I can’t think of one Christmas when a fruitcake hasn’t featured in my life, at our table. Growing up in Warri, our fruitcakes were the sum of gifts and orders – of which the best ones came from Mrs. O, a family friend. And then I grew up, left home, got married, had children and still ate Mrs. O’s cakes because by then, Mrs. O and I lived in Port Harcourt.
Fruitcake was that one bake I never thought I would attempt. Everything about it made it seem out of reach – the fact that it commonly graced wedding tables and was a thing of skill, the fondant that cloaked it, that you had to soak the fruit in brandy months before – none of the things I felt capable of doing. And to be honest, none of which is essential to this cake.
Till 2011 and a chance discovery of a mini cookbook from the Good Food Magazine’s ‘80 Best-Ever Recipes’ (2009). In it, there was a recipe for a ‘Simmer & Stir’ Christmas cake, one I read with fascination only days before Christmas, eye twinkling with the possibility of recreating a delicious childhood recipe and perhaps feeding my soul.
Everything about the recipe was easy. It didn’t require dried fruit to be soaked months ahead, tick. It didn’t require a mixer of any sort, in fact, it didn’t require anything out of the ordinary. And so I got baking and boyyyyyyyyyyy oh boy, it turned out amazing, from the rich dark colour to the flavour and the balance between dried fruit and flour matrix. I fell in love and now make this every Christmas and a few times in between. Quick, easy, chock full of flavour and a delightful reminder of a time when we were young, and our parents fed us cake J.
Christmas is here…
My Fruitcake, adapted from the Simmer and Stir Christmas Cake; Good Food Magazine
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice (or a combination of your favourite spices: vanilla powder, allspice, etc)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
500g luxury dried fruit
100g candied citrus mixed peel
100g glace cherries
75g dried apricots, chopped
75g dried figs, chopped
250g demerara(brown) sugar plus 2 tablespoons
175g cold unsalted butter, chopped
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
100g ground almonds
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Optional: 3 tablespoons chocolate chips
Optional: 3 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped (this will lend a gingerbread taste to the finished cake) Extra brandy for soaking cheesecloth to wrap the cake, and for feeding the cake later Extra dried fruit, to decorate: whole blanched almonds, apricots, figs, cherries
Make Fruit Paste
Combine the brandy, 2 tablespoons of sugar and spices in a jar. Stir well, add the dried mixed fruit and mixed peel and leave to soak for a minimum of two hours and up to six weeks in a cool dark place.
When ready, divide the fruit into two equal portions. In a food processor, blitz one portion till the fruit is minced and the texture is a thick fruit paste, reminiscent of mincemeat. This fruit puree is sticky and gooey and infuses the cake with true fruit flavour which brings it all together.
Cook Cake Mixture
In a large pan, combine the fruit paste, the other half of the soaked dried fruit and any remaining liqueur, cherries, apricots, mission figs, sugar, butter, zests and juice of the lemon and orange. Bring slowly to the boil stirring until the butter has melted, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat and bubble for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for about half an hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 150C/Gas 2/Fan 130C and line two 8″ cake tins with greaseproof or parchment paper, greasing before and after laying the paper at the bottom of the tins.
When the mixture has cooled down, add the eggs and ground almonds and mix well. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into the pan. Stir in gently, until there are no traces of flour left. Fold in the chocolate chips and the candied ginger, if using. Finally, spoon the mixture into the prepared tins.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Then turn the heat down to 140C/Gas 1/Fan 120C and cook for a further 1 hour, or longer till the cake is dark golden in appearance and firm to the touch. Cover the top of the cake with foil if it begins to darken too much.
To check if the cake is done, insert a fine skewer or a small knife into the centre – if it comes out ‘dry’, without cake batter clinging to it, the cake is cooked.
If you’d like to decorate…then the internet is your besto. If however, this is the penultimate step for you…read on.
‘Cure’ & Store Fruitcakes
Make holes all over the warm cake with a fine skewer and spoon or brush on the extra brandy over the holes until it has all soaked in. Leave the cake to cool in the tin. When its cold remove from tin, peel off the lining paper. Pour some brandy into a small bowl and soak a large piece of cheesecloth in it, till it is completely saturated. Wrap this around your cake, then follow with baking parchment or greaseproof paper and then aluminum foil.
You can store in an airtight container at room temperature, in the fridge, where it stays dry and crumbly; or in the deep freezer where it takes on a moistness and a Christmas pudding texture. The choice, my friend is yours.
Whatever you do, I hope you have a fantastic Christmas season and are able to call up fond memories from times past. I know I will, I’ll be thinking of growing up in Warri and Port Harcourt and I’ll be channeling my inner Mrs. O, while celebrating nostalgia and deliciousness.