Along the Grapevine

A Forager’s Dark Fruit Cake (Vegan & GF)



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 alteredย to suit your taste and whatย you have on hand as long as you stick to the same measurements. ย 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.



Author: Hilda

I am a backyard forager who likes to share recipes using the wild edibles of our area.

35 thoughts on “A Forager’s Dark Fruit Cake (Vegan & GF)

  1. What a wonderful call to arms – and perfect timing, too, as we all should be celebrating Stir Up Sunday this weekend ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Your cake looks amazing!


  2. I love dried fruit and nuts. I have never made this kind of cake before so I think I will have to try it. Thank you for sharing your recipe!


    • Thanks for the comment. I think it is very much a cold climate cake, and the sort of thing people ate when no fresh fruit was available. There are so many varieties of it, I hope you get to try some – but beware of the commercial ones.


  3. I feel this to be something quite extraordinary, and am going to share it widely!


  4. I don’t even LIKE fruitcake Hilda, but I am so knocked out by the recipe! You are seriously my foraging idol (which is totally a reality show I would watch!).


    • I would watch that reality show too! I don’t like most versions of fruitcake, but am expected to have it around over the holidays, and have had to come up with one that I actually like too. This is it!


  5. I grew up around cognac soaked- rag wrapped fruit cakes aging for months! Never cared for the marachino cherry version but loved all the nuts, apricots and raisins ones. I love your updated version Hilda!


  6. Very original and innovative recipe! What clean eating flour could I use instead of chestnut flour? Maybe oat flour? I really want to try a fruit cake and your version looks great.


    • Thank you Apsara. I have not tried it with oat flour, but I have made a few cakes recently with chestnut flour, so I felt pretty confident doing this one. If you have made other cakes with oat flour and it works, I would think it a safe bet. Let me know if you try it.


  7. This is great!! Vegan and gluten free too, I’m impressed!! Thanks for sharing, yum yum yum ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. My friend Richard at Richard’s Table uses pure concord grape juice wrap for his fruit and nits cake. I like the mini cakes!


  9. I really like this cake. It’s healthy and sweet at the same time. I love the combination of dried fruits and spices. So seasonal.


  10. Thanks Amanda. And it keeps forever. I just keeps improving as the season progresses.


  11. I love this! The idea of no artificial fruits in the Christmas Cake is something I would love to try! Especially the mini versions! ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Thanks Dini. I like the mini ones too, which means they might not last till Christmas – too easy to eat. Even though they haven’t aged, they are still just so delicious.


  12. Wow!! This looks so good. I bet it’ll taste amazing after its aged just a bit. Thanks for sharing!! ๐Ÿ™‚


  13. Mmmm, Hilda! Your recipe is uber awesome and has inspired me to try making fruit cake. Last year I took a course on Christmas puddings, but I think I will add your recipe to my repertoire this year. ๐Ÿ˜€


  14. I’m a fan of fruitcake, though I know it is an acquired taste, yours looks delicious, thanks for sharing:)


  15. This should be called a powerhouse cake. I love what you have done. If fruitcake all looked like yours, they wouldn’t get such a bad wrap.


  16. Hilda, I like all the ingredients inside your cake ๐Ÿ™‚


  17. This must be what a Christmas cake should really be about. I only knew about the store bought ones and never thought about the real tradition. Looks rich and delicious!


  18. Wow ๐Ÿ˜ฑ Just look at the amount of goodies which went into the cake. Super delish ๐Ÿ˜‹


  19. Oh Hilda
    Not being English and used to fruit, or Christmas cakes, this is the first recipe I have seen that looks interesting, and the cake looks delicious! I will save the recipe and hope I will have enough foraged fruit next year ๐Ÿ™‚


  20. I’m a big fan of fruit cake Hilda – and yours looks wonderful.


  21. This looks fabulous. Where you say a fruit is dried, is that done in a dehydrator?


  22. Well done! I love dark fruit cakes at this time of year.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s