Sometimes a label can kill a recipe. Ask a random sampling of people whether they would like to taste your fruitcake and most of them would grimace, answering “NO!!!” or “no, thank you” if they didn’t know you well and wanted to be polite. But ask them to try spice cake and you might well get a very different answer.
Still, I have one friend I have who likes fruitcakes and I was determined to make him one. He and I together make a small but significant party of two who would eat a delicious fruitcake in an instant and who wish people would stop buying those horrible packaged fruitcakes that give this delicacy a bad name.
But back to the story of these cakes. A recipe called Individual Fruitcakes on Serious Eats caught my eye. On closer inspection, I thought it was really more of a spice cake with a small amount of candied fruit. And after I finished adapting it (or patschkying around with it as my grandmother would have said), it was definitely way too good to call a fruitcake in proper society. While I did keep looking for a “real” fruitcake for my friend, I also made this one – and you don’t need to guess which one seems to be more popular.
Note on candied fruit peel – While you could omit the orange and lemon peel, they add a citrus note that goes especially well with the spices in the batter. Cut into tiny dice, the peel bears no relation to the gummy chunks that many find offensive in store-bought fruitcake. I urge you to make the peel yourself (I kid you not, it’s simple), but if you don’t, a small amount of high quality store-bought peel will work fine.
Small Spice Cakes
Servings – 2 small loaf cakes (3 x 6½-inch) Cost – $4-8 (depending on whether you make your own candied fruit)
- 1½ cups all purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper (preferably white pepper)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4-5 pieces + extra (or cooking spray) for greasing pan if not using paper
- ½ cup maple syrup
- ⅓ cup honey
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar (not tightly packed)
- ¼ cup water
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup mixed diced candied orange and lemon peel
- ½ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)
- Cutting board
- 2 small loaf pans Note – I used heavy paper loaf pan molds available from kitchen specialty stores or online at Amazon. If you don’t have similar size pans, regular or mega muffin pans with liners or silicone muffin molds should work if you adjust the baking time down.
- Large bowl
- Large spoon
- Small pot (saucepan)
- Small cookie sheet
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Dice the candied orange and lemon peel. (Whether you make the candied peel or buy it, dice it small, the smaller the better.) Chop the nuts. Set the diced peel and chopped nuts aside. If your peel is gooey and the pieces stick together, dust them with ground nuts, nut flour, or a tiny bit of “regular” (wheat) flour. I used some pistachio “dust” I had on hand from chopping pistachios for another recipe.
- Combine the butter, maple syrup, honey brown sugar and water in the pot, stirring them until the butter is melted and the ingredients are mixed together. Remove the mixture from the heat and cool until you can comfortably touch the side of the pot.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices together in the large bowl, whisking them until thoroughly mixed.
- Pour the liquid into the flour and spice mixture, stirring it until it is a uniform, light brown batter. Add the fruit peel and nuts and mix again.
- Fill each loaf pan and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted into a loaf comes out clean.
- Cool the loaves on the cookie sheet, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.
These loaves will last several days at room temperature wrapped in plastic . They make beautiful gifts, a treat great for dunking into tea or coffee or simply enjoying on its own.