Fruitcake. You either love it or hate it. I am betting that most people who hate it have only had bad boozy doorstops filled with nasty candied fruit in unnatural colors. I know that I was never much of a fruit cake lover until I discovered this recipe. Several years ago I saw an episode of Good Eats on the Food Network and Alton Brown opened my eyes to what fruitcake can and should be, a moist and spicy cake made with only dried fruit and nuts.
I have also reached a point in my life where buying Christmas presents for family is reserved for the nieces and nephew. So what to do for the sisters, in-laws, parents and grandparents? Bake. Cookies, biscotti and fruitcakes are their presents. If you want to gift fruitcake, this recipe makes 6 mini loaves or one large loaf (to keep for yourself!). I usually make these the weekend after Thanksgiving to allow plenty of time for them for them to mature in the refrigerator. They really benefit from a 4-6 week rest before serving. Not that that stops my husband from begging for a slice the minute they come out of the oven.
Homemade fruitcakes can also suffer from an overabundance of brandy which can turn some people off. If you like a strong, boozy taste to your fruitcake feel free to baste the finished product with straight-up brandy or rum. However, if you prefer a lighter touch, basting with a rum simple syrup is the way to go. Why rum and not brandy? Well, it is just personal preference, I like rum (a lot!) and would rather use it than brandy. The advantage of the simple syrup is that it really allows the taste of the cake to shine while keeping it moist and adding just a hint of rum flavor. By all means, use what you like and make it as strong as you like. After all, it is your fruitcake. So stir up a batch the weekend after Thanksgiving and try not to snitch any cake until Christmas. If you make it for gifts, they will be very much appreciated and may even convert a few fruitcake haters into beggars.
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried currants or raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried mixed berries (or 1/2 cup dried cherries + 1/2 cup dried blueberries)
1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup gold rum (I like Cruzan Aged Rum or Bacardi Gold)
1 cup granulated sugar
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)
1 cup apple juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
2 cups pecans or walnuts, chopped
Rum Simple Syrup, gold rum, or brandy for basting
Rum Simple Syrup:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1-3 Tablespoons gold rum (or brandy)
Assemble and bake the fruitcake 4-6 weeks before serving.
Make the rum simple syrup by adding the water and sugar to a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not boil. Let cool to room temperature and stir in the rum, one tablespoon at a time, tasting after each tablespoon. Make it as strong as you like. Store in a small container with a lid until needed. Combine the dried fruits, crystallized ginger, lemon zest, orange zest and rum in a 5-7 cup plastic storage container with a tight fitting lid. Shake well and let sit on the counter for 24 hours. Give the container a shake every time you walk by or think about it.
Into a large saucepan, add the contents of the dried fruit mixture, the granulated sugar, butter, apple juice and spices. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool until room temperature.
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spread the chopped pecans or walnuts out onto a cookie sheet. Toast for 10 minutes stirring every few minutes until light brown and fragrant. Cool to room temperature. Turn oven up to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (or 6 mini loaf pans) with non-stick cooking spray.
Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add to the fruit mixture and stir well with a wooden spoon. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring until each egg is fully integrated. Fold in the toasted nuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s). If using mini loaf pans, you can use a scale to evenly distribute the batter. Each loaf pan will need approximately 320-330 grams of batter (about 11 1/2 ounces).
Bake the large loaf pan for 1 hour or the mini loaf pans for 30-35 minutes. Insert a wooden skewer or knife into the center of a cake. If it comes out clean, then the fruitcake is done. If batter is sticking to the skewer, bake for another 5 minutes and check again.
Remove the cake(s) from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Baste the warm cake(s) with the rum simple syrup (or gold rum or brandy). You will not need all of it right now. Let cool to room temperature. If you are using disposable aluminum baking pan(s) you can leave the cake(s) in the pan(s) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. If using metal baking pan(s), you can remove the cooled cake(s) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Store in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks and at least once a week, unwrap and baste with more rum simple syrup (or brandy or rum).
makes 6 mini loaves or 1 large loaf
adapted from Good Eats: The Early Years by Alton Brown