Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fruitcake, with Insane Greediness: Part II

Card-carrying proud pro-fruitcake voter
Sometimes you just have to take a stand. I am pro-fruitcake. There. I now understand the power and beauty of self-determination. I'm not convinced that the fruitcake I ate in my Danish bedroom, hoping to fill my heart, turned me into a fruitcake lover. Rather, I think I might just have gotten there in spite of it.

But no matter. I'm always surprised when I run across people who are anti-fruitcake. But then I remember what fruitcake means to them: flavorless sticky fruit, unidentifiable even by color. Cherries might be red, or they may be green. Pineapple is inexplicably dark green, and citron, instead of a pale barely there green is practically fluorescent. I'm convinced a little re-education is all the anti-fruitcake people really need.

Well-loved recipe
Because when I think of fruitcake, I think of the recipe given to me years ago by my sister. Dried fruit and home-candied peel macerate for at least a day in brandy (I left mine for 2 days this year). Nuts, jam, butter, and eggs are added. After baking, the cakes are brushed with brandy frequently and often. Then they are wrapped in cheesecloth (also doused with brandy), plastic, and foil, and set deep in my closet. Dried fruits, candied citrus peel, pecans, and brandy. What exactly is there not to like?

Candied peel and dried fruit bathing in brandy
Ideally you'd make this cake in October to give it time to cure. I find that in October I start thinking about making the fruitcake, and in November I candy the peel and buy the dried fruits. Early in December I finally make the cakes. But you might be better than me. If so, dog ear this recipe and come back next October.

Ready to bake

Wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth
Luckily, the recipe makes a lot of cake. We'll eat some at Christmas (even if it hasn't aged as long as it should), slice some to add to cookie boxes, and give some whole cakes away (only to card carrying pro-fruitcake people). What's left will go back into the deepest corner of my closet, to be enjoyed next year--and maybe even the one after. Just remember to occasionally open them up and brush with more brandy. They like that.

They also like freshly grated nutmeg
And if you find yourself eating a fruitcake with insane greediness, don't feel too ashamed. It happens to the best of us, and your secret is safe with me.  A few notes:
  • This makes a lot of fruitcake (I baked 2 large loaves, 7-6x3 loaves, and 4-4 inch round pans).  You might want to divide it.  
  • I thought I was pretty clever buying the paper pans that you don't need to line.  Except it would work better if you did.  Next time I'll stick to pans and parchment paper.
  • For a full recipe, finding a bowl big enough to mix everything is slightly tricky.  This year I felt pretty smug for realizing my turkey roaster insert was perfect--it made mixing a breeze.  
  • I've tried both grinding and chopping the fruit.  I prefer chopping; grinding in the Kitchenaid made a mass of fruit too uniform for my taste.  On the other hand, chopping 8-9 pounds of fruit takes a long time.Pick your poison.
  • I use pretty cheap brandy.  This dates to the early years of my marriage, when we had a glut of brandy.  My grandfather, the most frugal and also most generous person I've known, gave the same presents every Christmas.  Women got a 2 lb. box of See's Nuts and Chews; men got a fifth of brandy.  When I married, I learned the true beauty of marriage: you got the chocolate AND the brandy.  And, unlike the IRS, Babbo didn't differentiate between married couples and unmarried--all couples came out ahead.
  • I dislike most dried pineapple, as it tends to have a lot of added sugar and not taste much like pineapple (or anything else, for that matter).  If you can't find one that doesn't have added sugar, I'd use more candied peel and less dried pineapple (or even all candied peel).
  • Homemade candied peel is wonderful.  It's not hard to make.  It impresses people.  It makes your life better.  Make some.

I felt like Christo wrapping all those cakes

Thérèse's Fruitcake

Chop or grind 8-9 lbs. dried fruit:
  • 1-1/2 lbs dates
  • 1-1/2 lbs figs
  • 2 lbs cherries (try to find sour)
  • 2 lbs candied peel and dried pineapple
  • 1-1/2 lbs raisins and currants 
Macerate overnight in plenty of brandy (a fifth to a quart).

Next day: Preheat oven to 300º.  Toss the fruit mixture with a little flour (about 1/4 cup).  Add:
  • 6 cups chopped pecans
  • 8-12 ounces dark jam (blackberry or black currant) or marmalade
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
In another bowl, cream:
  • 1 lb. butter, add
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 lb. brown sugar (about 2-3/4 cups packed)
  • 12 eggs; then stir in
  • 1 lb flour (4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
Mix this batter with the fruit and nuts--it will be a fairly stiff dough. Put in greased paper-lined pans filled 3/4 full--you can use loaf pans, round cake pans--whatever shape you like.  The bigger cakes will stay moister, and require less brushing with brandy.  Put a pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven, and bake the cakes (at 300º) for 2 to 3 hours. I baked my small ones for 1 hour and 45 minutes, then removed the pan of water, and baked for 15 minutes longer.  The larger cakes took longer, about 2-1/4 hours, remove the pan of water, then 15 minutes longer.

When the cakes are done (you can tell with the toothpick in the middle of the cake), turn them out of their pans immediately to cool on a rack.  Have a dish of brandy and a brush ready--you'll start soaking them while still warm.  I just brush on as much as they will take.  When the cakes are cooled, wrap them in cheesecloth that you've soaked with still more brandy, and then in plastic and foil.  I've kept these cakes for up to two years in a cool closet.  I just try to remember to open them up every month or two and brush with more brandy.

You have a lot of leeway with the proportions of dried fruit.  Here's what I used this year:
  • 14 oz dates
  • 12 oz currants
  • 16 oz raisins
  • 34 oz figs (mixed Calmyrna and mission)
  • 15 oz cherries
  • 9 oz pineapple
  • 16 oz candied orange peel
  • 5 oz citron (I candied a small Buddha's hand citron--recipe in Chez Panisse Fruit)
As you can see, I only used 7-1/2 lbs all together.  This is one of the problems with buying the fruit and then waiting to bake.  Someone--maybe even you--could find the dates.

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Anonymous said...

my goodness, this looks amazing. And you know a recipe has to be good when it's covered with stains and spills...

and I find that there are many foods for which re-education is key...and then making it yourself at home. Big difference.

Thank you for this - though I feel a tad guilty about taking a family recipe. Like I'm intruding...? Shouldn't this be the kind of thing that makes you famous?


Anonymous said...

From Tracey, Let's forget the fruitcake and go to a bakery in Denmark!

Giovanna said...

Rainy Daisy, I agree about the spills and stains--my books are covered. Partly it shows the recipe is well-loved, but also, I'm afraid, that I'm a bit careless!

And don't feel guilty, or like you're intruding. I'd be plenty happy to have my family recipes make other people content and well-fed.

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