Traditional Christmas Desserts: Fruit Cake and Candied Fruits
Andreea Macoveiciuc | On 19, Dec 2013
What makes you feel the Christmas atmosphere at home? Decorating the Christmas tree, packing the presents or maybe playing your favorite Christmas carols? All these are part of the ritual for most of us, but what about cooking? Does the idea of baking your own cookies for this year’s festive dinner sound good to you?
One of the most renowned desserts for Christmas is the traditional Fruit cake, made with candied fruits or dried fruits, nuts and spices. The recipe varies slightly from one country to another, but the main ingredients are pretty much the same in all regions.
A universal dessert
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this traditional dessert, it’s worth mentioning that the earliest Fruit cake recipe dates from ancient Rome, when the dessert was prepared with raisins, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.
During the Middle Ages, people started adding honey, preserved fruits and spice to the recipe. Yet, the limited availability of some of the ingredients, as well as the religious dietary restrictions led to variations of the classical fruit cakes and gave birth to other desserts that are highly appreciated nowadays as well.
In Germany for example, the use of butter was forbidden by church until 1456, so the Christmas fruit cake – called Stollen or Christstollen, and symbolizing Infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes – was only made with flour, yeast, water and oil.
In 1430, the “Butterbrief” (Butter-Letter), a document allowing the use of milk and butter in cakes, was issued, but it took 60 years for the ban on butter to finally be removed. Pope Innocent VIII was the one who gave permission to Saxony to use the two ingredients in their fruit cakes.
- The typical American fruit cake is made with candied fruits and nuts;
- In the UK, fruit cakes are usually covered in marzipan and royal icing; currants, glace cherries, almonds and holly leaves are often used as decorations;
- In Canada, the dessert is called Christmas Cake, and although the recipe is pretty similar to the UK one, the cake is rarely iced;
- In Germany, the Stollen is still the traditional Christmas cake, but it’s made with yeast, butter, flour, water, raisins, almonds and zest;
- In India, those who celebrate Christmas often prepare a fruit cake packed with nuts and dry fruits;
- In Portugal, the Christmas cake is called Bolo Rei and includes a fava bean. Tradition says the person who finds the bean has to pay for the next year’s cake;
- In New Zealand, the fruit cake prepared for Christmas is usually made with dried fruits, iced or not, and decorated with a Christmas scene.
- In Romania, the Christmas fruit cake is called cozonac.
- In Trinidad and Tobago, the typical dessert prepared for Christmas is called black cake and incorporates lots of raisins and rum.
A healthy dessert?
What gives the flavor and taste of this traditional dessert is the candied fruits added in lower or higher amounts. Also called crystallized or glace fruits, these have been around since the 14th century, and can be prepared at home or bought from stores. Most commonly, candied fruit packs include cherries, dates, pineapple, orange peel, ginger and citron peel.
As their name implies, these candies are made with sugar – lots of sugar in fact, as the fruit pieces are soaked and drenched in sugar syrup until they absorb enough moisture to preserve them. For proper preservation, the entire water content of the fruits has to be replaced with sugar – this enhances the sweetness of the candies for sure, but what happens with the nutritional value of the original fruits?
According to calorieking.com, a serving of candied fruits (3.5 ounces) equals 351 calories, also translated as 37 minutes of jogging, 49 minutes of cycling or 89 minutes of walking. Nutritiondata.self.com gives a slightly different value, 90 calories per 1 ounce of candied fruits (315 calories per 3.5 ounces). But the problem here is not necessarily the high amount of calories, as it is the fact that most of them come from sugar.
Candied fruits have little to no nutritional value, they provide 0.1 g of protein and 0.4 g of fiber, and 23 g of sugar per 1 ounce of fruits. On the other hand, they’re low in cholesterol and fats, and contain some calcium and potassium.
Now, even if these fruits aren’t the healthiest ingredients in the Fruit cake, we’re talking about the Christmas cake here, right? Which is supposed to be tasty, not healthy, and assuming you’re only enjoying it once a year, it’s really not that important if you use candied fruits or dried fruits, which represent the healthier option. So go ahead, prepare this delicious cake and forget about calories at least on the Christmas day!
Here you can find a classical Fruit cake recipe for Christmas, with candied fruits included, and here’s another one, using dried fruits only. If you opt for home-made candied fruits, here are some indications on how to prepare them.
To end on a positive note, here’s an interesting New Year tradition from China (includes candied fruits and tea): in the first day of the New Year, tea is offered to the seniors of the family by the younger members. The receiver sips the tea while listening to the well wishes from the giver. After the well-wishing is said, the receiver returns a red packet and auspicious wishes to the offerer.
Before tea is offered, candied fruits and veggies are placed at the bottom of the teacups, each of them carrying specific auspicious meanings. Candied pineapple is offered to congratulate one for a great success, candied or dried coconut represents unity, candied ginger is offered as symbol of longevity, chestnuts are offered to congratulate for an achievement, and candied kumquat symbolize wealth and perfection.
Cute tradition, right? And we’d like to hear from you as well! Does your family prepare traditional Christmas desserts, such as the Fruit cake or candied fruits?