The Fruitcake: Punchline or Delicious Tradition?
Is there any Christmas treat more maligned and turned into a punchline more frequently than the noble fruitcake? One rarely hears someone disrespecting figgy pudding or sugarplums (has anyone actually eaten either?). This classic confection used to be the center of the holiday table, but now is likened to a doorstop or paperweight. A wonderful, evocative holiday tradition is becoming more and more a memory with each passing Christmas as mothers become grandmothers and grandmothers pass on without passing on this delightful cake to a generation of ingrates. And this is a shame, because a properly made fruitcake can be quite delicious.
Fruitcake is full of the aromas and flavors of Christmases past. Heck, people pay good money for potpourri and sprays to make a house smell like the ingredients in a fruitcake (though no worries, there are no pine needles in my recipes). Just imagine the culinary components of an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas: freshly-cracked and fragrant walnuts and pecans, preserved exotic fruits, candied cherry, pineapple and citron, spicy cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Now imagine all of that held together by a butter and molasses batter. And then preserved by a generous shot of spirits. What is not to love? Now, if one does not enjoy dried fruit and/ or nuts, then it is pretty much guaranteed that one is not going to be a “fruitcake person.” But as you are on the We Are Nuts website right now, I can safely assume that you consider dried fruits and nuts to be an essential part of your Christmas celebration.
So, we will rescue the fruitcake from the jokes of Grinch-like insensitive comedians and snarls from grumpy Uncle Carl. Yes, you can make fruitcake that people will not only tolerate but enjoy. Heck, it may even be requested the following season. You don't believe me? I spent the last five Christmases as the pastry chef for a private club and would have the members and guests devour platters of it at parties every year. And as time went on, I would get requests for entire cakes to purchase. And yes, this can happen to you. And no, you do not need to be a professional to pull it off.
Perhaps the allure of fruitcake was lost in post-World War Two America as people started to cook less from scratch and relied more on convenience and packaged foods. And instead of a cake made with fresh butter and the finest ingredients, Americans became accustomed to careless cakes that came in a tin from a drug store. Cakes that were full of very sticky candied fruit that did not have the benefit of mellowing in dark rum for weeks or even months. And that, my friends is the secret to a great homemade fruitcake: It is all about time and rum!
One of the wonders about fruitcake is that it is one of the great Christmas season make-ahead projects. Not only does it take one project off of your list during the hectic holidays but making it at least a month in advance actually improves it. Making them in mid-October is actually ideal. But even making them in mid-December will make for a delicious cake. Serve them at a dinner, pass slices at a party. And yes, share them as gifts.
Don't Fear the Fruitcake, Try A Recipe Today
I have included two recipes here; each one will make several small cakes. The recipes of course can be doubled for the ambitious but will be challenging to make in a home kitchen without commercial equipment. The first cake uses We Are Nuts' Supreme Fruit Mix and is a loaf-style cake that is quite dense with chunks of fruit and nuts and with just enough batter to hold it all together. It is probably similar to what most Americans think of when they hear “fruitcake.” The second cake uses We Are Nuts' Diced Glazed Fruit and is baked in six-inch round cake pans and has fruit and nuts that are finely chopped with a larger proportion of cake, and a more pronounced rum flavor.
A few notes that apply to both recipes:
- Baking is all about precision. Measure carefully and accurately. Weighing is always preferred, especially with flour. If a recipe calls for all-purpose flour, do not substitute whole wheat flour. If it calls for baking soda, don't substitute baking powder and expect good results. Make certain your oven is well calibrated. Precise temperatures are far more vital in baking than in cooking. One mistake can ruin an entire large batch, take your time!
- Have all ingredients, especially butter and eggs at room temperature. The batter will not come together otherwise.
- As noted in the recipes, weighing is always preferable to measuring with flour as there can be great variation from different measuring techniques.
- The key to great fruitcake is to soak the fruit in rum for at least twenty-four hours. This is what takes the stickiness out of the fruit that some people find to be a turnoff. Again, it is all about the rum.
- After having said, “it is all about the rum,” I will mention that it is possible to substitute an equal amount of your favorite bourbon or brandy. But I find the rum to be most classic.
- Parchment is a baker's best friend. It prevents sticking to the cake pans and also keeps the cake from getting overdone on the edges as the center continues baking.
- The traditional way to wrap and store a fruitcake is with cheesecloth that has been brushed with rum, and then I also wrap it in plastic wrap. You may also just use plastic wrap. But in both cases, the cakes should then be placed in an airtight container for the weeks or months leading up to Christmas. Refrigeration is not helpful or necessary for the recipes provided.
- When serving fruitcake, remember that it is incredibly rich and decadent; small slices are the best. When serving buffet-style at a holiday party, put the slices on a platter surrounded by some of the components as a garnish; such as dried fruits, salted or candied nuts or clementines.
- Don't be intimidated by the length of the recipes, I am just being very thorough to ensure your success!
Shop We Are Nuts Fearless Fruitcake Ingredients: