In Defense of Fruitcake
When’s the last time you saw a fruitcake? Or had the occasion to imbibe? It’s got a bad rap, this much maligned treat. I’m not sure when the fruitcake became a holiday punchline, but if memory serves me, it all started with comedian Johnny Carson quipping, “The worst Christmas gift is a fruitcake…there is only one fruitcake in the world, and people keep sending it to each other, year after year.” We’ve been ripping on fruitcake ever since.
Or maybe it’s fallen out of favor because it seems old-fashioned. I have distinct memories of my Aunt Laverne showing up every Christmas with her homemade fruitcake wrapped in the traditional curled ribbon and lovingly place it on the dessert table never to be touched. My inventive brothers discovered it made a great substitute for a hockey puck playing a pick-up game on our frozen pond. It’s such a parody that the fruitcake is tossed away, literally, at the Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado. (The organizers of this annual event ask that you use recycled fruitcakes.)
So, what’s up with fruitcake? It all started when somebody discovered you could preserve fruit by storing it in high concentrations of sugar. Back then, sugar was cheap and in great abundance. Fresh fruit was not. Thus, the birth of the candied fruit. And the plethora of fruitcake. The mass-produced fruitcakes that show up during the holidays are nothing like what a fruitcake should be. Spicy yet intensely sweet with a dense yet moist texture dotted with candied fruits and nuts, and heavy-laden with brandy. That’s what a fruitcake should be.
The best tasting cake is all about the fruit (okay, the brandy, too). One might say this is no way to waste good brandy, but a great tasting cake begins with the best-quality ingredients. I find it worth sourcing top-quality candied fruit online at specialty food companies. And to take it to the next level? Top it off with a dollop of brandy-spiked whipped cream. For adults only.
Makes 2 cakes
butter for pans
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup molasses
½ cup milk
2 cups mixed candied fruit
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 cups brandy
two large pieces of cheesecloth
Liberally butter two 9-inch springform pans. Line with parchment paper and butter again. Heat oven to 275 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves and mix together. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, using a hand-held mixer, cream the 4 ounces of butter. Add the brown sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs and beat well. Blend in the molasses. Stir in the flour mixture. Add the milk and beat until smooth. Stir in the candied fruit and walnuts and combine well.
Evenly divide the batter between pans. Bake for about 1½ hours until tops of cakes look dry but not brown. Transfer to cooling racks and let stand for 5 minutes. Release the springform and peel off parchment paper on sides. Let cool for thirty minutes and slowly pour brandy on tops. When completely cool, remove cakes from the pan base and peel off parchment paper on the bottom.