Monday, November 23, 2009

Fruitcake? Fruitcake!

I understand why fruitcake has been given a bad rap. I won't go near the stuff in the store. Too sweet. Too artificial. I do like most homemade fruitcake and I especially like the one I make.

Why do I make fruitcake? There are many reasons. Because I can make it well ahead of time and it just gets better. It's money in the bank. I love the convenience of pulling some out of the fridge and slicing it up when guests pop in. It's perfect with tea or a hot toddy. I travels and ships extremely well.
Because when your friend Clarice also makes fruitcake you can swap and have more than one kind!
But most of all I love fruitcake because within each bite I recall the tastes of the the fruit of summer coupled with the nuts and spices of autumn infused with the heady spirits of the new year. What could be better?

So why this post about fruitcake? Because after making at least a dozen fruitcakes every year for a solid 13 Christmases now I feel like I've got a couple tricks to pass along that might make things easier for the novice:

1) If you dry some of your own fruit like I do cut it up in a large dice before you dry it. (It's much easier to cut up the fruit fresh rather than after it's dried.)

2) Make your cakes as early in the season as you can. Before Halloween is ideal, though around Thanksgiving is fine too. I have a friend who makes her fruitcakes in January for the coming holiday! (The amazing part is her recipe has no booze and yet the cakes keep very well!) It's so nice to have these done before the Christmas rush starts in earnest.
3) My biggest tip: Do not bother with cheesecloth or brushing on the booze. It's so messy and time-consuming! Note my method of dipping the cakes in the brandy. All sides get covered well and it's so easy!

This recipe is nothing more than dried fruit and whole nuts barely held together with a bit of applesauce cake batter and aged in apricot brandy. It's like everything you like to nibble on in one tasty package! Use whatever fruit and nuts you have on hand or are partial to. I like to go heavy on the apricots because they're tart and contrast well with the sweeter fruits and the batter. I dry my own apricots every year especially for Christmas baking because I hate the sulphered, tasteless apricots in the store. If you have a source for apricots that actually taste like apricots, go for it. If not, consider drying your own. I dry cherries, figs, prunes, pears, apples and apricots each year for my fruitcakes. The combination varies each year depending on how our trees produce and what I can pick up by the case from the farm stand. I make up the difference from the bulk section of the store.

You want 10 cups of dried fruit, cut into a large dice:
Here's a suggested combination:
2 c apricots
1 c cranberries
2 c figs or cherries
1 c golden raisins
2 c pears
2 c apples
Pour 1c apricot brandy over this fruit, cover, and let it set for a few hours or overnight until it has softened a bit.

Now get your nuts together in a large bowl. I like to go heavy on the hazelnuts and pecans but again, use what you have or like. One year I happened to have a lot of brazil nuts and they were lovely in the fruitcake.
A total of 7 cups assorted whole nuts:
3 c pecans
1 c almonds
1 c walnuts
2 c hazelnuts, lightly toasted and skins rubbed off with a dishtowel

Sift together the dry ingredients:
3 c all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves

Whisk wet ingredients together in bowl:
4 large eggs, beaten well
1 3/4 c brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 apple or pear sauce
3/4 c melted butter, cooled
1/2 c molasses

Got everything together? Now comes the fun part. First, throw the flour mixture over the nuts and mix well:
Then combine the nut/flour mixture with the fruit (in the biggest darned bowl you've got):

The last thing you do is pour the egg mixture over all this and mix until you don't see any more flour-coated fruit or nuts:

Then divide this chunky mixture into 8 or 9 greased mini loaf pans. Be sure to pack it down so it fills the corners:

Bake at 300 degrees for at least 1 hour. Shift the pans around halfway through baking. When done the cakes should be a deep mahogany color and spring back when touched.
Let cool for 15 minutes then remove from pan. (I like to firmly tap the pans on the counter on each side so they let go. If some fruit sticks to the pan just press it back on the cake. It will meld back together. ) Let cool.

In a regular sized loaf pan (preferably glass) pour at least 1/2 inch of apricot brandy:
Dip each side of every fruitcake into the brandy and set in a waxed paper-lined pan. Wrap the whole pan up well and refrigerate.
Don't have room in your fridge? No worries. Your cakes will probably be even better if stored at cool room temperature. Find a cool spot in your basement or even your garage. Put cakes in an airtight, tamper-proof container out of the way and let them sit for a couple weeks.
After a couple weeks have passed in storage, take them out and repeat the dipping process once more.
You're done! You can wrap them up individually for gift giving. I like to cut a few loaves in half and wrap up these up too. (Dip cut side in brandy). I like to wrap them in plastic wrap or waxed paper and cover this with aluminum foil and finish with a red ribbon. They'll be at their best in a couple more weeks but for now your work is done and the rest is all pleasure!
And just in case you think kids don't like fruitcake? My 6 year old saw the cakes cooling on the rack and he said "Fruitcake! Yum yum diddly dum!"


Linda said...

And yours is so so good. I love it. Linda

Storybook Woods said...

Are you saying, you make fruitcake because of me !!!!! Well I love that we make different kinds and swap. I have yours all set aside xoxoxo Clarice

Mary said...

I can 100% attest to the delectableness (is that a word??) of these fruitcakes. We're talking seriously tasty. I'm thrilled to have been the past recipient of them!

Great post, Angie. Really helpful, colorful and informative!

Gumbo Lily said...

I am not a "fruit cake person" mainly because I have never had a fruit cake like yours! Looking at the fruit and nuts in your cakes makes me salivate, and listening to the process with pictures is even better! Your FC's sound amazing.