Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I have always been puzzled by the fruit cake conundrum. As a food it is pretty much the butt of every Christmas joke, described as hard and dry and nasty tasting, and often filled with strange, candied fruit things that as far as I can tell never started out as fruit. Very few people actually admit to liking it, and when they do it's more of an admission of guilt than a proud proclamation. And yet every year there are dozens and dozens of fruit cakes available in the grocery stores to buy and just as many containers of the candied fruit to take home so that you can make your very own.
If fruit cake is so horrible -- why is it so prevalent this time of year? I have tasted it of course, but only one or two bites before I encountered some horrible menthol-flavored fruit piece that should never be allowed near any food. (did I ever mention the time I ordered a pizza in Taiwan and it came with corn and a menthol cherry sitting proudly in the center...?)
My belief is that not all fruit cakes have to be bad. I have never had a good one before this year, but a recipe that is so enduring and so common has to have good origins... right? Last year the New York Times ran an article about a black fruit cake made with rum and cherry brandy -- I wanted to make it last year, and again this year, but it's fairly involved and I never quite got to it.
Then I was flipping through my Pastry Queen Christmas book and I saw her recipe for fruit cake. Not a candied fruit in site in her recipe, and it looked fairly quick and easy so I decided to go for it. I have to say (with no shame) I like this fruit cake. It's dense, but super moist and chock full of fruit (dates, figs, dried cherries, dried cranberries and apricot jam) and nuts. Plus, it will keep in the fridge for up to 2 months as long as you keep it well covered and brush the top of it with brandy every once in a while -- how cool is that?
If I do bring some of this cake into work though, I will likely not call it a fruit cake lest it sit there uneaten all day. I'm not sure what I will call it, but if I can get people to try it, maybe I can change their minds about the poor maligned fruit cake. Then again, fruit cakes that include those awful candied things probably deserve every bit of their reputation.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temp
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 unpeeled granny smith apple, cored and diced (I just used an apple I had on hand -- braeburn I think)
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped Calimyrna figs
1 cup chopped mixed dried fruit, such as cranberries, cherries, blueberries, golden raisins, chopped apricots, or chopped peaches (I used cranberries and cherries)
3/4 cup thick, high-quality preserves, such as apricot, pear, peach, or fig
Brandy for brushing on top of the baked cake
Preheat oven to 275. Grease a 10-inch tube pan with butter or cooking spray.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat for 1 minute. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in the apple, pecans, dried fruits, and preserves.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pans. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan, this will take a few hours. Using a pastry brush, paint a light layer of brandy on top of the cooled cake. Wrap the cake in heavy-duty aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 2 months, brushing with the brandy once a week.