NOTE: I managed to let the entire Christmas season get away from me without posting the holiday blogs I’d planned, so this recipe is either too late (seriously: Don’t make it today and plan on eating it Sunday, or you’ll be terribly disappointed) or impressively early. If you assume the latter and make it now, it should be spectacular by December 2017.
People who regard fruitcake as a punchline are miserable souls who have probably spent their lives eating the wretched commercially prepared alcohol sponges that pass for fruitcake in those gift baskets you buy for people you don’t really like.
It is entirely possible to make fruitcake that tastes good. I know because my mom has been doing it for decades.
Before we start, I need you to understand three important principles concerning fruitcake.
Principle 1: Candied fruit has no place in a fruitcake. People who think it does probably drink flavored coffee and approve of the designated hitter.
Principle 2: Green-tinted maraschino cherries are a Communist plot to destroy humanity. They are little green balls of mint-flavored poison, to paraphrase Patrick. Never, ever put them in a fruitcake for any reason.
Principle 3: Booze has a legitimate purpose in fruitcake, but that purpose is not to get you drunk. If you’re making fruitcake to hide your alcohol consumption, click here.
Now that you understand the basics, you’re ready to make fruitcake the way God intended: Using my mom’s recipe.
1 c. cider or apple juice
1-2 c. dried apricots*
1 pkg. whole dates (10 or 12 oz.)
1 c. raisins or currants
16 oz. red maraschino cherries, drained
1 c. English walnuts
1 c. pecans
1 c. hazelnuts or Brazil nuts**
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 c. orange juice or maraschino syrup
1/4 c. apple juice
1/4 c. molasses (NOT blackstrap)
Chop fruit coarsely. (Mom says poultry shears work well for this.) Boil 1 cup apple cider or juice and pour over dried fruit. Mix. Dump nuts on top of fruit and set aside.
In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Combine liquid ingredients. Add to batter alternately with 2 cups of the flour, blending thoroughly after each addition. Add remaining cup of flour to fruit, which has been soaking in the juice, stirring to lightly coat fruit.
Add fruit to batter all at once, blending well so fruit is coated with batter.
Pack into greased and floured loaf pans so that each one is 3/4 full.
Bake at 275 degrees until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and cakes are a medium brown (at least an hour and 15 minutes; probably longer, depending on your oven).
Let cool in pans, remove, wrap in clean towels moistened with cider or hard liquor (Mom swears by Southern Comfort for this; I’ve gotten good results from Kilbeggan’s, but any decent whiskey is probably fine), then wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator in a big ziplock bag.
About once a week, check the moisture level and re-moisten the towels as needed to keep them damp. Mom says to alternate between booze and cider for this or the fruitcake will end up tasting like whiskey, which is NOT what you want. Your goal here is just to keep it from drying out or getting moldy while it ages.
As long as you keep the towel moist and the bag sealed between snacks, fruitcake will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. The longer it ages, the more the flavors will blend, so I wouldn’t even touch it for at least two weeks.
I like to keep fruitcake in the refrigerator and eat it after hard workouts. The nutritional content is just about ideal for refueling after a long run.
*You can substitute other dried fruit for some of the apricots. Mom has had good luck with dried pears and dried pineapple. Check the comments, because she’ll probably weigh in with suggestions.
**Black walnuts are also wonderful, but don’t use more than a half-cup, as their flavor is pretty strong, and you don’t want them to overpower everything.