Thursday, December 18, 2014

good fruitcake (really)

The holidays are pretty different for my family this year. I spent Thanksgiving with my boyfriend Schuyler's family, my first one away from my parents and sister. In October my sister had twins--a boy and a girl!--so we're moving Christmas 200 miles west, from Bamberg to Atlanta. This will be my first Christmas outside of my hometown.

If you know me, you probably know I don't handle change gracefully, or graciously. I like routine, tradition, predictability. But when I reflect for just a moment on the change I've seen this year, I can't help but feel grateful for it. We're welcoming new, healthy, beautiful members to our family (the babies and Schuyler, although I suppose he's not so new to the world as a whole). It feels more like the beginning of a new chapter than the end of anything...although of course it's both.

Perhaps in response to this newness, I've gotten awful nostalgic in my holiday food choices. I baked three pecan pies over Thanksgiving. I made my grandmother's fudge to send to a secret Santa, even thought it turns out her secret recipe is on the back of the Kraft marshmallow creme jar.

And yes, I made fruitcake.

I didn't grow up eating much fruitcake, but every Christmas a brick of it sat on my grandmother's washing machine. (Her washing machine was in her kitchen, for reasons yet unknown.) Fruitcake never held the appeal of fudge. It's not exactly a kid-oriented dessert, what with all the dried fruit and liquor. Now, however, that sounds perfect. Fiber and alcohol in one dessert? Sign me up! Also, I found out last week that if you use real dried fruit as opposed to that day-glo green and red jellied stuff, it actually tastes pretty good. Sort of like alcoholic trail mix, but much better than I made that sound.

If you're feeling a little nostalgic over the holidays, this just might do the trick. If nothing else, everyone knows fruitcake is the classic re-gift.

good fruitcake
adapted from King Arthur Flour
makes one 9"x5" loaf, 6 to 8 mini loaves, or 1.5 dozen muffin-sized cakes

3 1/2 cups diced mixed dried fruit (I used cranberries, golden raisins, pineapple, and figs)
3/4 cup whiskey, rum, brandy, apple juice, or cranberry juice (I used whiskey)

1/2 c (8 tbsp) butter
1 c (15 oz) dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cocoa (optional, for color)
2 tbsp dark corn syrup
1/4 c apple juice, cranberry juice or water
1 c chopped, toasted nuts (I used almonds, pecans, and walnuts)

To prepare the fruit: Combine the fruit with the liquid of your choice in a non-reactive bowl; cover and let rest overnight. Too impatient to wait until tomorrow? Microwave everything for 1 minute (or until it's very hot), cover, and let rest 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 300°. Lightly grease your pan(s).

To make the batter: Place the the butter and sugar in a large bowl, and beat together until well combined. Beat in the salt, spices, and baking powder. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and cocoa. Add the flour mixture and the syrup to the mixture in the bowl, beating gently to combine.

Stir in the juice or water, then the fruit with any collected liquid. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and stir until everything is well combined. Spoon the batter into the pans, filling them about 3/4 full.

Bake the cakes on the middle shelf of the oven, as follows: 50-60 minutes for the individual cakes; 60 to 70 minutes for the small loaves; and approximately 2 hours for the 9"x5" loaf. The cakes are done when a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the oven, and brush them with liquor or liqueur of your choice, simple syrup, or flavored simple syrup. When the cakes are completely cool, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and store at room temperature for up to 6 to 8 weeks (how good they are after 8 weeks is yet undetermined).

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