2016-12-08 / From The Garden

Island Fruitcake for the Holidays

By Cynthia Gibson

We have said good-bye to Thanksgiving for another year, so it is on to the winter holidays. I hate to sound Grinch-like or stingy, but I really prefer making things for people as gifts instead of buying something they may not like. I love to make jams, jellies, cookies, cakes, and candies.

A friend of mine once brought me an inspired Christmas gift – a rum cake from Jamaica. I wondered how it would taste with bits of dried fruit. I made one and it is delicious, moist, and will not last long on a cake plate.

We all have a history of downing nogs and punches at the holidays, so a rum fruitcake hits all the right bells.

The one ingredient most do not care for in a traditional fruitcake are the bits of citron. Sometimes the taste of citrus rind is bitter not a great flavor for a holiday cake. The usual brick-shaped fruitcake used to be soaked in rum, whiskey, or bourbon for up to two months in advance of giving it as a gift. One would venture a guess that the citrus bits didn’t much matter after one taste of the booze-soaked brick!

Cakes have been dipped in wine and herbal liqueurs for centuries. The fruitcake became popular in Victorian times, but because the ingredients were expensive and difficult to obtain, it became exclusive. Dried fruits, especially citrus and dates, came from exotic destinations.

Regrettably the downfall of the fruitcake as we know it was when a mail order baker began to sell and ship them. Preservatives were not yet used, so upon arrival, the box would be opened and there would sit a beautiful looking cake, but one that tasted like dried cardboard. Forget the past, try and erase the image from your holiday memory, and move on to a fabulous Jamaican rum cake with dates, raisins and coconut.

I hope you have a Bundt cake pan, as there is only a rum-sugar syrup that is brushed on top of the gateau. The hole in the center of the cake is just perfect for placing small sprigs of holly with their lovely red berries. This is a festive cake: No citrus, no dryness, no brick.

After your first bite, you might be contemplating making this delicious cake any time of the year. It will take a few minutes longer to make than if you use a boxed cake mix, but do your family and friends a huge favor. Make it from scratch.

Jamaican Rum Cake with Dried Fruits and Coconut

Serves 8

1/2 cup butter at room
1½ cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached flour, sifted
1½ tbsp. baking powder, sifted
with the flour
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
(any brand)
1 /2 cup rum of your choice
(Mt. Gay is the best for this cake)
1/2 cup dates
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup unsweetened coconut

Rum Syrup

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup rum
1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 3250

Cream the butter and eggs (one at a time) until the mixture is light and creamy. Use either an electric hand mixer or a food processor with the paddle attachment. Slowly add the flour and baking powder. Next, add the rum and vanilla extract. Add the dried fruit and coconut. Lastly add the yogurt and mix well. Mix on low to medium.

Spray a Bundt pan thoroughly with cooking spray, making sure to get inside all the nooks. Pour batter into the cake pan and bake for one hour.

Bake until a knife comes out with just a few dough crumbles on it. Remember: It is a moist batter. The cake will continue cooking in the pan until it cools. If the knife comes out and looks gooey, the cake is not done. Bake at least five minutes longer, and try the knife test again.

While the cake is baking, make the glaze.

Bring the powdered sugar, water and rum to a boil, making sure all the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear. Take the pot off the heat and set aside.

When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes. Invert onto a festive plate of your choice. Using a Teflon pastry brush, brush the liquid rum and sugar syrup over the top and sides of the cake. For a nice option, sprinkle powdered sugar on the top of the cake as well. Garnish with fresh sprigs of holly and celebrate the holidays!

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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