Reclaiming Fruitcake

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Christmastime is here once again. ‘Tis the season for tradition, surprises and fruitcake. If thoughts of those hard, multicolored concoctions conjure up nightmares, take heart: Fruitcake can actually be a delicious – and even welcomed – part of any holiday celebration.

Casey Coman, a baker at Lunabread, wants to help debunk the notion that fruitcake is just a necessary holiday evil. Coman has always loved to bake and has done so since she was 6. She began baking at Lunabread in January and now bakes 60 to 70 loaves of bread a day as well as cakes, scones, cookies and other delectable baked goods. This ambitious baker has some definite thoughts on the subject of fruitcake.

“There is no rule that says fruitcake has to contain those mysterious candied fruits,” she says. Instead, she prefers to use dried fruits and nuts.

According to Coman, fruitcake does not have to be made the same, cookie-cutter way every time.

“Personalize it. Use flavors and ingredients that are appealing, but most importantly, have fun with it.”

Why does fruitcake get such a bad rap? It has been around for hundreds of years, and nearly every culture has its own version.

Coman contends that it started decades ago with late night television host, Johnny Carson.

“He joked that only one fruitcake existed, and it would get continually passed from family to family each year.”

So what are her tips for making a fabulous, much appreciated fruitcake?

“A delicious fruitcake should consist of tender cake with lots of fruit and nuts,” she says.

For a flavor punch, Coman likes to use orange or lemon zest. She also suggests using butter instead of oil for a more tender, flavorful cake, creaming the butter and sugar thoroughly before adding other ingredients.

Although fruitcakes are traditionally soaked with liqueur to help preserve and moisten, Coman suggests simply brushing the finished cakes lightly with a simple syrup made from a liqueur such as Grand Marnier, an orange-flavored brandy. One last word of advice from this talented baker:

“Even if your baked goods aren’t perfect, they will still be delicious and the effort will be much appreciated.”

Casey’s Fruitcake

Makes two 8×4-inch fruitcakes
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 c. sour cream
3/4 tsp. vanilla
Zest from 1 orange
1 1/4 c. honeyed dates, chopped
1 c. walnuts
1/2 c. dried figs, chopped
1/2 c. unsalted shelled pistachios

Grand Marnier Simple Syrup

1/4 c. sugar
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8×4-inch metal loaf pans and dust with flour. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

Beat together butter and sugar until well blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour mixture in three additions, alternately with sour cream and vanilla in two additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Be sure to scrape the bowl well.

Stir in orange zest, dates, figs, walnuts and pistachios. Divide mixture between pans and smooth the tops. Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool in pans for 20 minutes.

To assemble simple syrup, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the Grand Marnier. Lightly brush tops of loaves with Grand Marnier simple syrup. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely before serving.

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