Christmas Fruit Cake: Have You Started Working On It Yet?
Making a Christmas fruit cake should be way in advance of the holidays. Some holiday pros begin making their Christmas pudding as far as four months ahead. Today we look at the whys and hows of cake preparation and if you ever find yourself with a stack of leftover ingredients, we have the exact tips on how to preserve your food properly and safely. Keep on reading!
What is a Christmas Fruit Cake?
This cake is distinctly characterized by the blend of candied fruits, spices, nuts and alcohol (the more the better!). This holiday cake is served during Christmas, and sometimes in weddings. There are actually two types: light and dark fruit cake.
- Light fruit cake: This is made with light-coloured ingredients like almonds, golden raisins, pineapple, apricots, light corn syrup and granulated sugar.
- Dark fruit cake: On the other hand, this is made with darker-coloured ingredients like raisins, prunes, dates, cherries, pecans, walnuts, molasses and brown sugar. Some cakes are categorized as dark due to added spices and dark rum.
The first thing that comes to mind is its insane longevity. You’ve probably heard about jokes and sayings, like: “There is only one fruit cake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other” (Check this funny video from Johnny Carson, former Tonight Show host).
The Battlefield Energy Bar
Did you ever wonder about the origins of this holiday dessert? How did it even come to be? Well, you might be surprised about what we tell you; It’s actually an ancient Roman energy bar, best consumed during battle! The Roman fruit cake was made of honey, barley, wine, pomegranate seeds and, of course, dried fruit. The bar was shaped into a mini cake called “satura”. This was the best choice of food to bring in war because it can last for a long time without spoiling, and it didn’t take too much space in their belongings.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages, this is when the modern dessert can be traced back to. Due to sugar costs decreasing in the 16th century, Europeans figured this was the key to preserving fruits. By soaking these fruits in sugar (essentially crystallizing the fruit), they were able to keep it for long periods of time. They were able to conserve the summer fruit harvests with a long shelf-life just in time when the holidays came around. That’s when they were added to the cake! Alongside the candied fruits, nuts and rum were also combined in the infamous holiday treat, adding to the longevity of this dessert.
Deluxe fruit cake made with pecans, dried pineapple, cherries, and all-natural honey (Colin Street Bakery & Cafe)
How To Make Fruit Cake
If you’re still catching your breath after the four months part, we sympathize. Let’s ease you into some basic fruit cake 101 together to help you get a handle on everything. First things first, it is a must to have raisins, dried pineapple, cherries, pecans and walnuts at hand. It’s simply impossible to have a Christmas cake without these ingredients! The dried fruits in it equate to a lower water content (creating a boring environment for bacteria who typically love moisture). They are combined together in a rich and buttery batter and are baked into either a light, or dark, cake.
Ever had a slice of a dry Christmas cake? This coating step must occur once a week, like clockwork, otherwise, the cake comes out dry. Various alcohols can be used to coat the Christmas fruit cake including rum, brandy, sherry, and even boiled cider. Alcohol-free versions do exist, in their place we see juices and sugar syrups, but this forfeits the fragrant and warming effects that are a direct result of the alcoholic ingredients that are a perfect fit with the cold winter. Keeping the cake tightly wrapped will protect from evaporation of the moisture and keep it fresh until Christmas.
Fruit Cake vs. Figgy Duff
Did you know about the fruit cake’s sweet cousin, the figgy duff? A very common Maritime Christmas dessert option, those from Newfoundland and Labrador will know exactly what we’re talking about. For those unfamiliar with this quintessential Canadian dessert, imagine a boiled/steamed fruit cake with breadcrumbs, brown sugar, molasses, and spices. The “figgy” part refers to the raisins that are essential ingredients in the Maritime cake that can actually be consumed at any time during the year.
When Should You Be Making Your Fruit Cake?
Typically, it is advised to get about six to eight weeks ahead in your baking. This gives the right amount of time for flavours and appearance to mature. The key motto is: the longer, the better! If the cake doesn’t have enough time to rest, you’ll find yourself with a crumbly dessert. That’s definitely not something that we want when Christmas comes around.
Sometimes, life happens and you’re not able to get an early start of your baking process. It is totally okay to prepare your holiday dessert a few weeks before Christmas, but you won’t have that tang in your slice since the alcohol didn’t have enough time to fully soak in.
Salting, or curing, an assortment of vegetables
Importance of Food Preservation and Other Methods to Try
While fruit cakes are one way to preserve summer fruits, especially in older times, food preservation in general is now more relevant than ever. In simple terms, food preservation is the act of preserving food to avoid decay and spoiling. Regardless of situations, whether there is surplus or a deficit in food supply, food preservation is essential to each household. This allows for food to remain edible and to keep their nutritional value longer, saving families costs in groceries. Not to mention, it is a great way to reduce food waste. Here are some ways to keep your food tasty and long-lasting:
- Salting – Salting, or curing, is a preservation method that pulls the moisture away from foods, typically high-water content vegetables, fish, and meat. This process can either go two ways: using dry salts or submerging the food in a salty brine solution. For fish and meat, it’s typical to add dry edible salt (think of prosciuttos, a dry salted ham!). On the other hand, you can place the food in a salty solution (think of pickles!).
- Freezing – This method is the most common, and it’s a technique that we use in our everyday lives. It’s not time-consuming and it’s very easy! There’s a rule in the kitchen where you must put away soon-to-spoil food in the freezer. This is because the enzymes in fresh produce will not have a comfortable environment to grow. Freezing helps deactivate the enzyme process. You can freeze most food items, except for those with a high-water content (like cucumbers) and cooked starchy foods (noodles and rice).
Dehydrated slices of peaches on a dryer
- Dehydration – This is the process of drying foods to remove moisture so there isn’t an adequate environment for microbes to grow. There are two ways to dehydrate your foods: using a dehydrator appliance and air/sun drying. The dehydrator allows for easy drying and will be cost-effective in the long run. It’s a great tool to have if you’re an avid dried fruits lover. If you don’t have this appliance, you can always turn to your oven to do the same job. And, of course, air/sun drying is a simple technique that requires no added appliances. You can leave your food to dry in the shade or directly under the sun (specifically in low humidity areas). Common food items you can dehydrate are fruits, soup mixes and herbs.
- Canning – This food preservation technique includes sealing cooked food in cans or pots. The food itself must be cooked at a high temperature to weaken and destroy unwanted bacteria. Also, the canister used must be properly sterilized to prevent any bacteria growing inside during the preservation period. The type of food typically used for canning are low-acidic foods like meats and vegetables. Think of tuna, tomatoes, beans, corn and so on.
If you’ve left it too late and haven’t begun to make your fruit cake yet, have no fear. You can find your own slice of Christmas fruit cake from one of these local bakeries near you. They may use different names like figgy pudding, or Christmas fruit cake, but the end result is the same: a warm feeling in your tummy that can only mean one thing – it’s the holidays!