Nigel’s Fruitcake

Nigel Slater's fruitcake

Currently bedside: Nigel Slater’s latest, The Christmas Chronicles. He’s one of my all-time favourite food writers, and Christmas is my favourite time of year, and the two are packaged together perfectly. (Here’s a taste from the Guardian.) I love how much he loves the “crackle” of winter, just like I do, how he finds the cold brisk and invigorating. He makes me want to get up early and write by candlelight, then build a fire and slice crisp apples into a pot and simmer them with warm spices, a clementine and some brandy while a pork belly roasts in the oven. He perfectly encapsulates why I love these short, cold, cozy days, particularly in early winter – and even (especially?) the grey ones. Who better to refer to when seeking out a new fruitcake?

Nigel's fruitcake 8

Over the years, I’ve short-sightedly been thinking of fruitcake in black and white, or light and dark, always drawn toward the dark, sticky fruitcake of my childhood – specifically the one from the 1977 edition of The Joy of Cooking. (They aren’t the same, if you look at the dark fruitcake recipes in more recent editions.) It has been a fine recipe, and served us well for decades, but in recent years my results have varied, and although my mom always baked hers in an assortment of oddly shaped ring pans of various sizes, which I wound up doing as well, necessitating varying cooking times and producing too many hard edges, I like the idea of settling on one round cake, or a couple loaf pans. (In fact, Elizabeth Baird told me a few weekends ago that she bakes hers in a 9×13-inch pan, using Rose Murray’s recipe, and cuts it into 6 logs. It cooks quickly and evenly, and the logs are the perfect size for slicing.)

Nigel's fruitcake unbaked

In short, I’ve felt the need to broaden my fruitcake horizons. When Nigel described his, which he refers to as “The Cake”, as having the colour of toasted almonds, I couldn’t not give it a go.

Nigel's fruitcake 7

By the way, I’m not the sort to make a fruitcake months in advance and mop it with booze every few days – only because my mom doesn’t like hard alcohol, and a super boozy fruitcake isn’t appealing to kids either, and I aim to raise another fruitcake lover to help keep the cakes alive for future generations. If you want to feed yours, Nigel suggests poking it all over the surface with a skewer or, as his mother did, with a knitting needle, and spooning over 3-4 Tbsp of brandy at a time – enough to moisten without making the cake soggy. Wrap it in parchment or waxed paper and store it in a tin, opening it up to feed every few days over a few weeks to a month.

Nigel Slater's fruitcake
Nigel Slater's fruitcake

Nigel’s Fruitcake


December 5, 2017


1 cup butter, at room temp

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar (Nigel specifies 1/2 light, 1/2 dark)

grated zest + juice of an orange

grated zest + juice of a lemon

3 large eggs

65 g ground almonds (about 1/2 cup)

100 g shelled, toasted hazelnuts, cut roughly in half or quarters

650 g dried fruits (prunes, apricots, figs, candied peel, candied cherries)

350 g vine fruits (raisins, currants, dried cranberries)

3 Tbsp brandy or cognac (plus extra if you want to douse your cake)

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt (my addition)


1Preheat the oven to 325F and line the bottom of a deep 9-inch round pan (or springform pan) with a double layer of parchment. Butter the pan, including the parchment on the bottom.

2In a large bowl, using the paddle attachment of your stand mixer if you have one, beat the butter, sugars, and the orange and lemon zests for a few minutes, scraping down the sides of the pan, until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time - don't worry if the mixture appears curdled. Slowly beat or mix in the ground almonds and hazelnuts, and then the dried fruits, brandy and the juice of the orange and lemon. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt; add it to the mix and stir or slowly blend just until combined.

3Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for an hour, then reduce the oven temperature to 300F and bake for another hour or so, until the cake is deep golden and springs back when you touch it. A bamboo skewer inserted in the middle should come back with just a few crumbs stuck to it. Cool it completely. If you want to feed it over the course of a few weeks or a month, Nigel suggests poking it all over the surface with a skewer or knitting needle, and pouring over just enough brandy to moisten without making the cake soggy - 3-4 Tbsp at a time. Do this every few days, keeping the cake wrapped in parchment or waxed paper in a tin in between, for up to a month. Makes 1 good-sized cake.


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9 comments on “Nigel’s Fruitcake

  1. James
    December 5, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Julie –

    Mr. Slater is a staple at my house too; and The Christmas Chronicles is a fab book.
    In regards to seasonal cakes, you also might look at Delia Smith’s Dundee Cake which isn’t too heavy and benefits from being fed with a sprinkling of whisky a few days before eating. Fruit cakes are best when they can sit for a while first and mellow.

  2. Diane
    December 5, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    I would make this but I have 5 Alton Brown “Best Christmas Cakes” in the fridge awaiting their next brandy splash. How I would love to try this cake in your kitchen, Julie!

  3. Anita
    December 5, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    Yay! So glad you posted the recipe. I’ve been thinking about this cake ever since you posted it on Instagram and the library doesn’t have the book yet. Thank you!

  4. Anonymous
    December 5, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    I just made Elizabeth Baird’s recipe which you reference. Pretty similar but I soaked the dried fruit in rum and the juice of an orange and a lemon for 3 days prior to baking. Haven’t tried it yet as it is aging with more rum. I also heard on the Bon Appetit podcast that Xmas cake is making a comeback and is good on a charcuterie platter. Interesting.

  5. stacey snacks
    December 6, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for posting Nigel’s recipe……I have been waiting since you posted the pics on instagram! I LOVE FRUITCAKE!
    and thanks for translating the metric measurements for dopes like me!


  6. judy
    December 7, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Hi Julie
    I have been making Mary Berry’s (Great British Bake off) Christmas fruitcake for a few years and love the results. I tend to add uncrystallized ginger slices, dried apricots and the tart dried montmorency cherries vs the glazed kind. In fact I play around with all the dried fruit options but keep the weight accurate to the recipe. I wash off any oil which is often added to the dried cranberries to keep them soft and Mary Berry has you soak the dried fruit for 3 days prior to baking!
    I wrap my fruitcake in cheesecloth and place it in a ziplock bag in the fridge for 8 weeks and gently marinate it in whatever alcohol I like 3 times prior to eating. This allows for a moist cake but not too much alcohol overall.
    When you eat great fruitcake there is nothing finer to honour the festive season.
    Delighted to see so make fruitcake lovers on your blog.

    • Julie
      December 7, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Judy, this sounds amazing! Nigel says you can soak your fruit if you like, but that dried fruit doesn’t tend to be as dry as it used to be. I sometimes do, but also dislike when it gets too soft and gets mushy in the cake – it’s a fine balance! I love tart dried montmorency cherries – they’re as pricy as gold, but if I can keep myself from eating them all they’re perfect in a fruitcake! I’m going to give Mary Berry’s a try!

  7. Anonymous
    December 10, 2017 at 9:18 am

    I just read this book, picked it up at the Library. It is a fantastic read.

  8. judy
    December 11, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    The cherries are available at costco so not too expensive…haven’t had any problem yet with mushy fruit so I’ll keep you posted!

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