This time of year, I think of “Oh my? It’s fruitcake weather!” — one of the memorable lines in Truman Capote’s wonderfully incisive portrait of his alter ego Buddy’s time in the South baking with his eccentric cousin Sook in “A Christmas Memory.” However, reading the story sets me to thinking about a different kind of cake. What’s better than a buttery, pound-cake-like fruitcake, lightly spiced, which isn’t anything akin to that traditional doorstop and a prime candidate for re-gifting? Instead, it’s a welcomed holiday cake made with sweet-tart dried fruits in different hues, each with its own personality based on texture and flavor. There’s not a bit of citron or artificially dyed cherries found here.
I like to start the wintry ritual with a bunch of tea-marinated fruits such as prunes, apricots, dates, raisins, and cherries, add some good Cognac if you’re not a teetotaler, and let this medley macerate for a few days in the refrigerator. Black teas, strongly brewed, such as Keemun or Yunnan from China or any of a number of malty Assams from India are my go-tos for marinating the fruit. You want the character of the tea to marry with the fruit.
It’s best to combine the ingredients a few days in advance of serving the cake, and then right after it emerges from the oven pour some freshly-brewed tea (and Cognac, if you wish) over the cake and let it steep in this aromatic liquid for a day or so, tightly wrapped. Then, like the holiday gift that it truly is — whether to yourself or destined for good food-loving friends or relatives — you (or the recipients) can unwrap the cake, slice it, and serve it with — you guessed it — a favorite tea. There will be just enough cake batter to hold the loaf together, remembering that the fruits are the star attraction here.
Here’s how to make it.
Yields: Two 8” long by 4” wide by 3” high loaf cakes (Teflon coated are best), buttered well and parchment paper lined (the parchment should be cut large enough to have an inch or so overhand on all sides to make lifting the cake out of the pan trouble-free)
For the fruits:
- 4 ozs prunes, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 4 ozs dried apricots, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 4 ozs dates, pitted and cut into small pieces
- 4 ozs golden raisins
- 4 ozs dried cherries
The cake batter:
- 8 ozs all-purpose flour
- 2 t. baking powder
- 1 t. ground cinnamon
- ½ t. nutmeg
- 1 t. ground ginger
- 1 t. salt
- 8 ozs unsalted butter, softened
- 8 ozs brown sugar
- 8 ozs whole eggs (approximately 5 large eggs)
- 1 quart strongly brewed tea of your choice
- ½ c. Cognac, if using
- 4 ozs walnuts, roughly chopped
- Liquid to be poured over the cakes after baking: Enough strongly brewed tea to add to the reserved marinade to equal 1 quart
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Position the baking rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven.
- Butter and parchment line the loaf pans.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until almost white in color, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as you mix. Add the sugar next, beating until well blended, again scraping the bowl as you go. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing until absorbed before you add the next one. Scrape the bowl well at this point.
- Add the fruits, drained (save the marinade to pour over the cake when it comes out of the oven) and walnuts, if using, and then finally the dry ingredients, mixing only until the dries disappear into the mix.
- Divide the mixture equally into the two prepared pans.
- Bake for about 45-55 minutes, or until a wooden or metal stick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cakes.
- When done, the interior of the cakes should register approximately 200 degrees F. when tested. Don’t worry if the baking time varies from what is stated (all ovens are different with different hot and cooler spots). It’s important that the cakes test done—whether it takes 60 minutes or more.
- When the cakes are removed from the oven, pour the tea-brandy marinade over the cakes.
- Let cool and then wrap tightly in heavy duty plastic wrap and then foil.
- Keep at room temperature for a few days (beyond that, refrigerate the cakes).
Photo “P1000084 fruit cake” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License to the photographer “Ambernectar 13” and is being posted unaltered (source)