I imagine you're probably wondering - what is she doing posting about fruitcake? I mean, come on, it's fruitcake. A cake that we all *cringed* at the thought of as kids. That strange texture with those weird bits of fruit. You wouldn't catch me milling around the fruit cake table. I'd be over by the cheese and pickle platter or cracking my way through a cluster of walnuts like a foraging squirrel.
Over the years I have grown very fond of this cake, appreciating the cost, effort, and time that goes into making it. I've also learned that the key to a great fruitcake is a lot of booze - brandy or rum will usually do the trick. It wasn't until a few years back that I sampled my mother-in-law's recipe, and my mind was changed. I was completely smitten with the boozy flavor, and I asked for a copy of the recipe in hopes of making it a family tradition. Others must also feel affectionate towards this cake because it was the first dessert to go at our holiday party, despite its close proximity to the cherry thumbprint and ginger cookies.
Early last week I set out to make this cake, allowing enough time for it to soak up the rum flavors before our holiday party. Most ingredients I found in the pantry. A few of them (candied green and red cherries, citron, and mace) were all but unknown to me. It turns out that mace isn't just a company that produces pepper spray, it's also a spice - who would have thought? It is the waxy red covering that surrounds the nutmeg seed, and it has a flavor quite similar to nutmeg, but a little more peppery.
I went to three grocery stores in search of candied cherries and citron before finding them at Safeway, conveniently located in the produce aisle on the bright and festive singing Christmas fruit cake display stand. I'm not sure you'd have much luck finding candied fruit any other time of year, so if you think you're going to have a fruit cake craving in July, you'd better make some extra and store it in the freezer.
As for the booze, Mr. H and myself have now acquired a proper liquor cabinet, following my birthday gift to him (a decanter and whiskey glasses). We have a few different bottles of rum, but I'm always confused which one is the *special* rum. That's the one we brought back from Belize, and it is only drank in fancy glasses, no ice, no coke. I know that we also have a few less classy bottles tucked away in the back, so I rooted around the cupboard and pulled out what I thought to be an *ok* bottle for the cake. After taking a sip to test it out, I noticed a weird mesh lid on the spout. I also noticed that there was a deep burn that lined my esophagus. I shrugged it off as my distaste for rum, and low tolerance. Mr. H returned from work that day and noticed the bottle of rum on the counter. He was curious. "What do you plan to do with this Bacardi 151 (which is apparently 75% alcohol)?" he asked. I probably would have known it was 75% alcohol if I read the label, but I didn't. It turns out that the mesh lid is a flame guard and the burning in my esophagus was real. Lucky, it was only a 1/2 cup used for soaking the fruit, so to make up for my mishaps, I decided to brush the cake with the fancy rum instead.
I feel as though it is important to note the take home message from this incident. Always read the label on the alcohol bottle before you start throwing it around like a drunken sailor. Throw out that bottle of Bacardi 151 that mysteriously ended up in the cupboard, and do not serve your 2-year-old nephew the boozy rum cake. He'll be fine will cheese and crackers.
CHRISTMAS FRUIT CAKE RECIPE
makes 2 loaf cakes
notes: Christmas cake can be made well in advance, up to one month. The longer you let the cake soak in the rum or brandy, the more flavor it will have.
1 cup glace/candied red cherries
1 cup glace/candied green cherries
1 cup citron peel
2 cups Thompson raisins
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup brandy or rum + extra for basting
2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp mace
In a large bowl, combine the candied cherries, citron peel, raisins, and dates with the brandy or rum. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 2 hours, up to 24 hours - stirring periodically.
Grease the loaf pans with butter and line with parchment paper. Reposition the oven rack to the middle and preheat to 275ºF.
Toss the fruit with 1/2 cup of the flour and set to the side.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the granulated sugar on low-med speed until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar, vanilla and almond extract and mix until combined.
Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the fruit mixture and mix until combined.
In a medium bowl, combine the remaining flour, baking soda and spices with a wire whisk. Add the flour to the stand mixer and mix thoroughly on low speed. Pour the batter into the two prepared loaf pans.
Place the loaf pans in the oven and bake for 3 to 3 ½ hours. Insert a toothpick after 3 hours. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done.
Let the cakes cool for 30 minutes in their pans, and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
When the cakes are cool, wrap them in cheesecloth and brush with brandy or rum to dampen the entire cheesecloth. Place the cakes in a plastic bag, and let sit for up to a month on the counter or in a cool dry place. The longer you let the cake sit, the better it tastes, Do not store in the fridge. When the cheesecloth looks dry, brush the cakes with more brandy or rum.