Aunty Em's Spectacular Fruitcake


Early this year I was visiting my mother and extended family. My brother had been given a fruitcake by Aunty Em & he declared that it was absolutely the best fruitcake he had ever tasted (Aunty Em is fast approaching 80 years young & still bakes her secret recipe wheat based fruitcakes to sell at local markets). Needless to say I wanted to check out the fruitcake for myself. My brother reluctantly gave me a sliver of cake, it was tiny, maybe 4 cm x 3 cm and wafer thin. It may have been a tiny piece but OMG, it was deliciously moist, almost pudding like and truly wonderful.  

I simply needed the recipe.

A few phone calls later & Aunty Em kindly passed on her recipe to me. The following recipe is my gluten free version of Aunty Em's Spectacular fruitcake.      


250 g Butter

300 g Brown sugar

1 tin Condensed milk

50 g Golden syrup

260 g Sultanas

220 g Dates

200 g Glace cherries

375 g Tawny port

1 tsp Mixed spice

1 tsp Bicarb

 275 g Bakers' Magic Gluten free flour

2 Eggs

2 tsp Baking powder

1/4 tsp Salt

Optional - extra blanched almonds to decorate the top of the cake

Sugar - there is no getting around it, it is a lot of sugar but the caramelisation of the sugar gives the cake it's wonderful texture and flavour.   


Day 1

Put the butter, sugar, condensed milk and golden syrup into a large heavy based saucepan over a low heat. Stir to combine the ingredients, when the butter has completely melted increase the heat. 

Boil mixture for ~7 mins. Start the timer when the mixture starts to expand. Depending on the saucepan used you may need to stir continuously to stop the caramel from catching on the bottom of the pan. Apparently Aunty Em boils this mixture for ~15 mins (I'm not sure whether her 15 mins is actually timed or a "I think that's about 15 mins"), I wasn't game to cook the caramel for that long in case it burnt. 

Turn the heat off but leave saucepan on the stove.

Add the dried fruit to the caramel & mix with a wooden spoon to completely coat the fruit. When the caramel cools down it will start to set. 

Pour in the tawny port & sprinkle on the mixed spice.

Stir the mixture until there are no lumps of caramel. 

Bring the mix to the boil, turn down the heat so that the mix is simmering not rapidly boiling. Simmer for 35 mins. The mix doesn't need to be stirred although I do every now & then.

Turn off the heat, add the bicarb & stir rapidly until the mix has expanded. Put the lid on & allow to cool overnight (it can be left for a couple of days at this stage). If you are time poor you can let the mix cool for a couple of hours & continue making the cake on the same day (I did a couple of batches this way). The mixture will be quite thick when cool but you should be able to stir it.

Day 2

Double line a cake tin with baking paper. The mix is sufficient for a 19 cm x 19 cm tin. I have also put the mix into a couple of tins, a 17.5 cm x 12.5 cm tin plus a 11 cm round tin and the remaining mix went into a star canape tube. The tins need to have a height of ~8 cm, when cooking the mix will expand a great deal & then shrink. 

The cake may sink a little in the middle when it has fully cooled (still tastes great). If you do not want the cake to sink in the middle; don't open the oven door, use a couple of round small tins (11 cm diameter is good), bake the cake at 110 degrees and bake it for a long time (~5 hours for a small round tin at 110 degrees).  

Turn the oven on to 120 degrees, although my oven is fan forced I would still recommend 120 degrees. If you are unsure of the temperature of your oven it is better to cook the cake at a lower temperature. A cake baked at 130 degrees (for 3.5 hours) in my oven was burnt around the edges, whereas a cake baked at 110 degrees (for 6 hours) was good. 

Check the fruit mix, can you stir it easily? If you can't stir it easily gently heat the mix until you can.

Whisk the eggs with a fork, add them to the fruit mix & stir to combine.

Mix together the Bakers' Magic Gluten free flour, salt & baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the fruit mix & stir to combine.

When the mix is uniform transfer it to the baking tin(s).

Optional - decorate the top with blanched almonds or another nut of your choice.

Bake for ~5.5 hours. The length of time will depend on the size of the tin, I baked the small round cake for ~4 hours. If you are unsure whether the cake is baked lightly touch the top of the cake at the side & then do the same for the middle of the cake. Do they feel the same? If they don't cook the cake for longer. If the cake wobbles it's not cooked & has a couple more hours to go. 

During baking the cake will rise considerably, stay at that volume for ~2 hours and then sink. Essentially the height of the cake will be the height of the cake batter before it is cooked.

I over estimated the capacity of one of my tins as the following photos will show.

The cake at the back had been in the oven for ~1 hour, whereas the front tins had just been put in. Oops I put too much in the round tin. I like the size of the round tin so next time I use it I will have a bigger collar of baking paper. 

The cake did overflow out of the round tin, I cut off the extra bits before it sunk. In the above photo the cake at the back of the oven is in the process of sinking.

Bring the cake out of the oven and put the tin on a cooling rack.

Aunty Em told me that her cakes sink a little in the middle so to have a flat top she cools the cake upside down. When the cake is just out of the oven cover the top of the cake with plastic clingwrap, ensure it covers the sides of the tin. Put a bread board on top of the plastic clingwrap. Invert the cake & breadboard leaving the tin encasing the cake. 

Let the cake cool upside down encased in the baking tin overnight.

gfemsfruitcake1300011When the cake has completely cooled take the tin off and wrap the cake in plastic clingwrap. Aunty Em splashes a bit more port on the sides of the cake before she wraps it up. 

Hide cake in a cool, dark place. If need be cut the cake in secret into tiny pieces to serve to guests.

I now understand why my brother only gave me a tiny piece of his cake.