I opened the local paper this week to the food section and was….well…what was I? Hmmmm……not horrified exactly, and not fearful, yet I felt a certain unease somewhere in the primal brain as my eyes fell on a bigger-than-most newspaper image of just the sort of fruitcake that gives cakes-with-fruit a bad name (see newspaper image at top in the photo below). The image was complete with a sticky sweet looking glaze, lots of bright green & red candied fruit that had not been real fruit for a long, long time….Maybe some pieces of translucent pale yellow pineapple…but wait are those nuts? Yes, yes a few nuts…I recognized the nuts. I felt a little better.
This fruitcake image landed in my cerebral cortex almost at the same time that I was experimenting with “fruitcakes or cakes-with-fruit” recipes.
For some time now I have been convinced it is possible to make a cake with nuts and dried fruit for the Holidays that is appealing …that is dense, not too sweet, that is chock full of good dried fruits for moistness, nuts for a bit of crunch. I want a “fruitcake” that is good, simple, sliced and toasted, with a cup of coffee or tea.
Let me make it clear that I have nothing personal against a commercially made fruitcake. They have always been abundant in my life. As a girl I was sometimes a bit confused when grown-ups referred to another person as “a fruitcake” and the “fruitcakes” that arrived on sideboards and kitchens every Holiday season. It eventually became clear how they were somewhat similar yet different! All those muddled, unrecognizable bits and pieces…see what I mean?
Do you like commercially produced fruitcakes? Have you ever had a fruitcake you loved that came from a supermarket? What made it good?
“A Really Good Cake-with-Fruit or Fruitcake”
2 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit – dried cranberries or cherries, chopped peaches, currants, raisins, chopped apples or apricots (any combinations that you like)
2 cups strong Chai Tea, chilled
1/2 cup mixed chopped nuts – pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts (again whatever you like)
1/2 cup superfine sugar (if you don’t have any just put regular sugar in the food processor and pulse until fine-grained)
1 whole large egg
2 cups all-purpose flour whisked with 2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
the zest from 1 orange
1. Soak dried fruit in the chilled tea for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. I used “Firepot Chia” made right here in Nashville.
2. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a bundt cake pan or loaf pan. In a large bowl whisk the sugar & egg together until well mixed. Stir in flour, baking powder mixture & dried spices. Mixture will be dry & crumbly at this point which is okay.
3. Add tea soaked fruit, nuts, orange zest & all the tea left in the bowl. Stir until batter is wet throughout.
4. Scrape batter into prepared pan & bake for 35-45 minutes. Test with a toothpick which should come out clean. Cool cake in the pan for about 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack. Can be eaten warm or cooled completely, wrapped and eaten later. This cake just got better as the day went by!
My faith in the concept of “fruitcake” has been restored. All it took was turning my kitchen in to a laboratory dedicated to the artful study of “fruitcakes” for a couple of days and a bit of a (some might say) “fruitcake” approach to all this on my part.
It turned out better than I had hoped…a few not so great versions came before this one, but it has been worth it. I finally like “fruitcake”.
Happy Holiday Baking to you.l