How to love fruitcake

Here's how to serve fruitcake so it makes sense and will be loved by everyone you give it to.
(Dylan + Jeni/For the Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)

Here’s what people get wrong about fruitcake: It’s not a dessert. Yes, it’s a cake with fruit, sugar, butter and flour, but it’s a cake that’s meant to be shelf-stable and last for a long time. No one would ever sit down to a slice after a big meal, at least not in the U.S.

In “ye olde” times, it was made to use up the year’s preserved, dried fruit and to sustain people with energy through cold, dark winters. In our modern times, I like to treat it more like a really fancy breakfast bar, something to be eaten with coffee or tea. Or I take it on a hike instead of an energy bar. Or I shave off tiny slices to snack on while running errands. Or I break off a chunk for a one-bite sweet treat after dinner.

This recipe for fruitcake is not what you typically expect from a cake with that name. An adaptation of my aunt’s recipe, it’s proportional in fruit to batter, which keeps it lighter than the stereotypical, fruit-heavy brick you’re thinking of that gets punted across Midwestern farmlands for holiday contests. It also eats lighter thanks to a higher proportion of apples and golden raisins rather than the more murky-tasting dark fruits like prunes or regular purple raisins. The batter has a brown sugar and toffee flavor that gives it a wonderful warming quality to complement that of the dried fruit. And although I appreciate the many recipes I’ve made over the years where you soak the fruit for six months and age the cake for an additional month after baking, let me tell you now: All that time and effort will not make the cake taste any better than one prepared in just a couple of days.

The fruit in my recipe soaks for two days, just long enough to plump it but not long enough for you to forget about it. Then, once the cake is baked and it cools, you can eat it right away. It will then stay fresh for at least two weeks after that.

Does it get better the longer it sits? Absolutely. But with such a long window, you can plan your holidays with it, not around it.

Cinnamon Holiday Cake With Bourbon and Pecans

Time1 hour 15 minutes, plus 5 hours unattended and 2 days for soaking fruit
YieldsServes 16

This article is part of cooking columnist Ben Mims’ Christmas menu story for 2021.