A deliciously spiced tender and tasty fruitcake
Like classic fruitcake, this recipe calls for nuts and dried cherries, but incorporating vegetables gives this cake a moist texture halfway to carrot cake. It has ginger, vanilla, almond and cinnamon for flavour and a festive aroma. The layers of orange (from both juice and zest) and tart fresh cranberry give the cake some bright acidity, as does the apple cider vinegar drink.
Historically, adding vinegar to cakes was a useful trick that helped to activate the soda, to create a lighter cake and more tender crumb. English vinegar cakes peaked in popularity during wartime, when eggs were not available. This cake can easily be vegan-friendly due to the vinegar. It enables a good rise even without the use of eggs. Simply choose flax eggs in place of chicken eggs.
Although there are lots of fruits and vegetables in each slice of cake, they are not noticeable. We chose to roast the parsnips and carrots first to bring out their subtle sweetness, but they could also work well raw. We drizzled the cakes with a silky smooth, pastel-coloured orange cream cheese frosting. Both vegan and dairy-based cream cheese work for this, but you could omit it, and try a glaze of orange juice and powdered sugar, too.
Fruitcakes have a bad reputation
Even though it is traditional to bring your neighbour or those in need a ribbon-wrapped box with gifts and fruitcake on December 26th (known as Boxing Day in British colonies) or 27th (National Fruitcake Day in the USA), there is also a recognized National Fruitcake Toss Day shortly after, in early January. The latter is well-celebrated in areas such as Colorado Springs and is just what it sounds like.
Tossing fruitcakes is socially acceptable, regifting them is expected, and “being a fruitcake” has negative connotations. Poor fruitcake. Yet despite the folks at the festive dessert table looking at fruitcake sideways, and the hushed voices muttering about how fruitcake is so dense, heavy, and sickeningly sweet, it still bothers to show up during the holidays.
Perhaps it is the indestructible nature of mass-produced fruitcakes that makes people look at them with suspicion. Even before commercial cakes routinely used artificially-coloured chemically-preserved fruit, copious amounts of sugar and alcohol were enormously effective at preserving fruit and fruit cakes for an extended period. How effective, you ask?
A 2017 expedition to Antarctica discovered a well-preserved, essentially edible fruitcake left behind 106 years earlier! Even more outrageously, a British family is said to have passed down a Christmas fruitcake for several generations, over 130 years! Fruit cakes evolved as a natural way to enjoy the flavour and nutrition of summer fruit through the winter. But making a cake that is so full of sugar that it will last for generations is not the best way to make a pleasing and flavourful cake.
The secretly popular, enduring tradition of fruitcake
The basic fruitcake recipe has endured longer than the cakes it produces. 2000 years ago, Romans used pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and raisins, with alcohol from fermented barley. Wedding fruitcakes with dried fruit and nuts have been popular in England for centuries, but British bakeries sell the most Christmas fruitcakes - hundreds of thousands every November and December.
Not to be outdone, Corsicana Texas, known for their world class cheerleaders, has a bakery that sells a million fruitcakes per year. The endurance of these recipes and the sheer volume of fruitcake sales may betray a truth, a secret, that many people love, or are deeply attached to Christmas fruitcake. In many parts, the holidays would not be complete without fruitcake. From German stollen to Portuguese bolo rei to Italian panettone, fruit cakes are a traditional and seasonal dessert that represent yuletide celebration.
A fresh, modern, healthy and yummy makeover
Fruitcake has been considered such a rich indulgence it was once banned for being too sinful. Because of the time and expense involved in making fruitcake the traditional way, with heaps of nuts, alcohol and dried fruit, these loaf shaped cakes are often given as gifts. And, truth be told, there is often so much rum in both Caribbean-style and modern monastery fruitcakes they are not appropriate for children!
However, this is not one of those cakes. This is a fruitcake remake.
This cake gives a nod to the traditional fruitcake by including dried fruit and nuts. But it is faster and easier to prepare, and let’s be clear, there is no artificially coloured neon green citron peel in this cake. Alcohol is absent too. Gone as well, are the cups of sugar and the unhealthy fats. We used veggies and fruit to add moisture and sweetness, so wrap this one and keep it refrigerated, then eat within 5-7 days of baking.
We have chosen to have fun with presentation by choosing a Bundt pan and adding some woodland-themed food-based toppers. Choose organic seedless oranges. They provide the healthiest zest, make the best-looking orange wheels and without seeds they are easier to juice. We made several mini cakes, to easily share with those celebrating at a distance. If you prefer to bake it in one large pan, simply adjust the baking times as needed.
Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP, is a Vancouver-based educator and coach. She is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog and can answer your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Product Information Specialist at Flora.