Boiled fruit cake

With it being the summer holidays, the girls and I have done lots of picnics on our days out and this cake is excellent for picnics.  It’s easy to make, is very moist, lasts for ages and is absolutely delicious.  In fact Mr OC loves it so much he moans with joy when eating it!

I have adapted it from Jill Brand’s version in Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute Cakes and Biscuits (ISBN 0 74322 111 7) and reading through her introduction for this cake now she also says it’s ideal for picnics, so I must be right.  Jill uses half and half wholemeal plain flour and self-raising flour.  I use half spelt flour, half plain flour and two teaspoons of baking powder instead.  The spelt flour gives it a lovely nutty flavour and texture.

Because I am lucky enough to have an Aga I make this cake in the evening and then leave it to cook slowly in the simmering oven all night and then check with a skewer when I get up and if I think it needs it I bake it for about 10 mins in the baking oven just to finish it off. It is deliciously moist this way and has the added bonus of filling the house with the scent of fruit cake with a generous dollop of mixed spice all night. But I have also cooked it the normal way and the way I will tell you about in the method below and it is almost as delicious.

For the mixed fruit I use whatever I have in the house, but it normally includes equal measures of raisins, sultanas and cranberries.  I have tried dates but I didn’t chop them finely enough and I found them a bit mealy.

450g (1lb) mixed dried fruit
200g (8oz) caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g  (4oz) butter
200ml (7 floz) water
2 eggs
100g (4oz) spelt flour
100g (4oz) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground mixed spice
50g (2oz) glace cherries, chopped


Preheat the oven to 160°c (gas mark 3) and line the base and sides of a 18 cm round cake tin.

In a large pan place the mixed fruit, sugar, butter, bicarbonate of soda and the water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then take off the heat and cool for 15 minutes.

Beat in the eggs.  Sieve the flours, baking powder and mixed spice into the boiled fruit.  I add the cherries to the flour whilst I am sieving them so that they get a good covering of flour in the process and this helps to stop them sinking to the bottom of the cake when cooking.  Add the cherries and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the tin and either cook in an Aga in the way described in the introduction or in the preheated oven for 1¾ – 2 hours until a skewer comes out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

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45 thoughts on “Boiled fruit cake”

      1. Me too,actually when my husband proposed I said yes on the condition that I had an Aga! It is 60 years old refubed and I use it all the time for everything, cooking, drying washing, drying herbs, fungi, tomates, rising bread dough, on and on. I couldn’t be without one.

      2. Hi Jenny,
        Lovely to see you here. I do not know what I would do without my Aga now, I would certainly be heartbroken. That is a very good condition to give a man – well done you. Kath

  1. Cake after cake. Keep them coming! It does look perfect for a picnic. It also looks perfect for Sunday night eating when one needs a little something before heading off to bed.

    1. Hi Tracy, well if truth be told my cooking of everything else but cake has been a bit disastrous of late. I keep burning things! Which is never a good look for a photo. Poor Mr OC is very glad of this cake to keep him going!

  2. Oh that picture looks so good – you can almost see the juiciness oozing out of it. And what a wonderful smell to wake up to in the morning. I think you’re right about the aga. I’ve never tasted fruit cakes like my mother’s. Love the idea of days out and picnics – hope you are all having fun and enjoying the school hols. It’s been raining here pretty much most of August!

    1. Hi Choclette, it is a lovely smell to have wafting through the house and I always have a bigger breakfast as a result! We have been having a great time and some of the picnics have been car based as a result of this rubbish summer weather. It is bound to turn beautiful after 4th September when they are back at school.

      1. It is such a shame – seems to have become the pattern to get rubbish August’s these last few years. Sounds like you’re managing to have a good time despite the weather. On a purly selfish not, I do hope the weather improves on 4 September – that’s when my holidays start – yippee!

      2. Well, for your sake I hope it does too, perhaps I can cross my fingers that next week will be brighter. Mind you, it’s not all bad, I am a firm believer in kids being bored sometimes.

  3. It is fabulous having those baking smells waft through your home. Your recipe reminds me of a fruit cake we make for over Christmas (with added brandy), just for good measure. Throw in a cuppa tea and it’s pure heaven.
    🙂 Mandy

  4. Hi there,
    I’m just making a boiled fruit cake and was googling how long to put it into the simmering oven. Interested to learn that you left it in the Aga all night! Just wanted to check that you used the warming over and not the simmering oven. I had a four oven Aga in my old house but have moved and am now trying to get used to the two oven one!
    WIll try your recipe next time …..

    1. Hi Surrinder,
      I have a four oven aga and I put the cake in the simmering oven overnight. From about 10pm to about 7am and it is always fine, it sometimes needs a bit longer. But then my cake tin is a deep one. So the cake should be fine in your simmering oven of the two oven Aga. Let me know how it works out when you do try it.

  5. Help – if I cook boiled fruit cake in 8 inch round tin on gas 4 for 2 hours middle not cooked if I leave longer to get middle cooked outside burns.

