There are two types of people in this world. People who like fruitcake, and weirdoes who don't like fruitcake.
(Apologies if you're one of the latter. I suppose I should be grateful you're out there, because that means more fruitcake for me.)
If you're one of the former, I think you'll especially enjoy today's recipe, which pairs an almond shortbread base with a gooey fruit topping that will satisfy your deepest, darkest fruitcake cravings.
This year, I want to help you get into the holiday spirit with a little something I'm calling the 12 Days of Christmas Cookies.
From December 14 to 25, I'm posting a new holiday cookie recipe each day. Did you miss one? You can catch up on my Christmas Cookies page.
A Fruitcake Walks Into a Bar
The problem with fruitcake is that most commercial versions have too little fruit and too much cake.
And let's be honest, what really matters in a fruitcake is the boozy fruit and the marzipan frosting. The cake is just a delivery mechanism.
These bars skip right to the chase by leaving out the cake. Instead, there's a buttery almond shortbread base that echoes the flavour of the marzipan, and a gooey brown sugar layer filled with the very best part of the fruitcake - a mix of brandy-soaked dried and candied fruits.
They're probably best described as part fruitcake, part butter tart, and all sugary-sweet deliciousness.
A Short History of the Much-Maligned Fruitcake
The poor fruitcake gets such a bad rap in pop culture. It gets compared to a fruitcake, and jokingly regifted year after year. There's even a National Fruitcake Toss Day in the calendar on January 3rd.
The original recipe dates back to the Middle Ages, when dried fruits became more widely available, though it bears little resemblance to what you'd find in your local bakery nowadays.
Modern-day fruitcake first emerged in the 18th century, when its combination of expensive candied fruits and nuts made it a splurge worthy of a special occasion, hence why it's still traditionally served at weddings and holidays in many countries. Thanks to its high sugar and alcohol content, a good fruitcake can keep for months or even years without going bad. (Though in my house, it rarely lasts more than a few weeks.)
What's the Best Fruit for Fruitcake?
The most important part of any fruitcake recipe is the mixture of dried fruit that's soaked overnight in brandy. And that goes double for these squares.
What fruit you choose is really up to you. Personally, I chose to use a combination of dried apricot, cranberries, cherries and raisins, but I won't judge if you'd rather go in a different direction.
There are no rules here. Hate raisins? Leave them out. Love cranberries? Make an all-cranberry version to prove your devotion. Just make sure that any larger fruits, such as apricots or prunes, are chopped into smaller bite sized pieces so that they're more evenly distributed.
As for the brandy, you can choose to swap it out for rum, sherry, whisky or bourbon. If you'd prefer an alcohol-free version, try swapping out a strong black tea or fresh orange juice for a totally different (but equally delicious) flavour profile.
More Fruitcake-Inspired Treats
Need more fruitcake in your life? Here are some delicious treats inspired by the most classic of Christmas desserts:
- Christmas Cake Balls from Kitchen Heals Soul
- Christmas Fruitcake Cookies from Lord Byron's Kitchen
- Jewelled Biscotti from Natasha's Kitchen
- Fruitcake Fudge from Wonky Wonderful
These festive treats take all the best parts of a fruitcake and a butter tart, all wrapped up in one easy shortbread-based square. Unlike a traditional fruitcake, you don't need to plan weeks ahead, though you do need to soak the fruits overnight in brandy.
- 1 cup mixed dried fruits (e.g. finely chopped apricot, cranberries, cherries, raisins, currants, etc)
- ¼ cup brandy or rum
- ½ cup salted butter, softened
- ½ cup icing sugar
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1 ¼ cup flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
- 2 tbsp flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup mixed peel
- ½ cup glace cherries, cut in half
- 1 cup roughly chopped pecans
Make the Boozy Fruit (Soak Overnight):
- In a small mixing bowl, stir together the dried fruits and brandy. Cover and set aside to rest overnight.
Prepare the Base:
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8" x 8" pan and line with parchment, leaving a 1" overhang on either side.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter and icing sugar until combined. Stir in the almond extract, then add flour and stir until well combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, then remove and set aside to cool while you prepare the topping.
Make the Topping:
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, flour and baking powder. Stir in the peel, cherries, pecans, along with the boozy fruit and any liquid that hasn't soaked in.
- Spread the topping mixture onto the base in an even layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are set and dry. Let cool completely in the pan, then run a knife along the edges to loosen and lift out using the parchment paper. Cut into squares and transfer to an airtight container for storage.
Storage: Store the squares in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month.
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 35 mins
- Category: Cookies
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Canadian