Country Christmas Cake, aka Fruitcake, Gluten-Free

My whole life I’ve wondered what all the fuss was about fruitcake. I’ve heard all the jokes, especially the one that states that there is one fruitcake in the world and that it keeps getting re-gifted. But, up until a few years ago, I really couldn’t tell you that I had ever really eaten fruitcake. It never appealed to me. The neon orange, red, and green dried fruits always freaked me out, and since I mostly prefer chocolate desserts, I just steered clear of the whole thing. (Clearly this is a pattern with me–I seemed to have done this a lot as a younger person.)

Of course, after being diagnosed as gluten-intolerant and therefore not being able to eat it any old time I want, I desperately wanted to try it. Especially since I am an Anglophile through and through and it seemed as though everyone in literary England was making it and eating it. For years, I collected recipes, intending to adapt one to gluten-free. But I never found one that appealed to me. Then, one day a few years ago, I was reading one of my favorite cooking memoirs/cookbooks of all time, Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen and there was the recipe I needed: Country Christmas Cake. The recipe was adapted by Colwin from Jane Grigson’s English Food. It looked good, it was made from quality ingredients, and it was fairly easy to make.

If you’ve never read anything by Colwin, please go out and get something by her. She holds a place in my pantheon of Cooking Goddesses. I love her writing. She was a writer for Gourmet magazine for years, and she wrote 2 books of essays on food, Home: A Writer in the Kitchen, as well as More Home Cooking. She also wrote several novels. I loved her style and wit. She died suddenly of a heart attack in 1992 at the young age of 48. I still remember hearing about her death and being so shocked and sad.

This cake has no neon fruit–only lovely dried fruit, plus some marmalade, jam, some applesauce, and, of course, booze. It was originally intended to keep for a couple of months in the pantry. Thus far, I’ve only kept it for about a week to mellow. It’s so popular, it goes rather quickly in my house. You can try to let it mellow for longer (which would be more authentic) and see how it goes. The liquor added at the end helps to preserve it as it mellows on the counter. Hence the term “decanting” when you remove the cake from its wrappings. If you don’t use liquor, I suggest you use a juice of some sort to add the extra moisture–and make this only a day or two before you serve it.

The main work of this cake is gathering the dried fruits. You need a lot! But, once you’ve done that, the cake is quite easy. This cake is made over the course of 2 days–one day to mix the fruit and leave overnight to macerate (meld the flavors); and then the next day to bake it. At the end, you will have yourself a 6 lb cake (yes, I weighed it)–wow! I serve this either for Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas dinner. Well, we actually serve it any old time I want. You decide how you want to serve it. It’s also quite good as a breakfast cake. This is dedicated to Granddude, my father-in-law, who is an appreciator of good fruitcake and who has given his seal of approval to this cake.

Country Christmas Cake
-adapted from More Home Cooking

Special Equipment Needed

-stand mixer, although a hand mixer will do
-9.5 or 10 inch springform pan
-parchment paper
-wax paper
-plastic wrap


Fruits, Jam and Sherry–you will use these one Day 1 of the process
2 1/2 lbs (1.2 kg) mixed raisins, pitted prunes, and dried figs
1/2 cup (60 g) candied orange and/or lemon peel
1/2 cup (60 g) candied cherries
2/3 cup (85 g) candied or preserved ginger
Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
1 tablespoon apricot jam
1 cup (240 ml) applesauce
2 tablespoons of sweet Sherry (or juice for a non-alcoholic version)

(you can also experiment with your own mixture of dried fruits–just be sure total weight is the same)

Dry Ingredients–you will use these on Day 2 of the process
3 cups (420 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon baking powder

Butter, Sugar, Eggs, and Vanilla–you will use these on Day 2 of the process
1 cup (2 sticks; 8 oz; 225 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (215 g) dark brown sugar
4 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy or whiskey (or juice) for adding after the cake bakes

Chop up fine and mix together the first set of ingredients (fruits, jam, and Sherry). Cover and leave in a covered bowl on the counter overnight to macerate–meld the flavors. Feel free to slap the hand of anyone (say, a husband) who comes by and tries to snack on the mixture. Also, you may macerate this for a week or more. I had a chat with Kathy Casey about this, and she told me that she macerates the fruit for her fruitcakes for about a week.

