This post is a detailed guide on how to soak fruits for Christmas fruit cake. The fruit selection and proportions in the recipe below are similar for soaking in alcohol or in a non-alcoholic liquid, and these steps are provided for both types (schedules for the non-alcoholic liquid are presented at the end of this writing above). Timelines vary, as does how to preserve the fruits for the cake until they are baked.
If you do not want to soak the fruits ahead of time, there is a short-cut method in the recipe for baking a Christmas Fruit cake.
When to Soak The 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The short cut method if you need to make the cake without too much time for the soaking? Soak fruits for Christmas fruit cake about 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.
- 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 some 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 for a Christmas Fruit Cake?
You need to use dry fruits when you soak fruits 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.
Preparing the Fruits For A Christmas Cake:
- 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.
- 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 – using Alcohol
For Alcoholic soaks, there is dark rum. If you feel rum is maybe too sweet, whisky or sherry could be other options. Wine could be used instead of rum.
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. The rest of the alcohol is for topping up, as in the instructions below.
Soaking Fruits for a Christmas Cake without alcohol
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.