For the last 58 yeas, my grandma visited at least 4 different grocery markets in her little town during the final week of November. She tottered up and down aisles, filling her cart with every store’s entire inventory of cheesecloth, tin foil, brandy, and candied fruit. After buying a few bags of flour and sugar too, she drove her baking supplies home and the Fruitcake Frenzy began.
For two weeks, she puttered around her kitchen, measuring and mixing and baking and wrapping. By the time she finished, she produced at least 40 loaves of fruitcake—with a record of nearly 90—studded with pineapple, cherries, and iridescent green things (supposedly cherries as well), which she presented to family, friends, neighbors, the ladies in her exercise class, fellow professors at the university, and almost everyone she had ever met. (And you wonder where my baking obsession came from!)
Then starting shortly before I was born, she and Grandpa packed their suitcases, boarded a plane, and flew out to California a few days before Christmas. They’ve only missed 2 years: the time we spent the holiday at my other grandparents’ house, and the December we visited them in Arizona instead.
As early morning risers, they usually greeted my brother and me soon after we dashed out to inspect the stockings, but one year they set their alarm for 5:30 am just to beat us to the fireplace. We always sprawled out around the tree, us in our pajamas, Grandma with her tea mug, and Grandpa with his coffee cup and camera (and newspaper, for distraction during the boring bits of cleaning up ripped wrapping paper). Partway through the festivities, Grandma would slip into the kitchen and slice up one of the fruitcakes she packed in her luggage to serve to my parents.
This year, my grandma entered the hospital on the last day of September. Doctors cycled her through ERs to ICUs to hospitals and back again throughout the entire fall, and they only recently released her to a nursing home to continue her recovery. Because she spends most of her day in bed (with a little bit of physical therapy to walk to the restroom), we decided to fly out there for the holiday. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without her!
But that still didn’t solve the slight fruitcake problem. Christmas wouldn’t be complete without that either! I called my mom last week, asking if Grandma gave her the recipe so I could supply the loaves this year, but a quick search of the kitchen cabinets only revealed her peach pie card. I researched a few traditional recipes online, but none of those included flour like Grandma’s.
Dejected, I explained the dilemma to my guy while walking our dog, and he immediately suggested, “Make fruitcake cookies!”
“That’s perfect!” I exclaimed, giving him a hug. “I can do that!”
These Fruitcake Cookies are soft and sweet with a subtle hint of warm cinnamon. Chewy nibbles of natural dried fruit—laced with a festive tang of brandy—stud the tender cookies, and their bright colors charm you into reaching for more. Go on and indulge; it’s Christmas and they’re healthy!
Although Grandma always chose candied, I reached for dried fruit to create a healthier dessert. I picked 4 varieties: cranberries, blueberries, apricots, and figs. I love the different vibrant colors! For a true fruitcake punch, dice them up and soak them in brandy for at least 4-6 hours, or up to 24. The longer the better! For a non-alcoholic version, immerse them in apple juice, white grape juice, or water instead.
The cookie dough itself is really simple to assemble. It’s similar to these Christmas cookies: whisk the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another, and stir them together. No mixer required! (One less dish to wash too… Always a good thing during the holiday season!)
Before adding the dried fruit, be sure to drain the brandy and blot off the excess with paper towels. Because the cookie dough is fairly tacky already, any extra liquid would turn it into a batter-like consistency instead. That’s fine for a loaf of fruitcake, but we’re making fruitcake cookies!
With the cookie dough’s stickiness, chilling is mandatory. Pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to 3 days. A shorter chilling time will allow the cookies to spread a little while they bake, whereas leaving it in the refrigerator for an hour or more will prevent them from spreading at all. It all depends on the size of the cookies you want: wider and thinner, or smaller and thicker? Either way, they’ll still be extra soft!
These light and tender Fruitcake Cookies look so cute with their colorful bits of dried fruit! A hint of brandy, reminiscent of fresh apples and grapes, infuses each little morsel and rounds out the fruity flavor. With their soft chewy texture and gorgeous golden hue, they’ll tempt you into nibbling on one after another… But since they’re low in fat and calories, no guilt ensues!
I already packed multiple containers full of these cookies for our family to enjoy on Christmas Day. Hopefully they survive the flight!
Love you Grandma! ♥