Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Real Food Christmas Basket: Sourdough fruitcake and I promise this tastes superb, only real ingredients here!

I think I fall into the category of many who shutter when they hear the word fruitcake. The stomach gets a strange feeling when someone offers a piece of this so called Christmas treat that has been wrapped in plastic and a cardboard box, has the most unnatural colors in it and has been sitting on a shelf at some store or warehouse for who knows how long.

As much as I detested fruitcake I have one family member, aka my dad, who loves it and several years ago asked for some for Christmas. There was simply no way I was going to buy one of those bricks of "cake" they sell at a stand in the mall, so I set out to find a version I could bake at home. As first glimpse of looking through recipes I was fairly disappointed to see that most people stuck with the fake candied fruit which almost glows with the food coloring that must be added to it. These recipes also called for many ingredients I don't use, won't use and frankly can't even buy at the co-op where I do almost all my shopping. However, I was determined and so kept searching. That was when I found Alton Brown's recipe for his "Free Range Fruitcake" on the Food Network. Free Range... sounds interesting... could it be... a real fruitcake recipe... why yes it is. There was no fake fruit, no hydrogenated cooking oil, no questionable ingredients at all actually.

This little jewel of a cake went over wonderfully and I can say that all of us who enjoyed it the first year I made it were fruitcake converts. This year I'm trying to incorporate more sourdough baking in my routine, as well as, whole grains and unprocessed sweeteners into as much of my baked goods as possible. One of the main reason I wanted to try this as a sourdough cake is when you make sourdough at home your starter and flour are mixed together and allowed to ferment for typically at least 8-12 hours. During this time gluten and phytic acid are broken down leaving the baked item far easier to digest and also healthier because by breaking down the phytic acid the body can far more easily absorb the vitamins and minerals in the food.

If you aren't a sourdough baker, don't hesitate to check out the original Alton Brown recipe and make it for the holidays. The fruitcake would be best to be baked this week for use at Christmas or New years, but can actually be made  3-4 weeks in advance and allowed to age. Like cheese, this is one desert that tastes better once some time has passed.

Also, check out Alton Brown's video for how he makes his fruitcake. It's interesting and he sheds some insight into why fruitcakes are made the way they are:

This is a deep, dark, flavorful cake, sweet like a fruitcake should be, but not overwhelming so. Filled with a mixture of dried fruits and nuts and a pleasing mixture of spices. The aroma the kitchen will be filled with as you prepare this will beckon for people to come and see what heavenly item you could be baking and you can shock them when you tell them what it is.

Don't get overwhelmed by the list of ingredients, there certainly is a lot. In your heart you'll know what a true gift this cake really is. Take advantage of a local co-op where you can buy things in bulk is very helpful for a recipe like this, that way you don't have to overbuy.  Have fun trying different shaped baking vessels for this cake too. My favorite is small ramekins. 

What You'll Need
2 medium size loaf cakes

1 cup organic golden raisins
1 cup organic dried currants
½ cup organic dried cranberries
½ cup organic dried blueberries
½ cup organic dried cherries
 ½ cup organic, dried, unsulphured apricots
1 cup golden rum or brandy
Zest of one organic lemon
Zest of one organic orange
1½ cups organic whole wheat flour
1½ cups organic apple juice or cider (not to all be used at once)
½ cup sourdough starter, fed in the last 12 hours
1 cup organic, unsalted butter
1 cup rapadura or another unrefined sugar (no honey or maple syrup)
¼ tsp. ground clove
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. unrefined sea salt
1 tsp. aluminum-free baking soda
3 free-range, organic eggs  
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
Extra butter for buttering loaf pans
Brandy for basting

Getting Started

The day before:
1. In a medium size bowl combine dried fruit, lemon and orange zest and 1 cup of golden rum. Cover and allow to sit overnight.

2. For your sourdough sponge, combine flour, 1 cup apple juice and sourdough starter. Cover and allow to ferment overnight or for at least 8 hours, but preferably no longer than 12.

Baking day: 
1. Mix together macerated fruit, including liquid, butter, sugar, the spices, salt and the remaining half cup of apple juice in a large, non-reactive pot. Heat over medium, to medium high heat until mixture begins to boil. Reduce heat and allow ingredients to simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes or until you have a thick syrupy mixture. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 300°F. Butter loaf pans and line bottom with parchment paper.* While the oven heats up, allow the fruit mixture to cool for at least 15-30 minutes. Alternatively you could do this step a day ahead of time and then reheat the mixture to room temperature when you are ready to use it.

* I've used a variety of different shape dishes to bake my fruitcake in. My favorite being small, 4" wide ramekins to make individual size fruitcakes. The smaller dishes require less baking time. In the case of the ramekin size that you can see in the pictures, the cake was done baking at about an hour.  I always line the bottom with parchment so I'm guaranteed the cake won't stick and will easily come out. There is nothing worse than going through all the baking effort only to have your end product stuck in the baking pan.

3. Add the sponge to the cooled fruit in the pot and then sprinkle the baking soda over top. Quickly stir everything together, making sure to well incorporate the baking soda and evenly distribute the fruit.

4. Stir in eggs one at a time until completely incorporated, then fold in the toasted nuts.

5. Pour half of batter into each prepared baking pan.*

*If you are experimenting with different size dishes you can fill them to about 1/3" from the top. This cake does not rise much. 

6. Bake loaf pans in preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minute. Check for doneness a little over an hour, but most likely they will take longer. They are done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

7. Immediately baste cakes with brandy, then allow to cool completely before removing from pans.

8. Store in an airtight container. Check on fruitcake every couple of days, if it feels dry baste with more brandy. These cakes are best if allowed to age for 2 - 3 weeks before eating.


You can see this post along with a bunch of other great ones on Real Food Forager's Fat Tuesday blog hop. Also, check out the other blog hops below.


  1. Like your father I love a good fruitcake, and a good fruitcake gets made at home with fresh natural ingredients.
    My grandfather always requested fruitcake at Christmas.
    Thanks for sharing this recipe, I may have to give yours a try too.

  2. Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This looks fantastic! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

  3. A google search brought up your recipe. I'm quite new to sourdough but looking very much forward to giving this recipe a try. Thanks!

  4. This is the most delicious fruitcake I have eaten. Thanks for the wonderful receipe!


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