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Inebriated FruitcakesBy: JackBlackPosted 2/16/10 • Last updated 2/16/10 • 222 views
"Fruitcake is a geological homemade cake," Charles Dickens
When I was a kid I hated fruitcake. Ok, hate is a pretty strong word, an intense dislike is probably more appropriate, and this is coming from someone who's had a sweet tooth since the day they were born. But to be honest I didn't really gave it a chance.
One of the sticky little blocks always seemed to appear around holiday time, I'd spot it stashed in the back of the refrigerator. I wouldn't eat it even when there were no other sweets in the house. The way its plastic wrapping stuck to it kind of grossed me out, and it had the weight and density of a doughy brick. My mother liked it, though, and it would disappear slowly, over the course of months. I'm not sure if she made it, if she bought it, or if someone would give her one, but it was always there come Christmas.
The first time that I actually tasted a fruitcake was when I was instructed so. I was on externship at a large hotel down south some years ago. It was the Christmas season and there was a banquet planned for 2000 people; the dessert was none other than fruitcake. The executive sous chef, who was German, doused the finished fruitcakes with kirshwasser when they were still warm from the oven. He told us not to taste it until the next day (no problem, I thought, I won't taste it at all). But like any good chef he was as much an educator as he was a leader, and the next day he told all his cooks to taste the fruitcake, that they should always taste everything they made. And with much trepidation I did.
I was amazed...it was actually good. It was sweet, fruity, and slightly chewy, but also tasted of alcohol. It wasn't as sticky as it looked, and felt a little like heavy bread. I can still remember a fellow cook-friend (who thought he was living the life of Jack Kerouack, and peppered conversations with "man" or "dig it"), with a mouthful of fruitcake he looked at the endless loaves that were spread across tables in preparation of slicing, "this is fruitcake of epic proportions...man."
What I find interesting about fruitcake is that it is a utilitarian food. No, I'm not implying they're used as doorstops; like many foods they sprang from necessity, as a form of food preservation. When fruit is dried and/or soaked in sugar syrup (candied) it has an almost indefinite shelf life, which came in handy before modern refrigeration. Baked into its brick-like form, with the aid of rich pound cake and then finished with a thorough soaking of alcohol, the cake itself becomes a form of preservation. This is why they turn up around Christmas-wintertime, when fruit was scarce. I've come across some old recipes that tell the reader to let their cakes "age," and others that state the finished product will last for a year or more if brushed with brandy every couple of months (seems almost anything will "age well" if brushed with brandy every so often).
Using a baked good as a form of food preservation is no longer an issue of course, many of these recipes just taste good. And while slathering fruitcake with an alcohol syrup may be traditional, that too is not longer necessary, but it does have its merits. Not only is it added flavor, but also if you run out of something to drink you can always wring out your fruitcake.
Chocolate-Black Currant Fruitcake with Bailey's Irish Cream
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup Bailey's, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cups black currants
Preheat an oven to 325F. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with a beater attachment. Cream the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, then add 1/4 cup of the Bailey's and the vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder, then add it to the butter-sugar mixture. Run the machine on low for about a minute, just until the ingredients are combined. Add the walnuts, chocolate chips, and currants, and mix just until combined.
Divide the dough into two medium-sized lightly greased loaf pans. Place the pans on the center rack of the preheated oven and bake for approximately 1 hour, or until when a toothpick is inserted it pulls out clean. While the fruitcakes are warm from the oven and still in their pans, brush them with the remaining Bailey's. Allow them to cool completely before slicing.
Red Wine Fruitcake
1/2 pound unsalted butter
2 cups sugar, divided
3/4 cups red wine, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups candied fruit
Preheat an oven to 325F. Combine the butter and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with a beater attachment. Cream the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, then add 1/4 cup of the red wine and the vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon, then add it to the butter-sugar mixture. Run the machine on low for about a minute, just until the ingredients are combined. Add the pecans and candied fruit, and mix just until combined.
Divide the dough into two medium-sized lightly greased loaf pans. Place the pans on the center rack of the preheated oven and bake for approximately 1 hour, or until when a toothpick is inserted it pulls out clean. While the fruitcakes are baking, prepare the glaze by combining the remaining 1/2 cup red wine and 1/2 cup of sugar in a small pan and bring it to a simmer. Cook the red wine for about 1 minute, then remove it from the heat and set aside. Just after removing the fruitcakes from the oven, brush them with the red wine glaze. Allow them to cool completely before slicing.
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