This post is a detailed guide on how to soak fruits for Christmas Fruit cake. (I had first published it last year and am republishing with updated inputs.) The choice of fruits and the proportions in the recipe below are similar for soaking in alcohol or in an non alcoholic liquid, and I have given the steps for both types (the timelines for a non-alcoholic liquid are given at the end of the write up to the post). The timelines do differ, as well as how to preserve the fruits for the cake till it is baked.
If you do not want to soak the fruits ahead of time, I have given a short-cut method in the recipe for baking a Christmas Fruit cake.
Christmas Plum cakes are my favourite eats. A trip to Kerala is not complete if I don’t stock up on the rich cakes available at the numerous bakeries, after first checking out from locals as to which one is the ‘best’. I had been wanting to make the traditional cake at home, but what with one thing and another could finally only start the project last year. The first thing I had to learn was how to Soak Fruits for Christmas Fruit Cake.
If this is done right, half the battle is won. I did some online research, looked up old and reliable cookery books, talked to people who had been making a Christmas Cake for years. My ‘learnings’ are here in this post! And my Christmas Fruit cake was absolutely delicious, soft, moist, bursting with flavours! And, best of all, it did not crumble as I sliced it!
There are several steps to making the cake.
The First step is to Soak the Dry Fruits:
When to Soak Fruits for Christmas Fruit Cake?
There are 4 possible broad timelines you can follow to soak Fruits for Christmas Fruit Cake. Of course there are many variations to this, and you can find your own comfort timeline as you get into the regular practice of making the Christmas cake each year.
a. Some people, start right in February or March, and bake the cake in the last week of November, or 5-6 weeks before Christmas, keeping it moist by drip feeding the cake with alcohol every week till Christmas.
b. The most popular method is to soak the fruits 3 months ahead of December, that is, in early September. The cake is then baked in the last week of November, and kept moist by adding a little alcohol every week till Christmas.
c. In the third of the popular time lines, the fruits are soaked about 5-6 weeks before Christmas, ie in the last fortnight of November, and baked a week before Christmas. This cake needs alcohol to be added just once, mid week before Christmas Day.
d. The short cut method if you need to make the cake without too much time for the soaking? Soak the fruits a month before Christmas – in the last week of November, but this time the soaking is just overnight. The next day, bake the cake, and touch up with alcohol once a week. Some people prefer this method, as the fruits are soaked but not overwhelmingly so.
e. Orange juice or dark tea or other non-alcoholic liquid? Soak the fruits about 15 days before Christmas, and store in a covered air tight container in the fridge till you bake the cake a week before Christmas.
So why do we need to soak the fruits at all? And why feed the cake after it is baked?
The traditional Christmas fruit cake is rich, dark, moist. When the dry fruits are soaked, they absorb the liquid and become plump. When baked, some of the liquid oozes out into the cake batter, resulting in a moist cake. When you soak Fruits for Christmas Fruit Cake, you get a better cake, moist and with the flavours infused within.
The plum cake or fruit cake also tastes better as it matures after baking. Adding a little liquid (generally through narrow holes drilled at the top) about once a week after baking, helps the cake remain moist.
What fruits are best for a Christmas cake?
A Christmas fruit cake is of course all about the fruit, the flour and butter only help to bind the fruits and nuts and hold them into a shape. Select the best quality available, with a mix of fruit of different colours, textures and tastes. Aim for preservative free dry fruits.
Here are my suggestions on what fruits to add when you soak fruits for Christmas cake:
- Black Raisins and sultanas – raisins are the dark dried grapes, while sultanas are the golden ones.
- Currants -black or red
- Orange and Lemon peel – candied or plain (see kitchen hints, below)
- Dried Dates – seedless, soft
- Dried Figs
- Dried Apricots
- Other dried fruits – Prunes, Glazed cherries, Mango, Papaya, Apple, Pineapple , Blueberries, Plum etc.
Can fresh fruits/ berries be used when you soak fruits for Christmas Cake?
You need to use dry fruits for soaking for the traditional Christmas cake. Fresh fruits may turn the cake soggy and can change the character/ texture of the cake. Dry fruits absorb alcohol or other soaking liquid better than fresh fruits would.
Kitchen hints to prepare the fruits:
Before you soak fruits for Christmas Fruit cake, there is a little preparation to to be done.
i. The fruits should be sliced small, about 1cm or so. The dates could be a little larger and chunkier as they soften and break up during baking. All the other fruits should best be sliced to an even size. Slicing the fruits means there is more fruit in the cake and its tastier when you bite into small pieces of fruit rather than a few large chunks.
ii. Larger proportion of light coloured dry fruits such as apricots, mango and papaya would make for a lighter cake. More of figs, dates and prunes would give a richer, heavier one.
iii. The overall quantity of dried fruits and nuts should be according to the recipe you plan to use, and within this quantity you could mix and match to your preference.Don’t overload on the citrus peel though, they are just meant to enhance the flavours of the other fruits and should not overpower them and make the cake bitter to taste.
The Soaking liquid
For Alcoholic soaks, I have opted for dark rum. If you feel rum is maybe too sweet, whisky or sherry could be other options. Wine could be used instead of rum, though I have not tried it with wine.
I have suggested 2 cups of rum in the recipe below. When soaking the fruits however, add only as much liquid as is required to cover the top of the fruits. Generally you would need about half of the volume of fruit.
For Non alcoholic soaks:
I made a little plum cake, for my grand daughter Natasha. Using the principles above on type of fruits and the quantities in the recipe below, I used freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with a tablespoon of honey, for the soaking liquid. I also reduced the zest and citrus peels as I did not want the cake to be too tart.
I soaked the fruits for Natasha’s fruit cake in the 2nd week of December, and kept the soaked fruits in the fridge till I baked the cake.
A combination of orange and cranberry juice or apple juice would be good too. Black tea such as a Darjeeling tea, pre-soaked in cup of very hot water, could make an effective non alcoholic substitute.
Here’s the Link to the recipe on this blog, for how to bake the Christmas Fruit Cake