Every year, the Beloved makes fruit cake, specifically Alton Brown fruit cake for Christmas, and I’m going to show you how to make it.
It’s so good. Honest!
And if you love the flavors in this fruitcake, you’ll probably also like my baked steel cut oats recipe. For an alcohol free steamed option with deep molasses flavor, try my Boston brown bread. I wouldn’t say no to that on Christmas morning either!
For ease of browsing, here are all of my muffin and quick bread recipes in one place.
Find more delicious Christmas recipes here.
See my Alton Brown fruit cake web story here.
The Beloved As Baker
Several years ago, I wrote a post about how The Beloved started making Christmas fruit cake one year and how I thought he had lost his mind.
Now, he has been making slight variations on the recipe for years, and he makes dozens.
He uses Alton Brown’s standard recipe for Free Range Fruitcake, but over the years, he has put a bit of his own spin on it by changing the spicing a little. And he generally also leaves out the nuts.
It is the best fruitcake recipe ever.
I went from being an avowed fruitcake hater, or at least a mocker, to looking forward to the start of his baking season.
And, if I have been pleasant, I get to lick the pot after he scrapes the batter out into the pans.
Yes, I said pot.
One of the great things about this moist fruit cake is that you don’t need a mixer to make it. You need a big old pot, a wooden spoon, your ingredients of course, and some pans to bake in.
Although the ingredient list is long, the procedure is simple.
- Macerate (fancy word for soak) a ton of dried–not candied and weird–fruits and citrus zest in golden rum for a few days.
- Plop all of that into a pot with some apple cider, sugar, and spices and simmer for awhile.
- Let the fruit mixture cool then stir in eggs, dry ingredients and then bake. No mixer needed, and the house smells amazing.
- Put the cakes in airtight containers and brush or spray them with brandy every couple of days for at least four-six weeks.
NOTE: Do not wait until the last minute to make any kind of fruitcake. They will be at their best after 4-6 weeks of aging and being sprayed with brandy.
No Alcohol Variation
Yes you can. Instead of soaking the fruit overnight, you can plump the fruit in a pan with the same amount of apple cider.
Since apple cider is sweeter than rum, you can probably cut back on the amount of sugar by a couple of tablespoons.
For spraying them after baking, you can use apple cider–that Martinelli’s would be nice, actually.
Unlike with the alcohol-laden loaves, you’ll have to refrigerate the non-alcoholic fruitcakes.
UPDATE: This year (2020), my husband made a few no-alcohol loaves that are fantastic.
Rather than plumping the fruit and zest in rum, he cooked it all together in 1 cup of water and 1 whole ounce of rum extract.
Note that any liquid that the fruit didn’t absorb stayed in the pan. He didn’t strain it before continuing with the recipe.
I can attest that they are Incredibly Good!
What Dried Fruits You’ll Need
No glaceed cherries or weird, rubbery peel in this stuff, friends. You will need a variety of dried fruits as well as some crystallized ginger.
Here are the players:
- tart cherries: you could certainly substitute dried sweet cherries here as well
- cranberries: my husband buys unsweetened dried cranberries, but you could also use the Craisin® brand from the grocery store that are lightly sweetened
- blueberries: a little something different. Dried blueberries are fairly mellow, so you can punch up the flavor of your fruitcake by substituting the same amount of either dried cranberries or cherries
- apricots: If you’re not a huge fan of apricots, you can sub in dried mango, or again, add the same amount of one of the other dried fruits
- currants: raisins work here as well
- crystallized ginger: adds a little zip to the whole production. As with the rest, leave it out if you don’t like it, or you can even add more if you’re a huge ginger fan.
PRO TIP: You will need a total of four cups of dried fruit (this includes the golden raisins, which for me are non-negotiable), and this can be made up of any of your favorites. You do not have to stick to the proportions in the recipe as long as you use a total of 4 cups.
Other Dried Fruits That Will Work
Don’t limit yourself to just these. The “master recipe” calls for one cup of currants (or raisins) and a total of 2 additional cups of dried fruits.
Here are some other choices for you:
- dried plums (prunes), snipped into pieces
- dried pineapple (as long as it’s pliable and not hard)
- dried peaches or nectarines (use in place of the apricots or in addition to)
- dried pear
- dried apple
Do not substitute freeze-dried fruits for dried fruit or you will throw the moisture content off and your fruitcake will end up sad and dry.
If you’re asking yourself if you need to have the whole versions of all the spices called for, the answer is not necessarily.
Generally speaking, whole spices have stronger, fresher flavor than the ground versions, but do not let not having whole spices deter you from making this most delicious of fruitcakes.
Here are the whole spices Jeffrey uses:
- whole cloves
- whole allspice berries
- black peppercorns
And these are ones he uses already ground:
Where To Get The Paper Baking Pans
Jeffrey has tried several sizes as well as baking full-sized fruitcake in loaf pans.
The ones he has settled on for gift-giving are 6″ x 2 1/2″, and we think they make the most beautiful loaves.
If you use this size, you can get 5 lovely little fruit cakes from one batch of batter.
