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Fruitcake: The breakfast (lunch … snack) of champions

Love or hate fruitcake, it's a holiday tradition in Canada and a dense, indestructible treat that powers powers triathletes, hikers and skiers, too. I wrote this story several years back for Maclean's magazine, but the recipes (below) for Christmas cakes, stollen and Logan Bread are keepers!

The classic fruitcake from Alpine Bakery in Whitehorse went on many a mountaineering expedition.


The Canadian triathlete Gillian Clayton is an ambassador for B.C.’s Powered by Chocolate Milk campaign, but she may soon be packing something else on her winter workouts: fruitcake.

Clayton, winner of the 2012 Ironman Canada pro women’s title (and now a phyiotherapist with her own practice in Comox), says the best winter-training regimen for the gruelling 225-km running, biking and swimming event is cross-country skiing. And “cross-country skiing is about as hunger-inducing/calorie-burning as any sport can get,” writes Clayton in her blog. “It flattens you, in a good way.”

The power bars that many skiiers and winter hikers take along in warmer weather freeze solid at frigid winter temperatures and high altitudes. Hearty fruitcake, though, is the perfect antidote, and she’s not the first to discover it. Fruitcake is routinely maligned for its heavy character and mythical shelf life, but that’s what makes it the perfect food to stuff into your pack on a long expedition. It may be rooted in the British and German heritage of our early Canadian climbers, but hauling along heavy cakes and breads studded with dried fruits and nuts is a backcountry tradition in the Rocky Mountains.

Long before Clif bars and Larabars, it was old-fashioned fruitcake—or a dense derivative known as Logan or Expedition Bread—that routinely went to Canada’s highest peaks. B.C. mountain climber and filmmaker Pat Morrow, the first person to summit the highest peaks on the world’s seven continents, calls fruitcake “the worthy predecessor of power bars” and says he ate it on all three of his expeditions to Mount Logan in Yukon.

Mountain guide Sue Gould recalls the 40-day trek with Morrow and 11 others to Logan’s summit in 1992, to officially measure the height of Canada’s highest mountain.

“We took 221 portions of fruitcake, or 22,100 grams,” she says.

The bread they packed came from Suat Tuzlak’s Alpine Bakery in Whitehorse. It’s legendary stuff, once named one of the best fruitcakes in North America in a Wall Street Journal taste-off, and still carried into the wilderness by weekend hikers and epic adventurers alike. That’s because Tuzlak’s loaves are loaded with healthy ingredients, from organic raisins and figs to homemade quince marmalade, nary an artificially dyed cherry in sight.

The Turkish-born engineer traces his expedition-ready baking to his years in the Foothills Nordic Ski Club in Calgary, where members gathered to bake communally for their adventures. When he moved to Whitehorse and opened the bakery, fruitcake became his specialty.

“I’ve always been passionate about cooking and baking for friends,” he says, while baking his light and dark fruitcakes on a typical -28° C morning. People have been baking heavy, nourishing bread for hundreds of years, says Banff historian Chic Scott, but it was the famed mountaineer Hans Gmoser who coined the name Logan Bread for the dense trail bread. Gmoser’s friend, Laura Gardner, baked the bread for many of his climbs, says Scott, who collected her recipe: a simple mix of wholewheat flour, honey, molasses, vegetable oil and powdered milk.

Gardner’s son Don, now a ski-trail designer and boat builder in Canmore, Alberta, also relied on his mother’s bread on treks, including an epic five-week expedition “hauling sledges across Ellesmere Island.”

“Mom baked 90 lb. of this stuff,” he says. Even today, climbers, hikers and skiers favour these heavy, homemade fruit breads and cakes.

“Dried fruit is a nutritional powerhouse – the sugars in it are easier for the body to use, and there are vitamins, minerals and fibre in these cakes,” says Sue Gould.

Banff businessman Peter Poole likes to take along wild-seed and protein bars from the Wild Flour Bakery in Banff. But it’s fruitcake he often still pulls from his pack on the trail.

“It fits into a backpack so easily,” Poole says. “Unlike energy bars that freeze so hard they’ll break your teeth, fruitcake just melts in your mouth.” Clayton agrees that frozen power bars just don’t cut it on her long ski training runs on Mount Washington. And while she’s partial to homemade fruitcake, the big nutty wholewheat fruitcakes from Vancouver’s Uprising Breads are “very good,” too.

