Sunday, December 20, 2009
tradition of fruitcake-bashing seems to have abated somewhat of late. Probably because the joke was beyond tired, it exhausted itself to death. Throughout these dark years of ridicule, fruitcakes carried on, making their annual appearance and enjoying the appreciation of loyalists. And yet, like so many other holiday treats, fruitcakes have become a commercial commodity. I don't have any data to back this up (does anyone?) but I"ll guess the majority of fruitcakes you'll encounter this Christmas will be store-bought.
Which is a shame.
Mrs. Merino, a good friend of Steve's mom, has perfected her fruitcake recipe over many years. This one stands out by the perfect balance of warmly spiced, moist cake studded liberally with, but not overwhelmed by, brightly colored candied fruit. Commercial versions can err in either direction. Some bakeries, in ill-advised attempts to up the cachet (and price) of their product, will deliver a super abundance of fruit, so a slice resembles a stained glass window -- too sweet, too sticky. At the other end of the spectrum you have the cut-corners version of dry cake with tiny freckles of fruit, lacking the required bit of chewiness and usually any flavor.
So a couple of Steve's notes before you dive into the recipe. First, for good, juicy, flavorful candied fruit skip the wan, way over priced offerings found in most grocery stores and buy in bulk from an online resource. Steve has had great luck with nutsonline.com. And don't be seduced by the promised convenience of cardboard bake-and-serve loaf pans. They don't hold their shape well, so the sides kind of bow out, the "festive" decorations printed on the sides present an unappealing, pre-fab look, and the cake sticks to the sides of the cardboard pan. No one's going to appreciate a fruitcake you have to dig out of a cardboard pan that looks suspciously like an end-aisle offering from Walgreens. Use a conventioal metal loaf pan or mini-pan, run a knife around the edges to release the cakes from the pans and you'll have a perfectly shaped, ready to serve cake.
1 lb. seedless raisins
1 c. currants
2 c. mixed candied fruit (red and green cherries, citron, lemon peel, orange peel), chopped
1 c. brandy
Mix all this together and let stand overnight
Next day, sift together:
5 1/2 c. flour
2 T. cinnamon
1 T. nutmeg
1 T. ground cloves
1/2 T. salt
1/2 T. baking powder
Add 2 c. pecans
1 1/2 c. butter
2 1/2 c. sugar
Add 6 eggs, one at a time
Add 1/2 c. molasses and beat well
Mix 1/2 c. flour to the soaked fruit and then mix that into the butter mixture.
Add this to the flour mix, alternating with 1/2 c. strong coffee
Grease 3 loaf pans or 8 mini-loaf pans, add batter, and bake 1 hr. in a preheated 275 degree oven. Then reduce heat to 250 and continue to bake another hour and 45 minutes for the full sized loaves, about one hour fifteen minutes for the mini-pans.
It helps to put a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven to keep the air moist.
Let cool a little, run a knife around the sides of the loaves and then invert to release from the baking pans.