    I Tried cooking on gas – no 5 for 1hr.45 min outside burns but middle cooked
    Somehow Can’t get it right

    1. Hi Tina,
      Oh no sorry to hear about the undercooked/ burnt cake. The recipe that this is adapted from recommends gas mark 3. You could try tying a double layer of greaseproof paper around the outside of the tin before cooking and that may help with getting a more even bake, avoiding the burned outside and the uncooked middle. Then if it is still not cooking evenly try covering the top with foil halfway through.The trouble is ovens can vary greatly in the temperature they reach. Delia Smith says that gas ovens manufactured after 1992 will be hotter than those manufactured before 1992. An oven thermometer would give you an accurate reading of your oven’s temperature in centigrade and then you could adjust the gas mark accordingly.
      I cook mine in an Aga’s simmering oven, which is probably somewhere between gas mark 1/2 and gas mark 1. I cook it overnight at this temperature and because the cake is so moist and the temperature so low the cooking time is very forgiving. However, with a gas oven you may not be happy to have it operating for this length of time, or indeed leaving it on overnight. So please try the double wrapping method and see how you get on. I would love it if you would keep me updated, and I am sure other readers would find it interesting to know if you have success.
      I hope you do because it is a lovely cake when it works.
      Best of luck

  6. Antoinette Smyth

    Hi Rachel,I thought I had lost the recipe for this marvelous,&versatile cake,its great to have found it ,just in time for Christmas,my family
    always loved it when our girls were growing up,somehow I just stopped
    making it,I do not have an aga,but I slow cook it,I use gas,&it works really well,at 1hour at gas mark 3,1hour @2,&1 hour @1.
    I pour whiskey over it,when it cools,&at least twice more,in the month before Christmas,otherwise,there is no need to bother,as its eaten in
    no time.
    Thanks again.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Ro,
      Thanks for the question. I have never tested the keeping qualities of this cake. We always eat it within a week. To keep well for Christmas a cake normally needs alcohol in its list of ingredients and then a weekly feed of alcohol. I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed and find that your cake is mouldy on the 25th December. Delia’s classic Christmas cake is a very good keeping cake . I must develop one of my own to put up here. My boiled fruit cake is delicious but I can’t advise on its keeping qualities. Sorry Ro. Kath

  7. Kate – which Aga door do you put your fruit cake into? I have a two-door aga and find cake making really tricky, not quite go the hang of cold shelf to go above it. looks like a good christmas cake as well as picnic cake.

    1. Hi Georgie,
      With the two oven Aga this cake will cook nicely in the simmering oven (bottom right). I cook mine in the simmering oven of the four door Aga, it takes about 6 hours or so, so just keep an eye on it after four hours as Aga temperatures can differ a lot depending on their age and fuel type. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Kath

  8. Thank you for this which looks delicious and I’d like to try making it.

    I have two questions: do you think it would be possible to make it without butter, perhaps with olive oil?

    I live on my own so really I would want to freeze it (I’m trying to lose weight not to put it on) have you tried freezing it or do you think it could be frozen?

    1. Hi Alice,
      I have never tried using oil as a replacement for the butter but as you melt the butter anyway I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute oil. I think I would try a flavourless oil though rather than olive oil. Olive oil may give too much of a pronounced olive flavour. If you don’t have a nut allergy perhaps groundnut oil would work. 100ml to replace the 100g of butter. I have never tried freezing it either. It does last a number of weeks as it is so moist so if that was your time scale try keeping it in a tin for that long. Maybe try cutting it in half and freezing a half (or a third) and then if you don’t let the texture of the thawed cake at least you have only wasted some of it rather than all of it. I hope this helps and please do let me know how it turns out. Best wishes Kath

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  10. Waitrose let me down! No Christmas cake in my online shop delivery! I can’t have Christmas without one, so it is now in the oven after following your recipe! Fingers crossed I can get it cooked , cooled, marzipaned and iced by tomorrow night! Thank you for such a sensible un-fussy recipe! It smells lovely! Happy Christmas! Jill

  11. Made this cake for my mother’s 86th birthday. She said it was the best fruit cake she has ever tasted. It is also the easiest cake I have ever made. So many thanks.
    I am typing this whilst making the cake again, this time for my son’s 30th birthday, he tasted the first one and was hooked! Sally

  12. I can’t believe you have this recipe. My ex’s grandma gave me a copy that she wrote out from a magazine probably about 50 years ago. I used to make it regularly but I lost the recipe. I think I will try it again and hope for the best. I used to soak the fruit in brandy for four weeks before I made it and it was extremely popular when my ex took it to Norway every four to eights weeks. The Norwegian’s called it heavy cake! Thanks so much xx

    1. The brandy soaking sounds like a good idea. I have some raisins soaking that I used for my home dairying class. I might try them in the next cake. Hope the cake works as well as the fidget pie. x

    1. Hi Phyllis, No problem, spelt is an ancient grain that has less gluten protein in than wheat flour. You can get it from King Arthur Flour in the US. You don’t need to use it though, I do because it is in my cupboard. But you can use wholewheat (wholegrain) or all purpose flour instead. With wholegrain the cake will be slightly heavier but delicious nonetheless. Let me know how you get on.

  13. I’ve been making a similar recipe for years, but I add the cherries in with the dried fruit and other ingredients. Boiling them stops them from sinking.

  14. I’ve had the identical recipe for years, handed down to me. I lost the hand written paper in a move so have been using your recipe for the last few months at least once a fortnight and I also used it as a very successful Christmas cake. Mine is an electric fan oven. I cook it at a slightly lower temperature and halfway through put a circle of baking paper on top. My tin is always well lined with the baking paper sides about three inches above the height of the tin. I have not had a failure. My husband who does not like cake, eats most of it! I omit the cherries and sometimes put dates in. Thank you for the recipe.

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