Like skiing, she says, it’s something that just makes sense to embrace in the middle of a harsh Canadian winter.


Here are some recipes to get your own fruitcake tradition started:


This recipe comes from my mother, Norah Chavich, via her Scots/Irish mother and my grandmother — a dark Christmas cake, that's more fruit than cake and, IMHO, the benchmark for classic fruitcake. It's a recipe I've shared over the years in newspaper and radio food columns, and published in my very first cookbook, The Wild West Cookbook by Cinda Chavich (Robert Rose, 1998).

Line pans with paper or parchment to prevent over browning

The currants make this fruitcake particularly dark and delicious (make sure you wash them well to remove any grit). The candied cherries are also a big part of this recipe (an ingredient that modern and organic bakers don't often include in fruitcakes) but if you want to make it Mom's way, cherries are essential!

4 cups raisins

4 cups currants

4 cups red candied cherries

4 cups green candied cherries

4 cups chopped dates

2 ½ cups chopped walnuts

2 ½ cups slivered blanched almonds

1 ¼ cups chopped pecans

1 cup glazed fruit or candied peel, chopped

½ cup rum, scotch or brandy for soaking


2 cups butter

2 cups granulated sugar

12 eggs

¾ cup orange juice

¼ cup molasses

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons allspice

2 tablespoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons nutmeg

Mix dried fruits and soak in rum or brandy

Wash the raisins and currants the night before you plan to bake (they can be gritty if not rinsed well). Cut cherries in half and chop dates and walnuts. In a bowl, combine the fruit with rum, scotch or brandy and soak overnight.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream the butter together with the sugar; increase the speed and beat until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Measure the orange juice, and stir in the molasses. Add the flour mixture and orange mixture alternately to the batter, beating to combine after each addition.

Drain the fruit, reserving any excess liquor. Fold the fruit into the batter. Fold in the nuts.

Pour the batter into three greased, graduated fruitcake pans, lined with parchment paper and smooth the tops. Bake at 275°F (140°C) for 2½ to 3 hours, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Baking times vary as, cake pan sizes vary. Place a pan of water in the oven while baking the cakes to keep them moist.

Cool the cakes in the pans for 30 minutes. Remove cakes from the pans and discard parchment. Brush the cakes with the reserved liquor, or poke with a skewer and drizzle the liquor over top. Wrap cakes tightly in waxed paper and foil, then keep in a cool place until Christmas.

The cakes should age at least 1 month before serving, but will keep indefinitely if well-wrapped and refrigerated or frozen.

Makes 3 cakes: one of each, 8 oz. (250 g), 1 lb (500 g) and 2 lb (1 kg).

Once baked, douse cakes with brandy or rum, wrap well and age for a month or more.


Even if you think you are in the loathing camp, you should try this nutty fruitcake, that's studded with dried apricots and lots of nuts, it's then soaked in Canadian rye whisky (or scotch) for extra oomph.

My old friend and pastry chef extraordinaire, Marianne Sanders, originally shared her recipe for this nutty fruit cake with me, and it was published in my book about Alberta farm-to-table cooking, High Plains: The Joy of Alberta Cuisine (Cinda Chavich, Fifth House).

If you can’t find good quality candied peel, substitute another dried fruit, like currants or cranberries.

2 cups sultana (golden) raisins

2 1/2 cups chopped dried apricots

1 cup mixed candied lemon and orange peel

2 cups rye or scotch whisky

1 pound butter, at room temperature

2 cups white sugar

2 cups brown sugar

8 large eggs, separated

5 cups flour

3 cups chopped pecans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Cover raisins, apricots and peel with scotch and soak overnight. Drain and reserve scotch.

Cream butter with white and brown sugars with an electric mixer, then beat in egg yolks one at a time.

Toss the pecans with 1/2 cup of the flour and set aside. Combine the remaining flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cloves. Add the flour mixture and reserved scotch alternately to the egg/sugar mixture to make a smooth batter. Carefully fold in the marinated fruit and nuts. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter to lighten it.

