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!
Fruit Cake with Turkish Apricots, Pistachios and Candied Ginger – adapted from David Lebovitz
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup diced candied ginger
1 1/2 cups diced pitted dates
1 3/4 cups diced dried apricots
Grated zest of 2 oranges
1/2 cup dark rum, plus more for soaking the cakes
1 1/2 cups toasted pecans
1 cup shelled pistachios
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk or sour cream
1. Toss together the raisins, ginger, dates, apricots, and orange zest with the rum. Let stand overnight, tossing once or twice.
2. The next day, butter two 9 by 5-inch loaf pans and cover the bottom of each pan in parchment. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
3. Coarsely chop the pecans and add them to the bowl with the dried fruit. Stir in the pistachio nuts.
4. In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg.
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, and honey until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla.
6. Mix in half of the dry ingredients, next the buttermilk or sour cream, and finally the remaining dry ingredients. Stir in the fruits and nuts.
7. Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake for 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. When you remove the cakes from the oven, let them cool for 30 minutes, then pour about 1/3 cup of rum over each cake. I used maple syrup for one cake and rum on the other.
8. Once cooled, remove the cakes from the pans. Wrap the cakes with pieces of rum-soaked cheesecloth and put them in plastic freezer bags,. Keep in a cool place, bags slightly open. For the first week, drizzle in enough rum to moisten the cheesecloth every few days. After the first week, add more rum every few weeks.
9. I made a glaze for mine combining apricot jam with some powdered sugar. Glaze the cakes only when you are going to be eating them.