Life

This Is Your Year To Give Christmas Fruit Cake One More Shot… And We Have The Recipe


There are few desserts more reviled, and therefore dismissed than a Christmas fruitcake. And for good reason, they’re often hard, tasteless bricks that arrive from a mail-ordering relative you’d altogether forgotten you were blood-connected to.

Over the years, the fruitcake became an industrialized confection that took what made the dessert great to begin with and tossed it (much like people often toss their fruitcakes). The butter was replaced with margarine and alcohol was removed from the recipe. And, honestly, nothing is better without the requisite booze and butter. But Puritan Americans insist on ruining good things, so the fruitcake you’ve dared to taste — or trash — is but a shadow of the real deal.

We’re here to entice you back into a winter wonderland filled with delicious fruitcakes. They do take a fair amount of time to make yourself, but the effort and patience is worth it in the long run.

PART I: WHAT IS FRUITCAKE ANYWAY?

Fruitcake harkens back to a time when storing food for the winter was essential. Summer fruits would be preserved in sugar, allowing them a much longer shelf life, and amping up the color dramatically. These candied fruits often found their way into cakes as far back as the days of the Romans.

Over time, fruitcakes evolved along cultural lines. The Germans refined their Stollen… the Italians have their Panettone…and the French their Bûche de Noël. Each recipe called for different fruits or nuts, but largely stayed within the same confines of a wintery fruit bit-filled cake loaded with spice.

Then came American ingenuity and industrialization. Fruitcakes became hugely popular in the American south (where most factory versions still hail from). Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and Claxton Bakery of Claxton, Georgia, still ship out tons of fruitcakes every single year. They’re also noted for adding nuts to the mix and being behind the coining of the phrase, “nutty as a fruitcake” back in the 1930s.

As the desire for fruitcake grew nationwide, the need to make them as quickly and cheaply as possible trumped the desire to make them good. Butter was replaced with cheap margarine, and the alcohol was dropped entirely. This gave rise to the fruitcake we all know: cheap, well preserved, and tasting like sh*t.

Over the course of the next few decades fruitcake became the butt of many a holiday joke, thanks, in part, to Johnny Carson’s running Tonight Show bit espousing, “The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

The likelihood that you’ve actually eaten a proper fruitcake in all its glory is pretty slim. You rarely see them on menus or in bakeries because many patry chefs believe that the hurdle of surmounting the deep cultural hatred of the dessert is too Herculean a task. Enter food writer, and doer of thankless tasks, Zach Johnston.

PART II. MY RECIPE (It’s excellent, pleeeeease just try it!)

I created this recipe by hybridizing recipes I found in few different books and then experimenting endlessly. Overall, the main ingredient is time. A good fruitcake needs to rest and soak in alcohol for a good month before you eat it.

You’ll need a ten inch round baking pan, mixing bowl and paddle, grease proof paper, cooling rack, and an airtight container for storage.

English Christmas Fruitcake Ingredients:

  • 14 ounces high quality, unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups raw sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 ounces of good dark rum (I use Havana Club Anejo Especial)
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground allspice
  • 4.5 ounces raisins
  • 4.5 ounces dried cranberries
  • 9 ounces zante currants (corinthian raisins)
  • 5 ounces candied orange (diced not pieces)
  • 5 ounces candied lemon (diced not pieces)

Instructions

  • Light your oven to gas mark 1 (275F/135C)
  • Sift your flour and spices into a bowl and set aside.
  • Combine all of your fruit in another bowl and set aside. Soften your butter and cream it with your sugar in a large mixing bowl. I use a wooden rice paddle to do this because I’m a sucker for punishment. You can easily just use a food processor or stand mixer, but your triceps won’t thank you later.

Once the butter and sugar are creamed together, add in one egg at a time. Once the eggs are nicely blended, start adding the flour and spice mix in two to three portions.

After all of your flour is mixed in you should have a silky smooth cake base. Time to add the fruit and rum.

You’ll need to line your baking pan with two layers of grease proof paper. There’s a ton of butter in this cake, and you need to assure that it stays in the cake and doesn’t run off.

Ladle your cake batter into the pan and evenly spread it around. You’ll need to use your finger to make a large indentation in the center (this is for the butter to rise and pool). Then put it in the preheated oven for two hours and forty-five minutes.

What will happen as it slowly bakes is that the butter will rise to the top as it melts and slowly bake its way back into the cake — creating a delicate balance of buttery-cakey goodness (so scientific!) that keeps the whole affair super moist and delicious.

Check the cake after the allotted time. A toothpick should come out clean when you check it. If not, try 15 minute intervals to finish. Personally, I’ve never had to bake it beyond the allotted time, but all ovens are a little different.

Let the cake rest for ten minutes before removing it from the form. Slowly and gently remove the paper and place the whole cake on the cooling rack for at least an hour or two.

Once the cake is completely cooled, transfer it to a storage box and pop on the lid. Find a dry and cool place to store your cake for at least two weeks. Some people will soak a linen cloth with brandy, rum, whiskey, or even sherry and place it over the cake at this point. I find that that doesn’t really make too much of a difference and the risk of over hydrating the cake and making it mushy is too high.

Once your cake has properly rested and allowed all that booze and butter and fruit to blend into a better whole, slice one inch by one inch cubes, sift powdered sugar on top, and serve with a nice dollop of brandy clotted cream. I recommend a snifter of fine Spanish brandy as an accompaniment, a rum old fashioned would do the trick too.

Worst case scenaio, you screw it up. Which would kind of make sense: Eating a terrible cake in 2017 that you made back in 2016 would be a fitting last death knell of this painful year.

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