And now the moment you've all been waiting for...the second installment of Boys Who Bake! Please welcome my friend, writer of a phenom dance blog (seriously, someone hire this kid already), and all around amazing-at-everything-he's-ever-tried guy: Steve Ha. All the way from Seattle and just in time to use up all that leftover dried fruit from your holiday baking, he brings us his family recipe for *GASP* an edible fruitcake. If you'd like to be featured in the next installment of Boys Who Bake, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Fear Not The Fruitcake
Fruitcake, is something of an enigma in American culture. It’s regarded as a brick of malevolence that old people mail to their “loved” ones around this time of year, but like sharks and opera, fruitcake’s bad reputation is a misunderstood one. Admittedly, store bought fruitcake is truly vile—but have you ever tasted one that was homemade? The plot thickens…
I was introduced to fruitcake by close family friends and being the worldly people they are, had brought a recipe over from England. I don’t know how for how many generations they’ve had the recipe, but fruitcake is a celebrated tradition in their lives, and not only for the winter holidays but for weddings too. When I attended the wedding of the eldest son, a piece of fruitcake was given to each guest, which I understand to be commonplace in British culture. I of course had sampled it before that at some Christmas party I’m sure, and the recipe was shared with my family because my mom loved it so much.
Little did I know I would be enslaved into fruitcake duties from then on, but it works out for the best because I enjoy baking it and my mother is a disaster when it comes to desserts…we’re talking about a woman who melts marshmallows on high to hasten the process of making rice krispy treats, which would be fine if they didn’t fossilize when they cooled down. She’s also been known to reduce sugar from the classic chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I can also understand…but when you cut an entire cup, you’re going to end up with very dry, bread-cookies. (Tip: if you like your chocolate chip cookies less sweet, use less chocolate chips before reducing sugar. I would also add a little more salt, and would recommend light brown sugar instead of dark. Dark has a richer taste to me). Needless to say, for the sake of my own sweet tooth I banned her from baking and assumed the responsibilities myself at a relatively early age (to her credit, she is an excellent cook!).
Yes, a good fruitcake is still going to be dense, but with the right selection of dried fruits, it can be a wonderfully sweet and luscious. A lot of the store bought fruitcake uses a lot of candied fruit, which I use very little of (in fact the original recipe calls for candied cherries, which I now replace with dried cranberries), and one of the fun things about a fruitcake is trying different selections of dried fruit. Avoid sweetened dried fruit—a fair amount of sugar goes into the recipe and natural sugars in the fruit is more than enough. I would highly recommend going to your local farmer’s market and look for unsweetened (or lightly sweetened) fruit…at my market I’ve seen tasty options like rainier cherries, blueberries and even dried strawberries. For even healthier options, I would also suggest looking for dried fruit free of sulfides, which is a completely unnecessary additive that is only used to preserve color. For example, I use organic Turkish apricots that are brown and not the pretty orange you may normally see, but it tastes better and is better for you.
So I give you this fabulous fruitcake recipe and urge you to just give it a try…it has never failed me, and guests are always surprised at how good it tastes (while I get satisfaction out of their enlightenment!). This recipe is a bit of a time consuming process but I assure you none of it is difficult. Even if the result isn’t good (and trust me, you won’t have to worry because it will be), I always say that the effort is more important than the result, and I believe that is the true meaning of baking for the holidays. How better to show how much you value your loved ones than to slave away in a kitchen?
2 ¼ cups of golden raisins
1 ½ cups of raisins
1 ½ cups of dried currants
2oz of diced, candied orange peel
2oz of diced, candied lemon peel
3oz of dried cranberries
½ cup of dried apricots, chopped
2oz of chopped almonds
2 sticks of butter
1 cup of firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup of spiced rum
½ cup of water
Combine the above ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
5 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons of freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons of almond powder
1 ¾ cups of all purpose flour
1/3 cup of self-rising flour
½ teaspoon of baking soda
*I've never been able to find almond powder in stores, although I heard Trader Joe's has "almond flour" which is supposedly the same thing. I’ll just use a food processor or even a good old fashioned mortar and pestle and grind some blanched and slivered almonds. It really doesn’t have to be a super fine powder, so don’t obsess over this step.
Add beaten eggs and zests to cooled fruit mixture. Stir in dry ingredients (it says to sift...I never do).
Now the pan does take some prep work. First you grease a 9 x 9 square pan and then line it with wax paper (the butter makes the wax paper stick to the pan). Then, you wrap the cake tin in brown paper. I cut up a brown paper bag, folded up the sides and tied a string around it. It doesn't get dirty, so you can save the brown paper contraption too. I've been using the same one for years.
Spread mixture evenly into pan, and bake in a preheated 300° oven for about 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ hours. It's done when you prick a skewer in the middle and it comes out clean.
Remove the brown paper and tightly cover the tin with aluminum foil. Let cool (I usually cool it overnight). When cool, remove from the tin and peel off the wax paper, and splash 3 tablespoons of spiced rum on the underside of the cake (must be underside, so it soaks in). Wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge (it also does really well frozen, I always freeze some sections).
Here's a picture from when it came out of the oven (you can see the brown paper thingie). Also, make sure the pan is deep enough. I think mine is 9 x 9 x 2.25, and you can see how close it gets to the top.