While a traditional Christmas fruitcake is made by soaking dried fruits in rum, brandy, or some kind of alcohol, this version is made without alcohol, but still tastes festive and delicious, because of some additional steps taken to bring in those deep, warm flavours.
This fruitcake uses a mix of dried fruits and nuts that we like. Feel free to play around with the proportions or replace some of the dried fruits with others of your choosing. As long as the total quantity of dried fruits and nuts remains the same, you should be able to follow the rest of this recipe without any trouble.
Considering this is a non-alcoholic version of the traditional Calcutta fruitcake, we’ve gone with a few modifications to replicate the deep, rich, warm flavours that would normally have come from rum and brandy. First, we’ve added spices to both the dried fruit mixture as well as to the cake batter. But the most significant addition we’ve made is adding thick, syrupy ‘burnt sugar’. It is an old-fashioned Anglo-Indian technique, widely popular in Caribbean cooking too, to add a deep flavour, mild bitterness, and colour to cakes and meats. Sugar and water are heated in a pan until they turn a very dark brown, almost black. Making burnt sugar needs care and attention, as we don’t want the sugar to literally burn, but push it to its maximum limit, so proceed with caution.
Dried fruits & nuts
- 100 g raisins
- 150 g pitted dates
- 100 g apricots
- 100 g tutti frutti
- 100 g crystallised ginger
- 125 g candied peels
- 180 ml apple juice
- 80 g sugar
- 80 ml hot water
- 150 g salted butter (softened; extra for greasing)
- 135 g brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 150 g flour
- 2 tsp orange zest
- ½ tsp vanilla essence
- 8 pcs cloves
- 4-cm cinnamon stick
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 15 pcs allspice berries (optional)
- 40 g ground almonds
- 25 g cashewnuts
- 25 g shelled pistachios
- 15–20 almonds (blanched and peeled; for decoration)
- 1 tbsp jam (for a glaze)
STEP I: PREP THE DRIED FRUITS
- Add cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice berries to a spice grinder and blitz to a fine powder.
- Chop dates, apricots, crystallised ginger and candied peels into 1-cm chunks.
- Add these to a saucepan along with the raisins and tutti frutti.
- Add apple juice and ¼ tsp of the powdered spices (reserve the remaining spices for the batter).
- Mix everything together, and cook on low heat until the apple juice has nearly all been soaked up by the dried fruits (about 20 minutes or so).
- Leave the fruits to rest for 2 hours.
STEP II: MAKE BURNT SUGAR
- Spread the sugar in a single layer in a pan, set on low heat.
- Cover the pan with a lid and allow the sugar to melt slowly.
- Once the middle starts to darken, stir the sugar to evenly distribute the heat.
- Keep heating as the colour changes from amber to gold to brown to black. Don’t walk away—this requires constant attention.
- Once the sugar is black (this will take about 15 minutes), add hot water to stop it from cookin further. The mixture will be sticky and lumpy, but keep stirring until the lumps have dissolved and you get a smooth syrup.
- Remove from the heat, and allow it to cool and thicken.
STEP III: MISCELLANEOUS PREP
- Divide the cashewnuts in half.
- Blanch pistachios so that they turn a bright green colour, and divide those in half too.
- If you are not using readymade almond meal, grind almonds to a powder in a food processor or grinder.
- Blanch and peel another handful of almonds for the decoration.
- Zest an orange. Sift the flour.
STEP IV: PREPARE THE CAKE TIN
- Grease the tin lightly with butter.
- Cut a circle of greaseproof baking paper to cover the bottom.
- Flour the sides of the tin, dusting off any excess. These steps will ensure the cake releases from the bottom and sides of the pan with ease.
- Finally, as an added precaution against the sides of the cake cooking faster than the middle, resulting in a cracked or domed cake, prepare a ‘cake collar’. For this wet some newsprint or paper towels and fold them in strips as wide as the height of your tin, and as long as the tin’s diameter. Wrap them in aluminium foil. Using a cotton string, attach this collar to the outside of your tin.
STEP V: BATTER AND BAKE
- Preheat your oven at 150°C.
- Take softened butter in a mixing bowl and cream it until light and fluffy. You can do this either by hand or in a stand mixer.
- Add brown sugar and cream further until light and fluffy again.
- Crack in an egg and mix until incorporated. Add a teaspoon of flour and mix that in too.
- Crack in the second egg and mix, then the second teaspoon of flour and mix.
- Repeat with the third egg and third teaspoon of flour. Adding flour after each egg allows the batter to stabilise. If you don’t do this there is a chance that the batter will split or curdle with the mixing of the egg in the fat.
- Add vanilla essence, orange zest, rest of the powdered spices and burnt sugar.
- Add the remaining flour and ground almonds.
- Fold in the chopped cashew and pistachios, as well as the apple juice–infused dried fruits.
- Transfer the batter to the cake tin, levelling the top as evenly as possible.
- Embed the peeled almonds into the top of the batter in a concentric pattern.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 150°C for 45–50 minutes, until the cake has turned dark brown and its internal temperature is around 95–97°C (a skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean).
- Once out of the oven, brush the top of the cake with jam (you may have to loosen it up slightly by heating it with a tablespoon of water) for a nice shiny glaze.
- Allow the cake to cool completely in its tin before unmoulding and slicing.