Steamed English Fruit Cake from 1918

Steaming and baking combine to create an irresistibly moist and rich dessert.

Lauren Thomann is an antique dealer, freelance writer, and editor with 16 years of experience and a B.A. in English and Linguistics. She specializes in antiques (mainly Victorian through Mid-Century), antique jewelry, old house renovations, and lifestyle and home-related content.
English fruit cake

This vintage recipe takes us back to the early 20th century and originates from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. A treasure trove of culinary wisdom, this cookbook introduced hundreds of recipes to American households, including this rich English fruit cake recipe. The recipe stands out with its unique combination of ingredients and a cooking technique that combines steaming and baking.

Some ingredients may be less familiar to modern bakers, such as mace and citron. Mace is a spice derived from the outer layer of the nutmeg seed and is known for its warm and slightly sweet flavor profile. Citron is a fruit closely related to lemons and limes. For a similar flavor profile, substitute mace with a combination of nutmeg and allspice, and replace citron with candied lemon or orange peel. If currants are unavailable, substitute them with an equal amount of chopped dried cherries, cranberries, or even small raisins like sultanas for a similar taste and texture.

The Boston cooking-school cook book

About the Cookbook

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer. Published in 1918.

Modern Day Baking Tips

To recreate the original recipe, follow the traditional steaming and baking methods. First, steam the cake by placing the batter in a buttered pan. Cover the pan with buttered parchment paper, and place it in a pot or deep baking dish filled with water. Simmer on the stove for three hours. This steaming process ensures a moist and tender texture.

After steaming, bake in a slow oven or a very slow oven, as per the original recipe. A slow oven is around 300-325°F, while a very slow oven is about 250°F. For the slow oven option, bake at 325°F for one and a half hours. For the very slow oven option, bake at 250°F for four hours. Both methods thoroughly bake the dense fruit and nut mixture while maintaining the cake’s moistness and flavor.

English fruit cake

Large English Fruit Cake

Serves: 20 Prep Time: Cooking Time:
Nutrition facts: 200 calories 20 grams fat
Rating: 5.0/5
( 1 voted )


    • 1 lb. butter [2 cups]
    • 1 lb. light brown sugar [2 1/4 cups, packed]
    • 9 eggs
    • 1 lb. flour [approximately 4 cups]
    • 2 teaspoons mace
    • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon soda
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • 3 lbs. currants [approximately 9 cups]
    • 2 lbs. raisins, seeded and finely chopped [approximately 6 1/2 cups]
    • 1/2 lb. almonds, blanched and shredded [approximately 2 cups]
    • 1 lb. citron, thinly sliced and cut in strips [approximately 4 cups]

    *The cup conversions are approximate, as ingredient density may vary. For best results, it's recommended to use a kitchen scale to measure ingredients by weight.


  1. Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, and beat thoroughly.
  2. Separate yolks from whites of eggs; beat yolks until thick and lemon-colored, whites until stiff and dry, and add to first mixture.
  3. Then add milk, fruit, nuts, and flour mixed and sifted with mace, cinnamon, and soda.
  4. Put in buttered deep pans, cover with buttered paper, steam three hours, and bake one and one half hours in a slow oven, or bake four hours in a very slow oven.
  5. Rich fruit cake is always more satisfactory when done if the cooking is accomplished by steaming.


For this vintage fruit cake recipe, you need a large pan: preferably a deep 10-inch round cake pan or a 9x13-inch rectangular pan. However, depending on the pan's depth, you may need to adjust the cooking time slightly. Keep an eye on the cake while it bakes to ensure it is cooked through.

Steamed Fruit Cake Pin with Image and Text

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