Americans love to joke about that Christmas fruitcake that’s been going around the world, or the one that holds up the door, orâ€¦well, you know. I know because I used to be one of those fruitcake-disdainers but, since I married a Brit, I’ve discovered that the problem is not fruitcake per se but the way we’re used to seeing it in America: basically shiny, plasticcy, unrecognizable fruit with brown glue around it. The problem, I’ve learned, is that Americans like to have a â€œbit of everythingâ€ in every bit so, over the years, more and more â€œfruitâ€ has been added at the expense of the cake, which really is just glue.
So, when Denis started to want â€œfruitcakeâ€ for his birthday and Christmas, I was not too thrilled. But after some researchâ€”and our fabulous wedding fruitcake, which disappeared among our American guests even though we’d thoughtfully provided an alternative of carrot cakeâ€”I realized that fruitcake is supposed to be a wonderfully sophisticated spice cake with all the flavors and smells of the holidays. With that in mind, I tested and adapted a bunch of recipes I found, starting with swopping yummy dried fruits for all those â€œglaceâ€ waxy bits. Here is the result, which is extremely easy to make, though it does require a willing sous-chef for chopping and a bit of time for soaking and baking. Worth every minute, and every penny.
What you need
You need about 5-7 cups of chopped dried fruit; before you say, are you crazy, 6-7 cups!, let me say that the recipe I started with had close to 10 cups of what they called fruit in it.
I don’t always use the same ones, but I always have one cup each of golden and dark raisins, and a half cup of currants (which I love but Denis doesn’t care for so much); this year I used 1 cup each of dried apricots and pears, a bag of â€œmixedâ€ dried fruit, and I threw in some leftover dried cherries from Thanksgiving stuffing. Whatever you like works, as long you stay away from those shiny things (unless you like them, of course).
In addition to fruit, you’ll want 1 cup of pecans, walnuts, or sliced almonds (I like almonds), toasted; four cups all-purpose flour, pinch of salt, 2 tsps baking powder, 2 sticks of butter at room temperature, 2 cups sugar, 6 eggs, and 1 tsp. vanilla (the recipe called for lemon extract, but vanilla is the only extract I think doesn’t overpower a cake).
The other ingredient you’ll need is boozeâ€”quite a bit, actually, to soak the fruit and later to â€œfeedâ€ the cake, which basically means you poke some holes in the bottom of the cake once douse it with a bit of lovely every 4-5 days until you eat it. The recipe calls for sherry, but we had a huge bottle of rum for some reason so I used that and the cake tastes the same to us (yummy). I used to â€œfeedâ€ the cake with brandy or sherry, but this year we just stuck with that rum (we still haven’t finished that bottle!) and, again, it’s just dandy. And by the way, you could probably use apple juice if you prefer, we haven’t done this but I’m sure that’d be lovely too.
Preparing the fruit
Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or a standard 12-cup Bundt cake pan (that’s what I use).
Putting the cake together is quite simple. Combine all the chopped fruits in a large bowl and add at least half a cup of your chosen libation (Denis added a second half cup when I wasn’t looking) and let sit for at least an hour. If you have time to let the fruit sit overnight before making the cake, you can add more sherry (or whatever) and it’ll all disappear like magic into the fruit and make a wonderfully moist cake.
When no liquid is left and your fruit is lovely and plump, throw in the toasted nuts (if you use walnuts or pecans it’s a good idea to chop them up a bit, sliced almonds need no further work), flour, salt, and baking powder and toss till all is evenly coated.
In your electric mixer bowl, cream the butter and sugar until, well, creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, which takes several minutes. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Now, you can either add the creamy mixture to your fruit and mix by hand, or, if you have a strong mixer, you can add the fruit to the butter and mix gently. Either way, you just want to combine everything. If the batter looks dry, or you were chintzy with the fruit soaking, add another half cup of your chosen libation and combine gently.
Turn batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated 300° F for about 2 hours, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cake sit on rack for an hour or so, then loosen the edges gently with a knife (I use a grapefruit knife as it curves nicely into the Bundt pan), turn out onto a rack, and let cool completely. The cake gets better as it ages, so I now wrap it in foil and let it sit, â€œfeedingâ€ it with sherry or brandy every few days. It keeps like this for a couple of weeks; if you need to keep it longer, wrap and freeze, then thaw unwrapped for a day or so before serving.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar (snow, Kate calls it) before serving, et voila! A fruitcake even Americans will love. Enjoy!