How Long To Soak Fruit for Christmas Cake-Our Christmas Tradition
The Christmas season is here, and with it, all the traditions that spell out its preparation. From putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it, to brightening up the house with an array of colorful lights, filling up stockings and laying out gifts, baking gingerbread cookies and singing carols…bliss!
My favorite pre-christmas traditions these days is looking out for Christmas Deals, and I get awesome unbelievable deals on Amazon here.
However, some of my fondest moments of the season must have been baking an old- fashioned Christmas cake with my Grandma.
The fun part was baking a cake for the family while at the same time baking a few extra ones to share with others so as to put a much needed smile on someone’s face.
I remember the joy while young, visiting families or attending Christmas Fairs where we got to sample numerous slices of the soft, rich, moist, fruity, heavenly goodness of Christmas cakes. There really is no Christmas without Christmas cake!
And so, Grandma and I were determined that we would not only make Christmas cakes that were just as good, but even better.
With so many of us preparing for the season, it is inevitable that in most of the conversations right now, you will not miss out on “…have you made your cake yet?” “…and how many are you making?”
Traditionally, one of the key ingredients in Christmas cakes have been dried fruits- a variety of them.
These would be soaked in an alcoholic beverage of choice, such as rum, brandy, sherry, vodka (who knew) or wine for a couple of months, even up to a year. This process is called ripening, and we know that fruit cakes taste way better with age!
The cakes would then be baked a couple of weeks ahead of Christmas, after which, the cakes would be ‘fed’ with the same alcohol that had been used in soaking the dried fruits. Now you understand why these cakes are so rich and full of goodness?
When baking more than one cake, I use the Kitchenaid stand mixer which I got from Amazon here and it works so well and is very easy to use. I just Love it!
‘Feeding’ the cakes entails poking tiny holes on the tops with a small skewer or cocktail stick (toothpick), and brushing these tops, or spooning them over with a few teaspoons the alcohol.
Done just once a week, or up to three times a week for a maximum of four weeks, this process of feeding the cakes guarantees that your cakes develop a richer taste with the passage of time.
Liquor based fruit cakes can be wrapped and stored in a cool place, several months before serving, and this gives them a fuller, richer taste. If you opt to prepare non- liquor based cakes, which use fruit juices instead, these can be stored in the freezer for just as long, or in the refrigerator for a short period of time. If you opt to freeze them, you will have to give them time to ripen before they go into storage.
Times have changed, however, and largely because of the many obligations we have, there isn’t much time to prepare Christmas cakes traditionally.
How Long To Soak The Fruits
Months In Advance
If you have the time- and do remember, one way you can prepare your cakes is to soak the dried fruits some months in advance allowing them to ripen, and then bake it just a week before Christmas.
You would feed the cake only once, then wrap it in a kitchen towel or muslin cloth soaked in, or brushed with the alcohol, and wrap it all in foil. You would then place the cake in an airtight tin in a dark, cool place.
Though this cake would taste just as good as the traditionally prepared one because the fruits have been soaked for a long while, it would not be as moist and soft. The numerous feeding of the cake is what makes the difference, and ensures your cake is not dry and crumbly.
Six Weeks In Advance
Alternatively, if you forget to soak your dried fruits way in advance, or are short on time, you have the option of preparing your cake at least six weeks in advance.
You would soak the dried fruits overnight, and once prepared, feed your cake with alcohol, once a week.
You would wrap the cake in a kitchen towel that is soaked in the alcohol, then wrap these in cling wrap and cover in 2 layers of foil. Keep the cake in an airtight tin and store in a cool dark place.
With this method, brush the kitchen towel and cling wrap every time you feed the cake, with more alcohol.
However, be careful not to go overboard when you feed them, as this can cause them to become soggy, or too moist at best. Surely, we don’t want a perfectly good Christmas treat ruined.
So, to join in in the current chatter, have you soaked your dried fruits yet? If yes, yippee! If not, don’t be worried. Even if you have just about two weeks to ripen your dried fruits, this is just the right time.
First, gather your choice of dried fruits, which would be best if their tastes are complementary.
You may use raisins (of course!), sultanas, dates, dried cranberries, prunes, dried apricots and even dried prunes. If your fruits are not small in size, chop them up to bite sized pieces similar to the size of the raisins, to give you a perfectly textured cake.
Place your combination of fruits in a dry glass jar, and soak them by pouring over your favorite liquor, be it rum (yum), brandy or wine- your choice gets to dictate.
Cover all the fruits with the alcohol, seal the jar with an airtight lid, store them in a dark place and allow them to soak for the two weeks so that they absorb the alcohol.
During this period, give the fruits and alcohol a good stir or mix, every alternate days.
You will notice that that the alcohol level will have gone down, as they will have begun absorbing it.
You may be tempted to add some more, but there is no need. Keep on the occasional stirring or mixing to ensure the fruits that remain uncovered do not dry up.
Prepare your cakes, and allow them to cool, completely. Once cooled, feed your cake with the alcohol remaining from the soaked fruits, and wrap it in a kitchen towel soaked in the same.
Wrap it up in cling wrap and foil, and store away. If you wish, you can feed it and re- soak the kitchen towels a couple more times before Christmas, to add to the richness.
I prefer this method because the entire cake will mature well and the fruits absorb the alcohol more, despite the shorter period of ripening.
If you will be preparing an alcohol free Christmas cake, soak your choice of dried fruits overnight in freshly squeezed orange juice with orange zest and brown sugar.
Alternatively, you can cook the fruits by mixing the orange juice and zest, stir well, and heat these up in a pan. Add the brown sugar and allow to dissolve, then add the fruits (and nuts), spices and mix well.
Allow them to boil then simmer, until the fruits become plump, without allowing all the liquid to be absorbed. Let this mixture cool then add to your cake batter.
Remember, this cake does not keep as long as the alcohol based one, and it can be refrigerated for about a week, or frozen a month before. You will need to defrost the cake before serving though.
- Only use a sterilized glass jar to soak your fruits in. Alcohol tends to react with plastic, steel or aluminum jars.
- You can use any dried fruits of your choice, to enhance the taste, such as pineapple, orange, mango, apricots, candied orange peels, candied ginger- the options are endless.
- If you will use nuts in your recipe, these do not require soaking, unless you want soggy nuts instead of crunchy ones. Roughly chopped walnuts, cashews and almonds are a good add to your Christmas cake, whether individually or a mix of all of them.
- If you opt to use spice when soaking your dried fruits, go easy. Spices lose their spank when soaked, so use more of them in the cake batter.
- Dried fruits add to the taste and texture of your Christmas cake. Plums pack exceptional moistness and juiciness, while dried grapes like raisins, currants and sultanas give texture to your cakes. Dried figs give crunch to the cakes, and a honey like flavor and mild sweetness to the fruit cake, and glacé cherries add color and texture.
- For a sweet and tart flavor, dried Cranberries do the trick, dried apricots add moisture with a musky flavor and faint tartness. For spice and heat and a warm wonderful Christmas fragrance, use candied ginger, and roughly chopped dates for a chewy texture.
Also See: My favorite Dinnerware set for Christmas
There, you have it. It is not too late to get with the Christmas cake program, and you have plenty of time to soak your dried fruits and bake a deliciously, rich, fruity and flavorful treat.