Just Don't Call It a Fruitcake! The Best Spice Cake Recipe
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Just Don't Call It a Fruitcake! The Best Spice Cake Recipe

Okay, it's a fruitcake. Technically. But it's moist, cinnamony, and delicious -- nothing like that December dessert everyone dreads. (Your friends won't be regifting this or using it as a doorstop.) Here's the story behind the recipe.™

I have vivid memories of baking with my mom when I was young. I learned how to crack an egg and level a cup of flour and I always helped her clean the bowl -- with a spoon, of course. One of my favorite recipes was this fabulous fruitcake, which has raisins and dates and nuts. She'd make about 25 of them around the holidays and give them to neighbors and coworkers. It was sort of a bread and sort of a cake and it was very good at sopping up any leftover gravy on our holiday plates.

It wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned about the rest of the world's perception of fruitcake. It was a punchline. A joke. Not something you would want your neighbor or coworker to give you. But that stuff was different from my mom's fruitcake. It was dry and it had those little plasticky red and green things in it. I mean, I didn't know anyone who liked it. When I became an adult with a kitchen of my own, I asked my mom for the recipe. I learned that she got it from her Great-Aunt Mabel, who may or may not have gotten it from The New York Times back in the '20s. (Who knew I had a Great-Aunt Mabel who was cool enough to read the Times?!) The recipe is the same as it always was but this year I'm making one little change: I'm calling it a spice cake.

Don't-Call-it-a-Fruitcake Spice Cake

Work: 15 minutes

Total: 2 hours

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups chopped dates

1 cup chopped raisins

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

5 tablespoons shortening

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts


  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.
  2. In a 3-quart saucepan combine water, sugar, dates, raisins, and apricots. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Remove fruit mixture from heat and stir in shortening; let cool, about 30 minutes.
  3. In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt. Stir in cooled fruit mixture and walnuts.
  4. Divide batter between the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours. When cake is cool, cut into slices or wrap in foil for up to 1 week. Makes 2 loaves.

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Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2012.