Lots of jokes are made about fruitcake, but it’s still one of the most popular food items for the winter holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and News Year’s). It’s also great with coffees, teas, and hot cocoa. Such versatility! And the variety of recipes seems so great that you can throw a fruitcake free-for-all, with every guest having a different type of cake and no duplication.
Contrary to what some comedians would have you believe, there is not just one fruitcake that has existed for decades and gets passed around from one person to another as a gift. Fruitcakes are big business, not only for companies such as Bronte, Mr. Kipling, and Walkers, but also for you at-home bakers. You all are carrying on a tradition that dates back to the 1400s in Britain when shipments of dried fruits from the Mediterranean region of the then known world started arriving (give a clever cook a new ingredient, and a new style of cake or other delectable goodie is born).
Like a lot of foods that are common these days, fruitcakes started as a way of preserving food, adding a bit of variety to what was a pretty bland daily menu at the time, and/or symbolizing something important in their lives. These heavy, candied fruit laden cakes were a sign of the harvest, a tasty alternative to plain cakes, and could last for a year or more, often getting better with the passing of time (sort of like those pu-erh cakes).
Fruitcakes are fairly easy to make, as long as you follow the directions. One of the key steps is to soak the fruits and nuts overnight in some liquid, ranging from fruit juice to brandy, whisky, or rum. The fruits are then drained and the liquid is retained to be used in making the fruitcake. From there, the process is quite simple: get someone who knows what they’re doing to make one for you. Ha!
Seriously, though, if you can make scones, you can bake a decent tasting fruitcake.
A few tips for making the best fruitcake:
- Start with the freshest ingredients, especially the spices.
- A bit of flour on your fruits and nuts will keep them from sinking in the batter.
- You can get a moister cake by either adding a cup of applesauce to the recipe or placing a pan of water on the oven rack below the baking cake.
- You’re not stuck with a specific pan size and can also use muffin tins, but you might have to adjust the baking time.
- Either coat the pans with grease and flour or line with greased brown paper or wax paper.
- Avoid over-baking your cake by inserting a metal or wooden skewer in the cake’s center and then pulling it out to test for doneness. A clean skewer means the cake is done.
- Don’t try to remove the fruitcake from the pan until it has completely cooled.
When serving the cake, you can frost it with a glazing to give it a bit of a shine. Slice the cake when cold and use a sawing motion and a sharp, thin blade. You can store your fruitcake, especially if it is laced with a liquor, for months. Even the unlaced cakes can stay in your refrigerator or freezer for quite a while. Fruitcake gone stale? Freshen it by heating briefly in the microwave or in a steamer. An appropriate sauce or other topping will also help.
If you want to take the easy route for supplying fruitcakes to your guests, buy ’em! Here are a few options:
- Bronte Dark Genoa Cake with sultanas and cherries.
- Bronte Holiday Dundee Cake, a lighter version that’s covered with almonds and tasty with clotted cream or the sauce of your choice.
- Walkers Strathspey Rich Fruit Cake with fruits and spices and a thick topping of marzipan and sugar icing.
- Sunmaid Fruit Cake Bar – 15 oz., a mixture of fruits, nuts and spices. Hey, it’s from Sunmaid so it has to be totally super!
Don’t forget the German fruity bread called “stollen” and the Italian version called “Panettone.”
Whichever you choose, you’ll have a fruity good time!
Don’t forget to visit A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!