Does anyone like fruitcake? You know, that stuff with the candied fruits: green and red glacéed cherries and candied citron peel with a half-life equal to that of uranium. For me, the citron is the deal-breaker. I’m not alone. Citron, a type of citrus fruit, has been around a long time; the ancient “foodie” Theophrastus (c. 310 B.C.) described it as “fragrant but inedible.”
Americans particularly seem to dislike holiday fruitcake, using it more often as fodder for jokes than food for feasting. A prime example is the Great Fruitcake Toss, which takes place on the first Saturday each January in Manitou Springs, Colo. According to a Colorado event website it’s “the answer to that age-old question: How do I get rid of this *$&*@#! fruitcake?”
The GFT’s answer: “Throw it as far as you can, by any means that you can, and hope it’s never found again. Separate prizes are given to numerous special tossing divisions. That is, athletes choosing to toss their fruitcakes by hand are not competing directly with those who use a catapult, giant slingshot, or spud gun (or is that a fruitcake gun?). The audience needs to be ever vigilant for those fruitcakes that end up being tossed straight up in the air by contestants whose timing on the catapult isn’t quite perfect. You know you’re having a bad day when you get hit in the head with a frozen fruitcake falling from hundreds of feet above you.” The GFT encourages the use of recycled fruitcakes.
The all-time Great Fruitcake Toss record occurred in January 2007. Eight Boeing engineers built the “Omega 380,” a mock artillery piece fueled by compressed air pumped by an exercise bike that “tossed” their fruitcake 1,420 feet.
Jokes aside, fruitcakes that eschew sickly-sweet candied fruits for dried fruits and combines them with nuts (and sometimes a dousing of distilled spirits or liqueurs) can be delightful. Here are three. The first is an adaptation of an unusual family recipe that includes Brazil nuts. The second is a gorgeously gooey cherry-orange concoction. The third, a classic Italian nut-and-fruitcake, is delicious with coffee and especially good to serve with cheeses.
Brazil nut fruitcake
• 1/2 lb. dried cranberries or cherries
• 1/2 lb. dried apricots, cut into bite-sized
• 1 1/2 c. dark rum or brandy, or substitute
apple or white grape juice
• 1 c. sugar
• 5 eggs
• 1 tsp. pure vanilla
• 1 c. all-purpose flour
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 lb. dried figs, cut into fourths
• 1 lb. pitted dates, cut in half
• 1 lb. English walnuts, lightly toasted
• 1 lb. Brazil nuts
Combine the cranberries, apricots and alcohol or fruit juice in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook for a minute. Remove from the stove and let cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 300 F.
Combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture thickens and falls in a thick ribbon from the beaters.
Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt, then with the mixer on low, gradually add to the sugar/egg mixture.
Strain the liquid from the cranberries and apricots and reserve. Stir the cranberries, apricots, figs, and dates and nuts into the batter.
Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
Bake for 2 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan, then run a sharp knife around the outer edges of the cake and around the tube. Turn upside down on a rack, remove the outside pan, then use the knife to separate and remove the pan’s bottom.
Add enough rum, brandy or fruit juice to the reserved liquid to make a full cup. Brush the top and sides of the cake repeatedly until the mixture is completely used up, waiting a few minutes between brushings for the cake to absorb the liquid.
Wrap tightly. The fruitcake can be eaten the next day, but is best if it mellows several days, or more.
Cherry orange fruitcake
• 1 lb. dried cherries
• 1/4 lb. golden raisins
• 1/3 c. orange juice
• 1/2 c. orange liqueur, divided
• 2 T. orange zest
• 1 c. skinless, lightly toasted almonds,
• 6 T. butter, softened
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 large egg
• 1 tsp. vanilla
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Place the cherries in a bowl, add the orange juice and 1/4 cup orange liqueur then cover and leave to soak overnight.
Preheat the oven to 300 F.
Place the soaked cherries and raisins and with their liquid in a medium bowl with the grated orange peel and the almonds.
In another bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg then stir in the vanilla. Combine with the fruit and almond mixture.
Mix the sifted flour and baking powder with the fruit mixture. Spoon into a lined 13-centimeter square cake box or well-lined 25-centimeter loaf tin. Bake on the center shelf of the oven for about 2 1/2 hours until a skewer comes out barely clean.
Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Leaving the cake in the pan, use a skewer to poke holes in the cake then drizzle the remaining orange liqueur carefully over the top, a tablespoon at a time. Cover the cake tightly with plastic wrap or foil and let stand at least overnight or up to several days. Cut with a serrated knife – the cake will (and should be) somewhat sticky. Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream or small scoop of vanilla or coffee ice cream.
Italian fig and walnut fruitcake
• 1 1/2 c. toasted walnuts
• 1/2 c. golden raisins
• 1/2 c. currants
• 1/2 c. chopped, dried figs
• 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Zest (finely grated peel) of one large lemon
• Zest of one large orange
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
• 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
• 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom, optional
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
• 3/4 c. sugar
• 3/4 c. honey
• 2 T. unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 300 F. Adjust oven rack to center position.
Lightly spray an 8-inch cake pan or springform pan with cooking spray. Cut a piece of parchment or waxed paper to fit onto the bottom of the pan. Lightly spray the paper and sides of the pan, then dust with flour, rapping it sharply upside down to remove excess flour. Set aside.
In a bowl, mix the walnuts with the raisins, currants, figs, flour, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom and pepper; set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, honey and butter. Cook, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils. Secure a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan without letting the tip of the thermometer touch the bottom. Cook without stirring until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage: a temperature between 242 F and 248 F. Remove from heat. Immediately pour into the walnut mixture and stir together quickly.
Quickly pour the batter into the prepared pan, then spray your hands with cooking spray to spread it evenly, and smooth the top.
Place cake in center of the oven. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
When cool, run a small sharp knife around perimeter, then gently turn upside down to remove from the cake pan, or loosen the sides of a springform pan. Carefully remove the paper from the bottom, using a knife if necessary.
Cooled panforte can be wrapped snugly in aluminum foil and stored in an airtight container for several weeks, or frozen for up to six months. Cut into thin wedges and serve at room temperature. Makes 16 servings.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.