Air Fryer Fruit Cake: Tradition and the mother of invention
I baked the best Christmas fruit cake of my life in an air fryer. That was a year ago. Now that we are in November already, it’s time to make one for the forthcoming holiday season. See the link in the story for Chef Mynhardt Joubert’s recipe, then bake it in the air fryer in the way I describe.
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d own an air fryer, I’d have called you a liar. If you said it would be my most-used appliance and that I’d be singing its praises to anyone willing to listen, I’d have thought you were raving mad. But here we are, in a small studio apartment atop a neighbour’s garage, baking fruit cake in a much-appreciated air fryer…
No home should be without Christmas cake during the holiday season. Whether it tickles your fancy or not, there’s something nostalgic and sentimental about the rich, dense decadence of a jewelled slice of fruitcake over the December holiday.
But it’s not always that simple. Baking a fruit cake is expensive. It takes time. Even if you have all the appliances and equipment at your disposal, you need to set out a day dedicated to making it, and then remember to nurture and feed it with a healthy dose of brandy every week until it reaches that perfect, sticky, booziness in high summer. That’s another thing; unlike other confections, you need to bake it months in advance to achieve that desired richness come Christmas.
Plenty has been said about how exactly the cake needs to be made, too. Cradock in the Eastern Cape Heartland has delivered a dynamic league of fruit cake legends over the years and their recipes are all fail proof. Home baker legend Sisiwe Tom, for example, believed that the secret to creating fruit cake perfection was to steam – not bake – your cake in a pot for eight hours. She baked the batter in a pot lined, on the inside, with three layers of buttered wax paper and, on the outside, three more layers of brown paper which essentially forms a steaming capsule. In 2021, Sisiwe sadly passed away but her recipe lives on in our kitchens.
That’s if you have a kitchen, of course. For my husband and I, living in a small kitchen-less studio apartment next to our home that’s currently under renovation, the resolve was to be without the nostalgic comfort of fruit cake this year. But hope springs eternal, and in October – the month for fruit cake baking – it came delivered in a jovial, ribbon-wrapped box, complete with a golden-leaved wreath. Friend-in-food Mynhardt Joubert was the sender. “I hope I have the right address… I’m at a building site?”
He had the correct spot. And inside his box of festive cheers, every ingredient needed to make Mynhardt’s famed Free State fruit cake lay. Sultanas, dates, glazed cherries, cinnamon and a bottle of KWV brandy – a promise of Christmas spices and the festive spirit. I couldn’t resist.
If there’s one thing to know about fruit cake, it’s that when necessity requires invention – or reinvention, rather – it takes heed. It’s seen its share of reinvention over the decades. Once served as a fortified nutrition bomb to Roman soldiers at war, fruit cake morphed into more of a decadent delight in recent times. (It still packs the calories… but who’s counting over Christmas.) And it’s not done reviving yet.
Baking a fruit cake in an air fryer is quite similar to the method of dear Sisiwe Tom. You line your baking tin with the required three layers of buttered baking paper and the snug walls of the little oven basket form an outer layer that keeps in heat at a constant temperature throughout the bake.
It needs to bake at a slightly higher temperature than the usual 120°C, to achieve that same gooey, sticky consistency. But this only means you get all the Christmas flavour without the eight-hour baking period. I used Mynhardt’s beloved recipe for the bake, and fired up the air fryer at 140°C for 2 hours, and then at 150°C for another hour for a 20 cm diameter round cake. Be sure to line your tin with no fewer than three layers of buttered baking paper to get that steaming effect. The baking paper should not be raised above the top of the tin, which could cause it to catch fire by touching the air fryer element. Be careful.
Another important note: you need to cover the top of the cake with a round of tin foil to prevent it being burnt on top by the element above. The foil must be secured by tucking it under the cake tin so that it does not float in the air fryer. DM
PS: If baking your own Christmas cake isn’t on your priority list, there’s no reason to miss out on the festive cheer. Order your fruit cake from Mynhardt’s Kitchen and have it delivered to your door, all wrapped up in a gorgeous festive bow.