Tradition is the glue that binds families. As a mom I work hard to create the same magic for my family that I remember from childhood. Cousins sneaking Grandma’s bourbon slush from the kitchen. Driving to see lights. Decorations everywhere.
Food is a huge deal around the holidays. In thinking about opening a bakery I’m considering the kinds of recipes I want to use that will be the backbone of tradition for holiday offerings. I love the usual suspects of course, cookies, candies, yule logs and cakes. Plus a little whimsy for the young or young at heart with fun cupcakes that sprout Christmas trees and tall layer cakes that look like Rudolph. But I’m also experimenting with recipes that are best suited to elegant adult gatherings or just cozy nights by the fire curled up with a book.
I personally enjoy the classic fruit cake you find at the grocery store. Is it a memory from my childhood? I remember always having it but I don’t remember who served it. Whatever is in it, it lasts forever. And almost nobody likes it so I get most of it to myself, bonus.
Then I thought, maybe I could figure out a way to make one to suit my grown-up tastes? Rich spice cake filled to the brim with my favorite diced fruits and nuts. Fortunately for me I serendipitously stumbled upon a Pinterest post for British Fruit Cake and I thought, eureka! That’s it!!
British spice cake begins in November I learned, the first week of November preferably. I stumbled upon the recipe the day before Halloween so while everybody else was hoping to be scared or helping children dress up and collect candy from kind neighbors, I was scouring local grocery stores in search of odd spices and a wider variety of fruits and nuts than could be gathered at any single one.
A huge batch of fruits and nuts are diced and soaked in alcohol for up to 24 hours. Traditionally brandy but many of the recipes I found use rum, cherry liqueur or other such deeply flavored spirits. There doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer.
The cake is baked in a well insulated cake pan to prevent over browning during an extremely long cook time. Some recipes say up to 5 hours with cooling time in the oven! Covering the top during part of the baking was also highly recommended and served the same purpose. I covered it with a round of aluminum foil.
After the cake is removed from the oven, still warm, holes are poked all over to allow the liquor of choice a way to seep into the cake when brushed on periodically. This process is called “feeding” and the cake is fed a few tablespoons every 2 weeks for approximately 6 weeks. I poked the holes with wooden chopsticks down to the bottom so they would be large enough to really allow the spirits to soak throughout.
I made 3 cakes, and fed each Grand Marnier plus either cherry liqueur, a good French brandy or Kraken Black Spiced Rum. In our taste test a local Ohio cherry liqueur beat out a famous cherry brandy for flavor with rich dark cherry notes on the finish. At a great price point too, bonus!
I couldn’t believe it, but the cakes did perfectly fine at room temperature in my basement the entire feeding time! Each time I lifted the protective plastic wrap I just knew I was going to find mold spores or some other such evidence of decay, but not so. The color deepened with the additional feedings and they smelled incredible. I literally could not wait to dive in! The darkest color came from the cake fed cherry liqueur, that is the color difference you might note in the photos.
The matured cake is brushed with apricot jam and covered with marzipan and either royal icing or white fondant which has a mild vanilla flavor. I substituted orange marmalade to enhance the citrus and cinnamon flavors we love in our Christmas offerings this side of the pond, but also to complement the Grand Marnier I used during feedings. Marzipan is a sweetened almond paste and I found a company that has been making a family recipe since early in the 1900’s. It was divine! And made me wonder if soaking in Amaretto rather than rum might be an option in the future. I opted for the fondant as cracking into a layer of royal icing sounded unappealing. Royal icing is rather flavorless, basically powdered sugar and egg whites whipped to stiff peaks and it dries rock hard. It’s the stuff gingerbread house glue is made from.
My favorite Christmas cake blogger added some traditional serving advice, which we followed, and we enjoyed our cake with Port wine and Wensleydale cheese. I haven’t had Port wine in years so we went to a local grocery store that specializes in a wide variety of wines and spirits and found someone who seemed quite the expert. We decided to go with three of his recommendations which included a special anniversary blend from a company that has been in business for 325 years. It was a blend of their 10, 20, 30 and 40 year Ports and it was absolutely divine! It had a very subtle fig finish that was completely perfect for a dense fruit cake.
In the end I feel as though the volume of spirits I used overpowered the lovely spices and rich fruits of the cake. Of the three spirits I used we all agreed black spice rum was the clear winner. It’s still in my fridge in fact, it’s completely divine with the addition of fruit infusion. I’m going to treat it like German Glühwein (mulled wine) and heat it with a slice of clementine some cold winter night.
I will definitely be trying this again. I bought smallish loaf pans to use in lieu of a large round cake pan. This is a seriously rich dense cake and I believe that a modest slice which would include the delicious marzipan and light vanilla fondant in almost every bite to be fruit cake perfection.
I didn’t follow any recipe in particular for my version. I read about 10 or more recipes to sort of create my own but the one I followed closest can be found at The Spruce. This was my favorite Christmas cake blogger. I did not use pumpkin pie spice as the writer suggested for an American substitution of “mixed spice”, a spice blend found in the UK and going back in British cookbooks to at least 1828 according to their research. A recipe was included for the mixture which I am thrilled I mixed up because it really is unique and opens up all sorts of baking possibilities for something new and fresh. That’s actually quite old and traditional. Love that. Here are the ingredients, mix well and store air tight for a few months:
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons ground mace
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon ground allspice
Click HERE for a link to the post about British mixed spice on The Spruce!
I’m getting closer. By next Christmas it will be on the menu, and I simply cannot wait!