Many people loathe fruitcake, but then again most of them have only eaten commercial fruitcake containing overly sweet bright dyed fruit no one would voluntarily eat. Garry loves fruitcake and so do I, but I like it homemade. I’ve made it before, but I can’t find that recipe. I had a great recipe from the late 1800s — but the ingredients list is given in pounds. I added it up and it was about 12-pounds of fruits, nuts, flour, and sugar.
Here’s a quick math question: how many fruitcakes can you make starting with 12 pounds of ingredients? My guess would be too many fruitcakes. Hey, that could describe our government!
Anyway, I decided dividing a huge amount was too complicated, especially since it was all done by weight. It would mean a lot of weighing. I went hunting and finally found a more reasonable recipe which also suits our palates better.
Soaked Fruit Mix
- 1¼ cups (200 g) dark raisins
- 1¼ cups (200 g) golden raisins
- 2 cups (320 g) mixed unsweetened dried fruit, chopped. I used a cup of dried currants plus an extra cup of tart cherries., You can use any dried fruit you like as long as it isn’t too sweet
- 1 cup (160 g) dried unsweetened figs chopped
- 1 cup (160 g) dried unsweetened tart cherries chopped (my cherries are so small, I didn’t really need to chop them)
- ¾ cup (120 g) dried unsweetened prunes chopped
- ¾ cup (6 oz. or 180 ml) rum (dark, light, or spiced)
It’s hard to chop dried fruit because dried fruits aren’t dry. Everything is sticky, sometimes downright gooey. I figured I didn’t need to chop the raisins or currants. The dried cherries are small and I didn’t think they needed to be chopped either, so I just put them in the big bowl.
The chunky stuff — prunes, cherries, and figs — went into the big food processor. I think more of the fruit got mashed than chopped. After “chopping,” I mixed it with a wooden spoon. When I found big pieces of figs which seemed to be the most difficult fruit to chop,, I put them on a board and cut them up with a knife. If you have a chopper and a wooden bowl, it might be better (and faster) to do this job by hand. I put all that fruit in my biggest mixing bowl for soaking up that 3/4 cup of rum. It didn’t seem like enough rum.
The Rest of the Ingredients
- 1½ cups (180 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or other course salt)
- 1 stick (4 oz; 115 g) unsalted butter softened
- ¾ cup (160 g) packed light brown sugar
- 5 large eggs room temperature
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
- ½ cup (120 mL) freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 Granny Smith (or other baking apple) peeled and coarsely grated or chopped
- ¾ cup (90 g) slivered almonds (or chopped pecans or walnuts)
- 3 tablespoons (36 g) finely diced crystallized ginger
- Entire batch of soaked fruit mixture see above
The Day Before Baking
Combine the dried fruit in a large mixing bowl. Add the dark rum, cover, and allow the mixture to soak at room temperature for a minimum of 12-hours, or ideally 24-hours before preparing the batter.
Prepare the Fruitcake
Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C) with a rack in the center position. Set aside two loaf pans. Unless you are using nonstick loaf pan, lightly grease each pan and put a piece of parchment in the bottom of each.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the all purpose flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the softened butter and light brown sugar together over medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating just until each egg is incorporated. The mixture will look slightly broken, that’s ok.
Over low speed, slowly add the flour mixture until just absorbed. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Add the lemon zest, orange zest, fresh orange juice, grated apple, slivered almonds, diced candied ginger, soaked dried fruit mixture.
Stir mixture with a large spatula, scraping the edges and bottom of the bowl several times, until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated. This will be is a very thick mixture, heavy with fruit.
Transfer and divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Use a spatula to smooth the batter into an even layer. Set the loaf pans on the center rack, several inches apart. Bake for 75 to 90 minutes, rotating the pans halfway, or until the batter is set and the tops are golden brown. The edges of the cake may also start to pull away slightly from the edges of the pan. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely before removing from the pans.
Every oven is different. If you don’t have an oven thermometer, you should buy one so you know what your oven temperature really is — not what you think it should be or what the dial reads. I was not surprised to discover my oven runs about 25 degrees cool. I also have an electric oven which bakes more slowly (and in my opinion, less evenly) than a gas oven.
Always test cakes to make sure they’re really baked all the way through. Every book suggests using a toothpick to test, but toothpicks are too short and don’t go into the cake far enough to test if it’s baked all the way through. Instead of toothpicks, use a longer wooden skewer. They get down into the cake and you can really tell if it’s baked or not.
I had to get Owen to do the final mix. The mix was so heavy, I couldn’t move the spoon. I used walnuts rather than almonds because the walnuts were already broken and I didn’t feel like taking a kitchen hammer to crush them. But to be fair, I actually have two hammers — the big one and the smaller one.
Do NOT remove the fruitcake from the container while it’s warm. Cool means room temperature, not slightly warm. Really cool. Leave the case IN their tins in parchment until they are fully cooled. This will help keep them from crumbling when you cut them. Otherwise, instead of fruitcake, you will have dried fruit, nuts, and crumbled cake.
Wrapping and Adding More Alcohol
When cool, you need to wrap them in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth should be damp with whatever flavor alcohol you prefer. We used rum because there’s rum in the cake. Also, it was the only alcohol (other than cooking wine) in the house.
You don’t need a lot of booze. An ounce should be enough for each cheeseclosth wrapper. Put the alcohol in the bottom of a good sized bowl — a big pasta dish, for example, is plenty big enough. Pour that ounce of alcohol in the bowl, wipe it up with the cheesecloth, then squeeze out the cloth (save any drippings from the first to use for the next one. Wrap it in the damp cheesecloth. Put it back in the tin and into the refrigerator. You can “water” your cakes, but give them a day to chill before you add anything. When you add the alcohol, it not improves the flovor, but also is a preservative. That’s why you can keep one of these cakes for months. Use a wee bit of booze at a time. You aren’t aiming to get drunk while eating you fruitcake. This is flavoring. You can, of course, drink as much as you want with the cake.
If you use too much liquid, you will make your cakes sticky. There isn’t a lot of cake to this cake. It’s mostly fruit with some nuts and a minimal cake that is really there to keep the fruit from falling apart. Treat them gently and eat with joy.
Next Wednesday, we are back to bread baking. The cold weather has arrived. I want French bread. Owen wants rye. We have the makings. Fresh bread and butter is one of the great taste treats ever.
If I’m going to do this more than once a year, I am going to have to cut the large fruit — like dates, figs, and prunes for example — manually. The machinery for chopping doesn’t get through the stickiness and sheer weight of all that fruit.
Otherwise? The cake is delicious.
For the Less Ambitious
If you want a fruit cake and you have the fruit and nuts? You can use any recipe for a fruit loaf — like cranberry or banana bread — and add more fruit and nuts. Bake it slowly until it’s done. If you only make one at a time, you can (if you have one) use a countertop oven.
Making Mince Pies
I think all that dried fruit might be the right stuff to create mince pies. We can’t buy one for love or money. Why don’t they sell mince pies anymore?