Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Brandied Raisin-Nut Cake

In today's Boston Globe is a cherished recipe that I learned from my mom. I can sense your skepticism, but trust me, it's amazing and totally worth the effort.

Brandied raisin-nut cake
December 2, 2009

Makes one 10-inch cake

At the holidays when I was a child, a large tin in the dining room held a fruit-laden cake that fascinated me. I really wanted to try some right after my family made it at the beginning of December, but the cake was soaking in brandy. This isn’t one of those red-and-green-studded cakes everyone has strong (mostly negative) opinions about. Our family’s is made with select dried fruits (I prefer figs, dates, apricots, currants, and raisins), soaked overnight with walnuts in brandy. (Tip: When you chop the fruits, coat your knife with pan spray to prevent them from sticking.) Make the batter in an electric mixer or in an oversize bowl with a hand-held mixer. Wrap the outside and inside of a 10-inch tube pan with foil so the batter does not leak. After baking, wrap the cake in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and several layers of foil. Aging for at least two weeks mellows the flavors and softens the fruit, but keep the cheesecloth moist to prevent the cake from drying out. On Christmas morning, I always ripped open Santa’s packages and made a beeline to the kitchen to devour a piece of fruit cake. Brandy and all. Maybe that’s why I have such fond memories.

8 cups chopped dried fruit (such as figs, dates, apricots, currants, apples, peaches)
1 cup raisins
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups brandy
Butter (for the pan)
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
Extra brandy (for soaking)

1. In a large bowl, mix the dried fruits, raisins, walnuts, and brandy. Cover with plastic wrap; soak overnight.

2. Set the oven at 275 degrees. Butter a 10-inch tube pan. Wrap the outside in heavy duty foil. Line the inside walls with a large strip of foil. Butter the foil.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom to blend them.

4. In an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Beat in the brown sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a large metal spoon, fold in the flour mixture. Then stir in the soaked fruits, nuts, and brandy. Spoon the batter into the pan, and smooth the top with the spatula. Cover the pan with foil, crimping the edges to seal them.

6. Bake the cake for 4 hours, rotating the pan from front to back after 2 hours. Raise the oven temperature to 325 degrees, remove the foil, and continue baking for 30 minutes. (Total baking time is 4 1/2 hours.) The cake will be very dark.

7. Cool the cake in the pan. Turn it out onto a large deep plate. Peel off the foil. Soak several layers of cheesecloth large enough to cover the top of the cake in brandy. Place the cheesecloth on top of the cake. Re-wrap the entire cake in foil. Set in an airtight tin or cover with plastic wrap. Set on a large plate.

8. Store in a cool, dry place for at least 2 weeks, resoaking the cheesecloth after 1 week.


  1. i love fruitcake (the good kind--not the gross kind with bright green cherries) and i think i'm going to try this, with some substitutions (pecans and/or some other nut besides walnuts) and something less gross than rasins. but my main question is: what kind of brandy should i use? i don't think i've ever even purchased brandy, and since it plays such a huge role in the cake, i want it to be tasty. any recommendations?

  2. also, i do actually know how to spell raisins.

  3. we used christian brothers. ever since we moved to california, ben has been on a cheap california brandy kick. the cake was delicious. so, i don't see any reason why you would spend more than what it costs something in that vein. now, i am curious to know what my mom used. i will ask and let you know.

    p.s. i love that you clarified what kind of fruitcake you like by saying, "not the gross kind with bright green cherries". i feel like i have been defending the merits of this recipe for my whole life, using the same phrase!

  4. this has always been one of my favorite holiday recipes. just the smell of the fruit and brandy soaking would start the taste buds flowing. for many years this would kick off the holiday season. of course now that i have less people at home i have to be carefull not to eat more than i should.