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The Lost Art of Fruitcake

At some point during the weeks leading up to Christmas, our kitchen turns into a Jewish Benedictine monastery. We bake brandy-laden fruitcakes wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth with Barbra Streisand belting out “Ave Maria” in the background.

Fruitcakes bore the brunt of Christmas gift jokes for so long that people eventually just stopped giving them. That’s when we became interested in real fruitcake. Not the kind Jews buy at Gelson’s, but the kind you age—the kind that will get you drunk. Doubtless some unfortunate renditions out there are responsible for fruitcake’s bad wrap of yore, but when made properly, fruitcake is a thing of glory.

During the season when everything is flavored with chocolate, maple, ginger, or peppermint, fruitcake provides a nice respite of bright fruitiness. We built on the funky old Joy of Cooking recipe to produce a dark fruitcake that emerges from the oven looking like a treasure chest overflowing with baubles of ruby, emerald, gold, garnet and amber. Our fruitcake is exceedingly aromatic, dense and complex—a loaf of interwoven tastes and textures. It bakes slowly and gently, filling the house with the scent of sweet booze and fresh nutmeg, making it ever so hard to mummify for later consumption. Luckily, our recipe caters to the undisciplined; it produces two loaves—one for instant gratification and one to nurture through adolescence. Or, if you can bear to part with one, we assure you that no one will be re-gifting this baby.


two 9x5 inch loaf pans

parchment paper


aluminum foil

re-sealable plastic bags


3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground mace

½ teaspoon ground cloves

At room temperature:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2 cups dark brown sugar

6 large eggs

½ cup light molasses

Grated zest and juice of 1 Valencia orange

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

½ cup brandy, plus more for soaking cheesecloth

2 ½ cups diced high-quality mixed candied fruit (such as angelica, assorted cherries, apricots, citron, orange rind, lemon rind, melon, mandarin, pineapple, kumquats)

2 cups pecans, broken into pieces

1 pound dates rolled in coconut, cut into rounds (or pitted and quartered if whole)

12 ounces currants

12 ounces red flame or golden raisins


Grease the loaf pans and line with a single sheet of parchment paper, making folds where necessary. Preheat oven to 300°F.

Sift together the dry ingredients and whisk to ensure they are well combined.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add 1 cup of the dark brown sugar and beat to combine. Add the remaining dark brown sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, just until combined. Beat in the molasses and orange and lemon zests and juices, just until combined.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat just to combine. Add ¼ cup of brandy and beat to combine. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat just to combine. Add ¼ cup brandy and beat to combine. Stir in the candied fruit, pecans, coconut date rounds, currants, and raisins. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for two hours.


Divide the batter between pans and spread evenly with a spatula. Place the pans in the center rack of oven to bake. After 1 hour, loosely tent the pans with aluminum foil. Bake for an additional 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


Place pans on rack to cool for 1 hour. Place a dishtowel or a double layer of paper towels on the counter, then lift the sides of the parchment to transfer the loaf out of the pan and onto the towel. Once completely cool, remove parchment.

Cut enough cheesecloth that a double layer will wrap around the cake twice. Place cheesecloth in a bowl and pour over it just enough brandy to be absorbed. Wrap the loaves individually in the cheesecloth, then place each in a re-sealable plastic bag. You may want to place the plastic bag inside a linen bag if giving as a gift.


To serve, slice with a very sharp knife, as the brandy will cause the cake to crumble.

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