Nana’s Christmas Fruitcake: the continuation of an old family tradition

Happy Boxing Day everyone!  Since the stores in Sudbury are closed on boxing day (thanks to a rather archaic bylaw which I quite adore), I took the good graces to extend my annual Christmas “sit around the house and do nothing but read and eat” festival into the depths of December 26.  Still being in a disgustingly full state, I decided to settle in and do the only activity you can do while in a food coma: food blog!

Here is the old Duff family tradition around which this post is based:

Every Christmas for the past 25 years, my dad has been the recipient of one of my Nana’s famous homemade fruitcakes.  The tradition started when my dad, who moved to Canada 31 years ago, stopped returning home to Ireland for Christmas after he met my mom.  Since my Nana passed away almost two years ago, this family tradition has risked extinction.  Last Christmas, my dad was eating fruitcake from the year before that had been hidden away in the depths of our freezer, making this Christmas the very first where he would be without his traditional holiday fare.

This is where I come in.  I know how much getting an annual fruitcake meant to my dad, so I wanted to continue the family tradition.  A quick email to my aunt in Ireland told me that this one was going to be a bit of a challenge.  Since the recipe was emerging from my Nana’s European kitchen, all the ingredients were measured out using the metric system.  This made things challenging, but not impossible.  I am 100 per cent convinced to this day that I put in the wrong amount of something.  Let me outline a few of the challenges I faced…

A) As you know, our stove is psychotic and heat crazed, so I was extremely worried about baking this cake for four hours in said hot-as-hell oven.  Turns out the usual rule applies: I set our oven at 75 degrees less and baked it for 3/4 of the time.  Somehow (probably because I was praying to Nana in the kitchen) it worked out.
A2) Living in a house of six girls, all who have frequent uses for the same stove, I miraculously found enough time one Wednesday morning to make this without disruption.

B) Unless you are incredibly determined, you probably shouldn’t try and make your own marzipan.  I made mine from scratch because I refused to do it any other way, but it definitely presented some interesting challenges.  And by that, I mean it took four people to roll it over the cake and a lot of patching action…

C) Be prepared to spend a small fortune at the Bulk Barn.  Seriously, who knew ground almonds cost so much?

In the end, I think the cake turned out really well.  I baked it in a nine inch springform pan, and was luckily able to cut off the sides that were a little dark from baking.  My dad said that I did extraordinarily well for a first time fruitcake baker and that he fully expects me to continue making him a fruitcake every year from this Christmas forth.

So how does it rank against other fruitcakes? Well I’m not a fruitcake person myself, but my dad (who is a seasoned expert) said that it wasn’t too dry and the berries weren’t sunken as they sometimes are.  My mom even commented that my marzipan layer looked more even than my Nana’s did!

Dad was really grateful for the cake, even if he guessed what it was while it was still sitting under the tree.  You know you’ve been spoiled with too many fruitcakes when you can recognize the weight and shape of one perfectly…

Love you dad :)

Look for this old family fruitcake recipe (which I almost kept secret) after the jump!

A closer look at the almond marzipan icing

Nana’s Fruitcake Recipe (with my attempted metric to imperial conversions!)


– 3 sticks butter, room temperature
– 1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
– 7 large eggs
– 4 tbsp brandy or whiskey
– 4 cups all purpose flour
–  1 cup ground almonds
– 1/2 tsp mixed spice
– 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
– 3 1/4 cups Sultanas
– 2 cups raisins
–  3/4 cup glacé cherries, dried and halved
–  3/4 cup almonds, blanched and chopped
– 3/4 cups mixed cut peel
– 2 grated lemon rinds
– 1 grated orange rind

Preheat oven to 140 C.  Prepare pan by lining the bottom and sides with buttered parchment paper.

NOTE: For my fruitcake, I used a 9-inch round springform pan, and cut off the sides to make my fruitcake square shaped.  I suggest using a springform pan to ensure the cake comes out intact.

Using a wooden spoon, cream room temperature butter with brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs and brandy/whiskey and stir until mixture is smooth.  In another large bowl, whisk together flour, ground almonds, and spices.  Add flour mixture to the butter mixture slowly, stirring after each addition.  After combined, add Sultanas, raisins, cherries, chopped almonds, mixed cut peel and rinds.  Mix well until fruit is evenly distributed.  Pour mixture into prepared pan and smooth with the back of a wet spoon.  Bake in preheated oven for 3 ½ to 4 hours, waiting until fruitcake is no longer bubbling and is browned on top.

Almond Marzipan Icing

– 2 cups ground almonds
– 1 cup castor sugar (fine sugar)
– 1 cup icing sugar
– 2 ½ tsp lemon juice
– ½ tsp almond extract
– 2 eggs, beaten

Whisk together ground almonds, castor sugar and icing sugar.  Add lemon juice, almond extract and enough beaten egg to mix into a smooth paste that isn’t too dry or wet.  Gather together with hands.  Turn your marzipan onto a table dusted with icing sugar and knead until smooth.  Roll out with rolling pin (also dusted with icing sugar).  Lay cake topside down and place on top of rolled out marzipan.  Brush sides of cake with remainder of the beaten egg in order to stick the icing to the cake.  Bring almond icing up around the sides of the cake using a palette knife.

NOTE: When I made my marzipan, I needed to add a bit more of each ground almonds, castor sugar and icing sugar to create a more paste-like consistency.  Based on your result, you may want to consider this!


6 thoughts on “Nana’s Christmas Fruitcake: the continuation of an old family tradition

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