Have you ever received fruitcake as a gift? When a research firm polled some 1,000 adults about what they did with fruitcake, 38 percent said they gave it away, 28 percent actually ate it, 13 percent used it as a doorstop, 9 percent scattered it for the birds, 4 percent threw it out, and 8 percent couldn’t remember.* Which category will you fall into this season?
Sun-ripened raisins, plump, juicy cherries, delicious pineapple, home-grown pecans, walnuts and almonds, a little tang of lemon and orange peel added, blended into a rich pound-cake batter and baked to a golden brown. This could be your traditional Christmas fruitcake. This moist Christmas cake is a festive favorite full of tasty bits of fruits and nuts, the ratio of which is fairly high, with just enough cake batter to hold it all together. This naturally results in a very dense, moist cake, no doubt giving rise to the “heavy” jokes. Fruitcakes range from light to dark, are made with and without alcohol and are delicately spiced.
Fruitcake dates back to the early Roman years, and you may hear jokes about them being 125 years old. I’ve been asked what the shelf life of fruitcake is. No one has come up with an exact amount of time, and each recipe is different. These cakes contain high amounts of sugar, which means that water activity will be low, keeping mold from growing and making the cake last a long time. The spices and fruit in the cake also contain antioxidants, which will help extend the shelf life of the fruitcake. The alcohol content in the cake may have only a small effect on the shelf life, as most of the alcohol is lost during the baking time, and the rest is lost over a long storage time. The recommended shelf life is usually a few months, with additional life added by storing it in the freezer. You may also want to keep it in the refrigerator for easier slicing.
Fruitcake is also an excellent choice to send in the mail. It does not spoil and is solid enough to maintain its shape and form. Now you know why your distant relatives choose to send you one each Christmas.
Most of your traditional Christmas fruitcakes are started in October allowing for the softening of dried fruits and the blending of flavors. These cakes are usually prepared with a syrup mixture, then the fruits and alcohol are added. However, many fruitcakes are non-alcoholic and much simpler to make.
Several old legends of the fruitcake have been passed on for centuries. From England it was told that a single woman could put a slice of fruitcake under her pillow to dream of the man she would marry. Crusaders carried fruitcake on their journeys because of its ability to withstand long trips and months of storage. In Egypt, the fruitcake was considered an essential food for a mummy to take into the afterlife, always being placed inside the tomb.
So, if you were lucky enough to receive a fancy fruitcake confection this holiday season, get ready to open up the tin, box or wrapper and enjoy. The fruit and fiber make it a more nutritious food than some holiday treats.
From McCall’s Cooking School
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup maraschino cherries, quartered
2 cups light or dark raisins
1/2 cup brandy
3 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cups butter or regular margarine, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup brandy
In large bowl combine walnuts, cherries and raisins with 1/2 cup brandy. Allow to stand overnight at room temperature. Sift flour with baking powder and nutmeg. In a large electric mixer bowl, beat butter/margarine, sugar and vanilla at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat at medium speed for 4 minutes, occasionally scraping sides of bowl. Batter will become thick and fluffy and lighter in color. At low speed, gradually beat in flour mixture until smooth. Add cherry/raisin/nut mixture to batter and mix well with wooden spoon.
Heat oven to 350 F and grease pan of your choice and flour well. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes in bundt pan or 1 hour 10 minutes in tube pan. As an alternative, use 5-inch diameter by 2-inch- high souffle dishes and bake for about 45 minutes. Cake is done when long skewer inserted into center comes out clean. Cool pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Use small spatula to loosen cake around inside. Invert on wire rack and cool. Soak cheesecloth in 1/2 cup brandy, stretch on large piece of heavy-duty foil, place cake in center and wrap with cheesecloth. Wrap foil tightly around cake. Store in refrigerator several days to several weeks. To serve, slice thinly and let warm to room temperature.
This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, retired Utah State University Extension professor, firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Russell Baker, The New York Times