15 December, 2008

Nannie's Darkest Fruitcake (Gluten-free)

This is the first time I've had the opportunity to make my grandmother's unctuous fruit-filled cake in many years. While I was in Japan I usually worked over the holidays, up until New Year's eve when we could look forward to a glorious week off, but even then some of the ingredients would have been hard to come by or impressively dear. Even here it is not an inexpensive undertaking to make the recipe, which produces a large round cake and a large loaf. Because of the cost, and also because I was trying out a gluten-free version for the first time, I halved the recipe and still came out with two good-sized loaves and a 6-pan of muffin tins, about two thirds full each as pre-Christmas tasters.

For the vegans among you, I have a bit of bad news. I don't think this cake would be as good without butter. Yes, I am allowing myself just a bit, as it's Christmas. Local and organic, mind you, and limited to only 1 cup in this large recipe, but still it makes a big difference to the flavour. For the daring bakers among you, I would be delighted if someone tried it with margarine and reported on the result. As I am making it for family gifts, I just couldn't take the chance.

For gluten-free folks, though, I`m happy to report that this is just as good, if not better than the wheated version. The texture is fine, the taste sublime, considering that I tasted it in the day or two after baking, when the flavours had not been allowed to develop. Nor had I given it the bath of brandy that it will be getting soon. Right now it`s swaddled in waxed paper and foil topped with slices of apple to keep it moist.

I can barely keep my hands off it, having tasted it with deep dark coffee, surely one of the best seasonal parings imaginable. Especially as the secret ingredient, and I`m letting the cat out of the bag here, is good brewed coffee. Really. And you'd never know, if I hadn`t told you. But it makes a difference.

The other good news is, though most fruitcakes benefit from aging, and you're supposed to make them about a month ahead, this one is good right after it`s baked or aged only for a week, with or without the liquor bath. If you're going to add the brandy, rum or even bourbon then you poke a few holes down in the cake and bathe it from all sides, wrap it up tight with just a bit of compression to maintain its shape and put it in foil or a tin to await the glorious day on which you decide to serve it. Traditionally I would wrap it in liquor soaked cheesecloth, as the underwrapping, especially for keeping longer, but waxed paper works too.

This cake is not iced, but sliced in thinish slices and served with a drink of coffee or tea. It`s not too sweet, so it can follow a richer meal. But of course, if you like, you could make a nice white icing and gild the lily.

Whatever you do, be sure to share it with someone who appreciates an old-fashioned fruitcake. Serve it on a nice plate, with a few shortbread cookies on the side, if you like. Make sure you are sitting down, because this one might make you a bit weak in the knees.

If it does, Nannie would be pleased. She was proud of this one. And I am too.

Happy Christmas!

Nannie's Darkest Fruitcake (Gluten-free) Double if you dare!

2 lb (900 g) raisins ( I use a combination of golden and the large dark seeded ones)
1 lb (450 g) currants
1/4 lb (110 g) mixed citrus peel ( I made home candied: orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime)
2 oz (50g) walnuts ( I used pecans)
1/4 lb (110 g) candied cherries ( I omitted and added extra raisins, peel, and pineapple)
1/4 lb (110 g ) candied pineapple ( I candy my own from tinned pineapple in juice, but fresh would be glorious)
1/4 lb (110 g) dates
1/4 lb (110 g) figs ( I used black mission, de-stemmed and sliced and chopped)
juice of 1 orange (I used tangerines) and 1 lemon
1/2 -1 tsp ( 2.5-5 ml ) all-spice
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1/2 tsp ( 2.5 ml) cloves
(I added about a tsp (5 ml) of ginger and 1/8 of a fresh grated nutmeg)

1/2 lb (250 g or about 2 cups) brown sugar
1/2 lb (250 g) butter
4 eggs
2 cups mixed gluten-free (or all-purpose, if you're not GF) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2-1 cup good brewed coffee, black

Get your biggest bowl or roaster and cut up all the fruit and nuts into about 1/4-1/2 inch dice.
Use the flour in the recipe to dust over the fruit and mix it through with your hands as you go, breaking up any clumps.

