Moist, white fruitcake is a little lighter than traditional dark fruitcake. This Southern version is “improved” by dribbling it with bourbon instead of rum.
Several notions may come to mind when you think of Eudora Welty — author, Pulitzer Prize winner, famous Mississippian. But, fruit cake? Yes. I am of course, referring to the kind of fruit cake laced with candied fruit and nuts, spiked with spirits, and eaten during the holidays.
Welty frequently made her signature white fruitcake, passed down from a family recipe, to share with her closest friends during the holidays. Sometime in the 1980’s, Welty included the recipe in her annual Christmas card. Since then, Eudora Welty’s White Fruitcake has been republished numerous times in magazines all over the world.
What is the difference between a white fruit cake and a dark fruitcake?
The main difference between a white fruit cake and a dark fruitcake are the sugars. Traditional dark fruit cake is made with brown sugar and molasses. White fruit cake is made with white granulated sugar. Some recipes also call for light corn syrup. One ingredient remains constant, however — the booze.
While most fruit cakes include dark rum in its list of ingredients, Welty opts for bourbon. One full cup of bourbon is mixed into the batter before baking. She also recommends baking the fruit cake several weeks prior to Christmas and “improving it” by periodically dribbling it with additional bourbon in the in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Parts of this post were first published in the December 2015 / January 2016 issue of eat.drink.MISSISSIPPI.
Looking for more Christmas recipes?
Eudora Welty’s White Fruitcake
Moist, white fruitcake is a little lighter than traditional dark fruitcake. This Southern version "improved" by dribbling it with bourbon instead of rum. This recipe is written in Ms. Welty's own words.
- 1 ½ cups butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 eggs separated
- 4 cups flour sifted before measuring
- flour for fruit and nuts
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 pound pecan meats halves, preferably
- 1 pound crystallized cherries half green, half red
- 1 pound crystallized pineapple clear
- some citron or lemon peel if desired
- 1 cup bourbon
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- nutmeg if desired
Make the cake several weeks ahead of Christmas of you can.
The recipe makes three-medium-sized cakes or one large and one small. Prepare the pans the sort with a chimney or tube by greasing them well with Crisco and then lining them carefully with three layers of waxed paper, all greased as well.
Prepare the fruit and nuts ahead. Cut the pineapple in thin slivers and the cherries in half. Break up the pecan meats, reserving a handful or so shapely halves to decorate the tops of the cakes. Put in separate bowls, dusting the fruit and nuts lightly in sifting of flour, to keep them from clustering together in the batter.
In a very large wide mixing bowl (a salad bowl or even a dishpan will serve) cream the butter very light, then beat in the sugar until all is smooth and creamy. Sift in the flour, with the baking powder and salt added, a little at a time, alternating with the unbeaten egg yolks added one at a time. When all this is creamy, add the floured fruits and nuts, gradually, scattering the lightly into the batter, stirring all the while, and add the bourbon in alteration little by little. Lastly, whip the eggwhites into peaks and fold in.
Set the oven low, about 250. Pour the batter into the cake-pans, remembering that they will rise. Decorate the tops with nuts. Bake for three hours or more, until they spring back to the touch and a straw inserted at the center comes out clean and dry. (if the top browns too soon, lay a sheet of foil lightly over.) When done, the cake should be a warm golden color.
When they've cooled enough to handle, run a spatula around the sides of each cake, cover the pan with a big plate , turn the pan over and slip the cake out. Cover the cake with another plate and turn rightside up. When cool, the cake can be wrapped in cloth or foil and stored in a tightly fitted tin box.
From time to time before Christmas you may improve it with a little more bourbon, dribbled over the top to be absorbed and so ripen the cake before cutting. This cake will keep for a good white, in or out of the refrigerator.