6 Fruitcake Mistakes That Are Giving This Holiday Classic A Bad Rap

You won't believe how amazing fruitcake can taste.

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If you groan and roll your eyes at the mere mention of the word fruitcake, chances are you just haven't had a good one. A good fruitcake is as magical as the holiday season: a miracle of fruits, nuts, and spices conveniently baked inside a cake for your edible pleasure. Fruitcake gets a bad rap, however, because many people don't know how to make it properly. Their attempts turn out heavy and dry—like something that would be better purposed as a doorstop than dessert. This is a crime! We chatted with Megan Forman, executive chef and co-owner of Gracious Bakery in New Orleans, and Nathaniel Reid, chef and owner of Nathaniel Reid Bakery in Kirkwood, Missouri, about the common mistakes people make when they bake fruitcake, and how some easy fixes can turn your holiday fruitcake from merely a tradition to your favorite Christmas dessert.

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Fruitcake Mistake 1: Skimping on Ingredients

"Good quality ingredients make all the difference," says Chef Nathaniel Reid. If you're used to fruitcakes made with mass-produced green cherries or dried-out apricots, you'll be amazed at the difference good-quality dried fruit makes, Reid promises. He suggests half-dried fruits that have more flavor and a more supple texture. Chef Megan Forman suggests buying your dried fruit from a place with steady turnover because the older the fruit is the drier it is. She suggests nuts.com as a great resource for apricots, dates, and other ingredients.

Every ingredient counts, says Reid. Opt for European-style butter that has higher butterfat, go for brown sugar over white for a richer taste, and toast nuts before mixing them in to enhance their flavor. Think local when picking your fruits and nuts, says Forman, and take the sweetness level of different dried fruits into consideration when planning your ingredient mix. A very sweet candied fruit can be balanced off by something less sugary, like apricot, she suggests.

Fruitcake Mistake 2: Not Soaking Your Fruit

Dry fruit leads to dry fruitcake, says Reid. Water goes to where it's driest, and if the fruit is very dry, the moisture will go there instead of the cake batter. Soak your fruit for at least 24 hours and as long as a couple of months, before you mix it into your batter. Soak your fruit in local rum, brandy, cranberry, or apple juice, says Forman, and Reid says Earl Gray tea is a good option if you'd rather not soak your fruits in alcohol.

Fruitcake Mistake 3: You Didn't Brush Your Cake With an Amazing Syrup

As soon as your cake gets out of the oven, brush it with syrup, says Reid. Make a syrup using half alcohol (rum or whiskey), or juice or Earl Gray tea, and half water. Use 1/3 cup of sugar for every 2/3 cup of liquid when you make the syrup. Forman likes adding ginger or vanilla bean to the syrup. After it's cooled, wrap the cake tightly, place it in an airtight container, and let it sit at room temperature for at least a few days to let the flavors and crumb develop, says Forman.

Fruitcake Mistake 5: Forgetting to Coat Your Fruits and Nuts

To make sure your fruits and nuts mix evenly into your fruitcake batter before you place it in the oven, Forman says it is crucial to coat them in flour. Uncoated fruits and nuts will sink to the bottom.

Fruitcake Mistake 6: Not Getting Creative

Get excited about making a fruitcake your own, says Forman. Use what you feel goes together, and use what you like, says Reid. "You can personalize it. Why not a combination of prunes, cherries, apricots. walnuts, and milk chocolate, or maybe dark chocolate, pistachios, and candied lemons? Think of the cake batter as a canvas, and then feel free to be creative."

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