Grandma Keizer’s Fruitcake

The holiday treat everyone loves to hate.

Grandma Keizer's Fruitcake / Especially Edible

Fruitcake gets a bad reputation. Even Edward Gorey can’t find anything nice to say about it.

Edward Gorey Fruitcake

And I can see why. Who wants to eat something packed with Day-Glo green glace cherries, something that’s dense as a brick, something that’s been marinating in alcohol in the dark for two weeks? Even Alton Brown’s fruitcake recipe for Food Network recommends letting it sit for fourteen days, preserved only by an occasional spritz of brandy. It all reminds me a bit too much of that third-grade science fair project where some of the pea plants are grown in the dark, some in the light, and some with strains of classical music in the background.

Grandma Keizer's Fruitcake / Especially Edible

Fruitcake has been reworked before. Harry & David, the company famous for its fruit baskets, has a “fruitcake confection” that was a hot seller during the two holiday seasons that I worked the phones in the order-entry department. But I have a recipe that tops anything I hawked to phone customers. My grandmother’s recipe, which was her mother’s recipe, isn’t so much a reworking as an original. It’s nothing like traditional fruitcake – in fact, with its notable lack of bright red and green candied fruit, it reminds me more of a yeastless, molasses-y panettone than a typical cake. It would never be the punchline of that Christmas joke about the cake that gets regifted every year for a decade.

Grandma Keizer's Fruitcake / Especially Edible

My grandmother mailed me the actual recipe card for “Old-Fashioned Dark Fruitcake,” filled with faded, spidery handwriting, that her mother had used. Like a lot of old recipes, it’s short on specifics: a list of ingredients, some with measurements and some without, and a notable lack of clear directions. “Walnuts, pecans, candied fruit, currants, walnut meats – some of each” is all that’s written about the mix-ins for the cake. On the back of the card, notes like “Put fruit with wine overnight” are scrawled in the margins.

Grandma Keizer's Fruitcake / Especially Edible

The original fruitcake, as made by my great-grandmother, was baked in empty tin cans lined with wax paper. I chose a mini bundt cake pan, because I wanted to halve the recipe, and I decided – pretty arbitrarily – that I’d toss in one cup of assorted nuts and one cup of dried fruit. (The candied fruit, however, would have to go altogether.) I also added a bourbon glaze, for no other reason than to add some visual interest to an otherwise dull-looking brown cake. (My mini bundt pan does not have the prettiest details, which doesn’t help.)

Grandma Keizer's Fruitcake / Especially Edible

The fruitcake that emerged from my oven may not have been an exact replica of my grandmother’s, but it turned out pretty well . . .  for a fruitcake. Even my official taste tasters/parents, who weren’t overly enthusiastic about the enterprise to begin with, liked this cake. My grandmother’s recipe is not getting dropped down any hole in the ice, thanks.

Grandma Keizer's Fruitcake / Especially Edible

Grandma Keizer's Fruitcake

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 1 cake


For the Cake

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

4 large eggs

3 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/3 cup molasses

1/3 cup bourbon

1 cup mixed dried fruit (I used raisins, cranberries, and apricots)

1 cup mixed nuts (I used pecans and walnuts)

For the Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2-3 Tbs. bourbon (add liquid until the glaze is thin enough to drizzle)


Place bourbon and dried fruit in a small bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Let soak for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 250.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy and light. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in molasses.

Beat dry ingredients into wet. Drain remaining liquid from dried fruit and fold into the batter.

Pour the batter into a 10-cup bundt pan coated with cooking spray.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl and add the bourbon. Whisk until any lumps disappear. Drizzle glaze over the cake.

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