Pour batter into two buttered and floured 8-inch tube pans or springform pans. Pans should be no more than 3/4 full. If you’re using a straight-sided pan, you can line it with waxed paper or buttered parchment to prevent over-browning. You can also divide the batter between smaller pans if desired, and adjust the baking time accordingly. There is enough batter here for about six miniature bread pans. Reduce the baking time to 1 1/2-2 hours if making smaller cakes.

Place a shallow pan of water in the oven to keep the cakes moist during baking. Bake the fruit cakes at 300°F for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until cakes are set and browned, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Brush the top of the cakes with 2 tablespoons of whisky as soon as they’re out of the oven.

Cool the cakes and remove from pan. Wrap in several layers of cheesecloth that has been soaked in whisky, then wrap well in foil.

Let cakes ripen for 2-3 weeks, then soak cloth again in whisky and rewrap. Fruit cakes need this kind of aging to develop and meld the flavours — you must age this cake for at least a month, dousing it regularly with more whisky. Like all good fruit cake, it will keep indefinitely if tightly wrapped. Makes 2 medium or several small cakes.


Before you toss Aunt Martha’s fruitcake out with the tinsel, consider this: many of the Canada’s top mountaineers fueled their feats with fruitcake.

Whether it’s rooted in the British or German heritage of our early climbers, or the need for dense caloric foods in winter weather, hauling along heavy cakes and breads, studded with dried fruits and nuts, is a longtime backcountry tradition. Long before CLIF and Lara bars, it was GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) and old-fashioned fruitcake – and a dense derivative known as Logan or Expedition Bread — that routinely went along into the great outdoors, even to the summit of Canada’s highest mountains

This is a classic and substantial snack cake to take on mountain hikes and backpacking trips. If you want it to last even longer, slice it and dry in a low oven for an hour and enjoy the crunchy sweet like biscotti or mandelbrot. This recipe is from High Plains by Cinda Chavich or look for a similar to recipe in Suat’s book, The Little Cookbook for the Great Outdoors.

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 cup chopped nuts

1 cup chopped dried fruit (apricots, raisins, dried cranberries, etc.)

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup canola or sunflower oil

1/2 cup corn syrup

2 tablespoons molasses

Combine oats, flours, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, nuts and dried fruit.

Whisk together milk, oil, corn syrup and molasses. Stir wet ingredients into dry until just mixed.

Spread batter evenly in a greased 9-inch square baking pan and bake at 325*F for an hour or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cut into squares and wrap in plastic wrap for packing. Or cut into fingers and dry in a 250 F oven for 2 hours, if desired.


Stollen is one of those wonderful Christmas breads, shot with fruit and spice, that actually gets better with age. This yeast-free stollen is sturdy and travels well. Too busy to bake? Order a beautiful loaf of stollen from Fry’s Bakery in Victoria.

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped apricots

1 cup dried currants

1/4 cup rum

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cup ground almonds

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon each: mace, cardamom and allspice

pinch each of nutmeg and ginger

1 cup cold butter, cubed

2 eggs

2 cups quark or ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon rum or rum flavoring

melted clarified butter and granulated sugar

Soak fruit for several hours or overnight in 1/4 cup of rum.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices. Cut the butter into cubes and using a pastry blender (or your fingertips) blend it in until the mixture is crumbly.

In the food processor, combine the eggs, quark or ricotta, almond extract and rum and puree until smooth. Add to the flour mixture and mix well. Fold in the raisins, apricots and currents, along with any of the remaining rum they were soaking in.

Form the dough into a ball and knead until smooth.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Roll each out on a piece of parchment paper, into a rectangle about 8 inches wide and 10 inches long.

Getting ready to bake — apricots, raisins, currants and cardamom make my stollen dough special.

Crease the dough along its length, slightly off centre. Brush with melted butter and, using the parchment paper, fold along the crease like an envelope, folding the larger section first and the small section over it. You will end up with an oval loaf.

Place the loaves, on the parchment, on a baking sheet.

Bake at 425-450° F for 50 minutes, or until golden. When the stollens are ready, remove them from the oven, and set on a rack. Brush with clarifed butter and sprinkle with sugar. Store in airtight containers for 2-3 days to mellow before serving. Makes 2 large loaves.

This story originally appeared in Maclean's magazine in 2013 — so some details may be out of date — but the power of fruitcake lives on!

©Cinda Chavich


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