Christmas Fruit Cake

Do you recollect whether the Manydown family sent about their wedding cake? Mrs. Dundas has set her heart upon having a piece from her friend Catherine, and Martha, who knows what importance she attaches to this sort of thing, is anxious for the sake of both that there should not be a disappointment0.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
Castle Square: Friday, October 7, 1808

Fruitcake is a cake made with chopped candied and/or dried fruit, nuts and spices, and optionally soaked in spirits. In the United Kingdom certain rich versions may be iced and decorated. Fruitcakes are often served in the celebration of weddings and Christmas.

The earliest recipe from ancient Rome lists pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into barley mash.

In the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added and the name fruitcake was first used, from a combination of the Latin fructus, and French frui or frug.

Starting in the 16th century, inexpensive sugar from the American Colonies, and the discovery that high concentrations of sugar could preserve fruits, created an excess of candied fruit, thus making fruitcakes more affordable and popular

In the 18th century, Europeans were baking fruitcakes using nuts from the harvest for good luck in the following year. The cake was saved and eaten before the harvest of the next year, so it was about a year old when eaten. Fruitcakes proliferated until a law restricted them to Christmas, weddings, and a few other holidays because they were considered “sinfully” rich. Even so, the fruitcake remained popular at Victorian Teas in England throughout the 19th century.

In the UK, fruitcakes come in many varieties, from extremely light to those that are far moister and richer than their American counterparts, and remain extremely popular. The traditional Christmas cake is a fruitcake covered in marzipan, and then in white satin or royal icing. They are often further decorated with snow scenes, holly leaves and berries (real or artificial), or tiny decorative robins or snowmen.

These are Christmas or ‘Plumb’ cakes, some old and new recipes to be tried. Of course they are best cooked weeks in advance of Christmas and allowed to age – but putting them in the freezer for a few days is also supposed to work wonders for rich cakes – so that is something – just don’t let water drip on them.

Photograph by Kleiner Rotwein-Gugelhupf, 20 April 2010

A Plumb Cake
Take 6 pd of currants 5 pd. of flower an ounce of cloves & mace a little cinnamon 1/2 an ounce of nutmegs 1/2 a pd. of pounded & blanced almonds 1/2 a pd. of slic’d citron lemon & orange piele 1/2 a pt. of sack a little Rong water a qt. of good ale yest a qt. of Cream & a pd. and half of butter milke there in mix it well together on a board lay before the fire to rise yen work it up smooth put in an hoop with a paper flowered at ye bottom.

The Icing
Beat & sift a pd of doubt icsing sugar & put to it ye whites of 4 eggs put in but one at a time beat them in a bason with a silver spoon till tis very leight & white.
Source unknown

Christmas Fruit Cake
(a modern variety and very rich)

1/8 cup chopped dried cherries
1/8 cup chopped dried mango
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup currants
2 tablespoons chopped candied citron
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup rum
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
8 tablespoons butter

  1. Soak dried fruit in 1/4 cup rum for at least 24 hours. Cover tightly, and store at room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Butter and line with parchment paper a 6 inch round pan.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add the flour in three batches, alternating with the milk and molasses. Stir in the fruit/ rum mixture and nuts.
  5. Scrape batter into prepared pan,and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Let cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, anjd then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons rum.
  6. Place a piece of parchment paper, large enough to wrap entire cake, on a flat surface. Moisten a piece of cheesecloth, large enough to wrap the cake, with 1 tablespoon rum. Place the cheesecloth on top of the parchment paper, and unmold the cake on top of it. Sprinkle the top and sides of the cake with the remaining rum. Wrap the cake, pressing the cheesecloth closely to the surface of the cake. Place the cake in an airtight tin, and let age for at least 10 weeks. If storing longer, douse with additional rum for every 10 weeks of storage.Marzipan icing can be made or bought.

Historical information supplied by Wikipedia. Recipes from Anne Woodley.

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