This Christmas dessert wins over even the toughest fruitcake critics
The best of British and U.S. holiday flavors combine in Aprille Meek’s light and tasty Christmas cake that’s converted even the most ardent fruit mince skeptics.
“For my family, it’s not Christmas without Christmas cake and I’ve even converted people at work,” Meek said. “I usually make cranberry loaf and smaller Christmas cakes in loaf tins for my colleagues. Many of them prefer the Christmas cake over the cranberry loaf and they are disappointed on the years I don’t make it.”
Meek has worked at KRIV-TV FOX 26 for 35 years, where she’s the executive producer of special projects and digital content, so that’s plenty of Christmas cake converts over the decades.
Like many Americans, Meek dislikes dense, fruit-heavy cakes. It was on a trip to the United Kingdom when she tried her Welsh mother-in-law’s Christmas cake that she experienced her own cake epiphany.
“It was light and cakey with a marzipan icing and I thought it was just delicious,” she said.
That tasty memory and a Pillsbury celebration cake recipe inspired the development of her popular Christmas cake. Less fruit mince cut into smaller pieces, more cake batter and a dash of pecans make Meek’s Christmas Cake irresistible. She cooks it in a Bundt pan and decorates the top with pecan halves to make it even more festive.
Food traditions are important to Meek, whose own cooking repertoire is a delicious gumbo of her father’s Southern traditions, Pennsylvanian farmhouse-style from her mother’s side, and Welsh traditions from her husband’s family.
She learned to cook over summers spent at her grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania and from her nurse mother who rigidly followed every recipe to the letter. Her Southern father had his own stash of herbs and spices and would season his own plate.
“I used to think it was so rude he seasoned my mother’s food, but he would have me taste it and that’s how he educated my palate,” she said.
Meek’s Welsh husband has added another dimension to her cooking traditions. They met at the University of Texas in Austin, and when he moved to Houston, she followed. He teases her that she took years to learn how to make a decent cup of tea, but was pleased that she took the time to learn Welsh traditions, such as making Welsh cakes on St. David’s Day for their sons, Robert and Thomas. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales.
“Food is the essence of family,” she said. “When I make apple pie, I tell my boys this is grandmother’s pie with pappy’s spices. It is a way to keep them alive.”
Meek collects family recipes and is pleased to have her grandmother’s “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” with handwritten notes, her mother’s “Good Housekeeping Cookbook” and her Southern grandmother’s handwritten notebook of recipes.
“I also have three recipe card boxes — one is mine, one is my mother-in-law’s and one is my mother’s,” she said.
Over the holiday season, the Meek family enjoys the best of all the traditions.
“Our Thanksgiving combines North and South with two types of stuffing and cornbread,” she said. “Christmas is a U.K. affair with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and for New Year’s, it’s all Southern with ham, black-eyed peas and slaw.”
She believes holiday food creates precious memories and science backs her up, she said.
“Scientists say that our strongest memories are imprinted when all four senses are engaged,” she said. “I think that’s why our holiday food memories are so strong. You have the taste and smell of the food, of course, but there is also a beautiful table with all your family around it and holiday music. You hear, see, smell and taste it all.”
2 packs (16.6 ounces) Pillsbury Date Quick Bread mix
1 teaspoon orange peel
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups water
¼ cup oil
1 cup chopped (broken) pecans
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup raisins
2 cups diced candied fruit
Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour bottom and sides of 12-cup Bundt pan (or use bread loaf pans of varying sizes). Pour dry ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir.
Beat eggs in water and oil and add to dry ingredients. Stir by hand until moist. Fold in nuts and fruit. Pour into pan or pans.
Bake at 350 F for 80-90 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool for another hour.
Can be wrapped and stored in freezer for a month or so, if you get to baking early for the holidays.