Rethinking Fruitcake

7 years ago

Today's gratitude goes to Glenna from A Fridge Full of Food for her reminder that (1) it's time to make fruit cake and (2) for anyone turning up her nose or turning away to gag, loving fruit cake starts with examining our expecations. Glenna puts it so well:

"All my life I've thought fruit cake, even my cake-baker mother's, was the nastiest food on the planet. It's dry, it's got GREEN pineapple in it, poisonous maraschino cherries ... , it's dry, it's tasteless, it's dry... well, you get the idea. You've all been tricked into taking a bite of the stuff at least once in your life. And I bet your swore off it too. ... When I started blogging I noticed that all the English bloggers got all excited and into Christmas Cake each October/November and spent the next couple of months "feeding", nurturing, and dreaming out loud of their Christmas cakes. I wondered what this wondrous stuff was. ... ... I always expected fruit cake to be 'cake' and to Americans, cake is light and fluffy. I think it should be called 'Fruit Bread' because, honestly, it's much more of a fruited bread in texture and density than it is a cake ... "

~ read more, plus get the recipe for Glenna's Fruit Bread

Call me a student of fruit cake although sadly, a woman still in search of "the one" recipe to call her own, as Glenna has.

Here are my own tips for making fruit cake, learned over the years.

  • Fruit — If an ingredient's in the very name of the recipe, pay attention! Don't get pulled in by the candied fruit in the grocery store. If there's a surefire way to ruin a fruitcake, it's that awful stuff. Instead, use dried fruit, raisins or currants; golden raisins (also called sultanas); dried cranberries and cherries; dried pineapple; dried peaches and apples; chopped prunes and figs and dates. Variety is important. You can even buy bags of mixed dried fruit, look for them near wherever raisins are sold. For lovely color, include small snips of dried apricot. I like to 'plump' the fruit for a few hours, even a few days, by soaking it in liquor, usually sherry but really, it's your choice.
  • Good Now? Better Later? — Watch the recipes for cues about when it tastes the best. My cousin's recipe for fruitcake is made in July and then 'fed' with liquor for a few months. No wonder it's good! Other recipes only need a week or two of feeding. Others are good straight out of the oven.
  • Nuts — A mix of nuts really works but do toast them first. If you have a choice, toast the nuts separately, only the almonds, only the walnuts, etc. so that they toast evenly. If there's a Trader Joe's nearby, their prices on nuts are great.
  • Big Batch, Small Loaves — If you're thinking about giving homemade fruit cake as gifts, make a big batch but bake it in small loaf pans. I keep a half dozen small loaf pans, the equivalent of two 'regular' loaf pans but also love the looks of these mini gift pans. Last year, I found colorful disposable loaf pans at the dollar store too.
  • Brandy, Rum, Sherry, a Fruity Liqueur or What? — Does fruit cake need to be soaked in liquor? Not all recipes call for soaking but at least to my taste, fruit cake isn't fruit cake without a little liquid help. It also helps to preserve the cakes. (Okay, quit it, I know that you're thinking, "Better for regifting.")

Glenna and I share warm feelings about fruit cake with other food bloggers and these recipes are on my short list to try this year.

Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups uses her mother's recipe for Mom’s Cathedral Window Christmas Fruit Cake and feels nostalgic.
"I remembered my mother’s Christmas signature Cathedral Window Fruit Cake. In our family and friends circle, it was famous for converting fruit cake haters to lovers. ... It seems crazy simple to put together and mix except it is a huge amount of fruit and nuts to mix and I do it by hand to keep the fruit pretty. Healthy fruit, I think that would be stretching things with the amount of sugar here. But it is beyond good and the only fruit cake I’ll ever bake and eat joyfully even if I have a tear in my eye as I mix."

When Meeta from What's for Lunch, Honey? shared the recipe for her family's traditional fruit cake, she outlined its provenance, how it was handed from one woman (yes, woman) to another.
"This fruit cake is one of the recipes that was handed over to my mother by Tante Stephanie. The Dundee fruit cake was a kind of family jewel on Tante Stephanie's Scottish side of the family. Her grandmother, her mother and finally she herself prepared it during the Christmas season, each lady adding her own little touch to the cake. Tante Stephanie showed her true affection for my mother by handing the recipe over to her a year before she passed away. My mother in return paid respect to this great gift by preparing this incredible fruit cake each year in December. She too added her touch to the cake. A few years ago I inherited the recipe from my mother. She showed me how to prepare it and we had a great time in the kitchen talking about the great Tante Stephanie. I have been making this cake every year since then, adding my own note to the fruit cake."

A good place to start is with a fruitcake mix from King Arthur flour. Or you might try the fruitcake brownies (scroll down to the bottom of the post) from Dinner with Julie.

And you?
And you, what's your favorite way to make fruit cake? Leave a recipe or a link to a recipe in the comments!

BlogHer food editor Alanna Kellogg better stop obsessing about Thanksgiving menu ideas if she's going to get any fruit cake baked, pronto.

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