How To Make The Best Fruitcake Recipe

It’s time for a fresh take on fruitcake, personalizing is up to you.

Really Good Fruitcake
Really Good Fruitcake . Photo: Southern Living

Fruitcake: it's a tradition, sure, but it can be wildly divisive. Many of us are turned off by this holiday cake—from the weird, plastic-looking fruit in unnatural green and red tones to poorly made fruitcakes that are dried out, heavy, and overly spiced—that make an appearance every Christmas.

Make Fruitcake Your Own

But fruitcake has come a long way as people have discovered how to customize it to their liking. Instead of soaking fruit in rum, per the classic recipes, try brandy, whiskey, bourbon, or juice. If you don't like lots of spice, use lemon and vanilla extract. If you don't like traditional candied cherries don't use them! Use combinations of dried fruits that go together, from crystallized pineapple to dried peaches—and in our fruitcake recipe, you'll need more than 6 cups of dried fruit, so get creative. For nuts, try pecans, pistachios, or almonds instead of the walnuts we always see.

If you're turned off by fruitcake, it's time to take a new look with Southern Living's Really Good Fruitcake recipe, developed by our test kitchen pro Ivy Odom, which adds a Southern twist from loading the batter up with our favorite regional ingredients. To get started, here are our tips and steps for making this Christmas treat that just may be a newly revived holiday tradition.

Add a Southern Take on Fruitcake

We used ingredients we commonly see and enjoy in Southern desserts starring pineapple, peaches, pecans, and bourbon. Yes, the steps in this recipe are spread over two days, because like in most fruitcake recipes, the fruit needs to soften and absorb the flavoring liquid. But the active time overall is about half an hour, so don't be discouraged! Even better, this recipe yields two fruitcake loaves, baked in two 8.5 x 4.5-inch loaf pans, providing a sharable loaf (or two) for gifting.

Day One: Make the Dried Fruit Soak

Chop pineapple, figs, apples, persimmons, and peaches and combine with golden raisins, a cinnamon stick, bourbon, and brandy in a large bowl. Stir to coat, cover, and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours, stirring occasionally or at least every 8 hours. Discard the cinnamon stick when soaking is complete.

There are a few more steps you can do ahead to save some time for the next day. Combine the dry ingredients—all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, and spices—cover and set aside. This fruit cake is lightly spiced, only using ½ teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg. Also, take out the butter to soften.

Day Two: Prepare and Bake the Fruitcake

After you start pre-heating the oven and prepare two loaf pans, prepare the remaining fresh ingredients that will be added to the batter mix at the end with your fruit soak. To finish the fruit and nut prep, grate a Honey Crisp apple, zest an orange and a lemon, juice two oranges (to yield a ½ cup), drain ⅔ cup of Luxardo maraschino cherries, and chop 1 cup of pecans.

Now it's time to make the fruitcake.

If you haven't done so the day before, combine the dry ingredients and set aside. Then, in a stand mixer, beat butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, adding in the dry ingredients at the end to just combine. Fold in zests, juice, cherries, pecans, and the bourbon-soaked fruit mixture, divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Cool, Enjoy, and Store

Cool the fruitcakes completely on a wire rack, for about two hours, before removing them from their pans. You can enjoy a slice to store them for gifts and gatherings—by tightly wrapping them with plastic wrap and cheesecloth dampened with bourbon—for up to a month.

More Fruitcake Recipes and Tips

  • You may be familiar with a very famous recipe, Mrs. Harvey's White Fruitcake, which uses a generous amount of vanilla and lemon extracts while omitting some of the spices that one finds in a more traditional fruitcake.
  • Cassandra's "Light" Fruitcake Recipe is a family legacy recipe from best-selling author Cassandra King that uses bourbon, pecans, crystallized ginger, candied pineapple, and three cups of chopped mixed fruit.
  • This 20-minute Icebox Fruitcake is an alternative to traditional fruitcake recipes, requiring no 24-hour fruit soak or baking.
  • For more tips on making a good fruitcake, avoid these six mistakes to help restore this holiday dessert's poor reputation.
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