Recipe: Holiday Fruitcake

I mentioned the other day that I’d post the fruitcake recipe I make each year, so I’m now getting around to it. What I like about this recipe is that there’s a higher ratio of batter-to-fruit than you’ll find in most modern recipes and commercial fruitcakes; they tend to be almost all candied fruit and nuts, loosely held together with the batter. Those are, in my opinion, too sickly sweet and more of a candy than a cake.

This recipe is much more of a cake consistency, with more of the spicy batter to offset the candy-sweet of the fruit. It’s still quite dense, and despite what my wife will tell you, quite good.

Adapted from the 1956 Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup soft shortening
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. mace
  • ½ tsp. cloves
  • ¾ cup strong coffee
  • ½ cup tart jelly
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1½ pounds candied fruit
  • ½ pound seedless raisins
  • ½ pound chopped dates
  • ½ pound dried cranberries
  • ½ pound of nuts
  • grated rind and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon

Directions: Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and spices in a bowl. Set aside. Combine coffee, jelly and molasses in another bowl and set that aside also. It’s also helpful to zest and juice the lemon and the orange ahead of time.

Preheat the oven to 300°. Prepare three 3 loaf pans by lining them with foil (leave the edges longer than the sides of the pans, so it will be easier to remove the loaves) and spraying with non-stick spray.

Cream the shortening and brown sugar together until fluffy. Butter is good, though this year I tried Crisco vegetable shortening. Next, beat in the eggs. Then you will want to alternately stir in the powder and liquid mixtures to the main batter; I start with about a cup of the flour mixture (using an electric beater) and let that mix in, then about a half cup of the liquid. Continue until they’re all mixed thoroughly.

Now add the fruits and nuts—be sure to use a big bowl and stir them in manually rather than trying to use an electric mixer. For the nuts, I used pecans, chopped coarsely. Finally, add the zest and juice from the lemon and orange (or, alternately, you could add them to the liquid mixture earlier).

This will look like a lot of batter, and it is, but trust me, it will all fit into the three loaf pans (these are standard size bread loaf pans). Fill them up equally, then bake them in the oven for 2½ to 3 hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Mine were done after 2½. Cover them the last hour loosely with foil.

Out of the oven, you can remove them from the loaf pans to a rack to cool completely. Then, the magic: wrap them in brandy-soaked cheesecloth, then plastic wrap (waxed paper, I’ve noticed, tends to dissolve a bit with exposure to the alcohol; this is the first year I’ve used regular plastic wrap so I can’t report on it substantively yet) and foil, and store in a cool, dry place. The brandy will keep the cakes moist as they mellow with age.

You could use other liquors, too, or even a strong wine (port might be very good). You’ll want to choose something that will complement the dark, spicy, fruity taste.

A note about the candied fruits: I like to pick up the artificially colored stuff from the grocery store, just because it’s so festive and cheesy and tasty. This is generally made from dried pineapple, dried papaya, maraschino cherries, and citron (candied peel from citrus fruits), dyed with bright green and red colors. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s convenient and works great. However, this year I toyed with the idea of skipping this pre-made stuff and going to the source: bulk dried pineapple and papaya, and maraschino cherries (though I may still buy candied citron, because I’m not sure how to get it otherwise—if I use it at all) and chopping them up myself. I may do this next year.

And the other fruits I added—raisins, dates, and cranberries—can be varied, too. The original recipe called for currants, and I’ve seen recipes with blueberries, dried apricots, and dried cherries. Get creative, but stick with fruits that have low acidity and dry well. Dried apples, mango, figs, coconut, perhaps even cantaloupe could all be interesting.

And if you’ve read this far, a couple of links: Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake recipe from Food Network, and Wikipedia’s Fruitcake article.