You can’t walk by the newsstand without being reminded that the holidays are around the corner, so it must be time to start planning celebration meals and parties. It’s never too early to get a rich, fruit-laden, booze-brushed cake in your fridge, waiting more patiently than you ever could for the festivities to begin.
I’ve been going through my recipe books and boxes over the past couple of weeks, looking for the special few that will make it to my oven, and I thought I’d share the biggest winners — and most pleasant surprises — with you.
Don’t run the risk of ruining either of these fabulous cakes with that bag of old nuts that’s been kicking around your cupboard for the past six months. Use the freshest you can get your hands on, and only unsalted, of course. Also, don’t substitute margarine for butter — this is not the time or place to shave saturated fat.
Tropical nut fruitcake
The flavours in this cake are spectacular, but not from the batter, which is very scarce. When you stir in the fruit and nuts, you will think there’s something wrong because the batter will seem to disappear — it is really just the glue to hold everything together. This cake is small, but you will want to cut thin slices because it is rich and satisfying.
Before you start mixing, prepare a standard 9- by 5-inch loaf pan. Coat it liberally with one of those non-stick cooking sprays, line with parchment paper, and grease again, but this time with soft unsalted butter. If you have never lined a loaf pan, cut one strip of paper so that it sits into the pan cross-wise with two ends hanging over the sides. Cut a thinner strip quite a bit longer than the length of the pan and sit it in the bottom and tuck the ends underneath the cross wise piece.
1-1/2 cups dark raisins
1 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup light rum
1 cup candied pineapple, coarsely chopped
1 cup each coarsely chopped cashews, macadamia nuts and pecans
1-1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. each nutmeg and allspice
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp. finely grated orange zest
2 tsp. orange blossom water (additional vanilla would be fine)
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine raisins, apricots, and rum. Bring to a boil in a pot over low heat and simmer together 2 minutes. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature. The fruit should absorb most of the rum, but if there is more than 1 tbsp. of liquid left, discard or save it for another use. Reserve that tablespoonful, though. If there is less than that left, just add a little rum to make up the difference.
Combine drained fruit, pineapple and nuts. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and allspice directly over fruit and nut mixture and toss until everything is well coated; set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in orange zest, orange blossom water, vanilla and 1 tbsp. of reserved fruit soaking liquid. Stir creamed mixture all at once into floured nut and fruit mixture, stirring until just combined and no floury streaks remain. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and press firmly to fill any gaps.
Bake at 300 F for 1-3/4 to 2 hours or until a tester in the middle comes out clean — check after 1-1/2 hours. If your pan is dark or the non-stick kind, then reduce temperature to 275 degrees F. Cool completely in the pan before turning out.
Brush with a little rum or port wine and wrap tightly in plastic, then again in foil. Refrigerate at least overnight but up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Cherry almond butter fruitcake
The classic flavour combination of almonds and cherries is updated in this rich and buttery cake. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to a month or frozen for up to four, assuming it is wrapped tightly and thoroughly.
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup drained maraschino cherries, quartered
1 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup slivered almonds
2 cups flour (divided)
1 cup soft unsalted butter (no other)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/3 cup dry marsala wine
1 tsp. each almond extract and vanilla
Combine dried cherries, maraschinos, apricots, raisins and almonds. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and stir to coat thoroughly; set aside. Cream butter with white and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in lemon zest. Sift remaining 1-1/2 cups flour together with baking powder, salt and cardamom. Combine marsala, almond extract and vanilla and add to creamed mixture alternately with flour mixture — two additions of dry and one of wet is perfect. When thoroughly mixed, stir fruit and nut mixture into batter until mixture is uniform. Pour into a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan. Place a large sheet of aluminum foil around bottom of pan, pulling it up around the sides to completely enclose the bottom. Bake at 300 F for 1-3/4 hours or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. If springform pan is dark, or the non-stick variety, reduce temperature to 275 degrees F. Cool completely in pan before turning out. This cake is also delicious topped with vanilla buttercream frosting or a simple glaze.
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.