I’ve taken a lot of heat from readers over the past two years because I haven’t done a fruitcake column early enough to allow the Christmas keeners to start soaking in booze in November. Truth is, over the years, I’ve shared all of my family favourites and I just plain ran out of great recipes.
Having recently discovered dried blueberries, along with a new trick or two, I was inspired to rethink — and reinvent — a couple of those recipes. Here they are, classics updated for your 2010 holiday baking pleasure.
Brandy-soaked blueberry fruitcake
This wonderful, fruit-laden buttery cake is neither cloyingly sweet nor overly spiced. You can definitely use light rum instead of brandy, but I think it might compete with the blueberries for top taste.
Naturally, choose whatever dried fruit you like to make up the quantity, but such strong flavours as dried figs and dates would overpower the lighter ones, so beware. Substitute hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans for the chopped almonds, as you wish, but using all almonds in this recipe adds a lot, I think. One more thing: if you’re spending this kind of money on dried fruit, don’t scrimp on the butter. Please don’t even consider using margarine, and fresh unsalted really takes the guesswork out of adding salt, so I highly recommend it.
1 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 tbsp. brandy
juice and finely grated rind of 1 large orange
grated rind of 1 large lemon
3/4 cup ground almonds
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped blanched almonds
1-1/2 cups each dried blueberries, quartered candied red cherries, and candied mixed peel
1 cup each currants and golden raisins
Cream butter and brown sugar until light in colour and very fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add brandy, orange juice and rind, and lemon rind. Stir in ground almonds. Whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cardamom and salt; set aside.
Stir together blanched almonds, blueberries, cherries, mixed peel, currants and raisins. Take out about 2 tbsp. of the flour mixture and toss with the fruit. Stir remaining dry ingredients into batter, then fold in flour-coated fruit. Mix just until all ingredients are incorporated.
Thoroughly grease an eight-inch springform or high-sided cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Spoon in the batter and smooth the surface. If you like you can press a few whole blanched almonds lightly into the batter to create a decorative top. Bake at 325 F for one hour. Reduce temperature to 300 F and continue baking one hour and 30 minutes longer. Start testing at the two-hour mark with a clean skewer or cake tester in the middle of the cake. You want a few moist crumbs to stick to the tester but they should not be doughy. Remove to a rack and cool completely in the pan. Poke a few holes in the top of the cake with a skewer and brush on a little brandy. Wrap tightly in plastic, then two layers of aluminum foil, and refrigerate. Unwrap and brush with brandy at least once a week until you are ready to serve — Christmas Eve would be the perfect target date for the ultimate fruitcake experience.
Holiday rum fruitcake
Here’s the traditional combination of fruit, nuts and rum in a dark, rich batter.
This cake keeps beautifully as is (wrapped tightly, of course) in the refrigerator for a couple of months, at least, but it is better if touched up frequently with dark rum.
By the way, I’ve gotten quite a few questions lately about dark versus light brown sugar. In terms of texture and sweetness, there is no difference. The darker does, however, have a deeper molasses flavour, so follow the recipe unless you are sure the substitution won’t have a negative impact on the outcome.
1-1/2 cups soft unsalted butter
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
6 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup finely grated orange zest (about 4 oranges)
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. each ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice
1/2 tsp. each ground cloves and mace
2 cups dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups soft dates, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups golden raisins
1 cup candied pineapple, coarsely chopped
1 cup each chopped pecans and hazelnuts
1/2 cup dark rum (one you would drink)
Cream butter and brown sugar until light in both colour and texture. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in molasses and orange zest. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves and mace; set aside. Combine apricots, dates, raisins, pineapple, pecans and hazelnuts. Stir in 1 to 2 tbsp. of the dry ingredients. Add remaining dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with rum — three additions of dry to two of rum would work best. Stir in fruit and nut mixture, mixing until just combined. Grease and flour two 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pans. Spoon in the batter evenly, smoothing the surfaces. Bake at 300 F for about 1-1/2 hours, or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool nearly to room temperature in the pans, then remove to racks to cool completely. Soak cheesecloth generously in more rum and wrap around the loaves. Cover tightly in plastic wrap, then in at least two layers of aluminum foil. Refrigerate a month or more, sprinkling the cheesecloth with additional rum occasionally. Be sure to wrap tightly after each soaking.
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.