Saturday, January 4, 2014
Bake Fruitcakes in the Spring
Why would anyone talk about fruitcakes in the winter? Those you received during the recent holiday season have already been re-gifted or are being employed as a doorstop, both of which are the standard use for such gifts. Yes, fruitcakes have a bad rep, but not mine. Recipients claim that it takes great willpower to restrict their eating pleasure to one slice at a time.
Most fruitcake bakers start thinking about making fruitcakes for gifts around October, even later. Yet fruitcakes, like good wines and ripe cheeses, need to mature for many months with occasional brandy spritzing for moisture and flavor. I begin preparing fruitcakes in early spring to be ready by the end of the year. After baking I wrap each loaf separately in clean, soft, brandy-soaked cloths then seal in foil or plastic wrap. I mark my calendar to open the packages every second month and give each another light sprinkling of liquor.
By December they look and smell heavenly. Should they be used for re-gifting, the lucky recipient will be blessed. Doorstops? Very unlikely.
Traditional recipes call for candied fruits that are hard to find until just before the holidays. They are expensive and not particularly good. This tradition dates back to times when other kinds of dried fruits were not readily available. Today we have a huge selection of good-tasting dehydrated fruits; your fruitcake will be better using them instead of candied fruits.
Use only top-quality, fresh nuts.
And remember, fruitcakes are no more difficult to bake than banana bread—and who can’t bake a banana bread?
2½ cups (12 oz) dried fruit mix (or glacéd fruits)
1¾ cups (8 oz) combination of dark raisin and currants
1 cup (4 oz) dates, chopped
1¼ cups (4 oz) pecan halves
grated zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup cornmeal
1½ cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
dash of grated nutmeg
1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened
¾ cup (4 oz) brown sugar
3 Tbsp molasses
2 large eggs
brandy for soaking
Combine fruit mix, raisins, currants, dates and lemon zest with brandy, mix well and let stand covered overnight.
Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Cream butter and brown sugar with a mixer until fluffy, about five minutes. Add molasses, then eggs one at a time while continuing to mix, then add dry ingredients. Stir in fruit mixture, including soaking brandy.
Prepare a standard loaf pan by lining with foil or parchment paper for easy removal. Lightly coat lining with cooking spray. Spoon batter into the loaf pan and spread evenly. Set pan in a container of boiling water that comes 2 inches up on sides of loaf pan.
Bake in preheated 300⁰F oven for about 70 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove from water bath and cool on a wire rack, then unmold from the pan peeling off foil or parchment.
Wrap loaf in brandy-soaked cotton toweling (using about ⅓ cup brandy). Store for at least six month, adding more brandy every other month to keep cotton moist.
This recipe makes one loaf and it’s easy to multiply it to bake several loaves at a time. Or you can bake many mini loaves like the one you see in the photo.