27 November 2017

Dark Fruitcake for the Reformation of Fruitcake Haters

I know, I know. You do not like fruitcake. Neither do I, if by fruitcake you mean those mass-produced doorstops smothered in candied nuclear mystery fruit. But it turns out we moderns have all been duped by evil imposters. At least once in your life, you owe it to yourself to try a real-deal, old-fashioned, traditional fruitcake made by hand at home. This is a dense, spicy cake packed with real fruits, a mountain of nuts, and all those spices that fill the house with the scent of Christmas and bring Scrooges to repentance. I have made many fruitcake converts with this recipe! 

This makes four dark loaf cakes which will easily keep a month or more if well-soaked in brandy and kept tightly wrapped. All this chopping and stirring and brandy sniffing is more fun with a buddy, so we always turn on the carols and make it a party. I have it on the calendar to stir these up sometime in November because, like me, they improve with a long nap. 

We like this with hot tea or coffee and a dollop of traditional hard sauce, the kind served with Christmas puddings throughout Britain. I use Martha Stewart’s recipe, which is perfect (of course), quick, and blessedly simple. Recipe below.

Note: You can wiggle a bit on the amounts of individual fruits, as long as you keep your total cups of fruit equal to the recipe totals. For example, if you want to omit the cup of tart cherries (which you don't, honestly), you could add another cup of currants or dried cranberries. Similarly, you can vary the ratio of pecans to walnuts as long as you wind up with 6 cups of nuts total. But don’t go too wild omitting stuff, because it’s the wide variety of flavors and textures which makes an honest-to-goodness fruitcake so compelling. Well, okay, that and the brandy.

1 cup  golden raisins
1 cup currants 

1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
2 cups dried apricot halves, chopped
2 cups dried figs, quartered
1 cup prunes, quartered
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
4 cups walnuts, chopped by hand into large pieces
2 cups pecans, chopped by hand into large pieces
oranges, grated zest only
3 lemons, grated zest only
½ cup candied ginger, chopped
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 cup  molasses (I use 2/3 cup molasses and 1/3 cup Golden Eagle syrup)
2 cups  brandy (plus more for soaking cakes later)
½ cup  orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau

For the batter (which you will make a day or two later):

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
1 lb butter, room temperature (plus more for greasing pans)
3 cups dark brown sugar
large eggs
1 T vanilla extract 

You will also need: Four loaf pans (9 X 5 X 3), parchment paper, foil, a wire cooling rack, a pastry brush, and a very (and I do mean Very) large mixing bowl.

Combine all dried fruits, ginger, nuts and citrus zest in a large mixing bowl. Add the spices and toss well to mix. Add molasses and liquids and mix well. Cover tightly and allow to macerate overnight (or for a couple of days) at room temperature, stirring occasionally. 

Preheat oven to 275F. Grease four loaf pans (9 X 5 X 3 inches), and then line them with greased parchment paper. (Cut your parchment paper wide enough to ruffle a bit above the long sides of the pan, so you can grab onto it when it is time to lift the baked cakes out of the pans.) Coat the greased parchment paper lightly with flour. 

Sprinkle 1 cup flour over the fruit mixture and stir it in. Combine the remaining 3 cups of flour with baking powder, baking soda and salt, and sift them together onto a sheet of waxed or parchment paper; set aside. Cream the butter and dark brown sugar, and beat well. Add eggs, two at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Tip in all the sifted dry ingredients and beat until batter is blended and smooth. Pour batter over the fruit mixture, and mix well until everything is coated with batter. Divide batter among loaf pans, filling to ½ inch below top. Bake for 2 hours. 

The cakes usually crack on top. Embrace this, my dear, like the crow's feet which add to your wise and mysterious beauty.

Cakes are done when a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool a bit in the pans and then carefully lift the cakes out of their pans using the parchment paper, and set on a wire rack to cool. Brush cakes on top and sides with a little brandy. I wrap mine in parchment paper, and then in tight foil, and then place them inside ziplock bags. I store them in the pantry. Every few days, I open the wrappings carefully and brush them again with a little more brandy, or perhaps Grand Marnier.

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Martha Stewart’s Hard Sauce

• 1 cup confectioners sugar 
• 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
• 3 tablespoons brandy or cognac

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and brandy or Cognac; beat until combined. Transfer to a serving dish, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Lynn’s notes: 1) Martha says use a mixer but a food processor or even just a heartily-wielded spoon works here, too. 2) I use Grand Marnier instead of brandy, because the orange flavor really complements the citrus zest in the cake. Either will do nicely.

Bon appetit, and merry Christmas!