The traditional, rich, dark Christmas cake seems to be out of fashion these days. A good one, if you can find it, is very expensive, and a home-made one requires more time and planning than many people want to put into their holiday baking. If you think of it not so much as cake, but of a great selection of dried fruit and nuts flavoured with spice and brandy or rum, you might reconsider this as an essential part of the holiday fare. It is best, if you decide to make one, to make it early enough that it has time to age, preferably wrapped in a liquor soaked cloth for a few weeks. So, being a bit of a traditionalist, I decided to make one batch and share the recipe with at Fiesta Friday #43.
Christmas cakes have evolved over the last decades – an evolution that I sometimes find discouraging. Artificially coloured fruits and berries and a batter that is mediocre have become the norm. I have therefore used only good quality fruit, some of it foraged from my own garden, freshly ground spices and enough brandy to make it illegal for minors to eat it. It is a cake my ancestors would recognize, and they wouldn’t even notice that it is vegan and gluten-free. The recipe can be altered to use a wheat flour and butter instead of the chestnut flour and coconut oil I used, and adding eggs wouldn’t hurt it either, but definitely not necessary. I have given the measurements for what I used, but the variety of fruits and nuts can be altered to suit your taste and what you have on hand as long as you stick to the same measurements. I wanted to use my wild apples, crabapples and pears, but any dried fruit is fine – preferably organic.
There is only enough batter in this cake to hold together the fruits and nuts. I added no sugar, but with the sweetness of the other ingredients, you will not find it lacking. Not sure if this recipe would work at all, I made a few small cupcake forms just to try them out. They will improve with aging in texture and taste, but they held together fine, and the flavour was exactly what I was aiming for.
A Forager's Dark Fruit Cake
(fruit and nut mixture)
2 cups dark raisins
1 cup light raisins
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried mulberries
1 cup dried apples
1 cup dried pears
1 cup candied ginger
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup dried dates
2 cups nuts (I used almonds and pecans)
1/3 cup chestnut flour
1 1/3 cup chestnut flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp ground chia (or flax) seeds
1 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup fruit preserve or jam
3/4 cup brandy (or rum or apple juice)
Chop the fruit and nuts and place in a very large bowl or cooking pot. You will need lots of room to stir the mixture when the other ingredients are added. Cover with the 1/3 cup of flour and mix until all the fruit is coated. If there are any large chunks of fruit, break them up into smaller pieces.
Mix the rest of the dry ingredients in another bowl.
In a smaller bowl, mix the oil, brandy, fruit preserve and molasses.
Add the dry ingredients to the fruit mixture, and when well combined mix in the wet ingredients. Stir well making sure there are no dry bits left. The batter will be very thick, but it should stick together.
Line your tins with greased parchment paper and spoon batter into them. Press down with the back of a spoon and smooth the top, making sure there are no air pockets.
Place a pan of water in the bottom of the oven and bake the cake(s) at 275 F.
The cooking time was 1 1/2 hours for the twelve cupcakes, and 2 hours for the 8 inch loaf and 8 inch round springform pan. If you make one large cake, you will need to bake it for about 2 1/2 hours. To check for doneness, it should be dry on top and spring back when you press on it.
Remove the cakes from the pans and allow to cool. If you like, you can wrap them in a liquor soaked cheesecloth, then wrap them again in parchment paper or plastic wrap, and store them in an airtight container. When the cheesecloth dries after a few days, repeat the soaking process. You can do this regularly until they are ready to be served.
When ready to serve, you can decorate it, ice it with marzipan and royal icing, or just as is.
This recipe makes 5 pounds.