My mixture was: 1/2 cup cornstarch, 3/4 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour and about 1/4 cup potato flour, 2 cups in all.

Mix up the cake batter by creaming the butter and sugar (in another bowl) and then beating in the eggs one-by-one until they are incorporated. Add the baking powder and coffee and fruit juices. Alternatively, if you are preparing the fruit a day or so ahead, dust the spices over the floured fruit and nuts, and add the coffee and distribute it through. This will help to keep everything moist, as you cover and refrigerate it.

Then, on baking day, just make the cake batter, pour it over the rest of the ingredients and slowly distribute it through, gently lifting it over and around the fruit so you won't break it up too much. When it is evenly wrapped around the fruit, pack it into two standard bread loaf pans, buttered and prepared with waxed paper draped in the bottom and over two sides and buttered again. This will ensure that you can get the cake out nicely in one piece. I simply accordian-fold the excess paper up to sit on the outside rim of the pan as it cooks. Since the cake is meant to cook slowly at 275 degrees, for between 1-2 hours, you may need to put a piece of waxed paper and tin foil, with the reflective side out, on top at some point in the cooking to prevent the top from being scorched.

I always do as my grandmother did when packing the cakes into the pans, that is, use the back of the spoon to push the batter down and into the corners, layer by layer, and then sharply drop the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. This is one cake you don't want to be light and airy, but dense and heavy. Make sure to smooth the top of the cake with the spoon, so that it is level.

The full double batch cooks for 2-3 hours at 275 degrees F, but that is for a very large solid round cake. Smaller cakes cook more quickly. To test, put a thin-bladed knife or cake tester in the center. When most of the moisture is gone, and there is no uncooked-looking liquid on the tester, they can be taken out and allowed to cool in the pans on cake racks. I let them cool completely before I try to unmold them. Depending on the cooling time, there may be some bits of waxed paper that you need to scrape out or off with a knife. Don't be worried about that; just take patience in hand, pressing back any fruit that may flake off. The result will be worth it.

The cake can be wrapped and stored for from a week to several months, topped with a few apple slices to make it moist, and a liquor bath, if you want to guild the lily and increase its keeping power or eating punch. Just make sure that it's well-wrapped. My mom always used metal tins when she was keeping it for a long time, and wrapped it up inside them.

Note: I have just made the 2009 batch and I made a few edits to the recipe. I added metric measurements and corrected an ommission ( currents). I hope it is now a better, more accurate recipe. Merry Christmas everyone. May your holidays be filled with...fruitcake!


Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
Looks beautiful, I bet it would travel well in a pack too so I could take it to the mountains for a nice treat in the evening!
Tara and I just returned from a south island holiday where we met up with a few people met through the blog. A very cool experience, and very reaffirming of this way to connect with people.
Off to the markets VJ, the veges and fruit are beautiful and plenty right now, and so are the smiles on peoples faces as most of New Zealand is now on holiday. Best of Christmas wishes to you!

vegetablej said...

Hi Robb:

It would indeed travel well, and it also keeps for months if you wrap it well. 'Course in my house it never would last that long. :)

I just read your blog on your great adventure. So pleased for you and Tara.

Hope you and Tara and the boys have many more smiles and fine times this holiday season!


russ said...

Looks delicious! I think the eggs would be harder to substitute than the butter though, for a vegan. The last cake I made made use of the fun chemical reaction between vinegar and sodium bicarbonate to make it rise. I wonder how my Mum made hers!
Happy Christmas!

pohanginapete said...

In general, cakes I can take or leave, but a good fruit cake really does it for me. This looks and sounds marvellous. It reminds me of my sister-in-law's stunning Christmas cakes, which she tops with almonds instead of the traditional icing.

Re. Robb's comment: I've just returned from 3 days in the Ruahine Range, and I took a few bits of Christmas cake with me. I can vouch that good fruit cakes do go very nicely indeed in the hills!

