Cali Christmas Fruitcake. A modern take on an old tradition. I had to rename and re-imagine this time-honored dessert to present it here as there’s no other Christmas holiday food tradition that has been as mocked and shunned as a Christmas Fruitcake. An anthology of parodies of hockey puck solid cakes studded with glistening, glaceed, nuclear green and red cherries abounds on the Internet.
This Cali Christmas Fruitcake is not that!
What is it? A Holiday dessert celebration of the wondrous bounty of fruits and nuts grown right here in California; dark Thompson and golden raisins, Deglet dates, naval oranges and toasted walnuts with a kick of fresh ginger. It’s sweet, spicy, dense, chewy with a hint of caramel from the dates and absolutely divine! It’s kind of a cross between a loaf cake and a gooey cookie. Texture perfection! And of course, it’s vegan! A cake doesn’t get more Cali than that.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a fruitcake baking connoisseur. Therefore, I did my research. My greatest inspiration was a recipe for a Rum-Raisin Gingernut Loaf from a decades old cookbook by Maida Heatter, the grand dame of all things baking. Ten or so changes later, the skeleton of her cake remained but my own take on a Christmas Fruitcake came to fruition. Yes, that’s a pun, And yes, it’s a winner.
Here are some chef’s tips:
- The standout ingredient in this cake is the fresh grated ginger so don’t substitute with ground ginger. You won’t get the same outcome. It’s my new favorite baking addition.
- The vegan butter and egg substitutions work as well as their dairy counterparts in this cake. Both are available at most markets in LA.
- Toast the walnuts. It brings out their flavor and adds extra crunch to the cake
- Please note that you will need to sift the flour before measuring the 1 1/2 cups for an accurate amount of flour. Tutorials on sifting and measuring flour are available online.
- This cake does not taste of alcohol despite there being 2 T of Cointreau. I don’t like boozy cakes. If you do, you can substitute the 2 T of orange blossom syrup with more Cointreau. Or you can choose a more potent booze.
- Give the dried fruits at least an hour to soak in the Cointreau/Orange blossom syrup mix. I left them at room temperature to absorb the flavors.
- I started the bake on the bottom third rack of the oven. A direction from Maida Heatter’s recipe. I moved the pan up to the center rack after 55 minutes as I saw the sides darkening and didn’t want the bottom to burn. I baked it another 20 minutes. If the top gets dark you can loosely cover with foil, as I did the last ten minutes of baking.
- This cake is hearty. If you have trouble removing it from the pan, rap the bottom of the pan with your palm until it loosens. Make sure to run a sharp knife around the side edges first.
- Let the cake cool completely before cutting, serving and storing. Can be stored at room temperature several days. Refrigerate and/or freeze for longer storage.
- Use a very sharp knife to cut the cake. A serrated bread knife worked best for me. Gently saw down so as not to break the cake.
- A little goes a long way. This cake is dense and rich. Start with small slices.
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!
Cali Christmas Fruitcake
2/3 cup Thompson raisins
2/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup chopped, pitted Deglet dates (available whole at Trader Joe’s)
2 T Cointreau or Grand Marnier
2 T orange blossom syrup (available at Monsieur Marcel or online)
8 oz toasted walnut pieces
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 1/2 cup sifted unbleached AP flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz vegan butter, softened
9 T Just Egg liquid egg replacement (3 egg equivalent) room temperature
Grated rind of 2 medium sized naval oranges
Powdered sugar for service
Separate the raisins and date pieces so they are not stuck together and mix in a medium-sized bowl with the Cointreau and orange blossom syrup until all fruit is coated. Set aside on your counter to macerate for at least an hour. You can also do this in the fridge overnight. Bring to room temperature before adding.
When ready to bake set the oven rack to the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. I like to give my oven at least a half hour to truly get to temperature for an even bake.
Butter and flour a 9 x 2-inch round cake pan.
Mix 1/4 cup of the cane sugar with the grated ginger until fully incorporated. Set aside.
Sift and then measure 1 1/2 cups flour. Then sift that flour along with the baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Set aside.
Cream the butter for a minute until light and fluffy, scraping down sides. Add the remaining 3/4 cup cane sugar and beat until well mixed, scraping down sides.
Add the Just Egg 3 T at a time (as if you were adding eggs one at a time) and beat until smooth. Again scrape down sides as necessary. Remove from the stand mixer and scrape any batter from the beaters into the butter mixture.
Add the ginger/sugar mix and grated oranges to the batter by hand until well incorporated. Add the soaked raisins and dates and any liquid and mix in.
Transfer this mixture to the sifted dry ingredients and fold in. Add the walnuts and fold in gently trying to evenly distribute into the batter. Hands helped here.
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and spread evenly. Smooth down the top.
Bake for 70-85 minutes checking at 45-50 minutes. As I said I moved the cake up to the middle rack at 55 minutes. All ovens are calibrated differently so you will need to be vigilant in checking. Use a timer. It’s your best friend for baking.
Check again to see if top is browning too fast before the interior is set. Loosely cover with foil if necessary.
Cake is ready when a toothpick comes out clean and top is set and lightly browned.
When fully baked move pan to a cooling rack.
Let cool in the pan about 15 minutes
Using a sharp knife gently separate the sides of the cake from the pan. Put a plate or board on top of the cake. Turn it over to remove the cake from the pan. Rap the bottom of the pan if it’s stuck. It should come out clean. I let the cake cool upside down for 30 minutes. I then placed a cooling rack on top of the inverted cake and turned it over to allow the cake to fully cool.
When ready to serve topped with powdered sugar