FOODIE FRIDAY – (enjoy a new recipe to try this weekend!)
Fruitcakes have existed since Roman times but it appears people got fed up with them and in the 1700’s fruitcake was banned throughout Continental Europe for being “sinful.” Why that ban was lifted I’ll never know. But consequently, they have inspired such a rabid fan base that their continuance in our society is likely. Thanks to zealous groups ensuring the perpetuation of outdated fads, you can now join The Society for the Preservation and Protection of Fruitcake, which gives a number of recipes and testimonials relating to people’s conversion to the dark side. Okay, so you really just eat the things for the liquor they have been soaking in for ten years. But this dirty little fact never has to face the light of day if you join this society and use their front of perpetuating ridiculous recipes and meaningless fruitcake trivia.
Sadly, it appears the recipe is here to say. But in our P.C. times, fruitcakes are just not acceptable. Since its inception, the word “fruitcake” had picked up several negative connotations in our society. It alludes to someone’s mental instability as well as being a pejorative slam on one’s sexual orientation. If we insist on keeping this nasty confection around, can’t we at least change its name to reflect our more sensitive era? How about “rum log” or “mummy-cake”? Do we really have to drag homosexuals and mentally unstable people into all this candied mess? It’s just not right.
In 2005, fruitcake was officially listed as a national security threat. Airline passengers were banned from bringing them as a carry-on when flying. Because of their extreme density, the x-ray machines at screening points were unable to determine if they contained hidden weapons and every fruitcake that went through security had to be carefully inspected. Rather than have to deal with all the fruitcakes (the food, not the people) flying around the county at Christmas time, the government simply banned them. But was this enough to stop their proliferation?
It turns out that several monasteries in the United States have taken to producing fruitcakes for added income. The 14 monks of Assumption Abbey in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri create 23,000 fruitcakes per holiday season. I wonder how much of the liquor that is bought for these cakes makes it into the actual product, but a vow of silence from the monks will keep that a secret forever. There are, however, other ways to capitalize on fruitcakes. Manitoba, Canada held its 12th annual Fruitcake Toss last January. The winner catapulted his fruitcake almost 450 feet. The festivities also included a beauty pageant where the most beautiful as well as the most revolting-looking cake were recognized and rewarded.
The oldest known fruitcake is approximately 130 years old and lives under glass in a Michigan home. It was baked by a woman in preparation for a Thanksgiving meal in 1878, but she died right before the holiday and her family didn’t have the heart to eat it. So instead of throwing it out, they saved it and passed it down through the generations. In 2005 this fruitcake made an appearance on “The Tonight Show” and Jay Leno actually took a bite. And just like every other fruitcake ever made in this world, it was nasty.
Basting fruitcakes with liquor and powdering them with sugar on occasion prevents mold and ensures their long shelf life. Many people believe this is the charm of fruitcake, similar to a fine wine, and will wait up to 25 years to eat them. The rainbow-colored chunks inside the cake are actually fruit despite their suspicious appearance. Standard ingredients are red and green candied cherries, dried pineapple, and raisins. Of course, anything can go into these monstrosities and recipes vary.
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons brandy plus extra for brushing the cake
Juice and zest (outer orange skin) of one orange
Zest (outer yellow skin) of one lemon
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 cup hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, or almonds, chopped
1 1/2 pounds of an assortment of dried fruits (dried apricots, figs, prunes, etc.), candied and chopped mixed peel, and glace cherries (chopped into bite size pieces)
3/4 pound of an assortment of raisins, sultanas, currants, dried cranberries and/or cherries
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Fruit Cake: Butter a 8″ spring foam pan with a removable bottom. Line the butter of the pan with buttered parchment paper. Also line the sides of the pan with a strip of buttered parchment paper that extends about 2″ above the pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the brandy, juice and zest of the orange, and zest of the lemon. Then fold in the ground almonds, chopped nuts, and all the dried and candied fruits. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder and fold this into the cake batter.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and, if desired, decorate the top of the cake with blanched almonds. Place the spring form pan on a larger baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) and continue to bake the cake for another 1 hour 30 minutes or until a long skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. With a skewer poke holes in the top surface of the cake and brush with a little brandy. Wrap the cake thoroughly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and place in a cake tin or plastic bag. Brush the cake periodically (once or twice a week) with brandy until Christmas. This cake will keep several weeks or it can be frozen.
Some day I’m gonna bake a fruitcake and force my friends and family to try some. Who knows it may become a tradition…
Laugh, learn and liven up your taste buds!