose organic butter and flour for the finest flavour; free range eggs and unrefined sugar are widely accepted as standard these days.

The Flavourings

You can choose from an assortment of traditional spices, such as ground cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, or bottled Mixed Spice. One teaspoon will be enough to flavour your cake. Next add orange and lemon zest (from two fruits – one of each or two of the same), and (optional) a splash of almond or vanilla extract. Finally, if you wish to use liquid additions such as marmalade or orange juice, then you should balance out the mixture with a little more flour (about an ounce per tablespoon of liquid).

The Fruit

What fruit? The choices are yours. You’ll need a total of 900g (2lb) of dried fruit for an 8″ cake. Take your pick from sultanas, raisins, candied peel, glace cherries, currants, dried apricots, dates, cranberries, dried pineapple, and dried papaya. Give your cake a uniquely exotic theme by using dried pineapple and papaya (available in health food shops). Swap dates for apricots and candied peel for cranberries… the possibilities are endless.

If you’ve time to marinade your fruit in rum, brandy, or other liqueur (how about Tia Maria, Malibu, or Schnapps?), so much the better. Stir 3 tablespoons liqueur into 900g (2lb) fruit and leave in a covered bowl overnight, before commencing the recipe.

If you’d like to add nuts to your cake for extra crunch, add 50g (2oz) of your favourites, roughly chopped, at the same time as you add the fruit.

To Make It

Let all ingredients come to room temperature, including the fruit, if you haven’t marinated it overnight. Cream the butter and sugar, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is glossy. Sift the flour, salt (half a teaspoon) and spices onto this mixture, and fold gently with a metal spoon (this keeps more air in the mixture than a wooden spoon). Finally stir in the fruit, nuts, a tablespoon of treacle, and any extra flavourings you’ve chosen (including marmalade, juice and essence).

Cooking and Storing

Bake at 140ºC (120ºC Fan Oven / 275 F / Gas Mark 1) for about 4 hours. Fruit cakes take a long time to cook, so it’s advisable to protect yours from blackening on the outside before the middle is cooked. To overcome this dilemma, Nigella and Gary Rhodes both suggest double lining your cake tin with brown paper, and leaving a tall rim sticking above the top of the tin will stop the top of your cake from cooking too fast. Delia also covers the top of the cake with a double layer of baking parchment (cutting a small hole in the centre to let out steam).

Wrap your cooled cake tightly in greaseproof paper and then foil – avoid wrapping directly in foil, which might react with the acid in the cake – and store in an airtight tin, if you’ve got one. Your old Tupperware isn’t ideal for fruit cakes because it takes on aroma too easily, but brand new Tupperware will be suitable.

If you wish to add extra alcohol to the cake, you can do this every week or so until it’s ready. Simply peel away the wrappings, pierce the cake with a skewer and drizzle a tablespoon of liqueur over the top. Enjoy making your perfect fruit cake, and don’t forget to send us a slice!

Decorating Ideas

You may wish to decorate your fruit cake for Christmas or another special occasion, so read our feature Decorating Your Christmas Cakes to make it a real centre piece!

18 Responses to “How to Make the Perfect Fruit Cake”

  1. eta says:

    Wedding cake decorations and how to make a fruit cake.

  2. CakeBaker says:

    Hi, we have an article on Wedding Cakes that you might like to take a look at..

  3. rpassion8 says:

    Can you suggest what ratios of flour,butter,sugar, eggs for a 12 inch fruit cake you would suggest. I am dithering on usual 2 eggs to 4oz of each ingredient only because it is my daughter’s wedding cake fruit layer and want my usual perfection but the cake tin is fairly huge-[sponge[s] to make in August]. Differing recipes are quoting less flour or different amounts and I should have just trusted my own judgment rather than hope for some perfect amounts. No recipe seems to accord on number of eggs or amounts of flour, sugar, butter. I am already using more fruit than any recipe quotes. Thankyou.

  4. CakeBaker says:

    Have you tried using our recipe and converting the amounts using our Cake O Meter?

  5. Trace says:

    I went to a wedding recently & the mother of the bride had baked the wedding cake herself, it was delicious & she wont give me the recipie, all she said was that the two liquers were rare & had to be bought from the internet & the cake itself was the colour of toffee, it had sultanas in & light coloured fruits, and it was so moist & soft, do you have any idea what she might have put in it from my description please? I know its a long shot but she also said she had mixed two recipies together one from good housekeeping & i dont know the other. Kind regards Tracy

  6. roger says:

    Cherries always sink to the bottom when making cherry cake.

  7. Gita says:

    Hi, do you not perhaps have a proper recipe which I can follow step by step? Would love to give this a try. Equal quantities means how much for 900 grams of fruit? Is this a darkish cake? Would like to spike it with brandy and want to know if I can use chopped cashews instead of other nuts, since everyone in the family are allergic to almonds, walnuts and pecans. Please help. Cheers

  8. CakeBaker says:

    Hi Gita. Try this Simnel cake recipe but leave out the almond paste/marzipan – and add cashew nuts if you like (probably replacing 2 ounces of the sultanas with them.

  9. Nanny says:

    Would like wedding cake / decorati One for a 12″ cake also an 8″ sponge cake thanks

  10. liver says:

    hie i’ve tried to make fruit cakes but they are always sticky in the middle.what could be wrong.can i add baking powder to the recipe.thank you

  11. CakeBaker says:

    @liver. Try cooking them for longer but on a slightly lower temperature.

  12. Cazz says:

    I’ve made a 12inch square fruit cake and have been feeding it brandy every week or so, but i was never sure on the amount of brandy to feed it and exactly how often as most articles/recipes that i’ve read say a tablespoon or so every week or 2, but that never seems to be enough for a big cake and mine began to look a bit dry so i started to use quite a bit more. I hope i haven’t ruined the flavour of the cake(which will be 8wks old on the wedding day). Also when should you stop feeding it, as i’m about to cover the cake with mazripan 1 week before the wedding and not sure when this should be?? Could you help me out with this please. Thanks Cazz x

  13. foxglove says:

    Cazz I stop feeding my fruit cakes two weeks before I need to decorate. This allow the liquer to absorb into the cake so it doesn’t feel wet when it is iced. Moisture will make the icing tacky and spoil all your hard work.

  14. none says:

    Sir, I stay in India and during christmas we take all the ingredients to the bakery to bake our cakes. We give equal potion of flour, sugar and butter but after some days the cake becomes hard . How can i make it nice and spongy. My daughter hates our cake. Please help. both fruit and plain.

  15. Beecie says:

    My rich fruit cake is quite soggy in the middle, the outside is cooked perfectly. Can I put it back in the oven to cook the middle a bit more?

  16. Fruity says:

    @Beecie – Yes you can put it back in. Try covering the top with some parchment paper so it doesn’t burn before the inside is cooked.

  17. adamski says:

    @roger – dust the fruit in flour or icing sugar before mixing and they’ll hold position

  18. salh says:

    can you shape/ carve this recipe….. if so should I freeze it and carve when frozen??? I am just a hobby baker but have been asked to do a very special steam train cake ( for someone who has a brain tumour and doesn’t have long left) and they would like a fruit cake!!! I was thinking of making a 12″ cake and cutting the shapes from it!!

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