Wednesday, October 23, 2013

handmade holidays 2013: fruitcakes

Last month, I started my fruitcakes - a bit later than I'd intended, actually; I should have started them as soon as the temps started to dip. Oh well. They're ageing now in our back room - a utility room/add-on to the house that we rent which is not insulated (and which stays nice and cold all through the winter).
I use this recipe from epicurious, but with a few changes to make the cake a bit more traditional (by which I mean, more like medieval European recipes).

For one thing, I don't use glaceed fruit - the recipe doesn't need the extra sugar, and dried fruit is fine.  Here's the mix I use in my fruitcakes (it's also a bit more than the recipe calls for): 2.5 cups chopped medjool dates (fresh, not dried), dried apricots and dried figs*; 1 16-oz bag of yellow raisins; 1 16-oz bag of dried tart Montmorency cherries; 1 cup of Thompson raisins; and approximately 1 cup of finely chopped pickled citron. This year, because I grew and candied angelica stems, I substituted approximately 1/4 cup of chopped candied angelica for the citron. Next year I hope to increase the angelica content even further, as I love this flavor.
[*That's 2.5 cups TOTAL of dates/apricots/figs - not 2.5 cups EACH. You can adjust the mix according to your preference.]
I combine all of my dried and fresh (the dates!) fruits in a large bowl and pour approximately 1 cup of liqueur over them - whatever alcohol I plan to use to infuse ("feed") the cakes during the ageing process. This year I used a mixture of brandy and homemade elderflower liqueur from this summer. Then I cover the fruit and let it stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for at least a week. If the alcohol is entirely absorbed by the fruit (it usually is), I add more and continue the ageing process.
Then I bake the cakes. There are a few other substitutions that I make to the epicurious recipe:
  • Since my fruit usually absorbs all the alcohol during the initial soak, I add another 1/2 cup of brandy to the egg/butter/sugar mixture in the recipe (there is no alcohol to drain off the fruit).
  • Since I'm using more fruit than originally called for (and since I've made it a bit wetter by soaking it in alcohol for a week in advance), I usually have to use  between 1/3 and 1/2 c. flour to coat all the fruit before adding it to the batter. I also do NOT pat the fruit dry. That would remove the alcohol - which seems decidedly counter-productive.
  • I didn't take the 1/3 - 1/2 c. of flour "out" of the 1 1/2 c. flour in the batter recipe. I just put the full 1 1/2 c. of flour into the batter (so, I'm making a bit more cake here).
  • I use 1 c. of almond flour instead of toasting and grinding blanched almonds myself. I probably end up with a bit more flour than I would if I had used whole almonds and toasted and ground them myself. That's okay - again, I'm making a little more cake than the original recipe calls for.
  • Last but not least, I prepare 8 mini loaf pans (greasing, laying waxed paper in the bottom, and greasing the paper) instead of one big pan. This way, I get 8 small cakes, which are easier for giving. The expense of brandy and fruit that goes into this cake means that it costs almost $50, all told, to make and age this cake; I'd much rather be able to spread the wealth around, rather than only have one really expensive cake to cut into and share.


Here they are going into the oven; after they're done baking, I let them cool for 30 minutes before removing them from the pan (per the instructions), then I let them cool completely before wrapping them in plastic wrap for the night (this keeps moisture in the cake). The next day, I unwrap the plastic, wrap the cakes in two layers of cheesecloth, and pour a half-shot of brandy over them. I wrap the wet, cheesecloth-wrapped cake in a layer of plastic wrap (to keep the moisture in) and then place them in a plastic tub. This tub has a loosely fitting lid that keeps insects out, but doesn't fit so tightly that the cakes develop mold. I pack all 8 cakes into this box and place it in a corner at the back of my back utility room closest to the door (the coldest part of the room).

From now until yuletide, I'll feed the cakes once a week: to feed them, I unwrap the plastic wrap, carefully pour a full shot of brandy over each cake, and then re-wrap in plastic and return them to their cold storage. When the bottoms of the cakes start to feel a little soggy or damp, I'll flip them so that the liquid runs back through the cake to the top for a week. The cakes must not be allowed to dry out - and they need to stay cool! After about three months, the cake is ready: it tastes strongly of brandy and plums; it's very delicious, but best to enjoy when you won't have to drive anywhere!

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