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The Vine: December 11, 2013

Submitted by on December 11, 2013 – 8:47 AM22 Comments


I am wondering if the Nation could help me out. My father loves a traditional fruitcake and I want to make one for him this holiday season.

The problem (not really a problem) is that he is about 18 months sober and he is still not comfortable with cooking or baking with alcohol. I have tried Google but none of the non-alcoholic fruitcake recipes I found seemed right. Are there any bakers who could point me in the direction of a non-alcoholic fruitcake recipe, or a way to modify an existing recipe? Thank you!



Hi Nation!

Looking for a good Beethoven book to give as a gift. I’ve been browsing online and so far it’s been really difficult to tell which one is a solid biography and which is more fiction than bio! Recommendations? Is there any new research out there that is amazing? My friend loves the Massie biographies of Catherine the Great and such, and I know Beethoven is his favorite composer but he doesn’t own any Beethoven biographies yet.


Ode to Yule




  • melina says:

    For A: King Arthur Flour has a bunch of fruitcake recipes and at least some suggest subbing apple juice for the liquor. I’ve never made any of them (my mom likes her fruitcake as alcoholic as possible, and I never think of starting in September for the proper effect, so I wind up getting storebought) but I’ve never known their recipes to steer anyone wrong. Their bakers will respond in the comments to questions as well, so there may be some useful info there as well. Good luck, and good for your dad for doing a really hard thing!

  • Otter says:

    I haven’t made it alcohol-free, but I think Alton Brown’s “Free Range Fruitcake” would probably do quite well if you substituted some other tasty liquid for the rum in it. But it may not be as traditional as you’d like – instead of candied fruit it uses a variety of dried (recipe is a guide, feel free to alter to taste). And you’d probably want to eat it fresh (which we have done), not aged, since you’d skip the brandy during aging.

    The soaked dried fruit plus spices and butter also makes a great pie filling.

  • M. Nightingale says:

    My mom had a “booze cake” recipe, but instead of booze, she boiled raisins and used that juice plus cinnamon and cloves.

    So if you used something like this, , I’d just double the water and skip the rum, and add some cinnamon and cloves. Or at least just cloves.

  • Maria says:

    Okay, this recipe is not traditional (ie with the red and green candied fruits) but…maybe that’s okay now that he has a new tradition of not using alcohol?

    I specifically thought this might be good because dates have a flavor that is kind of perfume-y, and may make a really good substitute for the flavor that booze would give to a fruitcake.

    You are a sweetheart to do this for him.

  • Ann says:

    The classic Beethoven biography is Maynard Solomon’s. I am probably biased (I do have a graduate degree in this stuff), but I don’t think it’s too inside-baseball for a non-musicologist:

  • Darryl says:

    What about heating the liquor – rum, say – separately to a boiling point and letting the alcohol evaporate, so that you’re left with a smaller amount of concentrated rum flavor without the actual alcohol content (or at least far less of it, depending on how long you boil the rum). I mean, a traditional British fruitcake without ANY booze would just seem off-kilter to me, and I assume your father would feel the same despite his new sobriety. It might not end up quite as intense and rich as a traditional fruitcake, but you can always play with the other ingredients to make up for the lack of full-throttle alcohol flavor (I’m only familiar with fruitcakes so loaded you’d fail a breathalyzer after one bite).

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Darryl, yeah, that’s the question — what’s the trigger. Some folks in recovery are okay with things cooked in/with booze as long as the alcohol is cooked off; for others, the taste or even knowing it’s in there (ie., a marsala) is not kosher.

    It also depends on which aspect she wants to replicate; if it’s just the sodden texture/weight of a traditional fruitcake, maybe a syrup or compote would do the trick.

  • MizShrew says:

    Would apple cider work as a sub for the liquid in the fruitcake? Especially if it’s cooked down a bit to be more syrupy, so it has the right consistency? Especially an unfiltered old-school variety. I’ve never made fruitcake, but we do a hot buttered rum at the holidays and sub apple cider for a non-alcholic version, and it’s really tasty. Doesn’t taste like rum, but the spices work really well with it. Congrats to your dad on his sobriety — 18 months is a huge milestone!

  • Jinxie says:

    Strong black tea is also used a lot in Irish/British fruitcakes and fruitcake-like things, both to plump up the dried fruit and after baking to “anoint” the cake.