Some of the paper loaf pans he tried were too long or too narrow. These Junior loaf pans are just right for his purposes. These are all he uses now, unless he wants to bake a full-sized loaf to keep at home.
Other Christmas Dessert Recipes
I have a lot of Christmas-themed recipes on my site–cookies, cakes, etc–but I have a couple of favorites.
Moist and rich, doused in brandy, set afire, and then served with a healthy scoop of brandied hard sauce. If you’re a fan of Christmas puddings, this one is a fantastic example.
And I cannot forget angel slices, which are my favorite Christmas cookies ever. Another legacy of Auntie Ev, via the Joy of Cooking.
If you like gooey pecan and coconut filling baked on a shortbread crust and then glazed with a crackling thin lemon glaze, angel slices are for you!
Yes, Auntie Ev had a wonderful fruitcake recipe too, but I like Alton’s better.
Free Printable Christmas Recipe Card
And here are the printable recipe cards for this recipe. The .pdf has both on one page, and both are linked to it. Click either picture to open and save the recipe, or you can right-click each picture and save them that way if you prefer. Get all my free Christmas recipe cards if you like!
I have 3 different templates for printable recipe cards for Christmas/winter holidays, so take a look and download them all. They’re free!
Through a happy coincidence, a mutual friend told me that her friend Paul Lally adores this fruitcake.
Paul is the executive producer of Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito on PBS, and he has also worked with Julia Child and was a writer/director on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
All that, plus a fruitcake lover?! Yes!
Here are the photos he posted of him enjoying The Beloved’s fruitcake:
Here’s what Paul had to say about this magical Christmas cake:
If you have questions about this post or recipe, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave a comment on the post and I will get back to you within about 24 hours.
If your question is more urgent, please shoot me an email, and I will respond within 4 hours, unless I’m asleep.
Let’s Get To It
The Beloved usually starts his Christmas baking right after Labor Day, and by the first week of December, the corner of our closet is piled high with containers of aging fruitcake.
In a good way. Not in a gross sort of way.
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- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup currants, (or prunes snipped into tiny pieces)
- 1/2 cup each dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries and apricots (chop the apricots into pieces) or a total of 2 cups dried fruit
- zest of one lemon, (Microplaned)
- zest of 1 orange
- 1/4 cup minced crystallized ginger
- 1 cup gold rum (NON-ALCOHOLIC VERSION: 1 oz (2 Tablespoons) rum extract and 7 oz water)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 5 oz unsalted butter, (1 1/4 sticks)
- 1 cup unfiltered apple juice, (orange juice works well here too)
- 4 whole cloves, ground (or 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground)
- 6 allspice berries, ground (or 1/4 teaspoon ground)
- 10 peppercorns, ground fresh (or 1/4 teaspoon ground)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- several gratings fresh nutmeg (or 1/4 teaspoon ground)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4-1/2 cup pecan halves, (optional)
- brandy for basting/spraying (OMIT for Non-Alcoholic version. Just wrap the cake while still warm to keep it moist and store in the fridge until you're ready to eat it/gift it)
- At least a day before, soak the raisins, the rest of the dried fruit, the crystallized ginger and the zests in golden rum (or water and rum extract). You can do this in a zip-top bag if you want. Shake the bag occasionally.
- When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325F and then dump the contents of the zip-top bag, including any liquid, into a 3 1/2 quart saucepan (or similar size. Don't go buy a new pan).
- Add the sugar, butter, juice, and spices (The Beloved grinds the cloves, allspice, pepper and salt together with a mortar and pestle. He wanted me to tell you that) and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for 30-45 minutes.
- Whisk the flour, baking soda and baking powder into the fruit mixture, combining it quickly with a wooden spoon.
- Stir in the eggs thoroughly, one at a time.
- Pour/scrape the batter into your prepared pan/pans, smooth the top and press on the optional pecans (in a design or not).
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You're looking for an internal temperature of 200F. This will take about an hour or a bit longer, so test at a hour and go from there.
- Remove cake from oven and liberally brush the top with brandy.
- Once the cake has cooled completely, turn it out of the pan and put it in an airtight container. Brush or spray it well with brandy every 2 or 3 days and let it age for at least 2 weeks or up to pretty much forever.
- Enjoy toasted and spread with cream cheese as we do. So delicious!
This recipe makes 1 10" loaf of fruit cake. You can also divide it evenly among decorative, giftable paper pans as The Beloved does. The ones pictured here are about 6" x 2 1/2" or so. If you use the 6" x 2 1/2" pans, you will get 5 small, beautiful loaves from 1 recipe.
The Beloved has also made these as really mini loaves and as muffins. This recipe works no matter the shape or size of the pan, you just have to monitor them because smaller ones bake in less time.
We always line reusable pans with parchment even if Alton didn't tell us to. Just for insurance.
Nutritional Information calculated on 1/10 of the entire recipe.
Try this fruit cake toasted and spread with cream cheese. Lord, it's amazing!
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Nutrition InformationYield 10 Serving Size 1/10 cake
Amount Per Serving Calories 562Saturated Fat 7gCholesterol 63mgSodium 598mgCarbohydrates 85gFiber 5gSugar 58gProtein 5g
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