Ah, Christmas! I love the idea of keeping warm before a crackling fire, sipping hot apple cider and taking long walks in the peaceful snowy forest. Christmas is supposed to bring to mind images of goodwill, merriment, giving and family, however often you find yourself frazzled, running around to make sure you get all your Christmas tasks completed as well as your usual responsibilities. My intent each Christmas is to slow down, to have the time to give of myself —- to give something that is more important than presents or money —- time. One year, in order to get myself into the Christmas spirit I decided to mentally take myself back to those snowy woods and peaceful evenings and thoughts of things that truly matter by re-creating the old tired gooey sugary Christmas fruitcake into a more natural and healthy alternative.
If you’re like me, you love the idea of Christmas Fruitcake, but you can’t stand the sickly sweet glacéed cherries that usually overpopulate them. These cherries have been transformed over decades from the maraschino cherries that used to be simply cherries soaked in a maraschino liquor, to cherries that are processed in a chemical soup, first bleached of their colour and then having dyes added to present them in all sorts of unnatural colours. I remember the joy I felt when I finally found a recipe that added only natural dried fruit and nuts. Eureka! And thus we share our Christmas Forest Fruitcake!
Chock full of dried apricots, pineapple, dates, blueberries, almonds and brazil nuts, each bite is full of crunchy, sweet goodness. It does remind me of walking through a forest on a snowy winter evening.
I’ve left two options for this fruitcake: cured and uncured, or if you prefer, preserved or unpreserved. If you choose to use the alcohol to preserve it, you should start at least 4 weeks before you intend to serve it, or preferably, 6 weeks. If you choose the unalcoholized version, you are able to bake it for a shorter time, as you won’t need a drier cake to absorb the liquid. For more detailed instructions you can see the note in the recipe.
I hope those of you who try it check back and let me know what you think. For me, it’s a much preferred version of a wonderful Christmas favourite.
Christmas Forest Fruitcake
A healthy Christmas tradition, chock full of dried fruit and nuts. It will become a new favourite!
- 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
- ½ cup dried pineapple, cut into ½" pieces
- ½ cup dried apricots, cut into ½" pieces
- 1 ½ cups dates, chopped
- ½ cup dried blueberries
- ¾ cup whole almonds
- 1 ½ cups Brazil nuts
- 1 ⅓ cups spelt flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup coconut sugar, or sugar of your choice
- 3 chia "eggs", or regular eggs (see note)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons water, if using chia eggs
- 4 tablespoons liquor of your choice, for dousing, if using
Heat oven to 300ºF. Brush a 9-inch springform pan with butter; line with parchment, if desired and brush again with butter.
Combine fruits and nuts in a medium bowl and set aside.
If using, make chia "eggs" by mixing 3 tablespoons ground chia with 9 tablespoons of water. (1 "egg" = 1 tablespoon ground chia with 3 tablespoons water) Set aside for about 5 minutes until congealed.
Sift flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt in another bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter until soft and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add sugar and beat until well incorporated, about another 2-3 minutes. Add chia eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated (or if using eggs, add eggs one at a time and beat after each addition, then add vanilla)
Add flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two additions. If using the chia eggs, add the 2 tablespoons of water slowly until the mixture is cake batter-like. Fold in fruit and nuts. It will seem that there's lots of fruit and nuts, but don't worry, it will all work out!
Pour the batter into the springform pan and push it around until it meets edges and is uniform. Bake for approximately 2 ¼ hours. Make sure you check it at about 45 minutes --- it will start to get dark at around this point, so you'll have to cover it with aluminum foil. (See note if you are not using alcohol.)
When done, cool on a wire rack. Remove from pan. If you are not curing it, you can begin to eat it now.
If curing the cake, cover it with cheesecloth. Douse with about ¼ cup of the liquor of your choice (I use Grand Marnier), then douse weekly with the same amount for 4 - 6 weeks before serving.
For Chia "Eggs": 1 Egg = 1 tablespoon of ground chia mixed with 3 tablespoons water. Let rest for at least 5 minutes.
I know. The cooking time seems like too long, doesn't it? However, the long cooking time allows the cake to be a little less moist so it can absorb the liquor during the curing process and not have too much moisture. This helps with the preservation. Without the curing, you can take the cake out of the oven earlier by probably about 15-20 minutes,so it's a little moister. Just keep an eye on it and adjust as necessary.
Food for Thought: “Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many — not your past misfortunes of which all men have some.” ~ Charles Dickens