  • M. Nightingale says:

    If it’s the sodden texture you want, I’ve had good luck with simple syrup, just reduce the amount of sugar in the cake batter. You could use brown sugar for extra flavor and you can add spices or infuse it with flavors.

    (Simple syrup is sugar to water in a 1:1 ratio, heated up to 230 degrees F)

  • Amanduh says:

    I second Otter’s recommendation of Alton Brown’s fruitcake recipe. I also like MizShrew’s suggestion of substituting fresh apple cider or unfiltered apple juice and reducing it a little to concentrate the flavor. You might try using dark brown sugar instead of white, too. None of this will totally replicate the flavor of rum, but my gut feeling is you’ll still have a very tasty cake.

    You may also want to just take your dad’s favorite recipe, substitute apple juice for the alcohol, and practice with it. Get a mini loaf pan, bake a quarter of the batter, and taste. If it’s too dry, pour out another quarter, add apple juice and/or applesauce, and see how that comes out. Good texture but needs more flavor? The next batch gets more (or different!) spices and nuts. Just make sure to write down how much you put in, so you can replicate it.

  • Lis says:

    Full disclosure, I don’t love fruit cake and since I’m allergic to nuts I tend to avoid things that sometimes have them and sometimes don’t so I can’t give a full endorsement BUT I bake a LOT and this recipe looks similar to the recipe my step-mom makes that people seem to like. There’s no alcohol in it to begin with… The World’s Best Fruitcake also there’s no flour in it which is odd but it seems to work for people.

    The other recipes I’ve quickly looked at seem to use the booze in two ways, 1) to soak the fruit to re-hydrate and flavor and 2) after the cake has baked for basting. As Sars said for the basting part you could do a simple syrup to keep it moist, and for the soaking of the fruit you can use water, or cider like others have suggested. You don’t want to go overly sweet though… maybe half cider half water?

    My real suggestion is to switch it up and bake him a “German Stollen” which is similar to fruit cake but isn’t the type that’s soaked in booze ever, some recipes call for rolling it around a log of marzipan and baking so there’s this cool center part that’s marzipan which flavors the whole thing and is really unique and similar but different… I’ve found finding similar but different enough things tends to take the sting out of “This is something I once loved but now tastes wrong because I can’t have X ingredient”. I have a ton of allergies and have had to cut out some favorite foods, trying to make the same thing but with allergy free ingredients for me tends to be not as satisfying.

  • Cara says:

    The recipe from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook is non-alcoholic, with the brandy optional.

    The recipe I usually use has so little actual cake that there’s really nothing to dry out. All the fruit gets soaked in rum before baking. If your traditional family recipe is similar, you could soak the fruit in tea instead. I’m not sure I would use cider since the end result can be a bit unpredictable.

  • Gillian says:

    My Mom makes Fruitcake Bars that are similar to, if not these exact ones. (She uses pecans because my brother and I are both allergic to walnuts.) Not exactly fruitcake but easy and delicious and may fill the same niche in your holiday.

  • Emily G. says:

    Ode to Yule: It’s not exactly a Beethoven biography, but The First Four Notes by Matthew Guerrieri is a really interesting history of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony–my history- and biography-nut friend absolutely loved it.

  • Elizabeth T. says:

    These are easy and delicious and non-boozey (I have made with a mix of dates, chopped apricots, cherries, walnuts and almonds – yum!)

  • Amy says:

    Re: Beethoven … it’s been a while since I read this one, but I think I remember it being pretty interesting – Beethoven’s Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved

  • Kate says:

    Depending on what the trigger is, for flavor you could use a little rum extract in the simple syrup – it has no alcohol in it, but has a great flavor and aroma (and a little goes a long way!)

  • A says:

    Thanks everyone! It looks like I am going to have to do some experimenting.

    Since the flavor of the alcohol is the main issue, I think the apple juice might be our winner. I am also intrigued by the Alton Brown recipe because I am actually kind of terrified of the red and green “fruitcake fruits.”

    Figuring out how to replicate beloved family recipes and traditional holiday dishes was not something I thought about when my dad decided he was going to get sober, but it has been fun. And in the grand scheme of things, it is a small thing to do for someone you love and want to support.

  • Chris says:

    This site has a whole list substitutions for a whole bunch of different alcohol

  • Keely says:

    A quick websearch led me to this Christmas cake recipe – haven’t tried it but it reads as though would work well – I like the idea of the Chai spiced tea to give the depth of flavour.

    For moistness, some sites (e.g. Nigella) suggest orange juice as a possibility.

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