Zelten

  • by Nonna Box October 11, 2022
  • |
  • Last Updated on October 12, 2022
zelten fruitcake recipe

In Trentino-Alto Adige, Christmas smells like a zelten fruitcake baking in the oven. A rich, festive dessert filled with nuts and candied fruits, there is no one “true” recipe for this seasonal favorite, because every family has its own traditions and cherished ingredients.

What is zelten fruitcake?

Zelten is a festive fruitcake from Northern Italy filled with nuts and candied fruit and traditionally served during advent. There is also no single form or look to the zelten cake, because each baker can choose to make their preferred shape, such as a heart, round or square shape and cakes can be large or small. With the same recipe, you can choose to make one large cake or several small ones. There are also cakes that are more dense and compact with tons of candied fruits and nuts, while other cakes are lighter, with more flour and egg and less of everything else.

What are the most important ingredients for zelten?

One thing is for sure, there are lots of ingredients that go into making zelten. There is a huge variation depending on the recipe you follow, but the ingredients you are most likely to find are:

  • flour (originally rye flour but now often wheat)
  • butter
  • eggs
  • sugar
  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • pine nuts
  • dried figs
  • raisins
  • candied fruit

And then, in the Sudtirol version of the recipe there are lots of spices such as:

  • clove
  • allspice
  • cinnamon

Does making zelten fruitcake require special equipment?

To make the zelten recipe you will need a hand mixer, several large bowls, a baking pan and a small sauce pan as well as a few mixing spoons. It is also very handy to have an electronic kitchen scale to weigh all the various ingredients – be prepared, there are lots of them!

Steps for making zelten fruitcake like a true Italian

If you want to make zelten like a true Italian, you should:

  1. Soak the raisins, dates, figs and candied fruits overnight in the grappa/rum and water.
  2. Use your creativity to make special decorations on the top of the cake such as flowers.
  3. Create a cake in a fun shape instead of just doing something round or square, like a heart for example!
traditional Tyrolean fruitcake zelten
zelten fruitcake recipe

Zelten Fruitcake

A Christmas tradition in the Trentino-Alto Adige area, a fruitcake made with nuts and dried fruit that is gifted between friends and family.
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Dessert
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 1417kcal
Author: Nonna Box

Ingredients

  • 100 ml grappa rum or grape juice
  • 100 ml water
  • 100 grams raisins
  • 50 grams dates
  • 150 grams candied fruit
  • 150 grams dried figs
  • ½ orange zest grated
  • ½ lemon zest grated
  • 150 grams butter room temperature
  • 100 grams white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 200 grams all purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 150 grams walnuts
  • 50 grams blanched almonds slivers
  • 50 grams hazelnuts

For decorating:

  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 10-20 blanched whole almonds
  • candied cherries if desired

Instructions

  • Chop the figs.
  • Put the figs, raisins, dates, and candied fruit in a bowl.
  • Add the grappa (or substitute rum or grape juice if you prefer something without alcohol).
  • Grate the zest of half a lemon and half an orange and add to the bowl.
  • Leave overnight or at least 2 hours to soak.
  • Finely chop the walnuts and put them in another large bowl and add the almond slivers and pine nuts. Set aside.
  • In a third large bowl, use an electric beater to mix the room temperature butter with the sugar. Add the eggs to the mixture and continue to mix.
  • Now add the baking powder and flour and mix until smooth.
  • Fold the nut mixture as well as the dried fruit mixture into the flour batter and mix carefully with a large spoon.
  • Coat a 24 cm (10 inch) round baking pan with butter and flour.
  • Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top until level.
  • Decorate the top with the whole almonds and candied cherries as desired, making flowers or other fanciful designs.
  • Cook in a preheated oven at 340°F/170°C for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown. Check the cake half way through to make sure it isn’t getting too brown, you can cover the top with tinfoil if necessary.
  • Leave to cool on a rack.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of water and 1 tablespoon of honey in a small saucepan over low heat. Once hot, use a pastry brush to apply the honey mixture to the top and sides of the cake to make it shiny. Leave to dry.
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FAQs

How can I store zelten fruitcake?

Zelten fruitcake is a great gift because it can be stored for a long time without spoiling, even a few weeks if kept in an airtight container or covered with saran wrap. The more alcohol that is used when making the fruitcake, the longer it will last. In some places, fruitcakes are wrapped in alcohol soaked linens and can be stored for years.

Is zelten the same as fruit cake?

Lots of different cultures have fruitcake of some sort. It spread all over Europe to places like Italy, Germany, Bulgaria and England and on to the new world, arriving in Chile, the United States, Canada, the Bahamas and beyond. Even India and the Philippines have their version of fruitcake.

When and why was zelten traditionally made?

Traditionally, zelten cakes were made during Advent, specifically on December 13th, and often prepared by the young women of the household who would then give a zelten cake to their future husband and his family as a gift. Another tradition was to have the young women of the household make the cake on December 21st to ask Saint Thomas for fortune in love. The girls’ mother would bless the cake and put it away for the family to eat after Christmas Eve Mass

I hate candied fruit, what else can I put in my fruitcake?

If you don’t like candied fruit, you can simply leave it out of the fruitcake recipe or substitute with more nuts or raisins. If you have a serious chocolate addiction, or just want to try something different, you could add dark chocolate chips in place of candied fruit for a twist on the original fruitcake recipe.

Other Tyrolean desserts:

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