Tropical Fruit Christmas Fruitcake

Dark, rich, chewy and moist, this may be the best Christmas fruitcake you've ever had — I can say it's by far and away the tastiest I've ever eaten. I've never been very enthusiastic about the store-bought fruitcakes that are always passed around at Christmas — loaded with sickly sweet and artificially-preserved sticky fruit bits, and usually dry by the time they're cut, they seem to fail on the promise that a rich dried-fruit cake ought to be able to deliver, and deserve the fruitcake jokes that get passed around with the same frequency. But I'm always willing to overcome my food prejudices — developed in so many cases in response to store-bought versions of various recipes — with a home-cooked edition using quality ingredients along with a little twist of my own.

Christmas Fruit Cake

And so with the classic Christmas fruitcake. Starting with a highly rated recipe from Alton Brown of the Food Network, I looked out the window at the cold grey autumn skies of southwestern Ontario and decided that a Christmas spent on a warm tropical island would be far preferable than the local rendering — freezing temperatures, snow shovels, and dirt-smudged city snow aren't quite what the Irving Berlin standard had in mind, I think. Using dried tropical fruits and nuts instead of the traditional currants, raisins, sultanas, glacé cherries and almonds seemed like just the twist I was looking for to let a warm sunny breeze blow through the windows of my mind.

Like good wines and cheeses, one of the secrets to making your own great fruitcake is to let it age, tightly sealed and kept moist with periodic brushings of rum or brandy. If possible, plan to bake your fruitcake at least a couple of weeks before sharing — but even cooled and served the same day, it will still be delicious.

The second and most important secret to making your own great fruitcake — and what makes this fruitcake such an especially fresh-tasting treat — is to use quality dried fruits and fresh home-cut citrus peels. Many commercial dried fruit products have added sugar and preservatives — if sugar has been added, it probably wasn't the best quality fruit to begin with, and the sugar overpowers the natural sweetness and flavours of good fruit, giving it that sticky and artificial taste that ruins most fruitcakes. You can find good dried fruit without added sugar or preservatives in health food stores, but this can be an expensive option. Bulk food stores often stock unadulterated dried fruit, but be sure to check the ingredients. But your best bets for inexpensive quality dried fruit — especially for tropical dried fruit — are often Asian or Chinese grocers. I found all sorts of exotic dried fruits — from pineapple, mango, and lychee to papaya, mangosteen and guava — without added ingredients and at very affordable prices at my own local Chinese grocer.

Of course, you're not limited to tropical fruits but only to your dried fruit desires. The fruitcake requires 4 cups of dried fruit, and my own tropical version contained 1 cup each of dried pineapple, mango and lychee, with a 1/2 cup of golden raisins and a 1/4 cup each of dried papaya and bananas. But any assortment and ratios according to your own preferences can be used to make a delicious fruitcake. You can make this recipe a traditional fruitcake by substituting currants, raisins, sultanas, glacé cherries or dried chopped apricots for the tropical fruits in any proportion as long as you end up with 4 cups of dried fruit. Dried blueberries, cranberries or chopped dried apples can also make good choices. For a traditional fruitcake, you can also omit the coconut, substitute apple juice or cider for the orange juice, and brandy for the rum. See the notes in the recipe below.

Icing or decoration for the fruitcake before serving is also optional, but will make the fruitcake a splendid visual treat as well — not to mention adding extra sweetness. A traditional marzipan, fondant or royal icing topping is always appropriate, and will keep firm longer if you're expecting the cake to last more than a day after serving. Otherwise, coconut or banana flavored cream cheese frostings or whipped cream chantillys are splendid for same day serving. But going with the theme of blending traditional and tropical, I iced my cake with a thin layer of kneaded and rolled marzipan — usually available in European grocers or delis — and scattered a quarter cup of toasted shredded coconut on top. Feel free to use your imagination.

Tropical Fruit Christmas FruitcakeTropical Fruit Christmas Fruitcake
Recipe by
Adapted from Alton Brown
Published on December 3, 2011

A dark, rich, moist and chewy traditional-style Christmas fruitcake with a twist provided by tropical fruits and coconut

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Tropical Blend:

1 cup dried pineapple, chopped
1 cup dried mangoes, chopped
1 cup dried lychee, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried papaya, chopped
1/4 cup dried bananas, chopped
 Traditional Blend:

1 1/2 cups glacé cherries, chopped
1 1/2 cups sultana raisins
1 cup currants
dried apricots or apples

  • 4 cups mixed dried fruit, chopped or diced (see above)
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried shredded coconut *
  • peel of 1 lemon, chopped (not grated)
  • peel of 1 orange, chopped (not grated)
  • 1 cup light rum *
  • 1 cup orange juice *
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 stick (5 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, chopped (optional) *
  • light or dark rum for brushing *
  • * See notes below
  • Combine the dried fruits, crystallized ginger, coconut and citrus peels in a large bowl. Pour the rum over the mixture, stir once, and let stand overnight to soften the fruit, stirring once again in the morning.

  • Pour the fruit and liquid into a large saucepan and stir in the orange juice, sugar, butter and ground spices. Gently bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool until room temperature or at least 15 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 325°. Spread the macadamia nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast until the nuts turn a light golden brown, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Leave the oven on at the same temperature.

  • Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into the fruit mixture, and combine. Break the eggs in a small bowl, whisk lightly, and stir into the mixture. Fold in the macadamia nuts.

  • Spoon the cake mixture into a 10-inch non-stick loaf pan, and bake in the 325° oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Lightly brush the top with rum — be careful not to overdo the rum as it can overpower the cake — and allow the cake to cool for 10-15 minutes before turning out from the pan. Let cool to room temperature.

  • Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate in a tightly-sealed container — it's not essential to refrigerate the cake, but it will hold together better when it's cut later. Check the top of the cake every 2-3 days, and lightly brush with more rum when it feels dry. Let the flavours of the cake develop with aging over a week or two before icing.

  • * Notes: for traditional style fruitcakes, omit the coconut and substitute brandy for rum, apple juice or cider for orange juice, and almonds for macadamia nuts.

Makes one 10-inch fruitcake

tropical fruit cake

Other Christmas ideas from Lisa's Kitchen:
Nigella's Christmas Pavlova
Tropical Christmas Steamed Pudding
Rum Balls


Chitra said...

Toooo good :)

Priya Suresh said...

Omg, wonderful looking super exotic fruit cake,loving it.

vegetarian said...

looks yummy! going to try this on the coming christmas!

Corina said...

This looks lovely - I've never tried making my own Christmas cake but each year I think this might be the year I do.

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Back in the day I used to make my own fruitcake soaking it for months in run. Your post makes me wish I still carried on this tradition.

Johanna GGG said...

have my christmas cake wrapped and can't wait to try it - love reading all your tips about christmas cake - Love your addition of coconut - I am not so into the tropic fruits - I love dried stone fruits but I love coconut and it goes with stone fruits so well.

Lisa Turner said...

I love dried stone fruits too, and I'd love to try your Christmas cake Johanna. But I absolutely adore dried pineapples!

Rita said...

This is the kind of fruitcake my family love; thank you.

Ruth Ellis said...

This sounds delicious - the coconut sells it for me!