2 - 2½cupsof rumor unsweetened apple/orange juice, as needed
For the cake batter
Fruit mixdrained (reserve soaking liquid)
175gunsalted buttersoftened at room temperature
3tbspsweet rum or fruit juicefrom reserved soaking liquid
For maturing the fruit cake (optional):
1 - 2tbspbrandy or choice of liquorper brushing
Make and soak the fruit mix:
Cut up larger dried fruit into roughly the same size as the smaller fruit. Combine in a glass bowl.
Pour in enough rum (or juice) to cover all the fruit. Stir to moisten all the fruit.
Cover tightly with clingwrap or transfer to a suitable glass jar with an air-tight lid.
Leave overnight to soak at room temperature, or 3 - 5 days for deeper flavour. Note: Fruit mix soaked in juice will need to be placed in the chiller.
When preparing to bake the fruit cake, drain the fruit mix, and reserve 3 tbsp of the soaking rum or juice.
Bake the fruit cake:
Pre-heat oven to 150°C (300°F). Set the oven rack in the centre of the oven. Place a tray of hot water on the bottom of the oven. Line a 9 x 5" loaf pan with baking paper with a 2-inch overhang, and grease.
Sift the flour, baking powder and ground spices three times (3x).
Using a stand mixer or hand-held beater, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 mins.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.
Reduce the mixer speed to low. Fold the sifted flour mixture into the butter mixture in three batches, until well combined.
Fold in the syrup, milk and sweet rum (or juice) until well combined. At this point, the batter should be smooth, thick and of uniform consistency throughout.
Lastly, fold in the fruit mix (drained) and chopped walnuts by hand. Don't be alarmed, it will be very chunky! Make sure all the fruits and nuts are fully coated in batter.
Open the oven door SLOWLY from the side (and not standing in front) as hot steam will escape. Bake in water bath at 150°C (300°F) for 2 - 2½ hours, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cover with foil when the top is golden to prevent over-browning.
When done, allow the cake to cool in the pan on a rack.
To store and age the fruit cake:
Once the cake has cooled, brush generously with 2 tbsp brandy or choice of liquor.
Wrap and seal in several layers of cling wrap, and keep in an air-tight container. Place in a cool, dry and dark space like a pantry cupboard.
Once a week, brush the top and sides of the cake with 2 tbsp brandy to moisten and keep well. Re-wrap and seal tightly. Do this every week until Christmas, for a moist and richly flavoured cake.
Can I use a fruit pre-mix instead of making my own?
Yes, you absolutely can! The quantity of the pre-mix should not exceed the total quantity of the individual dried fruits, by weight. Different brands of pre-mixed fruit can vary in sugar content. Some can be cloyingly sweet. You should still macerate the fruit pre-mix in liquor or juice to soften and moisten them, as well as to rid of excess sugar.
What constitutes a good homemade fruit mix?
When making your own fruit mix, try to strike a good balance between sweet-tasting dried fruit and tart ones. Choose from the wide variety of unsweetened dried fruit like currants, raisins, golden raisins or sultanas, dried cranberries, crystallised ginger, dried blueberries, figs, apricots, prunes, and dates.For nuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and cashews are popular choices.However, keep bitter-tasting citrus peel to a minimum, as too much can be unpleasant to taste.
How long can homemade fruit mix keep?
If soaked in rum, the fruit mix will keep well in a cool, dark and dry space for up to 6 months. With juice-soaked fruit, it needs to be stored in the chiller and used within 5 days. To keep well, make sure the fruit is covered in the soaking liquid. Give the liquor-soaked fruit mix the occasional stir once every couple of weeks.
How do I store fruit cake?
Once completely cooled, wrap the fruit cake in several layers of cling wrap and place in an air-tight container. Place in a cool, dark and dry area of the kitchen like a pantry. Fruit cakes aged with liquor can keep well for up to 6 months or longer. Fruit cakes without liquor will keep for up to 5 days.