Johnny Carson once made a joke about fruitcakes: "There is only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other." And although it's just a joke, considering how long a properly made and stored fruitcake can last, it's almost possible. The alcohol added to the cake to age and maintain it acts as a preservative, allowing people to keep or regift a fruitcake for years.
Aging a Fruitcake
There are three steps to making a fruitcake: The actual baking, the aging process, and then proper storage. The aging process for a true fruitcake is between one and three months, therefore a fruitcake should be made well in advance as it needs to sit for quite some time.
After you bake it, it is time to give the finished fruitcake its preservative treatment. You can either soak cheesecloth in brandy, bourbon, whiskey, rum or other liquor and then wrap it around the cooked, cooled fruitcake before wrapping in plastic wrap and storing, or simply brush the cake with an alcohol of your choice and wrap tightly.
Fruitcake should be tightly wrapped and stored in a cool, dry place while aging. If you wrapped your cake in soaked cheesecloth, resoak the cloth once a week and age for six weeks to three months. Cakes simply wrapped in plastic wrap should be brushed with more alcohol every few days during the first two months.
Storing a Fruitcake
Once a fruitcake has been aged it can be eaten or gifted. Otherwise, store it tightly wrapped in the refrigerator. Fruitcakes soaked in liquor can last for months or even years if you periodically add more liquor. Since alcohol kills bacteria, it slows down the spoiling process.
Some fruitcake fans won't even touch a fruitcake until it has aged at least three years, although it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within a year. If you're squirmish about eating food that old or didn't plan that far ahead, a cake aged for six or seven weeks will be more than safe to eat and still delicious.
Fruitcakes are among cakes that freeze well but need to be aged at least four weeks before freezing since the alcohol doesn't mellow while frozen. Interestingly enough, the fruitcake's life is shorter if frozen than if refrigerated. Consume a frozen fruitcake within one year. If you are frosting the cake, do so just before serving.
Some fruitcakes are made without any alcohol to appeal to a different or younger audience. These versions can sometimes be dry and rock hard, but if you are the recipient of an alcohol-free cake, don't despair—you can revive it. Just follow these simple steps:
- Using a skewer, poke numerous holes into all sides of the cake, pushing the skewer all the way through to the other side.
- Add 1/2 cup alcohol, such as brandy, cognac or rum, to a large saucepan with a bit of orange zest. Place cake on top and heat until the liquor begins to simmer.
- Cover and steam for a few minutes, spooning the sauce all over the cake. Continue covering the pan and then spooning sauce until most of the alcohol is absorbed.
- Remove from the heat, cover the cake, and let sit for five minutes. Set the cake on a plate to cool and serve.
Fruitcakes without any alcohol should be consumed within a few days of baking or tightly wrapped and frozen for up to six months.