To fruit cake or not to fruit cake…
Like many people, I ‘ve had a lot of really bad versions of this Christmas classic. There’s something about the fluorescent rainbow of cheap candied fruit not complemented by the slab of fondant icing and synthetic marzipan that will have even the most dedicated fruit cake enthusiast running for the door. I’m not sure how it got to this point, but somewhere along the line, it seems fruit cake lost all of it’s attractive qualities to the demons of low quality ingredients and mass production.
The irony of this however, is that people are buying this stuff, they have to be, or I wouldn’t be seeing it stacked mile high at every single grocery store I enter during the holiday season. All I can think is that there has to be some kind of secret low quality fruit cake lovers club out there somewhere, or it’s been shamed so much that people have to sneak out of there houses late at night to buy the stuff. I’ve never personally witness anyone buying a fruit cake from the store, granted I’ve not exactly dedicated a large amount of time to staking out the fruit cake isle, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be in secret that this stuff is being bought and consumed.
Coming from a German family we always eat stollen during the holidays, which does have a lot of similar elements but is made with a yeast dough and traditionally leaned more on the side of a bread than a cake. I was never exposed to much of the fruit cake phenomena during childhood because my parents never had it around so it wasn’t until my teenage years when I got a job baking at a local pie company that I encountered it for the first time. I distinctly remember taking my first bite and expecting to not like it. Because of this, I was shocked that it was not at all how I imagined it to be. Granted this cake was expertly made with good ingredients and I now know it to be a bit more on the side of Black Cake than actual fruit cake, but it goes to show how bad the reputation of this holiday classic is.
In the years since, I’ve had many great fruit cakes and have also found myself defending it on many occasions. I find that for the most part people who don’t like it have never actually tasted real fruit cake, homemade fruit cake, fruit cake with quality whole ingredients. Most have tasted the scary fluorescent grocery store stuff somewhere along the line and even if they are interested in exploring the possibility of making some themselves, they don’t realize that like most things fruit cake is completely customizable.
This year I decided it was time to tackle the fruit cake in my kitchen. I spent a few weeks researching what others had done, comparing basic ingredients and different flavour combinations. I also put some thought into the different varieties of dried fruit I like to eat before deciding to go with apricots, ginger and pistachios. I decided to use Turkish apricots because to me they are superior in flavour and texture to their bright orange and often treated with sulphur counter parts. The key here is to find flavour combinations you already like, if you love dried cherries and macadamia nuts use that combination and you will love your fruit cake because you are starting with flavours you already enjoy.
The recipe I based my recipe on was from David Lebovitz. The flavour combination of my cakes are different than his, again I used what I know I like, but the basic cake recipe is the same. I decided to bake mine in mini loaf pans so I could give a few of them away as gifts and I also made half alcohol free for the members of my family who do not drink and of course this little monkey…
Instead of soaking those in rum I used a little maple syrup, which turned out great. This recipe will make 2 standard loafs or 4-5 minis. You will have to adjust your time if you decide to make mini ones, I found mine took around 40 minutes.
This cake is dense just like a fruit cake should be, it’s incredibly moist and the flavours of apricot and ginger are absolutely the perfect combination for my taste this winter.
Serve in the afternoon with a cup of earl grey tea.
Happy Holidays everyone!