As the fall passes I start to consider whether I’m going to make fruitcakes from my tried-and-true recipe collection or spend a couple of days working on something new.
This year I’ve split the difference. I took a proven fresh ginger cake that I would serve for dessert at any fancy dinner party and I started adding those ingredients that invite us into the holiday season. The result was, to say the least, successful, and I absolutely have to share this recipe with you.
Before I do, however, here are few general tips about fruitcakes.
The ingredients are expensive, so don’t spend a fortune on fruit and cheap out with margarine — unless the recipe says you can, of course. Speaking of fruit, if the recipe calls for tossing with flour, note whether the flour is some of or in addition to the total quantity.
These cakes often take hours to bake at relatively low temperatures, so how true your oven is can make a huge difference. Start checking early and keep checking every 15 minutes. When the top looks dry, the sides are just starting to come away from the pan and, most telling, a tester in the middle comes out clean, it’s done. When you do take it out of the oven, follow the instructions about whether to cool it completely in the pan.
Also pay attention to pan choice and preparation. If it says use parchment paper then use it — sometimes greasing just isn’t enough to release the cake.
Typically there isn’t a lot of flour, so it’s important that you use the correct variety and amount, and sift before or after measuring, as directed.
Measure everything carefully. Usually you can change the types of fruit and their relative proportions, especially if you are an experienced baker, but don’t exceed the overall amount. Using less can be OK but the baking time may shorten as a result.
If you are trying a new recipe for the first time, get out the calculator and see if you can make a half, third or quarter — I usually go with dividing by the number of eggs. Use a smaller pan and reduce the baking time accordingly. If you choose to make a whole recipe but divide it into smaller loaf or cake pans, then the time will also have to be reduced, but it’s not always as simple as cutting it proportionally — you just have to keep checking.
Today’s delicious offering can be halved or quartered if you’d like to give it a try.
Fresh ginger holiday fruitcake
Feel free to use whatever fruit combination in whatever relative quantities you wish, but I urge you to seek out candied ginger because it sings. The citron is also not easy to come by but is well worth the hunt. If you can’t find it then substitute regular candied peel or increase the cherries and currants — or add some golden raisins — to make up the total volume needed of 2 1/2 cups. When you measure the fruit be sure to pack it firmly into the measuring cup.
If the candied ginger is not juicy then scrape out as much of the thick syrup as you can and make up the difference with molasses.
I teetered on the brink of leaving out the cherries altogether, but adding them turned out to be the right choice because they lend vibrant colour and a burst of flavour.
When you get to the flour, yes, I know the recipe calls for two different kinds. I find using only all-purpose doesn’t quite give as tender a crumb as I want but all cake flour can’t hold up the fruit. If you are adamant about using only one, then go with all-purpose.
As far as the spices go, if you haven’t tried grating your own nutmeg yet then you have quite a treat in store — here is the place to start.
Finally, don’t use any old wine you have around — even a good quality Italian Marsala won’t do the job. Go to the liquor store and buy the Tawny Port — look for a sweetness code of 2.
3/4 cup candied citron
3/4 cup candied red cherries, quartered
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup candied ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp. ginger syrup (scoop it out of the bottom of the candied ginger container)
1 tbsp. molasses
1 tbsp. grated fresh gingerroot
3/4 cup tawny port wine
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. each ground cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 cup soft unsalted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
For best results the fruit should soak at least 8 hours, so start the night before you plan to bake. Combine all the fruit in a bowl along with ginger syrup, molasses and fresh ginger.
Bring port just to a boil in the microwave or in a small pot and pour over fruit. Stir, cover and allow to macerate overnight. In the morning, the fruit should have absorbed most of the liquid but the mixture will be juicy.
Before you start the cake, lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and line it, bottom and sides, with parchment paper. Butter the paper, this time liberally. Wrap the outside of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil. Set aside and preheat oven to 300 F.
Sift flour, then measure the amounts needed. Sift again with ground ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and baking soda, (Yes, 1/4 tsp. is correct.). Whisk in ground almonds and set aside. Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, no less than 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add dry ingredients and stir, don’t beat, until well combined. Stir in the fruit along with any juices in the bowl, as well as the vanilla and almond extract. Don’t overwork the batter but make sure the fruit is evenly distributed. Spoon into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake at 300 F for 30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 275 and continue to bake for another 2 hours — start checking at 1 1/2 hours but the baking time will vary depending on how much moisture the fruit absorbed, so be prepared to remove the cake early or leave it in longer.
A tester in the middle will come out clean when it is done. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Run a thin knife around the edge then remove from pan and peel off the parchment paper.
Wrap tightly in plastic, followed by a layer or two of foil. This cake is best served at room temperature but stores perfectly in the refrigerator for several months. If a little rum gets spilled on it from time to time, no harm done.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.