Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Christmas Fruit Cake




I confess that the packaged fruit cake had never been a favorite of mine when I was younger and though I used to relish its sweet smell on opening the box, I have hardly eaten over a small slice. On the other hand, a home made one is totally a different matter...:) ...simply loved my mother's or aunt's creations. Now, I have developed a taste for 'some' of those boxed cakes...but still swear by the one baked in your own home.                                  
Fruit cakes actually have a long history and I didn't know that the fruits that went into them were actually preserved to counter their scarcity in the winter season...:) and lot more.. So I dug up their little past...
It is said that the fruitcake has historical associations with the Holy Land, and its internal bounty is said to represent the gifts of the Wise Men. Like many other fruit breads and cakes, it has been venerated since Medieval times when fruit in the wintertime was an extraordinary treat.
The Middle East overflowed with the variety of dates, citrus fruit, and nuts that were virtually unknown in Northern Europe until the Crusades. Returning Crusaders brought fruit with them, but the trade that was initiated was frequently interrupted by war, and, of course, the fruit was highly perishable. These dilemmas were partially solved by drying or candying the fruit for travel, and, when the fruit reached Northern Europe, it was shared by mixing it in breads and cakes. Because the fruit came from the Holy Land, it was also revered and saved for feast days, particularly Christmas and Easter.
So that's how we got our Christmas Fruit Cake..:)
Now coming to the making of this rich cake...it is something we can or rather must bake in advance. We repeatedly feed the cake, over time, with alcohol (usually brandy, sometimes rum). This gives the fruit cake a subtle brandy flavour and a moist texture, plus it also allows the cake to be stored for a long period. The cake character is largely determined by the wealth of fruit and nuts it contains. These can include a whole range or be limited to selected fruits (can include lemon and orange peel, raisins, dates, currants, figs, apricots, cherries and pineapple all preserved, dried, candied, or glazed so that much of their natural moisture is removed, and will keep longer) or nuts ( walnuts, pecans, almonds,cashew, and pistachios broken into pieces) depending on the recipe, taste or availability. You can always experiment with the basic recipe, tweaking it a little to suit your taste. Another thing that sets this cake apart is that it is baked slowly...at a lower temperature than usual.
The recipe that follows is adapted from Stepanie Jaworski's Joyofbaking.com 

Happy baking and a very Merry Christmas..... :) 

  • 1 cup (100 grams) cashew, pistachios, almonds, chopped (you can use any combination of nuts available)
  • 350-400 grams of an assortment of dried fruits (dried apricots, banana,raisins, sultanas, currants  etc.), candied and chopped mixed peel (optional), and glace cherries (all chopped finely)                                               [You can experiment with the proportion and quantity of dried fruits and nuts as you like. Though fruitcake is just adding a little batter to hold all these together, some people like their cakes to be lighter and for that just reduce the quantity of these dried fruits and nuts.]
  • 2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Juice of one orange
  • 3/4 cup (75 grams) ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup brandy plus extra for brushing the cake
  About one month prior to your baking, soak the dried fruits in brandy and keep it in a cool and dry place away from sunlight. You can add one or two whole cloves and a stick of cinnamon if you like but remember to remove them when you bake.

Butter, an 8 inch spring form pan with a removable bottom. Line the bottom of the pan with buttered parchment paper. Also line the sides of the pan with a strip of buttered parchment paper that extends about 2 inches above the pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C).
In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla extract and orange juice. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, salt, spices and baking powder and fold this into the cake batter. Then fold in the chopped nuts and all the brandied fruits.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and, if desired, decorate the top of the cake with blanched almonds. Place the spring form pan on a larger baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) and continue to bake the cake for another 1 hour and 30 mins or until a long skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs.(the time required depends on the amount of fruits used..richer cakes need more time). Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. With a skewer poke holes in the top surface of the cake and brush with a little brandy. Wrap the cake thoroughly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and place in a cake tin or plastic bag. Unwrap the cake and brush with brandy periodically (once or twice a week) to allow the cake to mellow. Don't brush during the last week.
Serves about 14 people.