Fruitcakes have become a holiday horror and a stale yuletide punchline, but they can actually be delicious! Ideally, you would have started yours back in August, but if you make one right now, it will be ready to enjoy for Christmas. And if you make one of the below recipes and follow our tips, you really will enjoy it.
It’s no wonder the stereotypical fruitcake gets no respect: The scary neon green cherries and dense, leaden consistency are pure holiday hilarity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Determined to create fruitcakes that would actually get eaten—and be thoroughly enjoyed—we tested three varieties. We also perfected the aging methods (these recipes were in development for a year and a half!). These fruitcakes are straightforward and straight-up delicious.
What Makes a Fruitcake Bad?
Bad fruitcakes are generally bad because they use poor-quality candied fruit and/or way too much booze.
To combat that, buy good candied fruit from high-end grocers—stay away from the Day-Glo stuff!—or make your own. And while you don’t need to raid the top shelf, use at least moderately good booze too, in the right proportions (see our recipes for more specifics).
Do You Really Need to Age Fruitcake?
Though all of our fruitcakes were tasty enough to eat freshly baked, their flavors became more balanced and nuanced as time went on. When testing, we stored batches in different ways and for different lengths of time. After enclosing the cakes in resealable plastic bags, resealable plastic containers, and cheesecloth, and even burying them under pounds of powdered sugar both in and out of the refrigerator, we learned that each of the three came out best with a different method and different amount of aging—so see each recipe for specifics.
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Related Reading: Essential Baking Tools | 9 Reasons Your Holiday Baking Has Been a Big Disaster
Is the Alcohol Necessary?
Frankly, yes, and it’s there not just for flavor but for its preservative properties. While we don’t go overboard with the booze, there is enough in each cake to inhibit bacterial growth, so you shouldn’t need to worry about microbes as long as you store the cakes protected from air, heat, and light (and don’t work in a dirty kitchen, of course).
Will These Cakes Make Me Drunk?
They will definitely not get you sauced, but if you have dietary or religious concerns surrounding the consumption of alcohol, you’re going to want to pass on these cakes. Though most of the alcohol used in the batters will dissipate during baking, there will be trace amounts left—and in the case of our dark and white fruitcakes, they’re brushed with additional alcohol after baking, which will obviously remain pretty potent. So maybe don’t feed these to the kids, but don’t worry about getting drunk off of a slice of cake either.
Our Legit Delicious Fruitcake Recipes
All variations on fruitcake contain sweetened dried fruit and alcohol, and can generally be categorized as dark, black, or white. Here are our versions of each type:
Age it: Up to 4 months, brushed with 1/4 cup brandy before burying in powdered sugar
This iconic fruitcake is made with molasses, dried fruit, and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a kick of citrus. It’s definitely worth making your own candied peel for this. If aging, we liked the flavor best at about 6 weeks, but it’s also delicious eaten right away. Get our Spiced Dark Fruitcake recipe.
Age it: Up to 2 months in an airtight plastic bag at room temperature (do not refrigerate, but place in a cool, dry place)
Also known as wedding cake and Christmas cake (among other names), this one’s made with burnt sugar and rum, giving it a rich, chocolaty flavor. It’s studded with dried cherries, prunes, raisins, currants, candied orange peel, and almonds. Great freshly baked, or up to 2 months old. Get our Caribbean Black Fruitcake recipe.
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These extra thick, reusable silicone bags will keep your cake protected if you age it.
Age it: Up to 3.5 months in a loaf-shaped plastic container with airtight lid; brush the cake with 1/4 cup bourbon every 10 days
Called “groom’s cake” because it was traditionally served to a groomsman before his wedding, this fruitcake is buttery and citrusy, more akin to a candied-fruit-laden pound cake. It’s the perfect vehicle for converting fruitcake-haters and is delicious on the day it’s made, but still tastes great when aged per the method above—although, obviously, it gets much boozier the longer you store it! Get our White “Groom’s Fruitcake recipe.