My whole life I’ve wondered what all the fuss was about fruitcake. I’ve heard all the jokes, especially the one that states that there is one fruitcake in the world and that it keeps getting re-gifted. But, up until a few years ago, I really couldn’t tell you that I had ever really eaten fruitcake. It never appealed to me. The neon orange, red, and green dried fruits always freaked me out, and since I mostly prefer chocolate desserts, I just steered clear of the whole thing. (Clearly this is a pattern with me–I seemed to have done this a lot as a younger person.)
Of course, after being diagnosed as gluten-intolerant and therefore not being able to eat it any old time I want, I desperately wanted to try it. Especially since I am an Anglophile through and through and it seemed as though everyone in literary England was making it and eating it. For years, I collected recipes, intending to adapt one to gluten-free. But I never found one that appealed to me. Then, one day a few years ago, I was reading one of my favorite cooking memoirs/cookbooks of all time, Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen and there was the recipe I needed: Country Christmas Cake. The recipe was adapted by Colwin from Jane Grigson’s English Food. It looked good, it was made from quality ingredients, and it was fairly easy to make.
If you’ve never read anything by Colwin, please go out and get something by her. She holds a place in my pantheon of Cooking Goddesses. I love her writing. She was a writer for Gourmet magazine for years, and she wrote 2 books of essays on food, Home: A Writer in the Kitchen, as well as More Home Cooking. She also wrote several novels. I loved her style and wit. She died suddenly of a heart attack in 1992 at the young age of 48. I still remember hearing about her death and being so shocked and sad.
This cake has no neon fruit–only lovely dried fruit, plus some marmalade, jam, some applesauce, and, of course, booze. It was originally intended to keep for a couple of months in the pantry. Thus far, I’ve only kept it for about a week to mellow. It’s so popular, it goes rather quickly in my house. You can try to let it mellow for longer (which would be more authentic) and see how it goes. The liquor added at the end helps to preserve it as it mellows on the counter. Hence the term “decanting” when you remove the cake from its wrappings. If you don’t use liquor, I suggest you use a juice of some sort to add the extra moisture–and make this only a day or two before you serve it.
The main work of this cake is gathering the dried fruits. You need a lot! But, once you’ve done that, the cake is quite easy. This cake is made over the course of 2 days–one day to mix the fruit and leave overnight to macerate (meld the flavors); and then the next day to bake it. At the end, you will have yourself a 6 lb cake (yes, I weighed it)–wow! I serve this either for Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas dinner. Well, we actually serve it any old time I want. You decide how you want to serve it. It’s also quite good as a breakfast cake. This is dedicated to Granddude, my father-in-law, who is an appreciator of good fruitcake and who has given his seal of approval to this cake.
Country Christmas Cake
-adapted from More Home Cooking
Special Equipment Needed
-stand mixer, although a hand mixer will do
-9.5 or 10 inch springform pan
Fruits, Jam and Sherry–you will use these one Day 1 of the process
2 1/2 lbs (1.2 kg) mixed raisins, pitted prunes, and dried figs
1/2 cup (60 g) candied orange and/or lemon peel
1/2 cup (60 g) candied cherries
2/3 cup (85 g) candied or preserved ginger
Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
1 tablespoon apricot jam
1 cup (240 ml) applesauce
2 tablespoons of sweet Sherry (or juice for a non-alcoholic version)
(you can also experiment with your own mixture of dried fruits–just be sure total weight is the same)
Dry Ingredients–you will use these on Day 2 of the process
3 cups (420 g) Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon baking powder
Butter, Sugar, Eggs, and Vanilla–you will use these on Day 2 of the process
1 cup (2 sticks; 8 oz; 225 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (215 g) dark brown sugar
4 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy or whiskey (or juice) for adding after the cake bakes
Chop up fine and mix together the first set of ingredients (fruits, jam, and Sherry). Cover and leave in a covered bowl on the counter overnight to macerate–meld the flavors. Feel free to slap the hand of anyone (say, a husband) who comes by and tries to snack on the mixture. Also, you may macerate this for a week or more. I had a chat with Kathy Casey about this, and she told me that she macerates the fruit for her fruitcakes for about a week.
Then next day (or whenever you’re ready to make the cake):
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F/165 degrees C/Gas Mark 3
-in a medium bowl, mix the next set of ingredients (dry ingredients); set aside
-in the bowl of stand mixer, beat butter until fluffy
-add brown sugar, beat more
-add vanilla, continue beating
-add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition
-add flour mixture, beating until just combined (do not overmix)
With a large wooden spoon, combine fruit with the batter. This requires a bit of upper body strength. Luckily, you can count this as your exercise for the day.
Grease bottom and sides of springform pan with butter. Then line the bottom of springform pan with 3 layers of parchment, and the sides with 1 layer of parchment paper
-pour in the batter
-bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours, then reduce heat to 300 degrees F/150 degrees C/Gas mark 2 and bake another 2 hours or until tester comes out clean
-you might want to use a piece of aluminum foil as a tent over the cake for the last 2 hours–so it doesn’t burn.
Remove from oven, pierce the cake all over with a skewer and pour over it 2 TBL brandy or whiskey (you can use more if that’s to your taste)
-leave to cool in the pan
-when completely cool, remove it, peel off the parchment paper, and wrap the cake in wax paper and place it in an airtight tin (or a few layers of plastic wrap), and leave it for a few days
-When the time comes to “decant” the cake (take it out of its wrappings), it is traditional to glaze it with some nice jelly (although we just eat it as it is)
Serve on Christmas Eve or on Christmas as a rich cake. Or throughout the holiday season. Leftover slices may be toasted and eaten with butter and jam for breakfast.
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