I never knew that fruit cake could be offensive. That is, until Kiley, an American friend of mine, explained that in the U.S, there’s this tradition that people tend to ‘re-gift’ fruit cakes because they don’t like fruit cakes. Hence those receiving the cake are kind of being told, “Here I’ve brought you a cake. I mean, I don’t like it and someone gave it to me. I guess you probably won’t like it too but hey, now it’s your problem. And no, I didn’t like what you got up to at the office party.” Hence, there’s offence in the giving and receiving of fruit cakes in the States.
Not so in the UK. I mean, some Brits really dislike fruit cake and would spit it out. However, most like to eat fruit cake at any given time, from celebrating marriage with a rich boozy fruited wedding cake covered in marzipan and icing to the everyday cup of tea with a sticky slice of fruited malt loaf. Shall I even mention Christmas cakes, Easter simnel cakes, Dundee cake..? My mum used to make a fruited tea loaf which was delicious when toasted and buttered.
Perhaps (if I may venture a guess without causing offence) this clear cultural divide over fruit cake is because the majority of Americans have never experienced a good moist fruit cake? I can relate! I never really enjoyed eating fruit cake very much either growing up. Much like how I didn’t really enjoy mince pies. Too rich, too sweet, too dry, too much whiskey! But I tolerated them because they were synonymous with Christmas. I’d peel off the royal icing, give it to my brother and nibble away at the marzipan (which I loved even as a small child). Sometimes I picked out the fruit when there was too much of it and the dried fruit was really dry and almost bitter. Or the alcohol overwhelmed the cake. But, from time to time, a homemade fruit cake would redeem all the bad ones for me.
Then one day at Mrs Milne’s* house, she gave us a slice of her christmas cake. Oh it was glorious in it’s moistness, flavour and simplicity. Not overly sweet. No royal icing. No marzipan. No alcohol in this one either. Just. a. naked. fruit. cake. Mrs Milne told us that it was the addition of pineapple that set this cake apart, and I believe her. Whenever I’ve used pineapples in a cake, they often impart moisture, rather than pineapple flavour to a cake.
Now, over a decade later, it’s still my go-to fruit cake recipe. I used it as my marathon training cake this time. It seemed apt to fuel up on. I left it a couple of weeks in a sealed container in the fridge while I went on holiday to Penang and 4 weeks on, it was still moist and moreish. I baked it for Christmas for Paul, one of my colleagues, because he’d been hankering after fruit cake for as long as I’d worked with him. 3 months on, he still requests I bake him one, once a fortnight, and then complains that he can’t stop himself devouring it. He likes royal icing but not marzipan, so that’s how I make it for him.
What I love about this recipe is the lack of planning required. See, I just can’t be bothered with the whole affair of soaking and feeding the fruit weeks or even days in advance. I don’t have the fridge space for it and I definitely don’t want to leave it out for the ants, cockroaches and rats now that I live in the tropics. I can pretty much make this cake from start to finish within 2-3 hours, depending on which cake tin I use. (more on that below). And now that I can source almost all of the dried fruit here in Phnom Penh, there’s nothing stopping me making this cake all year round. I still have difficulty finding mixed citrus peel and currants, but it’s so much better compared to 3 years ago. You can buy bags of mixed dried fruit in Thai Huot but they look weird with chopped red and green cherries perhaps? So I came up with my own measurements, based on looking at the proportions of the ingredients of a Sainsburys bag of mixed dried fruit.
Anyway, what’s stopping you. Go on, I dare you not to like this.
If you do add brandy, or whiskey… Then do tell me what you did. I’ve never bothered, but I might like to one day.
*Mrs Milne was my singing teacher from when I was 14-18 and one of those wonderful, life-giving, energetic, charismatic, generous Scottish women. I don’t know where she got this recipe from, so I attribute this recipe to her.
Ingredients for Naked Christmas Cake from Mrs Milne.
- 7oz/200g plain flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 8oz/225g tin crushed pineapple (drained) or 1 fresh small pineapple, skin and eyes taken off. One weighs between 250-300g here in Cambodia.
- 2oz/50g glacé cherries, quartered
- 5oz/150g butter, cubed and softened
- 4½oz/125g soft dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 12oz/350g mixed fruit or
- 170g sultanas or golden raisins, as they’re called in Cambodia
- 68g black raisins
- 62g currants
- 50g mixed peel
- Brandy if required.
- Chop up the pineapple* very finely and put it into a medium sized bowl. I guess you could also blitz it in a food processor for speed, but I don’t have one so it’s a knife and the chopping board for me. *If using tinned pineapple, drain the crushed pineapple first before putting it in the bowl.
- Measure out the dried fruit and add them to the pineapple. If you’re going to add brandy, then add it in now. Give it all a good stir so that they mix well. Leave it as you get on with the rest of preparation. As the dried fruit sits with the pineapple, they’ll get a chance to plump up as they soak in the liquid.
- Preheat the oven to 160ºC/320ºF/Gas Mark 2½. Prepare your cake tin. Because of the long baking time, I wrapped the outside of my baking tin with newspaper, tied it up with some string. I also lined the bottom and sides of my cake tin as well.
- Measure out the flour in a medium sized bowl and add the chopped glacé cherries to the flour and coat them in flour. This helps the cherries not to all sink to the bottom of the cake.
- Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. I use a hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes. Next beat in the eggs one by one. Then lower the speed and mix in the flour with the cherries. Finally, add the fruit. You can continue with the hand mixer, or using a spatula, fold in the fruit or give it a good stir. Whichever way you choose, make sure it’s evenly mixed in.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the top with the back of metal spoon or the spatula. Then pop it in the middle shelf of the oven and bake… I do recommend checking on the cake to make sure it doesn’t burn on top. I’ve put suggested timings below according to cake tin sizes.
I have used various sized cake tins to make this and of course the baking time differs.
- 8 or 7 inch tin = 1hour 45mins. Check on it at 1 hour 15mins
- split the mixture into two 6inch tin = 1 h – 1h 15mins. Check on it at 45 mins
- split the mixture into two 2lb loaf tins = 45mins-1hour. Check on it at 40 mins.