Katharine Trauger: How to Make a Scrumptious Fruitcake
Trust me. This is one fruitcake you and your Friends Will LIKE!
My introduction to the joys of the candied fruit found in fruitcake came early in my life. My mother made German cookies with chopped, candied citron every winter. Chewy-soft with mysteriously perfumed bits in them and the scant smear of glaze to make them shine, Lebkuchen were an adored part of our heritage from the Old Country.
But fruitcakes are not German.
My dad often received gifts of dried/candied fruits, displayed on decorative platters. These we found interesting and delicious when our dad allowed us samples.
But fruitcakes are not simply fruit.
Sometimes my dad received the gift of a fruitcake.
Like shy maidens with an ugly suitor, we ran and hid when our parents opened fruitcake packages. Our dad, a gleam in his eyes, no doubt reminiscing about fruitcakes of yore, insisted on sharing these tough, repugnant slabs of spiced cardboard.
Were we alone in not adoring fruitcake? No!
Many, like us, have suffered from gifting of a winter fruitcake! Why, I heard of one family, among which a gift fruitcake passed around from branch to branch, for decades, until it finally had traversed the entire family tree, unopened and unsampled! I get that.
I was in my mid-twenties when I encountered a really good fruitcake. I’m not sure what possessed me to try one—maybe memories of my dad? It had such a bizarre name: Rainbow Party Bar. It was small, the length of a loaf pan but half the width, like a squared sausage. When I saw the price, I was shocked, but for some crazy reason, I just wanted it.
I brought it home and unwrapped it.
It smelled good, so I sampled.
It was amazing. I could not stay out of it. I could not even believe it. My heart leapt with happiness every time I snuck yet another slice.
I was addicted.
Before long, I had analyzed the label, looking for some mysterious ingredient. (This thing was really, really good; did I mention that?)
Near the top of the ingredients list lay the secret:
Yes, this fruitcake had more butter than it had any one type of fruit, and I think it safe to say, more butter than any other fruitcake I’d ever eaten. As I kept sampling, I knew the butter was one major difference from all the fruitcakes that had gone before.
Nothing would do but to find a recipe for this delicacy.
I tried several (really bad ones) before I devised the perfect recipe. We have become so enamored with this cake that many of us, who did not like fruitcake, have learned to find cheer in the mere thought of it.
Our friends beg for it.
Now, I’m not promising that if you make this fruitcake, your whole family and all your friends will fall into proper love with the idea of eating it. I will say this: It is so good, you will not ever again be sad if some uninitiated child leaves “more for you”.
Place fruits and brandy in a large, non-reactive bowl that can be covered.
Stir well and allow fruit to soak, covered, 24 hours, stirring 6 times.
Prepare pans before mixing cake. Select pans in the shape you want for your cake. Either a ten-cup tube pan, an 8-cup tube and one 5 1/2-cup x 9 ½-cup loaf, or three loaf pans will do the job, to give you an idea. It rises, but not a lot. I have baked small amounts in mini soufflé pans before, too. Baking times for smaller pans will be shorter.
Cut parchment paper to fit the bottoms and sides of your pans. For a loaf pan, you will need five pieces, for the four sides and the bottom. For a tube pan, you will need one circle with the center removed, for the bottom, and several small pieces, maybe 3”-4” square, to overlap on the sides. You may prefer plain brown paper, as I do. You do not need to place paper on the tube, itself. But do grease it.
Grease the pans generously with butter or olive oil, insert the papers, which should stick pretty cooperatively, then grease the papers, too. A spray-type oil helps with the second greasing. This fat is necessary. You will be sorry if you do not use butter or oil, paper, and more butter or oil. It is a messy job, but important—so important, that if you buy fruitcake, you may notice paper still attached to it.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Arrange one rack in the center.
Cream the butter and sugar.
Blend the eggs in well, one at a time.
Sift together all dry ingredients, except nuts.
Gradually add dry ingredients to egg mixture, beating well after each addition.
With a spoon, stir in nuts, fruit, and all liquid remaining in the fruit. Mix well.
Separate batter into prepared pans and bake at 275 degrees, for two to three hours. Yes. It takes a while. It’s worth it. Doneness will be hard to determine, but it will begin to brown around the edges before it is actually done. Brown all over is better. Gooey in the middle is not the goal for this cake. The toothpick test will not work, nor will the touch test with a finger; it should be a bit darker over the top than you thought.
Once it is cool, but still in the pan, you may choose to sprinkle about 1/8 cup more brandy over it, to soak the cake. The traditional purpose was to sort of pickle it so it would keep well. I do not do this, because I often feed it to children.
Remove from pans when cool enough to handle. Remove paper from sides, but not from bottom. Allow to cool completely. If you want party bars, with a long, sharp knife, carefully press to cut loaves in half, lengthwise, cutting through the bottom paper (the only exception about the paper.) Do not remove the bottom paper from these halves. Many people also cut a tube cake into halves. I do, because it is easier to wrap for the freezer that
Wrap in waxed paper. Then tightly wrap in foil. In addition to that, add a zipper bag, to protect the foil from tearing. Freeze.
The best time to slice is after freezing. It slices more neatly when frozen or even when frozen and then thawed. Otherwise, expect wasteful crumbs and broken slices. For gifts, I pre-slice it (to the paper, not through the paper) since few people realize it should be frozen first.
Traditionally, we do not remove or slice through the bottom paper until serving. Even when you buy it, you’ll often find it pre-sliced with the bottom paper remaining. This is because this cake is nearly equally batter and fruit, and will fall apart easily. The paper just holds the cake together so you can better manage it.
This fruitcake is amazing with fresh, black coffee. For the sugar-immune, it is also amazing with eggnog. I’ve enjoyed it with a cranberry/cream cheese topping. The recommended wine pairing is a tawny port, but we like something drier, such as our own semi-sec apple wine.
Katharine Trauger is a retired educator and a women’s counselor. She has spent 25 years managing a home and school for children who would otherwise have been homeless, and has worked 15 years as contributor and/or columnist for several small professional magazines, with over 60 published articles. She blogs about the rising popularity of “being at home” from a sun room on a wooded hilltop in the Deep South at: Home’s Cool! and The Conquering Mom and tweets at Katharine Trauger (@KathaTrau). She is currently working on a self-help book entitled: Yes, It Hurts, But . . .