FRUITCAKE...Don’t Be Afraid – You CAN Love it!
Fruitcake has developed a “bad Santa” reputation over the past decade or so. I’ve heard that there are only 5,000 fruitcakes in the world: they are simply re-gifted year after year! ;)
But why do we frown about a concoction of soaked fruits & nuts baked into a heady, dense batter? Do we judge fruitcake so poorly because it’s now made with artificially coloured and overly candied fruits, or perhaps because we taste the rum, whiskey or brandy more than any distinct flavor? Or perhaps it’s because we start seeing them on store shelves in early November, making us question how long they truly can keep?
I’d like to argue that we can change our minds about fruitcake, and it starts with understanding why we serve fruitcake at Christmastime to begin with.
We need to remind ourselves that cooking locally and seasonally is not a new trend. Before the days of refrigeration, we had to “put up” and preserve the fruits of our harvests. This included drying and candying fruits, and curing and peeling nuts. These particular tasks are so labour-intensive and the yields so low that the results of these efforts were highly prized and used only for special occasions. In other cases, fruits were preserved by layering them in a pot as they came into season and pouring rum or other spirits on them.
So Christmas was deemed an occasion worthy of using these treasures, and a cake was made in tribute of honouring the day. We also forget that eggs used to be a seasonal ingredient (in spring, when hens would lay), so many fruitcake recipes are dense and to this day do not call for eggs. A dousing of spirits ensured the cake could store for weeks if made ahead.
Doesn’t this give you a new appreciation for fruitcake? Now that you’re ready to explore the notion of fruitcake, here’s a tasty recipe for you. The cake base is light in colour and in texture and the fruits are dried fruits – not artificial colours or overly sugared additions. The contemporary addition of chopped chocolate adds a sophistication to the cake, plus keeps it from being too sweet.
Makes 1 8-cup bundt cake
Serves 20 to 24
½ cup chopped pitted prunes
½ cup chopped dried figs
½ cup chopped pitted dates
½ cup chopped dried apricots
¾ cup pecan pieces
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
⅓ cup amber rum, plus extra for brushing cake
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ Tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 cup milk
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Stir the prunes, figs, dates, apricots, citrus peel, pecans and chocolate with the rum, cover and let sit for an hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 325 °F and grease an 8-cup bundt pan.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder, cloves and salt and stir this into the fruit. Whisk the sugar, honey, milk and egg yolks and then stir this into the fruit mixture. Whip the egg whites until they hold a medium peak when the beaters are lifted and fold this into the cake batter in 2 additions (the whites will deflate somewhat, but that is normal).
4. Bake the cake for about an hour, until a tester inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 20 minutes in the pan, then turn it out to cool completely.