I know at some point in the past, I have written about fruitcake, the post and my praise of fruitcake inspired David a blogger in the Pacific Northwest to send me a wonderful fruit bread. It was lighter in texture than a fruitcake, made with wonderful local fruit. Very easy to enjoy.
I don't recall why my mother started making fruit cake, but when I was a teenager she did. I made them on and off, now that my parents are gone, I have taken up making a fruitcake each year. It takes time, and planning, but I can make it the way I like it. I know my mother expected fruitcake at the holidays. My father liked it, he loved sweets. At 88 his doctor diagnosed him with lung cancer and explained treatment options. He was in poor health, the treatments would have been torturous. He said, "I am going to go home, enjoy life, and have that second scoop of ice cream" his doctor agreed that ice cream was the best treatment option.
Making your own, you can adjust to your taste. There are a lot of fruitcake haters. Most of them fall into one of two categories, either they expect a fruitcake to be cake, or they have only ever had bad commercial fruitcake. A fruitcake is unlike any cake you have ever had. I wouldn't call it a cake, it is really in a category it own, a sweet composed of candied fruits, nuts, and confectionary glue. It is sweet, it is moist, it is dense, it is probably not for everyone. If it is for you, I urge you to try making your own. Commercial cakes are constrained by being someone else's taste and by time and ingredients. When you make your own you control those variables.
4 ounces butter (I use salted butter for everything.)
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon or other extract (can be left out)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup molasses (treacle)
2 cups flour (all purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I use freshly grated.)
4 cups +/- of candied and dried fruits- (I use 2 cups cherries, 2 cups raisins)
1/2 cup mixed candied peel
1 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts, many people use pecans)
Booze - I use bourbon, dark rum, and brandy.
Start 30 to 90 Days, before you expect to enjoy the fruitcake. This cake is aged in booze to develop full flavor.
Heat oven to 325 F. I use a non-stick tube pan. Spray the pan with baking spray, the line with baking parchment (bottom, and sides) and spray the paper. Fruitcake tends to be sticky.
Vary the mix of candied and dried fruits to your taste. I soak dried fruits and raisins (not the candied fruits) in a mix of about 1/c cup each bourbon, dark rum and brandy for 30 minutes or more strain the fruit out before mixing the fruit into the batter, and save the booze.
Mix spices, baking soda and flour and set aside. Adjust the spice mix to your taste. I go lighter on the cloves, heavier on cinnamon and add freshly grated nutmeg.
Cream the butter in an electric mixer, until fluffy, beat in the sugar (for a lighter fruitcake use granulated or caster sugar - for a darker fruitcake use dark brown sugar), ad the eggs and beat until fluffy. You will notice a change in color and texture, this step incorporates air into the batter adding lift to the final product. Add the molasses (some lighter fruitcakes us corn syrup in place of molasses) and cream (you can use milk) and beat on medium for a minute or two.
By hand stir in the dry mixture of spices, flour and baking soda. When well incorporated, stir in the fruit and nuts.
The finished batter, is thick and heavy, more like a cookie or bread dough, than a cake batter. Transfer to baking pan.
Bake 60 to 75 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Baking time will vary.
Remove from oven, let sit for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and remove from the pan. You may need to use a knife or palette knife to loosen around the edges. Remove paper, and allow to cool completely (2 to 3 hours, this is a dense cake.)
Place a large sheet of aluminum foil or plastic wrap on the counter, you want this large enough to wrap the entire cake in, I use extra wide heavy duty aluminum foil. Cover that with cheesecloth, transfer cake to the center of it. You can buy cheesecloth in the baking department of most grocery stores or at kitchen specialty shops. It is a single use item. Baste the cake with the reserved booze (or fresh if you didn't soak fruit.) You want it moist, but not soaking wet. Baste the sides. Wrap in cheesecloth, foil, slip into a plastic bag that will seal tightly (I use a 2-gallon size Zip-Lock freezer bag) and refrigerate.
Fruitcake needs to age 30 to 90 days to develop it's full flavor potential. After a couple of weeks, open and check for moisture, if it is dry, add additional booze (bourbon, dark rum, brandy.) I check for dryness about once a month adding as needed so the cake is moist, but not wet. You want the booze to soak into the fruitcake. There is a alchemy that takes place in aging, the fruit and binder (cake) become one. The flavors mellow and meld. I think the aging step is what is missing on many comercial fruitcakes. Some of them are dry, lacking the moistness that develops in aging. Others use corn syrup or honey to try to get the moistness without the ageing. The finished product should be moist, but not wet or 100 proof (my mother made some famous 100 proof ones, a little heavy on the pour.) Experiment on the booze and aging to your taste.
Did you have fruitcake this past holiday season?