Yesterday started out just like any other day. Got up, got dressed, and got ready for work. Just before leaving the apartment, I took inventory of my liquor cabinet above the fridge to see if I had the requisite spirits for making Christmas fruitcakes. In order to do this, I was forced to acknowledge and move aside the stubbornly-too-large-for-the-cabinet bottle of metaxa ouzo, an anise-flavored liquor. I bought it to use in an apple cake I made in September, certain that if I tried the anise in an otherwise delicious baked good, I would like it. No such luck. I thought the cake was gross and then, because that dumb bottle was too large for the cabinet, I left it just outside the cabinet and on top of the fridge.
Surely you know where this story is going.
Fast forward about 10 hours. I got home, ate a light dinner (that fire-roasted tomato sauce was good when I made it, but it's even better now), and caught up on a few phone calls with friends. I unintentionally took a post-phone-call nap and then woke up very hungry. I opened the freezer -- out of habit more than anything else, I suppose; there isn't any ready to heat and eat food in there -- and CLINK, CLANK, CRASH. Down went the bottle of metaxa ouzo. I stood there for a moment, unreasonably surprised that a glass bottle just shattered all over my floor, and then pondered how I would get out of the kitchen without sustaining further injuries since that irritating bottle threw shards of glass 15 feet in every direction, including the direction of my bare feet. Fortunately, a short hop onto the island was all that was necessary to remove myself from destruction zone created by that malicious bottle of booze. The liquid has now been mopped up and the floor has been vacuumed, but I can only imagine how many batches of Christmas cookies it will take to overcome the nauseating smell that still permeates my apartment. I think it's safe to say there will be no anise-flavored goodies spilling forth from my kitchen anytime soon. At least not unless I drop something on the floor.
Anyway, last year I decided that this year I would make fruitcakes. (It took a lot of mental preparation, apparently.) Considering that the fruitcakes just came out of the oven and I meant to begin in October, I got kind of a late start. The cakes will still have over two weeks to age and be repeatedly doused in brandy, so I'm fairly confident that will at least be enough time for me to tell if this recipe is a keeper or if I should search for a new one. I really wanted to make the fruitcake recipe Martha Stewart swears by (Mrs. Maus's fruitcake), but when I saw that it calls for glaceed fruit, I lost interest. It also didn't help that the baking time for Mrs Maus's cake is 3.5 hours. I have too many things to bake to spend 3.5 hours with my nose pressed up against the oven door. (If scientists ever prove that is harmful to one's health, I'll be the first to suffer ill effects.)
One very important note about making fruitcakes: Use the best quality ingredients you can find. Under NO circumstances should you use that goopey candied fruit in the little plastic tubs. High fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial colors do not a good fruitcake make. Plus, fruitcake doesn't need you out there contributing to its undeserved bad reputation. I used dried fruit that didn't contain any sweeteners. Yes, this will be pricey, but making good fruitcake is an expensive endeavor.
I don't intend to cut into my fruitcakes until Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, so I'll be sure to come back and post my analysis of them after that. However, I can say that while those beautiful, jewel-toned fruits were simmering on the stove, my apartment was filled with a heavenly holiday scent. Mmm....
[Postscript: This fruitcake was fantastic and enjoyed by all who were willing to try it.]
Adapted from Alton Brown's Free Range Fruitcake recipe
Yields one gigantic 10" loaf or a smattering of smaller cakes
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon, chopped coarsely
Zest of 1 orange, chopped coarsely
1/2 cup spiced rum
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
1 cup sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks), melted
1 cup unfiltered apple juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, whisked until yolks and whites are just blended
1 cup toasted pecans, broken
Brandy for basting
Combine dried fruits and both zests in a non-reactive pot. Add rum and Grand Marnier and macerate overnight, or microwave for 5 minutes to reconstitute the fruit.
Add the sugar, butter, apple juice, and spices. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. (Batter can be completed up to this point, then covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before completing cake.)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the remaining dry ingredients and sift into the fruit mixture. Quickly bring the batter together with a large wooden spoon, then stir in the eggs until completely integrated. Fold in the nuts. Spoon the batter into a greased pan (10" loaf or multiple smaller pans) lined with parchment* and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Baste with brandy and allow to cool completely before turning out from pan. When cake is completely cooled, wrap it in cheesecloth that has been soaked in brandy. Then wrap it well in foil and place it in a tight-sealing, food-safe container. Every 2-3 days, feel the cake; if it is dry, baste it with brandy and/or resoak the cheesecloth in brandy. The cake's flavor will enhance considerably over the next two weeks.
* See my picture above for an illustration. You can trace the bottom of your pan onto parchment paper and then cut out the round. You should grease your pan, place the parchment round in the pan, and then grease the top of the parchment.