Rich, dark and dense fruit cake with salted maple syrup will make your Christmas even more festive and makes for a great homemade Christmas gift.
As a child, Christmas time was just one long blur involving family, laughter, beach holidays (it’s Summer here in South Africa), food and gifts. Of course, the gifts were exciting but it was always the food that astounded me. A table groaning under the weight of all the food my family members would lovingly prepare. My gran’s turkey with bread stuffing always took center place and around it we would have numerous salads, gravy, potatoes, gammon and more.
And for dessert, a traditional trifle (which I only ate if I was one of the first to dish), a baked pudding of sorts and my aunt’s amazing fruit cake. I would be amazed at the almighty cakes she would produce and loved that I knew she had started baking early in November already. You see, her cakes have to be fed brandy for quite a few weeks before they are ready to be enjoyed and for this reason was I only ever allowed to have the tiniest piece. But how I savoured it. Every bite, enjoying the rich, dark fruity taste.
To this day, I adore fruit cake. I know it’s quite polarizing. You either love it, or you hate it. And right now, I am one of few people that absolutely adore it in my family. And so, I decided to bake one for the very first time this year. My aunt was so kind to share her recipe with me but to keep her original recipe safe, I’ve tweaked it here and there and put my own spin on it. I also know that not everyone wants to get drunk on a piece of cake (who are those people even?) so I’ve made suggestions where you can leave out the alcohol. Her recipe is dead easy but does require a little effort as it’s not exactly a throw-in-a-bowl-and-go kinda recipe.
The fruit is lovingly cooked with butter and sugar and then cooled overnight so that the flavours can marry and become rich and intense. This is where I made the first change to the recipe. Instead of just using a dried fruit mix made for cakes like this, I made my own with golden sultanas, raisins and candied orange peel as well adding Medjool dates and glace cherries.
And then for the kicker, I found maple-infused prunes at Woolworths and now I know not everyone will have access to it but fear not, I have a solution. Try to find soft, squishy prunes and soak them in a glug of maple syrup for a few hours before cooking with the rest of the fruit. This adds intense caramelly, almost bourbon-like flavours to the cake, especially if you use good organic maple syrup.
After baking, the cake will be dense and rich and this is when you would normally start feeding it brandy. A few cap-fulls every few days for a month or so, but if you don’t have the time or want for that process, simply make a syrup with sugar, water, butter and maple syrup and add a good glug of brandy (which is optional). This is poured over the cake as it comes out of the oven and left to soak in overnight. The cake can then be wrapped and refrigerated for up to a month where the flavours will just become more intense or it can be enjoyed immediately. Whichever way you choose, I guarantee a fruit cake so rich and full of flavour, you won’t be able to stop at one piece.
Classic fruit cake with salted maple syrup
for the fruit cake
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup candied citrus peel
- 3/4 cup golden sultanas
- 1/2 cup Medjool dates pitted
- 1 cup glace cherries
- 1/2 cup maple-infused prunes
- 125 g 1/2 cup/1 stick butter, cubed
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup brandy optional: alternatively replace with water
- 2 cups flour all purpose
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
for the salted maple syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup brandy optional
- large pinch sea salt flakes
- Cook the fruit (Except for the cherries), butter, sugar and water until the mixture is dark and sticky.
- Add the cherries and baking soda and refrigerate over night.
- The next morning, pre-heat the oven to 140°c.
- Beat in the eggs and brandy/water into the cooled fruit mixture. I find it easiest to do this in the bowl of a freestanding mixer.
- Add the flour, baking powder and spices and mix through.
- Grease and line a 20cmx7.5cm cake pan then transfer the cake mix to the prepared cake pan.
- Place in the oven and bake for 90 mins-2 hours or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out relatively clean. You want a little stickiness there as you want the cake to be almost gooey.
- In the meantime, simmer together all the syrup ingredients for 10 minutes then set aside.
- When the cake comes out of the oven, pour over the syrup then allow to soak in overnight.