Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Cake

Okay, truth be told, it's a fruitcake. I thought if I titled it as such no one would read this post. I am among the bold few who not only enjoy, but make this much maligned Christmas-time delicacy. Though I do not make them every year, due to the amount of time they take to make, when I do make them, I make enough to pass on to family and a few friends. And, contrary to the bad publicity fruitcakes bear, my recipe is a good one. No, really, my fruitcakes are delicious! So good, I believe this recipe could quite favorably change ones opinion of fruticakes forever.

What makes my cakes different from all the rest is the absence of citron and candied peel, the ingredients responsible for much of the cake's tarnished reputation. In its place, is a wonderful mixture of nuts and dried fruits, chief among them dried apricots, dates, and golden raisins. The only candied fruit in the recipe, and not in the original recipe, is red and green cherries, which I add for color, not taste. All nestled in a wonderful cake batter that includes a pound of butter, a dozen eggs, traditional holiday spices and a blend of liquors, that contribute to the cakes rich taste and moist texture. 

I started making fruitcakes as a young bride following in the footsteps of my mother, who would make a dozen or more cakes each holiday to give away to relatives and business associates. I started with Mom's recipe, which was of the traditional variety with lots of citron and candied fruits. They were good, but unfortunately, not great, and often dry and crumbly - sorry Mom. I tried a couple of other recipes, before settling on this one, but with terrible results. One recipe called for soaking cheesecloth wrapped cakes in whiskey. After a few days, to my horror, they began to grow mold.  Needless to say, that recipe got tossed, immediately, into the trash.

The recipe that followed, and the one I use today, came to me by way of the food section of my local newspaper, The Detroit News. That was roughly 35 years ago. I have changed it a bit to suit my taste, adding the candied cherries plus other dried fruits, and replacing the prescribed pecans for walnuts, due to my mother's allergy to pecans. I also replaced the Curacao liquor called for in the recipe with Cream de Cocoa, which at the time, I thought were the same. Not the case, of course. I eventually tried the original recipe using the Curacao, but believe the cakes with the Cream de Cocoa were decidedly richer in taste and remains the liquor of choice.

When making this recipe for the first time, I gave a cake to a good friend of mine, who told me she and her husband loved it so much they devoured it in a single sitting - mind you, they were small cakes. Other favorable comments followed and, as they say, the rest is history. The recipe has stood the test of time and continues to be one of the best tasting fruitcakes around - honest!

The cakes take time and patience to make, but are well worth the effort. They are wonderfully moist and quite dense that can be cut into thin slices easily without crumbling. A thin slice with a good cup of coffee or a glass of champagne is well worth waiting for each year.

Always looking to enhance this recipe, this time I have added some dried pineapple, strawberries and mangoes to the fruit mixture. I continue to use walnuts in place of the pecans, but any variety or combinations of nuts will do. 

Christmas Fruitcake

Fruit & Nuts:
1 cup chopped red and/or green candied cherries
1 lb. dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1 lb. dates, coarsely chopped
1 lb. golden raisins
8 oz.dried strawberries
8 oz. dried pineapple
8 oz. dried mango
1 lb. walnuts, roughly chopped
1 lb. blanched & toasted almonds, roughly chopped

1 lb. sweet butter, softened
12 eggs, room temperature
3 c. dark or light brown sugar
4 c. flour, divided
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. mace
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cloves
4 T. each dark rum, brandy, Cream de Cacao
Juice and rind of 2 oranges & 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Generously butter, line (with parchment or waxed paper) and then re-butter pans of choice: either 2 12-cup tube pans, 2 9- or 10-inch springform pans, 3 standard loaf pans, 5-7 small loaf pans or do what I did-purchase professional paper bakeware that didn't need to be buttered --yeah!

Place all chopped fruits and nuts into a very large mixing bowl or pan.  Add 1 cup of the flour and toss well to fully coat. Set aside.

Make the cake batter:


Sift together the remaining flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, mace and cloves in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar till fluffy either with a hand mixer in a very large mixing bowl or with a Kitchen Aid mixer. 

Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Transfer this mixture to a very large mixing bowl. 

Mix together the rum, Cream de Cacao, brandy, zest and juice of the oranges  and lemons.

To the creamed butter/sugar mixture add the flour/spices and liquid mixture, alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrap bowl occasionally to ensure ingredients are well combined.

Add the nut and fruit mixture to the finished batter and mix well to combine.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean. For the largest pans bake for roughly 2 - 2 1/2 hours. The smallest pans as little as 1 hour.

Let the cakes cool on a cooling rack. Remove from pans (not paper bakeware) and wrap with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. Keep in a cool, dry place. Let rest for a day or two before cutting.

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