Alton Brown’s Fruitcake

Alton Brown’s Fruitcake

Every Christmas for the past eight or so years, I make fruitcake to gift to some of my relatives. (They like it! I promise!) I myself am not a fan of fruitcake, but the past two or three years I’ve made a point of sampling what I make to see if I can make one that I like. What have I learned from my attempts?

Don’t use too raisins – I simply don’t like them
Only use relatively fresh dried fruit – this should be obvious, but it bears reminding (myself)
Don’t make the fruitcake too clovey – subtle spice is better
Don’t make the fruitcake too boozy – that is, as long as you want to actually eat it

This year I made my best fruitcake to date. Continuing on my Good Eats kick, I tried Alton Brown’s Fruitcake recipe. What makes this fruitcake special? It’s lightly spiced, for one – not too many cloves. I only used fruit I liked – sure, I used some raisins, but I also used cranberries, cherries, mixed berries, apricots, and candied ginger. It also includes some apple juice (or cider, as I used), and a not overwhelming amount of rum.

Also, I made mini loaves, great for snacking.

alton brown's free-range fruitcake

I forgot I needed an orange and a lemon, so I couldn’t use them (and forgot to add lemon extract later on). I soaked all my fruit in a mixture of white and aged rum overnight.

The next evening, I combined the fruit and rum with sugar, butter, apple cider, and spices (freshly ground allspice and cloves, with cinnamon and ground ginger). I brought the mixture to a boil, and then simmered the fruit for about 5 minutes. This made the liquid nicely syrupy. I let the mixture cool for at least 15 minutes.

I mixed the flour with the leavenings and stirred in the fruit mixture with a wooden spoon. I added the eggs, one at a time, mixing until the eggs were well incorporated. I added 1/2 of nuts (walnuts, perhaps? I can’t recall), and then dished the batter evenly into five (6 x 2.5 inch paper) mini loaf pans that I had placed on a baking sheet. I dished out the batter evenly, and got the loaf pans no more than 2/3 full – they might have been as low as half.

Because of the paper loaf pans, I adjusted the baking temperature downward from 325F. I baked them at 300F for… I don’t know how long. I think I checked them at 20 minutes, and they probably baked 30. Honestly, I just baked them until they looked set and done on top – not gooey – and a toothpick came out clean. I promise, I’ll write down the time next time!

I removed the loaf pans from the baking sheet and put them on cooling racks and trivets. I may have forgotten to spray my loaves with brandy until after they cooled. And yes, I used a spray bottle – it was a little easier, faster, and cleaner than brushing. I left the loaves in their paper pans, and I spritzed often over the next day or so to ensure they were well doused before I gave them as gifts. I slipped the gift loaves into small cellophane bags, which I sealed with stickers since there wasn’t enough plastic overhang to use a twist tie. I stored my loaves in a large, lidded glass container.

alton brown's fruitcake
A slice of miniature fruitcake

The fruitcake certainly smelled like brandy when you unwrapped it. The flavor of it was definitely there as well, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Without the heavy spices, the flavor of the cake was more like a rum cake than a spice cake. The cake was dense – but not soggy or too heavy – and had lots of fruit. Not being a fruitcake enthusiast, I’ve felt it to be a struggle to get through pieces of other fruitcake I’ve made – but not this one. I enjoyed eating it, in relatively small pieces. This is where I think the mini loaf pans come in handy, because they ensure that your slices will be small.

Honestly, it is a testament of the quality of this fruitcake that Alex and I have enjoyed it this much. We’re still working on this one – after all, it won’t go bad – and it’s still a pleasure to eat.

Still interested in fruitcake? You can see a review of King Arthur Flour’s Golden Fruitcake and check out recipes for Panettone, Stollen, and Fruitcake Drops if you want a few fruitcake-like alternatives.

Interested in making other food gifts? See my favorites, as well as a few tips, in this blog post about Giftable Food.

Alton Brown's Free-Range Fruitcake
Prep Time
50 mins
Cook Time
35 mins
Optional Overnight Soak
8 hrs
Total Time
1 hr 25 mins

Homemade fruitcake is much better than store-bought! And easy to make. Uses only dried fruit - no candied fruit here! 

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: English
Keyword: Alton Brown's fruitcake, homemade fruitcake
Servings: 5 small loaves
Author: Leona Konkel
Fruit Soak (overnight preferred)
  • 1 cup raisins (150 grams)
  • 1 cup currants (150 grams) (I usually substitute half raisins and half cranberries)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (75 grams
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries (75 grams)
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries (75 grams)
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots (92 grams) (chopped)
  • Zest of one lemon (zested or chopped coarsely) (you can use 1/8 teaspoon lemon extract instead)
  • Zest of one orange (zested or chopped coarsely) (you can use 1/8 teaspoon orange extract instead)
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger (35 grams) (chopped)
  • 1 cup gold rum (227 grams) (use apple cider instead if desired)
Cake Batter
  • 1 cup sugar (198 grams)
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (140 grams/ 1 1/4 sticks)
  • 1 cup apple juice (227 grams)
  • 4 whole cloves (ground) (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves)
  • 6 allspice berries (ground) (or 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried ginger
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (264 grams flour)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans (chopped) (optional)
  • Brandy or rum for basting
Fruit Soak
  1. Combine dried fruit, candied ginger, and zests. (If using orange or lemon extract, add it later instead.) Add rum and let set overnight, or microwave for 5 minutes to hydrate the fruit.
  1. Combine fruit with its liquid, sugar, butter, apple juice, and spices in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for 15 minutes.
  2. Add flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to the mixture, mixing until combined. Stir in eggs, one at a time, orange and/or lemon extracts if using, and nuts.
  3. Pour into a greased or parchment-lined 10-inch loaf pan and bake at 325F for 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If using 6 x 2.5 inch loaf pans, fill 5 greased paper loaf pans and bake at 300F for 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Basting and Storage
  1. Brush hot cake immediately with rum or brandy. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan to a cooling rack.

  2. Store in an airtight container and brush with brandy every 2 or 3 days. (If not using alcohol in the cake, I recommend storing it in the fridge.)

Recipe Notes

Use whatever dried fruit you would like. It ends up being 617 grams, or 1 1/3 pounds, plus the candied ginger.

You can substitute apple juice/cider for the rum, and brush with apple cider after baking, to make this recipe alcohol-free. I recommend storing the fruitcake in the fridge if you do.

Adapted from Alton Brown. Cooking time for the large loaf pan is his; baking times for small loaves are mine.

Recipe updated 10/19/2018

(Originally posted January 17, 2013. Updated October 2018.)

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