Then next day (or whenever you’re ready to make the cake):

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F/165 degrees C/Gas Mark 3
-in a medium bowl, mix the next set of ingredients (dry ingredients); set aside
-in the bowl of stand mixer, beat butter until fluffy
-add brown sugar, beat more
-add vanilla, continue beating
-add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition
-add flour mixture, beating until just combined (do not overmix)

With a large wooden spoon, combine fruit with the batter. This requires a bit of upper body strength. Luckily, you can count this as your exercise for the day.

Grease bottom and sides of springform pan with butter. Then line the bottom of springform pan with 3 layers of parchment, and the sides with 1 layer of parchment paper
-pour in the batter
-bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours, then reduce heat to 300 degrees F/150 degrees C/Gas mark 2 and bake another 2 hours or until tester comes out clean
-you might want to use a piece of aluminum foil as a tent over the cake for the last 2 hours–so it doesn’t burn.

Remove from oven, pierce the cake all over with a skewer and pour over it 2 TBL brandy or whiskey (you can use more if that’s to your taste)
-leave to cool in the pan
-when completely cool, remove it, peel off the parchment paper, and wrap the cake in wax paper and place it in an airtight tin (or a few layers of plastic wrap), and leave it for a few days

-When the time comes to “decant” the cake (take it out of its wrappings), it is traditional to glaze it with some nice jelly (although we just eat it as it is)

Serve on Christmas Eve or on Christmas as a rich cake. Or throughout the holiday season. Leftover slices may be toasted and eaten with butter and jam for breakfast.



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  1. Marie Jensen says

    I have a great fruit cake recipe that I would love to send you to look at. I am not the author though. Would you be interested in seeing it?
    Thanks for all you do for GF people!
    Marie Jensen

  2. Karen B says

    Having extra layers of parchment prevent the cake from burning being in the oven for such a long time. Also, we usually put a circle on the top of the cake with a hole in the middle tolet out any steam. Also, we wrap the cake tin in either parchment or brown paper and tie it with string – another prevention!

    I use a ready made GF mix in UK but have found the texture a bit gritty, do you have any suggestions to get rid of that? It uses Rice, Potato, Tapioca, Maize & Buckwheat flours.

    • admin says

      Karen: I think the buckwheat flour in the mix adds to the grittiness–it is a gritty flour. The other flour that might add grittiness is rice flour if it isn’t ground fine. Also, thanks so much for the tips!!

  3. may1girl says

    I have always liked fruitcake, so this recipe sounds great to me. Just wondering, why do you use three layers of parchment on the bottom of the pan instead of just one. Also, how long can you leave it in the can before decanting and long does it keep after decanting. Thanks.

    • admin says

      May1Girl: You know, I’m not sure what the specific reason is for having 3 layers of parchment paper. I think it originally it had something to do with how heavy the batter is and how long it bakes. I’ve just always done it that way. You can do one layer and see how it goes. Also, I usually “decant” it right away. If you want to put it in a can and leave it there for a long time (like with traditional fruitcakes), you would have to douse it with liquor on a regular basis. Again, you can experiment with this. Also, we’ve never had it around for more than a week once it’s unwrapped–I usually make it and serve it during a time when lots of people are going to eat it. So sorry for the lack of information on this. I would experiment. You could also make it and then freeze part of it for later.

      • Jane says

        There is a misconception in this country (US) that things go “bad” very quickly, but with regard to fruitcake, you do NOT need to douse it all the time. Typically, fruitcake is doused for a little while after baking, but once dressed (marzipan and icing) that’s it! It sits on the sideboard, and is a lovely treat throughout the season – it will last over a month. Remember, the fruits are all soaked in rum/brandy already (in many cases, for 3 months or more prior to baking).

        • says

          Jane: Greetings! You are absolutely correct for a wheat cake. But gluten-free cakes often tend to dry out much more quickly. Even with the alcohol. So, I usually recommend that folks not keep it sitting for 3 months. :)

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