a kitchen nymph
As odd as it may seem, awhile back we had a conversation about the joys fruitcake with a fellow blogger. As a kid, we didn’t see its merits: only the candied cherries were worth picking out of the slices on the sideboard, the rest of it seemed uninspiring. Today, people fall into one of two camps with this traditional holiday fare – most hate it, probably due to the regifting of those tasteless convenience store cardboard bricks fobbed off as “delectable” once-a-year treats or memories of dry slices served up at Granny’s knee – and those of us who truly enjoy a thin slice of vintage, brandy-soaked nostalgia made with our own hands.
Across the Bored became a convert a few years back when a friend bestowed upon us about 5 pounds of very exotic dried fruit. Our first thought was that there was no way we would every be able to eat our way through it and the next idea was why not try to make a real Victorian fruitcake, one that would sit for a few months in a dark place soaking up some really good brandy, just to take the edge off. Consultation of The American Heritage Cookbook provided exactly the recipe we were hoping for and resulted in the absolutely best, sinfully tastiest potential doorstop ever. The recipe follows with our additions in italics….
This recipe is of English origin and is known variously as Dark Fruitcake, English Fruitcake, Black Fruitcake and Merry Christmas Cake.
1/4 pound candied citron
1/8 pound candied lemon peel
1/8 pound candied orange peel
1/2 pound candied cherries
1 pound candied pineapple
1 pound golden raisins
1/2 pound seeded raisins (we used sultanas)
1/4 pound currants
1/4 pound blanched shelled almonds
1/4 pound shelled walnuts or pecans
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup dark rum, cognac, sherry or Madeira (we used 1 1/4 cups Chemineaud brandy)
We also fudged on the 1 pound ingredients and added in dried prunes, papaya, pear, apple, blueberries, cherries, figs, dates, and cranberries…
The fruit and nuts should be prepared a day ahead as follows: sliver the citron, lemon and orange peel into very thin strips; cut the cherries in half and the pineapple in thin wedges. Set aside. Pick over the raisins and currants to eliminate stray stems or seeds and add to fruit. Coarsely chop the other dried fruit and add to mixture covering. Add rum, cognac, sherry or Madeira and soak overnight (we had so much fruit that 1/2 cup just wasn’t enough and soaked the whole in Brandy for 3 days just to be sure!) Chop the almonds and the walnuts or pecans coarsely. Set them aside, too. The day (of cooking) prepare the pan. Grease a 10-inch tube pan, four 1 pound coffee cans, or 2 bread pans, measuring 9 x5x3 inches (we used 3 vintage round spring-form pans with a side lock). Line with brown paper (there is a very good reason for this…)
To make the cake: Mix 1/2 cup of the sifted flour with all of the fruit and nuts in a large bowl. Sift remaining flour with spices and baking soda (you can add more of the spices to taste). Cream butter until soft, then work in granulated sugar and brown sugar, a little at a time, until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the eggs, milk, almond extract, and, finally, the flour mixture. Mix thoroughly. Pour over the fruit and nuts and work together, with your hands, until the batter is well mixed. Lift the batter into the pan or pans and press it down firmly to make a compact cake when cooked. Bake in a preheated 275 degree oven. A tube pan that uses all of the batter will take 3 1/4 hours; the bread pans, which will hold half the batter, 2 1/4 hours; the coffee cans, which each hold one-fourth of the batter, 2 hours; (the round pans which we used were probably around 2 1/2 hours with lots of checking – being an intuitive cook is why we don’t write a food blog…) Remove cakes from the oven, let stand half an hour, then turn out onto cake racks. Peel off the brown paper very carefully. the four small, round cakes make attractive Christmas presents.
To age the Fruitcakes: Allow at least four weeks (we left ours for at least that many months, poking with a toothpick and watering liberally with brandy once a month, and they are still tasty over a year later). Wrap each cake in several layers of cheesecloth well soaked in rum, cognac, sherry or Madeira. Place in an airtight container, such as a large crock or kettle, and cover tightly (we wrapped ours further in 2 layers of tin foil and placed in metal cake tins). If the cheesecloth dries out, moisten it with a little of the wine or spirits. Do not overdo it. The cakes should be firm, not soft, at the end of the aging period. This will make them easy to slice in neat, compact slices. If you wish to frost fruitcakes after they have been properly aged, cover the top first with Almond Paste, then with Milk Frosting (this can be tricky as my mother and grandmother found out 2 days before our wedding and had to resort to blow-drying the almond paste onto the cake… but that is for another post). To decorate, make a garland of candied cherries, slivered angelica, and blanched whole almonds around the edge of the cake.
And that’s it.
Would We do it again? Probably. It is intensely time-consuming, expensive and requires a good knowledge beforehand of baking and some nursing throughout the aging period but it is also deliciously worth it, once in a very special while. Perhaps when this one is finished or for a wedding… So the Two Cents Tuesday Challenge for this fortnight is – Cook – because we all have to eat, one way or another.
“How do you cook?” – On a griddle, on a grill, on a Bbq in winter still, like a short-order guy, fritters, fish or fry, vegan or carnivore, a little less or a little more…
We would love to see your vision.
For all those who are new readers to Across the Bored, here are some guidelines for the challenge: HOW DOES THIS WORK?
- I will post some commentary on a random topic that pops into my head (such as the above) and then ask you to respond on the same.
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- Please, don’t just link to an old post… challenge yourself.
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