12 December 2012

Redeeming the Fruitcake

My family didn't really do fruitcake when I was a child. I'm not sure if this is because my mother didn't feel like baking it and didn't see the point in buying it, or because she felt there were plenty of sweet things around at the holidays, and she didn't need to add to the sugar overload. I know that my grandparents like fruitcake, but I don't recall it ever being out on the dessert table at family Christmas (and believe me, their dessert table was impressive). The only time I've ever had fruitcake at their house was when we were there several weeks after I made my very first fruitcake, and was telling them about it.

I'd heard the jokes about fruitcake, but since I hadn't really encountered it (except for the fruitcake used as a prop in a series of sketches my drama class did for Christmas in grade 7), I didn't really have an aversion to it. Nor did I have a preference for it. I liked candied cherries, but raisins were only good cooked, in my opinion, and I've never been overly fond of nuts. Then off I went to university, and suddenly encountered the cornucopia of fruitcakes at Christmas-time in the grocery store.

I hadn't noticed this before, despite going grocery shopping with my mum quite frequently, so I am inclined to ascribe it to the American/Canadian difference. Americans don't seem to embrace fruitcake quite as passionately as Canadians do. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I may have just been frequenting the wrong grocery stores before I emigrated, and been surrounded by non-fruitcake-eating people.

To go back to the grocery store, I was curious. So I bought a fruitcake from Save-On and brought it back to my dorm and nibbled on it for months. It was rather intense, and there were too many nuts, and the icing on top was absurd. But I liked the fruit part.

The fruit was really the only part I did like. A store-bought fruitcake is really mostly fruit and nuts, held together by the tiniest amount of cake batter. It falls apart into a sticky heap if you look at it cross-eyed, and it tastes of too many bizarre preservatives, since they can't sell extremely alcoholic fruitcakes in a grocery store. And sadly, the liquor store just sells liquor, not cake.

After J. and I got married between third and fourth year university (yes, we're crazy, but it's worked out well so far), I embarked on fruitcake-making that Christmas (I would have tried it earlier, but I'd lived on campus before that, and our university had a no-alcohol-on-campus policy. Well, technically, at that time, they had a no alcohol, period policy, which has since been relaxed. My paranoia about getting caught with a giant bottle of brandy in my hand as I made cake kept me from making fruitcake while still living there). My first fruitcake was okay, but I've since played around with my favourite recipe (I don't remember where it came from at this point; my copy has no citations) and come up with a variation that I, at least, like much better. J. likes it, too, but he'll eat almost anything if it's made of cake.

My recipe eliminates the nuts and chopped citron. I tried the citron, and I just didn't like the flavour it gave the cake. Out it went. I increased the amount of candied cherries in proportion. I switched in brandy for the sherry, and added more of it, and starting pouring it on the cake to help the aging process. I skipped the suggested garnishes (if I didn't like the citron in the cake, I didn't think I was going to like marmalade on top. Plus, it would make the cake needlessly sticky. Have I mentioned before that stickiness truly bothers me? Heaven knows how I'll cope with children).

The cake ends up moist, a little chewy, a little crumbly, and rather alcoholic. It's a dark fruitcake, because light fruitcakes seem like a waste of time. Well, not really. I just prefer the dark fruitcake, the way I prefer dark beer. A slice of it goes very well with hot black tea with milk in. It's quite rich, and I'm sure it's calorie-laden, so you'll probably start to feel full after a single slice.

December 2012's Fruitcake

Fruit Cake

1/2 cup currants

generous 1 cup raisins

1/2 cup sultanas (or golden raisins, if you can't find sultanas)

1/2 cup (or a little more) glacé cherries

1/2 cup brandy, divided

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature

scant 1 cup dark brown sugar

2 size 1 eggs, at room temperature

1 3/4 cups plain flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. each ground ginger, allspice, and cinnamon

1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. golden syrup (This is not corn syrup or molasses, for those unfamiliar with golden syrup. It's a sugar syrup that's a by-product of the sugar refining process and has a distinct caramel-like aftertaste. The darker kinds are usually just called treacle, but you want the golden kind here)

At least a day in advance, combine the dried fruit and cherries in a bowl. You may change the balance of dried fruit if desired, so long as it all adds up to about 2 cups (dried cherries do well in this, as do golden raisins rather than sultanas). Stir in 1/4 cup of the brandy, cover and soak overnight. Feel free to let soak for a couple of days, adding more brandy if desired.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Line and grease a 9x3 inch springform tin with greaseproof paper. If you don’t have a springform pan, grease and flour a 9 inch cake tin. Place a tray of hot water on the bottom of the oven.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together three times. Fold into the butter mixture in three batches. Fold in the syrup, milk, dried fruit, and liquid, adding the second 1/4 cup brandy.

Spoon into the tin, spreading out so there is a slight depression in the centre. Bake for about 2 1/2—3 hours. When the top is golden, pour a capful or two of brandy over the cake, then cover with foil to prevent over-browning.

Cool in the tin on a rack for about 10 minutes. Pour another capful or two of brandy over the cake while it cools. Turn it out onto the rack to finish cooling, and pour more brandy over the bottom of the cake.

When it is cool, wrap it in parchment paper and store either in a sealed container or a sealed ziplock bag. Sprinkle with brandy every once in a while, to help the aging process. You may eat it right away, of course, but it will be better if it has aged for a week or three.

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