Poor fruitcake. So maligned. So under-appreciated. I am willing to go on record, stating that moist, rich, buttery fruitcake with a boozy nip from the rum it’s been soaked in for weeks, complemented by sweet marzipan and icing, is a joy to eat. Please. No jokes about doorstops or houses built from fruitcake bricks. No references to Johnny Carson or fruitcake-tossing competitions.
I’m not talking about those horrible fruitcakes you see stacked, one on top of the other, at the grocery store. That’s no way to judge the overall appeal or potential deliciousness of a fruitcake. Fruitcake at Christmas – or Yule, which is a better description of the holiday that I like to celebrate around the solstice – makes sense, since, by that time of the year, the only fruits available would have been preserved in sugar, and sugar, as we all know, is the go-to ingredient when it comes to both cheap and cheerful. Also extremely bad for our livers, gut systems, body mass indexes, but I won’t digress. Sugar fruit, mixed with ground flour, butter, spices, and a bit of leavening agent.* These are things one could get one’s hands on after the harvest was a distant memory of fall and the daylight hours had dropped to a terrifying seven or eight. You do what you can.
But the key to fruitcake is not the cake itself. The aforementioned ingredients are okay on their own, if a little chewy and dense. But when you add alcohol, preferably dark, tasty rum, to the equation, you wind up with a sum that is greater than its parts. Mathematical impossibilities aside, soaking the fruit first in rum and then the cake itself in rum over a period of weeks gives you, at the end, a boozy, moist little piece of sweet heaven. At least in my opinion.
So forget about those doorstops at the grocery store and certainly never buy a fruitcake via the internet. Make your own damn cake! Start now, soak it in rum, and by your solstice holiday, you’ll have your own crumbly, redolent little tidbit to share with people who get you. **
*Some people add nuts. I believe this is an abomination. By Yule, those slivered almonds will be soggy, ragged little sticks, identifiable only by taste, if that, as being of nut origin.
**I heard a foodie on CBC (sorry, no name) suggest using freezing fruitcake, cutting it thinly, toasting and buttering it, then serving it with a soft cheese as a little crostini-like, holiday-esque amuse-bouche. These are my people.
2 eight or nine-inch loaf pans
large lasagna-type pan for water bath
1 cup sultana raisins
1 cup candied citrus peel
1 cup chopped dried pineapple
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup glace cherries (or not. These things are weird, but somehow they work for me.)
1 1/2 cups rum
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
pinch of salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsps molasses
1/4 cup raspberry jam
Prepare two loaf pans, greasing them thoroughly butter and placing a piece of parchment paper down the sides, over the bottom, and back up again, with some hanging over the sides to create a little hammock to lift out your fruitcake later. Fill a large, high-sided baking pan with about 2 inches of water. Preheat the oven to 325 fahrenheit.
Put dried fruits in glass container or bowl, pour rum over, and stir to mix. Cover and let sit overnight, for at least eight hours until the fruits are plump and juicy.
Mix dry ingredients together. Toss to combine in medium sized bowl.Take about 1/2 cup and toss the dried fruit-rum mixture with it. In a separate, large bowl, cream butter with sugar, jam, and molasses until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time under thoroughly combined. Stir dry ingredients in until just mixed. Don’t overbeat.
Pour the cake mixture into the loaf pans and place them in the water bath. Make sure the water only covers the bottom 2 inches of the pans. You don’t want it to boil over and spoil the cakes. Bake at 325 for approximately 45 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Don’t overbake.
Let the cake cool in the tin before lifting it out as it will be soft. Once it’s cooled enough to stay together, let it cool completely on a wire rack.
Cut two pieces of cheesecloth and soak each of them in more rum. Wrap the fruitcake in the cheesecloth and place back in the loaf pans. At this point, it will begin to look like something a sailor might find in the hold of his 18th century warship, but that’s okay. Have faith.
Put a piece of parchment paper over the top of each loaf and wrap securely in foil. You can put a layer of plastic wrap in there too.
Place in a cold spot for at least three weeks. Every week, pour some more rum over top. When it’s “ripe”, put a layer of marzipan on top, with some butter cream icing over that, or use as the base for a delicious cheesy crostini like my anonymous soulmate suggested.