“Fruitcakes / Cakes-with-Fruit…a Holiday Quest”

 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.

newspaper image of fruitcake

 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.

cake with fruit

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”

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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.

Fire Pot Chai Tea

Tea with dried fruit

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.

eggs & sugar whippedfruitcake batter

3. Add tea soaked fruit, nuts, orange zest & all the tea left in the bowl. Stir until batter is wet throughout.

fruitcake batter

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!

fruit cake batter in panbaked fruitcake

sliced fruitcake

“Day 2”

Toasted fruitcake

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

tea and fruitcake

Day 1

slice of fruitcake with tea

“E.A.T. Granola”

E.A.T. (easy-as-that)

This is the beginning of a series of “how-tos” for foods that, made at home, are tastier & healthier than any store-bought version regardless of price.  I am calling this series “E.A.T.” which means “easy-as-that”…which is how I feel each time I whip up a batch of, among many other delectables, my most divine Granola.  E.A.T.s are for lazy Sunday afternoons, Saturday morning ramblings in the kitchen or any time when it is simply more pleasing to “create” than go shopping.

There will be other subjects in this series such as creamy homemade Ricotta, aromatic & flavored Sugars, fabulous & simple Syrups and savory herbed butters. Over the next few months I will share these easy-as-that recipes, but remember these are all my personal favorite flavor profiles so you might have to adjust recipes to suit your own palate and that is what e.a.t. is all about!

#1. E.A.T. GRANOLA

Ingredients:

2 cups whole almonds

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1 cup dried cherries

1 cup walnut pieces

1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1/2 cup dried blueberries

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup molasses or sorghum

1 1/2 Tbsp orange marmalade

1 1/2 Tbsp fig spread

2 Tbsp water

1 to 2 tsp sea or kosher salt

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. In a large bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients.

2. In a microwave safe container combine the molasses, marmalade, fig spread & water. Heat until hot, but not bubbly & stir well to mix.

3. Pour molasses mixture over dry ingredients in bowl and toss to coat. Make sure all dry ingredients are well coated.

4. Spread mixture out on a rimmed sheet pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until mixture turns a deep golden brown & caramelized.

6.  Turn oven off & allow granola to completely cool in oven. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt or kosher salt.

7.Spoon this perfectly crunchy granola in glass jars with tight-fitting lids.

Divine granola is perfect sprinkled over yogurt & fresh fruit, added to a morning muffin mix or eaten as a healthy low-sugar snack.

It’s as easy-as-that!