Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Off Topic: Christmas Cake

Updates: No nuts, no! The original recipe doesn't call for them, and although I love them, hubby has some allergies. Re: loaf pans & sizes. I've used a variety of pans and it works great. 8 by 8 square plans, big loaf pans, small loaf pans.... I don't worry about the size of pan, I just start checking for doneness at the 2 hour mark.

I've been tweeting about this often enough and had enough questions that I figured I should just blog about it...

Like many Canadians, I'm an immigrant in a culturally mixed marriage, and Norman and I try to honour the holidays and traditions of both our cultures. One cultural tradition I've brought to the relationship is fruitcake. I absolutely adore fruitcake. I know it's not to everyone's taste, but I also insist that many haven't tasted it the way it's supposed to be made.

And in my opinion, that's boozy. (Apologies to the non-drinkers in the crowd. I know and respect that there are some who don't drink or use alcohol. You can actually get a very similar effect by using a mixture of strong coffee and fruit juice for soaking the fruit, and then soaking the cakes in fruit cordials and syrups.)

My Mum makes the "proper" cake every year, the one we eat during the actual festive meals. I make what I've come to refer to as the "standby" cake. The one we can eat in the run up to Christmas, the one we can offer to guests, the one I can cut up and take to parties and get-togethers during the season. Although Mum's is more traditional, the way I love it, I've found that many fruitcake skeptics enjoy my slightly unorthodox (pun intended?) version. My cake is very dark, sticky and fudgy in texture - and fairly moist with dark rum.

As I tweeted, the recipe I use is, oddly, Canadian. When we first arrived in Canada, my Mum bought of a copy of the now-out-of-print Madame Jehane Benoit's Encyclopedia of Canadian Cooking.

Shortly after I finished university, I decided I wanted to try making fruitcake, but being an inexperienced baker with a minimal kitchen and budget, I wasn't sure I was up for trying the full thing. Mum found me a recipe in Madame Benoit's book - called, amusingly enough, My Mother's Fruitcake.

I've been making it for years now, and I think it's pretty good.

The book seems to be long out of print, and so, with full credit, here's the recipe:

“My Mother’s Fruit Cake”
from Madame Jehane Benoit’s Encyclopedia of Canadian Cooking

2 cup currants
2 cups seedless raisins
1 cup mixed peel
1/4 cup rum or orange juice
2 cups butter
2 cups fine granulated sugar
6 eggs, well beaten
2 cups molasses
7 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves

Put fruit and juice/rum in a bowl and soak for 12 hours, covered, stirring a a few times.

Preheat oven to 240 deg F. (Yes, very low.) Line cake tins with greaseproof paper.

Cream butter with sugar until very light. Add eggs one by one, stirring hard each time. Add molasses.

Sift together dry ingredients.

Add half of flour to creamed butter, mix well.

Add rest of flour alternately with fruit.

Stir until thoroughly blended.

Bake for 3 hours or until cake tester comes out clean.

My notes:
1. I play fast and loose with the fruit. I usually cut back on the raisins and currants and make up the amount with dried cranberries (or glace cherries, but the cranberries are better). I put some finely chopped candied ginger in one year, that was nice. If you don 't like the mixed peel, ditch that and use more cranberries and even dried cherries and blueberries.

2. 1/4 cup juice or rum for 12 hours.... I use about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of booze – whatever is in the bar: rum, gold tequila, rye, bourbon, Southern Comfort, cheap scotch, brandy – and soak for about a week.

3. I use strong dark molasses – the blackstrap variety – because I love the dark and slightly bitter taste it brings. If you’re less about molasses, use the lighter kind.

4. I bake it at least three or four weeks early then store it in the fridge in containers and pour dark rum on it every few days. It will seem fairly soggy, that's ok. Stop watering it about a week before you want to start serving it so the top dries out a bit. This is really the key to making it more interesting and fun than "normal" fruitcake.

5. The batter gets very hard to stir once you’re adding the flour & fruit in. Use serious wooden spoons. I usually lose at least one spatula or wooden spoon to it every year.

6. I bake in loaf pans and it takes 2 to 2 and a bit hours. It’s hard to tell if it’s done – I do the tap the underside trick, like loaves of bread.


Anniebeeknits said...

Mmm, fruitcake. Yours looks very much like my grandmother's fruitcake, except she added maraschino cherries (red AND green) and almonds (blanched and toasted) to the batter, and then made designs of both on the top of the cake, as well.

My husband is, unfortunately, not a particular fan of fruitcake. While doing his MA in military history, he actually managed to convince one friend that the stuff was invented in WWII by the Allies, as a humanitarian missile. According to his theory, the cake was dense enough to do massive damage to strategic Nazi infrastructure, but then could be eaten by the starving liberated populations. (The implication being, of course, that it's only fit for consumption if you're starving...) And no, we won't go into how that theory would have worked with rationing, etc. The point is, my husband's friend - an otherwise intelligent, rational, free-thinking human being - actually bought the story, hook, line, and sinker.

Debra said...

Home made fruitcake is the very best. My sister makes me a large one every year. I divide it into four sections, put each in a seperate ziploc, freeze the sections and enjoy throughout the year. She puts marzipan and royal icing on the top. She uses a very old family recipe that we both served as out Wedding Cakes. Fruitcake, i can't wait. YOur recipe looks great.

FriendlyFossil said...

What -- no nuts! My mother makes great fruit cake (no booze or other liquid poured over it). But her cake has almonds, walnuts and pecans in it, some years almost so many nuts that the batter will barely hold the cake together.

KarenJ said...

Hi Kate,
Could you please be a littel more specific about the pans? There are loaf pans and then there are loaf pans. I seem to have them in a lot of different sizes! Any guidance? Thanks.

Em Bozzo said...

Mmmmm... I have a friend who also hails originally from the UK and she also includes dried figs in the cake -- delish! Her uncle actually starts soaking the fruit the day after Christmas for NEXT year's cake -- I've had it -- it's scrumptiously potent!

Hmmm... do you think some of your cake might find it's way into your December knitting classes???