Sunday, December 14, 2014
Calling All Fruitcakes
Now get your minds out of the gutters. I am looking for a nice dark fruitcake, the kind my mother use to make, that I can soak in brandy, and bourbon. I like the candied cherries, and lots of walnuts and pecans. Usually they are easy to find, but this fall nada. One small one at Whole Foods, nothing at Harris Teater,Trader Joe's or Balducci's.
The noble fruitcake gets a bad wrap. There are bad jokes about them lasting forever, and being re gifted year after year. Some town does a fruitcake toss. Really sad.
To appreciate a fruitcake you have to start with and understanding of what it is. To start with it not really very cake-ey. Now there are two fundamental styles, yeast leavened and baking powder/baking soda leavened. A yeast leavened fruitcake is more cake-like, think of an Italian Panitone. A baking powder or baking soda leavened fruit cake is dense and heavy, more like a brownie then a wedding cake. There is just enough cake to hold together the fruit and nuts. The fruits are raisins, candied cherries, candied peels, maybe dates, or prunes. The candied cherries get a lot of bad press, they are not very cherry like. They are made by candying, a process or replacing most of the moisture in the cherry with sugar. Candied fruits have a very-very long shelf life. Candied cherries are dyed in unnatural colors, they lose their natural color in the process of candying. They are wonderfully moist and sweet, and most important for a fruit cake they will soak up booze like a college freshmen. The thing that sets light fruitcake apart from dark fruitcake is the mixture of sweeteners. I like dark, probably because that is what my mother made. She made them for about 25 years until the work became too much for her. I have made them a couple of times. I try not to, the recipe makes several pounds of them, and if I make them, I am likely to eat them. Fruitcakes do get better with age, if I was going to make them, I should have done so 4-6 weeks before I need them to give them time to absorb the booze as they age. I miss mom's 90 proof fruit cake.