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 flavor 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-colored 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 neighbor 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-colored 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 flavor 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 flavorful 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 colored 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.
- 4 oranges, yielding
- 1/2 cup Juice
- 2 tbsp Zest
- 1 Tbsp Fresh zested ginger
- 100 g Flora Apple Cider Vinegar Wellness Drink Ginger & Lemon Flavour
- 3/4 cup (100 g) Pitted dates, chopped
- 3/4 cup (140 g) Dried sour cherries, chopped
- 3-4 Carrots / Parsnips, yielding
- 2 cups Chopped carrots/parsnips
- 2 cups All-purpose Flour (we used a white & brown rice and sorghum flour blend)
- ½ cup Sliced almonds
- 2 tsp Baking soda
- 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp Finely ground Himalayan salt
- ½ tsp Cloves
- ½ tsp Ground allspice
- 3 large Eggs or flax eggs
- 1 tsp Almond extract
- 2 tsp Vanilla extract
- ¼ cup (50 g) Sunflower oil, more for tins
- 1 cup (100 g) Fresh cranberries, chopped
- 1 cup (125 g) Pecan pieces
- 250 g Cream cheese or vegan alternative
- ¼ cup Orange juice
- Powdered sugar to taste
- Optional décor ideas
- Bay leaves
- Extra cranberries
- Rosemary sprigs
- Star anise
- Dehydrated orange wheels
- Vegan-friendly crystalline sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease baking tins. We made 6 mini Bundt cakes, but you can adjust for mini or large cakes or loaves.
- Zest and squeeze oranges into a large bowl. Zest the ginger and add that in as well. Add the ACV drink. Chop, then soak your dates and cherries in the ACV drink and orange juice. The smaller the cakes you are making, the finer you want the fruit to be chopped.
- Wash and chop your veggies. If you have been put off with parsnips due to an experience with a tough or woody one, try removing the core in addition to peeling them. You can keep it for a stock, compost or for your pets.
- Cook the root veggies in your favourite way. We popped them into the oven as it was heating up. At 350°F degrees they take about 25 minutes to roast until tender, soft and slightly sweet.
- In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients – the spices, salt, soda, nuts and flour – until evenly mixed.
- In a bowl, blender or mixer, beat the eggs or flax eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, and oil. Take your veggies from the oven and mash or mix them in. Be sure to leave to the oven on, you will use it in a moment. Add the soaked chopped fruit, reserving the liquid, and add the cranberries, then mix some more.
- Add the dry mix to the bowl of reserved soaking liquid to activate the soda, then quickly incorporate the wet veggie mixture.
- Spoon into prepared tin or tins and bake immediately for about 40 minutes for mini Bundt cakes, checking for doneness after about 30 minutes for mini cakes, 45 minutes or so for a full cake, which will likely take a full hour to bake.
- You can stick a skewer in the cake to test for doneness (it should come out clean) and press on the tops to check that the density is equal from the edges to the center. If the thickest part is still softer, continue baking for a few more minutes.
- Cool in tins, loosen edges, and then turn out onto a rack.
- Optionally, drizzle with icing and /or decorate with a winter holly look by adding some cranberries and sugar-dipped bay leaves or rosemary sprigs to the tops of your cakes.
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.248>