We’re no fruitcake experts so we got help from the EnglishTeaStore.com and KidsTurnCentral.com
In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped hold the mixture together and in what resulted in a boiled plum cake. Richer families that had ovens began making fruit cakes with marzipan, an almond sugar paste, for Easter. For Christmas, they made a similar cake using seasonal dried fruit and spices. The spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men. This cake became known as “Christmas cake.”
Christmas cakes are made many different ways, but generally they are variations on classic fruitcake. They can be light, dark, moist, dry, heavy, spongy, leavened, unleavened, etc. They are made in many different shapes, with frosting, glazing, a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or plain.
The traditional Scottish Christmas cake, also known as the Whisky Dundee, is very popular. It is a light crumbly cake with currants, raisins, cherries and Scotch whisky. Other types of Christmas cakes include an apple crème cake and a mincemeat cake. The apple crème cake is made with apples, other fruit, raisins, eggs, cream cheese and whipping cream. The mincemeat cake is made with traditional mincemeat or vegetarian mincemeat, flour, eggs, etc. It can also be steamed as a Christmas pudding.
All Christmas cakes are made in advance. Many make them in November, keeping the cake upside down in an airtight container. A small amount of brandy, sherry or whisky is poured into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called “feeding” the cake.
In Japan Christmas cake is a frosted sponge cake with strawberries, chocolates or seasonal fruit. It was an expression that to call women over the age of 25 “Christmas cake,” meaning that they are out of season, as the cake is after December 25th. Now the age is raised to 31, linked to toshikoshi-soba, a noodle dish eaten on December 31st.
In the Philippines Christmas cake is a yellow pound cake with nuts or the traditional British fruitcake. Both cakes are soaked in brandy or rum, a palm sugar syrup and water. Rosewater or orange flower water is usually added. The cakes have a long shelf life, usually lasting many months. Sometimes they are eaten the following Easter or Christmas.
If you don’t have the time or patience to make a homemade Christmas cake, high-quality store bought Christmas cakes are good options. You can find many different varieties and flavors.
Fruitcake has been a holiday tradition for hundreds of years. The oldest references to fruitcake date back to Roman times, when the recipe included pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins mixed into barley mash. Yummy stuff!
In Europe in the 1700s, a ceremonial type of fruitcake was baked at the end of the nut harvest and consumed the following year to celebrate the beginning of the next harvest.
In the 18th century in England, there were laws restricting the use of plum cake (the generic word for dried fruit at the time) to Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings, and funerals.
Between 1837 and 1901, fruitcake was popular. It is said Queen Victoria received a fruitcake for her birthday one year, and legend has it, she put it aside for a year as a sign of restraint, moderation, and good taste. It is the custom in England for unmarried wedding guests to put a slice of the cake, traditionally a dark fruitcake, under their pillow at night so they will dream of the person they will marry.
Contrary to Popular Beliefs
Fruitcake is full of healthy nutrients. The fruit and fiber in fruitcake is loaded with anti-oxidants, molecules that protect cells from disease and damage.
The cakes contain a lot of sugar which means that water activity will be low, which keeps mold from forming and makes the cake last a long time.
A fruitcake can last several months. If there’s no mold, it’s safe to eat, even if it has been around a while. But fruitcakes can’t last forever, contrary to popular belief.