No need to start months ahead.
Just add tinned fruit, and booze.
’Tis the season!
Adapted from The Kiwi Cook’s Pineapple Christmas Cake,
first to suit my tiny Australian kitchen,
and most recently for my first Christmas in New York
(where, it turns out, Sunbeam mixed fruit and Golden Circle
tinned pineapple aren’t “a thing” — no surprises there).
You’ll notice looking at the quantities that this makes quite
a bit of cake — two very solid ones, in fact — so you can very easily
halve this recipe if you don’t need to feed the masses.
1.5kg (3.3 lbs) of dried fruit¹
450g of tinned/jarred fruit, in juice or syrup²
2 oranges — zest and juice
1/3 cup festive booze (spiced rum is perfect³)
3 cups plain (all-purpose) flour⁴
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground clove
Pinch of salt
225g (2 sticks) butter — at room temp.
1/2 cup raw or caster sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp bitters (or another of essence)
Slivered almonds, to decorate⁵
1/4 cup booze
1/4 cup maple syrup
(Both optional: for the final glaze/drench)
- Chop the dried fruit into regular (raisin-sized) pieces, into a very large saucepan.
- If you’re using whole tinned/jarred fruit, roughly mash it with a fork before also adding it to the saucepan.
- Zest the oranges into the saucepan, then squeeze the juice in too.
- Add the booze.
- Bring all this to a simmer over a medium heat — covered, but remove the lid and stir frequently — until the fruit has absorbed most (or all) of the juices.
- Leave this to cool with the lid on — overnight is best, but just to room temperature (a couple of hours) is fine too.
- Once the fruit has settled for a few hours/overnight, preheat the oven to 300ºF (about 150ºC) and place a tray (or a pie plate) full of water in the bottom shelf of the oven.⁶
- Butter your baking dishes and line them with baking paper. I use two 2-litre square Pyrex baking dishes — they’re just the perfect volume, and easy to line with plenty of overhang.
- Measure out the flour, spices and salt into a medium bowl, and give them a stir — no need to sift. Set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla/bitters until very pale.
- Slow down your mixer, then add in the eggs one by one, adding two tablespoons of the flour mixture after each egg.
- Still mixing, add in any remaining flour, until it’s all combined.
- Stop mixing. Chuck in the pre-prepared fruit mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until the fruit is evenly distributed. The mixture should be lumpy, and will easily drop off the wooden spoon, but add a bit more flour if it’s runny at all.
- At this point you will realise you have a lot of cake mix. Congratulate yourself on the solid upper-body workout.
- Spoon the mixture into your two prepared baking dishes, making sure to press the mixture into the corners.
- Smooth out the top with a spatula, and decorate with slivered almonds (or otherwise), pressing the nuts into the mixture so they don’t fall out when the cake rises.
- Bake for an hour at 300ºF (about 150ºC), then for another hour to 1.5 hours at 280ºF (about 137ºC). In terms of time, trust your eyes. You want the top to be dry all over, and a toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean, but for any dried fruit it hits.
- When both cakes are just about done, mix together the maple syrup and extra booze, pull both cakes out of the oven, and brush each one with the syrup glaze, going right to the edges.
- Pop the cakes back in the oven for the last 5 minutes or so, then turn off the oven and let them sit in there for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and let them sit on a cooling rack (in the baking dishes, to retain the steam/moisture) until they’re down to room temperature.
- Serve warm, with vanilla ice-cream. Or at room temperature with a slice of aged cheddar. I kid you not.
(You can keep this cake in the fridge for weeks, wrapped in foil or an air-tight container. It also freezes, if you’re into squirrelling.)
¹In Australia I used a 1.5kg bag of Sunbeam mixed fruit — too easy! Not so easy in the US, where candy-cane–encrusted chocolate-covered pretzels are abundant, but mumsy baking ingredients not so much. I went with 600g of raisins + a mix of dried cranberries, pitted dates, dried pineapple, (preservative-free) dried apricots, and a couple of pieces of crystallised ginger to make weight. It’s a decadent — albeit not economically rational — stopgap.
²Again, the original go-to is a tin of crushed pineapple — again, too easy! But again, not a thing in America. I used most of a jar of Trader Joe’s pear halves in white grape juice, making sure to get a good mix of fruit and liquid.
³I’ve always used Sailor Jerry’s or Kraken (for a darker and spicier flavour), sometimes with a splash of applejack or gingerbread spirits. If you’re in Aus, Sailor Jerry’s is probably the easiest and cheapest to procure; at my local in New York, it seems to be Kraken — I can’t complain!
⁴You could go gluten-free here. I’ve done it before with a mix of rice, quinoa and buckwheat flours, but any ready-mixed GF flour would work.
⁵Shelled pistachios also work nicely… as do crystallised ginger and glacé cherries — but consider your audience. I’ve yet to find someone else who likes them!
⁶The steam will keep the cakes moist, which avoids dry edges and stops the surfaces from cracking.