Fruitcake Revisited

I’ve spent years evangelizing, insisting that the fruitcake-resistant have never eaten the real thing, and given that “real thing” means “good candied fruit,” an item that pretty much must be home made if not purchased from purveyors like Fauchon ($60.00 per pound, not including shipping), I’m reasonably sure that’s true.

But perhaps you are saying, “no, no, for years home bakers and first-class commercial makers like good ol’ Alice Perron up there in Vermont at Bienfait have simply omitted the candied part. They just mix classic, no-fakery batter with lots and lots of succulent dried fruit and generous quantities of fresh nuts and …
Well, okay. It’s good. But it still lacks a certain chewy, aromatic, sweet but not too sweet component, a component that’s easy to make by defining “candied fruit” as “candied citrus peel”: lemon, orange, and grapefruit , each delicious in a slightly different way.
There’s a detailed step by step recipe here and about 8 zillion more floating around on the web ( see below for cautionary notes), but the bottom line is that candying peel is no more difficult than cooking pasta – and no more expensive, either, since the peels come free with the fruit.
After reading this introduction, you may be expecting a fruitcake recipe. But then who’d eat it besides you? Better to make the always popular

Universal Suit Yourself Fruit and Nut Bars

Everything that’s good about fruitcake but not so damned much of it, all on a buttery, crumbly crust that cuts the opulent sweetness.

1 ¾ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
½ cup butter, plus more for the pan
1 lightly beaten egg

2 ½ cups fruit, cut in @ 1/3 inch dice. Any combination of : raisins; currants; prunes; dates; dried apricots, pineapple, figs, or cherries; candied ginger and candied citrus peel.
½ cup rum or brandy
2 eggs
1/3 cup each white and dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg
2 ½ cups lightly toasted whole nutmeats. Any combination of: almonds, walnuts, pecans , hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts and macadamias. Cashews and peanuts overwhelm all else, so either eschew them or rename the bars.

1. Mix the topping fruits and alcohol in a small bowl, cover tightly and set aside in a warm place until all the liquid is absorbed, overnight, more or less.
2. Heat the oven to 350 (325 for a glass pan) and thickly butter a 9x13x2 inch baking pan.
3. Put crust dry ingredients in a shallow bowl and mix thoroughly with a wire whisk. Cut or pinch in the butter until you have coarse meal, then make a well in the center and add the egg.
4. Pinch in the egg – or stir with a fork – just until the mixture is clumpy and holds together when pressed (resist the impulse to keep squeezing). Dump it into the pan, gently spread it around, then press it into an even layer on the bottom. Bake until pale gold, 12 to 15 minutes.
5. While the crust is baking, beat the topping eggs until frothy, then beat in everything else except the fruit and nuts. Stir them in last.
6. When the crust is ready, recombine the topping and spread it evenly, being careful not to cheat the corners. Return to the oven and bake until set and browned on top, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting in small – @ 1.5 inch – squares.

Yield: about 30 squares, depending on your cutting and on the true measurements of your pan ( “9×13” is precise on the page, but it means quite different things to different pan-manufacturers).

Judging a candied peel recipe:

* It’s probably wise to choose organic citrus; just don’t assume – as I did for years – that certified organic citrus is innocent of wax.

* The thick white pith is essential. Recipes that tell you to remove it are actually recipes for candied zest.

* Bitterness varies, which should be noted/allowed for.

* not all recipes stress the necessity of having the peel completely tender before adding sugar, but if it isn’t tender before you add sugar it will be tough for all time.

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  • Colleen Said,

    Back in the 80’s, I made your fruitcake recipe as published in your column. I thought it very good and the folks I gave it to raved about it. Unfortunately, i lost the recipe and though I have made other cakes over the years, I have had your recipe in the back of my mind as the best. It made a ton, as I recall. Do you still have the recipe and could you post it? It would make some people who are now in their 80’s very happy!
    Your site is gorgeous and displays your dedication to all the good things of the earth. Thank you in advance for any help you can give.

  • leslie Said,

    Hi Colleen

    Glad to have you aboard! The fruitcake recipe is SOMEWHERE, I’m sure, because I’ve always kept copies of everything, but the somewhere is in one of several boxes of crumbling old columns in the barn, so please forgive if it takes me a while.

    Knowing that some of the waiting fruitcake eaters are in their 80’s should be good for lighting a fire under me, but if nothing appears on the blog by Thanksgiving please write again and nag.

    Meanwhile, you could get started making candied citrus peel or finding some that you can stand to eat. I’m sure when the recipe finally surfaces it will call for some.

  • Debby Baldwin Said,

    Hi Leslie,
    I think of you every Christmas as I sift through my cookie recipes. When the jump page of “fruit bars” went missing this year I ran for the web — so pleased to find the last two steps right here! And how are you? Do you ever get down to the city? It’d be fun to meet up for lunch or a drink.

    What Ho! Hello to YOU, Debby, it’s great to hear.

    Can go you one better: I think of you every time I skim through the recipe file and pass “Debby”s Boudini,” which to this day I have not – for whatever reason – made. Clearly a sign I’m supposed finally get around to it this year.

    Delighted you’re a fan of the fruit bars and that you’d like to get together. Not sure when I’ll next be in town but it’ll probably be pretty soon. Have you been to the NYPL show about lunch in NY?

    See you soon, I hope, and in the meanwhile Cheers right back.


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