Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Diana's Free Range Fruitcake

Fruitcake gets a bad rap. I mean, a really bad rap. Most people, who just don't know, think that fruitcake is a flavourless doorstop with electric green and red fruits inside. And, a lot of the time, they're right. At Costco AND the local groccery store, there are displays filled with these "candied fruit" mixtures explicitly for this purpose. But fruitcake doesn't have to be that way. It can be anything you want it to be, provided it has the following three things:

  1. Fruit
  2. Nuts (The phrase, "Nuttier than a fruitcake," had to come from somewhere.)
  3. Booze
If you've got those three in your baked good, it's a fruitcake. My first foray into fruitcake was thanks to Alton Brown and his Good Eats Episode, "It's a Wonderful Cake" (Season 2, Episode 1).

I've been making this cake for over five years and have been slowly converting the unbelievers. I started taking commissions two years ago and, this year, the number of requests rose to 9! Try it just once and it will become your new holiday tradition. Trust me.

Since this recipe came from an earlier season of Good Eats, its structure and content leave a lot to be desired. Over the years, I have made notes, changed orders, amounts, ingredients, etc., to the point where, this year, I didn't have to change a word on my recipe. I also added my own recipe for a vanilla butter sauce that, I think, really elevates the cake from a muffin-like snack, to a true holiday dessert.

A quick note on the quality of the alcohol: Serious Eats investigated this very question and found that, while tasters could detect minor differences, it really wasn't worth paying through the nose for the top shelf liquor. That said, you don't want to use the crappiest stuff around either. I personally shoot for middle of the road.

So, without further adieu, I am proud to present . . . my version of Free Range Fruitcake.

Step-by-Step Photos

Step 1: Macerate the fruit

In a air-tight storage container (I use ziptop bags), toss together the dried fruit, candied ginger, lemon and orange zest, and rum. Let stand, at room temperature for 12-24 hours.

Step 2: Mull the fruit

Combine the fruit with the remaining flavouring components.

Simmer for 5 minutes.

Let cool completely before continuing.

Step 3: Toast the nuts

Preheat the oven, then toast the pecans until slightly darkened and barely nutty-smelling. (By time you can smell the nuts fully, they're burnt.) Roughly chop the nuts to the same size as the fruit pieces.

Step 4: Assemble the cake

Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs and vanilla to the cooled fruit mixture. Gently stir in the dry ingredients and the nuts. Then divide evenly between two 8.5 x 4.5 inch prepared loaf pans.

Bake in the oven, along with a water bath, until a toothpick, inserted in the center, comes out clean. Immediately upon removal from the oven, spritz the top of the cake with brandy.

Step 5: Cure/feed the cake

Store the cake in an extra-large airtight container for two weeks to a month. Check the cake every three days and, if it feels slightly dry to the touch, spritz it with more brandy. Once you stop adding brandy, wrap the cake tightly with cling wrap and store at room temperature up to a month. Past that, I would recommend freezing the tightly wrapped cake for quality purposes.

Step 6: Give to a grateful recipient (optional)