VJ, all the best for a wonderful, joyful Christmas and New Year :^)

Anonymous said...

Hi I made your fruit cake. I used home made oat and Kasha (buckwheat) flours with some corn starch (1,2/3,1/3 respectively). I soaked the fruit and nuts in 1/3 a cup of home made cranberry sauce and a 1/3 a cup of port. I varied my fruit and nut mixture slightly, but used the same spices as you. I used brown sugar Splenda and molasses as I am a little glucose intolerant also.

Thank you so much for your recipe I just found out I was a Celiac around my 50th birthday this year.

Ken Vancouver

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
I hope you had a lovely Christmas and also wish the Finest of New Years for you as well!
A beautiful summer evening here and Tara and I are awaiting the arrival of Pete who is joining us for dinner. We are having a lovely fresh vegetable salad, all the veges freshly grown organic from a good friend, and a pasta dish featuring your beautiful sauce. Should be a cool evening and we will raise a toast to you my friend.

Curious said...

The friutcake looks like steak!

vegetablej said...


I know the vegan cupcakes use soured soy milk and baking powder/soda and that works fine, but for the fruitcake I think you might be okay just to leave the egg out. In this case it's not for rising but to stick the cake together. You could try egg replacer - not sure if that has a similar property or not.

I'm thinking that the tapioca flour and cornstarch might be enough to keep it together. Hopefully I'll have time to try a vegan version out this or next month. Already the cakes have been shared out and disappeared, and I miss them. :)

Happy holidays to you, too!

vegetablej said...


What a lovely combination, fresh air, an open-boiled kettle of tea, or coffee or a wee sip of spirit, and fruitcake, all in the beautiful Ruahines. Seems to me that you and Robb are living the best of all possible lives, better than kings.

Thanks for the holiday wishes and the best of the crumb of this year and the whole loaf of the next to you too. And thanks so much for the past year of inspiration and beauty I've found at "pohanginapete".


vegetablej said...


You're most welcome. Hope your changes and additions worked well in the cake. I'm really grateful to you for trying the cake and giving me your feedback! :)

It's great that you discovered your gluten intolerance. It may seem a pain to cook at first, but you can look forward to much better health in the year ahead, and that's lucky at whatever age it happens.

Also check out the Gluten-free Girl blog for recipes and links to other GF blogs that feature recipes.

Take care and a happy and truly healthy New Year to you.


vegetablej said...


Thank you! Lovely to think of that toast; I'm so honoured. Only wish I could have been there for your dinner.

All the best to you and your beautiful family in the New Year. May it be filled with good times together, fresh air, good friends like Pete, and many mountain visits for you.


vegetablej said...

Maybe it looks like steak because of the colour. I was using my daughter's SLR camera for the first time, as my usual Japanese Finepix's gone missing, so I hadn't a clue what I was doing. The colour looks a bit lighter than it should.

It was indeed a mixture of fruit, though, and a darned nice-tasting one to boot. :)

Mon said...

This looks GOOD.

I don't need gluten-free, but I would like to know a few recipes, just because I don't want to always eat wheat products.

I can purchase rice flour, (and did) is this good enough or is GF flour something more specific?

vegetablej said...

Hi Mon:

If you want to try out gluten-free baking, then you need a combination of flours in a mixture so that the texture will be good. Different mixtures work for different types of baking. I usually give a recommended combination for each recipe I put up, one that has worked well for me, but every gluten-free baker has their own favourites.

Rice flour alone will be sticky and mealy in most recipes and won't be something you will like to eat.

If you want to try something different but very good, I recommend the GF chapita, made mostly with rice and buckwheat flours. I think it has one of the best flavours.

And if you like sweets I would try the Lemon-Poppyseed squares. I give a flour mixture suggestion in that recipe, I think. And they are good and easy.

Good luck with your experiments. I'll be checking your blog for any good recipes.