Fruitcake for Fruitcake Haters
At this Holiday time of year, people usually divide into two distinct camps, those who enjoy eating Fruitcake and those who would never even attempt a bite. The poor Fruitcake has been the brunt of many jokes over the years – mostly due to its extremely dense makeup and its propensity to keep for a long time.
It’s no wonder that folks who say they hate Fruitcake shudder at the thought of it. Old traditional recipes are made with candied fruits that come in unnatural almost neon-colors, then tightly packed into a bread-shaped cake. Often included are bright green maraschino cherries, red maraschinos that challenge even Rudolph’s nose for the brightest shade (a.k.a. FD&C Red #40), and something rarely used in any other recipe, candied “citrons”.
I propose here a totally different approach to a Holiday Fruitcake – a more “natural” one that’s made with dried fruits that we all love to snack on! This recipe is extremely forgiving – you can use whatever dried fruits you like the best, add your favorite nuts. You can either make it with alcohol or keep it totally alcohol free by using the best apple cider that you can find.
THE ULTIMATE NATURAL FRUITCAKE
4 cups of dried fruits (raisins, currants, dried apricots, figs, dates, apple rings, etc.)
Zest from 1 lemon and 1 orange
¼ cup candied ginger (chopped, if necessary, to the size of raisins)
1 cup Grand Marnier (or Rum or Apple Cider)
1 cup granulated sugar
1¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) of butter
1 cup Apple Cider
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
(Note: Instead of using the individual spices above, you could use 1 tablespoon of Pumpkin Pie Spice – OR - 1 tablespoon of Apple Pie Spice)
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup toasted pecans, chopped (or walnuts or hazelnuts if you prefer)
Brandy (or additional Grand Marnier, Rum or Cider) for basting
Wooden spoon (works best for mixing as the batter sticks less to a wooden spoon)
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
In a bowl, combine four cups of dried fruit, all of which should be chopped to uniform sizes. If you are using raisins, chop the other fruit to approximately raisin-size.
Add the candied ginger and lemon and orange zests to the bowl. Pour in the Grand Marnier (or Rum or Cider, if you are using those instead). Stir with a wooden spoon to combine well then put into a medium sized pot.
Rehydrate the fruit by simmering gently on the stove for about 5 minutes.
To the pot add the sugar, butter, apple cider and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and gently simmer the mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then set aside to cool down a bit.
In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder).
Put the rehydrated fruits (including all the juice in the pan) into a heat-proof large mixing bowl. Slowly sprinkle (or sift) the dry ingredients onto the fruits, mixing quickly with a wooden spoon.
Add the eggs one at a time until fully integrated, and then fold in the nuts. Spoon the batter into a greased 10-inch loaf pan, and bake for 60 minutes. If you don’t have a longer 10-inch loaf pan, you may use two 8 inch loaf pans. Check the progress after about 40 minutes to make sure that the top is not getting too brown. If so, tent the cake with some aluminum foil.
After an hour, insert a toothpick into the cake to check for doneness – if the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done, if not, continue baking for 10 more minutes, then check again.
When you remove the Fruitcake from the oven, place on a wire rack and immediately baste with Grand Marnier (or rum or brandy or cider – depending on what you’re selected to use) then let the cake cool.
When the cake has cooled down, remove from the pan and wrap with the piece of cheesecloth. Seal the cake in a plastic bag and set on the counter. Over the next several days, the cheesecloth will turn brown and look like a “shroud” as the flavors meld into the cake.
Every other day, gently unwrap the cheesecloth from the top of the cake and baste it with about 2 tablespoons of the Grand Marnier (or rum or brandy or cider – depending on what you’re selected to use). You can eat the cake immediately or let it age for up to 3 weeks, basting every few days). The cake is best cut with a serrated knife.
I guarantee that next year you’ll buy extra ingredients because all of your friends will want a Fruitcake for a present!
Tropical Fruitcake Variation
You can even put a bit of a tropical twist on the recipe by using dried mango, papaya, banana chips, and pineapple (just be careful not to use over-sugared pineapple pieces) – and add about ½ cup of shredded coconut to the recipe. This version works best with macadamia or hazelnuts. If you’d like an extra tropical taste – use plain or spiced rum when making the cake, then baste every couple of days with Coconut Rum.