(content previously published on old Filigreen blog in 2013)
One Christmas tradition that people have strong views on is fruitcake. People either love it or hate it. It makes the ambitious baker wonder if it is even worth it to take on this challenge. Holiday fruitcake is a baked item that becomes rather an event - as it requires two days to make, and then some weeks to mature.
I was exposed early in life to wonderful fruitcake, courtesy of my dear Grandma Wynn, who would every year order a cake for my family from the famous Collin Street Bakery in Texas. Heavy on the pecans, with only a moderate amount of dried fruit, they had just enough sweet batter to hold it all together.
She also loved these cakes and would order one for herself and Grandpa. She would laugh and tell me how, at night after he had gone to bed, she would sneak over in her robe and walker, lean on the counter, and cut off little slices to eat standing up. For a lady in her 90's who had had two hip replacements, this says something about the fruitcake's great taste as a motivator!
The making of fruitcake is quite an undertaking, from shopping for ingredients to chopping the dried fruits, stirring the heavy batter, baking a long time in a slow oven, then cooling, decorating, and wrapping in brandy-soaked cheesecloth for storage. THEN you must wait at least a couple of weeks to let the cakes mature before even taking a little taste . . . or kindly presenting them to family & friends in time for Christmas giving.
However, I have a recipe that makes it all worth it. I can't even remember where I found it, but I could tell from reading that it would be very similar to the Collin Street fruitcakes. I made a test version, and was convinced that I would never want another fruitcake recipe. With four cups of pecans, and more butter & sugar than flour, more raisins than cherries, and a candy-like texture after the maturing process (not to mention a heady zing from the soaked-in brandy!), this is a fruitcake that might make you famous in your circle.
I usually make my fruitcake the weekend right after Thanksgiving, so that the cakes have a good three weeks to mature before distributing around Christmastime. Traditionally, fruitcakes or Christmas puddings are started on the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent, when the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has a prayer worded: 'Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works may of Thee be plenteously rewarded...' The timing of this prayer is a fortuitous reminder to "stir up" the fruitcake early enough that it is well-matured by Christmas.
It is worthwhile to shop early for the ingredients, as if you wait until close to Thanksgiving to buy them, the best brands will be gone and maybe not restocked for some time. Usually in October, the stores start stocking the dried fruits, so I get a couple of ingredients at a time, to not unbalance my weekly food budget. If you can find good pecans from Texas, Oklahoma, or Arkansas, those are the best ones, and can be frozen to preserve the flavor; by shopping early, you may even find them on sale.
1 Bundt pan plus 2 standard loaves plus 3 mini-loaves or 1.5-2 doz. mini-muffins
OR six loaves made in 8"x3.75" disposable aluminum pans
1 1/2 c. candied pineapple chunks
1 c. black raisins or chopped dates
2 c. golden raisins
1 1/2 c. candied cherries
1 c. dried cranberries
2 oz. candied orange peel**
2 oz. candied lemon peel**
1 c. plus extra brandy for soaking (I like Paul Masson Grande Amber U.S.)
2 c. butter
4 c. confectioners sugar
8 eggs, separated
4 c. pecans, chopped
3 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 TBS. vanilla extract
(Extra candied fruit and pecan halves for decorating)
**if you can't find these, it is fairly easy to make your own:
1. The day before baking: Chop pineapple, raisins/dates, cherries, cranberries, orange and lemon peel; soak in brandy overnight in refrigerator.
2. Preheat oven to 275 deg F. Place a small pan of water on the lower rack of oven. Line loaf pans with buttered parchment. Bundt pan - butter it well. Mini-muffins - use foil liner cups sprayed with release spray.
3. NOTE: The final amount of batter is quite large, and requires something like a large roasting pan in which to mix it (see pictures below).
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and confectioner's sugar. Stir in beaten egg yolks. Transfer to a large mixing vessel, such as a roasting pan. Stir in fruit, soaking brandy, pecans, and vanilla.
4. In a separate bowl, lightly stir salt into sifted flour; add to batter in large pan.
5. In a separate large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Fold into the rest of the batter. Fill pans up to about 2/3 full.
6. Bake according to times below, until golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Smaller items will cook faster and therefore be removed from the oven earlier than larger items.
Bundt pan - 2-2.5 hrs.
Standard loaves - 2 hrs.
Mini-loaves - 1.5 hrs.
Mini-muffins - 1 hr.
7. Glaze (optional): Glaze to attach decorative fruit, such as red/green halved candied cherries, candied pineapple, or pecan halves. Boil together 1/2 c. water and 1/2 c. white sugar for about 15 min, until it is like thick syrup when a bit is cooled on a plate. Brush over the top of the cakes while they are hot, place fruit as decoration, then brush with glaze again. Let the glaze set for 1 hr. before wrapping in next step.
8. Store for at least 2 weeks (2-4 weeks is best), wrapped in a cheesecloth soaked in brandy, then a layer of plastic wrap, and a final layer of foil (see picture below). Add a little more brandy every few days (open the foil and plastic wrap, then just spoon over the cheesecloth in small trickles). I have always kept mine in the refrigerator for the maturing process, because we live in the South and it can be warm, even in November.
I find the best way to serve this fruitcake is to cut the cold fruitcake into 1/4"-1/2" thick slices. It can have a quite heady alcohol content, if you have a generous hand with the brandy, so teetotalers are forewarned! It will still be delicious even if you use a smaller amount of brandy. It is not recommended to eliminate the brandy entirely, as the alcohol not only adds flavor and improves texture, but it also extends the shelf life of the cake and keeps it from going bad during the long maturing process.
Happy Christmas and may you always be blessed with fruitcake!
I am Kelly - a wife, mother, cook, gardener, sewist, and much more. Creativity is the gift that I have been blessed with, and it has been a river of blessings to me. A creative outlet is good for you, body and soul. This blog is about helping you find ways to fit more creativity into your life, to enrich your own life and that of others.