I know the jokes—there is in fact only one fruitcake in the world and it’s regifted and regifted and regifted again! Fruitcake is the unloved stepchild of Christmas treats in the United States. My dad loves the stuff…I even like it. But we are definitely in the minority.
Imagine my surprise, then, when during a discussion about our wedding cake (ten years ago) my fiancée (now husband) staunchly supported “A traditional South African wedding cake.” (He’s from South Africa.) And what kind of cake is that? FRUITCAKE!
“But….but….” I sputtered, “What about the beautiful white tiered cakes with roses and buttercream you see in magazines?”
“Sponge cake?” he replied. “Well that’s okay, but that’s not a wedding cake.”
“Not wedding cake?” This wasn’t our first culture clash, but it was one of the most surprising. My preferences prevailed at the wedding, since bakers in the US do not typically make fruitcake for 200.
However, unbeknownst to my beloved, I talked with his mom who talked to her sister who was coming from England for the wedding. We concocted a plan for a traditional groom’s cake—South African style. Aunty Ann and Uncle David lovingly prepared the cake months in advance (yes, months) and stowed it in their carry-on luggage, smuggling the heavy, fruity, boozy treat into the country. Justin was so surprised on the day of our wedding when we unveiled the beautiful, two-tiered cake, frosted with marzipan and fondant and decorated with silver ribbon. And, I have to admit, it was far superior to our traditional American cake.
On our honeymoon, we met a couple from Australia who asked about our wedding. “What was your cake like?…Whaaaat? Americans have sponge cake for a wedding cake, not fruitcake? How strange!” Sigh.
It turns out fruitcake is loved by people across the world…just not in the U.S!
Since that lovely day, Justin has acquired Aunty Ann’s recipe and we have begun a tradition of making it at Christmas—it’s a multi-purpose cake with many titles, wedding cake AND Christmas cake! The process is long, I cannot lie. But it is a worthy effort! As with all things baked, homemade is (almost) always best. For those looking for a challenge this Christmas, here is the recipe in all its glory.
Aunty Ann’s Rich Fruit Cake:
Ingredients (using weight measurements):
1lb 6oz Currants
3oz Chopped Almonds
3oz Citrus Peel
4oz Glazed Cherries
¾ tsp Allspice
11oz Butter or Margarine
11oz Moist Brown Sugar
1½ Lemons (zest and juice)
4 Eggs (room temperature)
Sherry, Rum, or Brandy
Place one shelf in the oven just below center and preheat to 400F to quickly heat the cake tin and paper. When cake is put into the oven, immediately reduce heat to 325F.
Line 10” round pan (or a square 9” pan) with parchment paper and grease with melted butter. Prepare the fruit—cut cherries in half and remove any stalks, grate lemon zest (avoiding the pith) and squeeze the juice.
Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add lemon zest. Add fruit, citrus peel and nuts. Mix thoroughly. Stir in flour, allspice, and lemon juice. Mix well. Pour into prepared pan, pressing mixture down. Smooth the top with a spoon. Loosely cover with aluminum foil to prevent from over-browning. (The original recipe calls for a double strip of brown paper or parchment paper to be put around the edges of the cake and secured with string…Aunty Ann forgive me, but the foil is easier.) Reduce heat to 325F and place cake on a baking sheet in the oven.
Bake for 4 hours, decreasing the heat with each hour:
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. When the cake is quite cold, remove from tin and remove paper. To increase the keeping time of the cake and to insure moistness, prick cake all over top with a skewer and spoon 1 Tbs of alcohol across the top. Invert cake and treat the base similarly.
This cake is excellent at any time, but for an optimal experience, it should be made 1-2 months in advance. Once or twice each week, drizzle the top with a tablespoon of your choice of rum, brandy, sherry or port. The actual alcohol evaporates, but the process keeps the cake moist, fresh and tasty too!
To top the cake, a sprinkle of powdered sugar is all you need, but for a wedding cake, spread top and sides with marzipan and roll out fondant to cover. Bon Apetit!