Japanese Fruitcake Recipe and Childhood Memories

Even as a child I can remember my mother and my grandmother talking about the Japanese Fruitcake. I remember Mary Pritchard who lived across the street from my home while growing up discussing with my mother the secrets of the Japanese Fruitcake. I can picture it even being a scene in Jean Shepard’s  The Christmas Story.

“Japanese Fruitcake is an exotically named, typically Southern dessert cake, especially popular in the twentieth century. This same cake was once called Oriental cake, but there is nothing of the Far East about it, except the spices, none of which is Japanese in origin. Like Lane Cake and Lady Baltimore, Japanese Fruitcake is one of the Edwardian dessert extravaganzas with its rich fruit and nut fillings hidden under mounds of fluffy white icing.”—Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, Bill Neal [Alfred A. Knopf:New York] 1990 (p. 295)

At Bridge Catering we change the recipes around by alternating the number of spice cake layers by white or yellow layers. This is a sweeter version, almost like the famed Seven Up Cake recipe.

Cake

  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Spice Layer

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup raisins, dusted with a little flour
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts
Filling and Topping

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • One 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 1/2 cup coconut
  • Juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherry halves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl. Add flour mixture alternately with the milk to the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and mix well.
  3. Divide batter into thirds. Pour one third into each of the two prepared pans. To the remaining one third of batter, add the spice layer ingredients, folding in well. Pour into the remaining prepared pan. Bake all layers 25 to 30 minutes. Cool layers in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. To prepare the filling and topping, stir together sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Add water, pineapple, coconut, and lemon juice and zest. Stir together and cook over medium heat until thick enough to spread onto cake layers. Remove from heat; stir in cherries, and allow to cool slightly.
  5. To assemble cake, stack one plain layer, top with a thin layer of filling; add spice layer and more filling. Top with remaining plain layer. Spread remaining filling over the top and sides of cake. Spread cake with 7-Minute Frosting (recipe below) if you like.

Serves 16 to 20

7-Minute Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1 tablespoon white corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup wate
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Place sugar, cream of tartar or corn syrup, salt, water, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler. Beat with a handheld electric mixer for 1 minute. Place pan over boiling water, being sure that boiling water does not touch the bottom of the top pan. (If this happens, it could cause your frosting to become grainy.) Beat constantly on high speed with electric mixer for 7 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

“Japanese Fruitcake. This beloved Southern fruitcake bears little resemblance to the traditional fruitcake. It begins with a yellow cake, the batter is divided, then two-thirds of it is enriched with raisins and spices. I’ve never encountered Japanese Fruitcake outside the South, in fact rarely out of the Carolinas. And then mostly at Christmastime in the homes of friends. Nor have I ever heard any explanation of its unusual name; certainly there is nothing Japanese about Japanese Fruitcake…While I can’t prove it, I feel certain Japanese Fruitcake belongs to the twentieth century. I have rarely seen recipes for it beyond community fund-raiser cookbooks and in these only from the ’30s onward.” —American Century Cook Book, Jean Anderson [Clarkson Potter:New York] 1997 (p. 430)

This is similar to Paula Dean’s recipe from her grandmother and I often add pecans, walnuts, currants, raisens, white raisens, pears or apples to make variations on the cake. This is a fun recipe to enjoy while its raining or snowing and the fireplace is glowing… One of my favorites for the holiday season…

Posted by D. Keith Hand, December 6, 2011