[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWwBssmERFk 540 450]
Andreae Prozesky will have her fruitcake and eat it too.
Once upon a time, before I started blathering endlessly about food, I used to blather endlessly about Shakespeare.
Indeed, the first time I ever made a fruitcake, it wasn’t with a recipe from a cookbook, but with one from Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. And it wasn’t a recipe so much as a grocery list. “Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants . . . mace; dates; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger . . . and as many of raisins o’ the sun.”
Seems that a fruitcake was a fruitcake, even back in 1610.
Now, there are some of you who will say that the fruitcake you were subjected to last Christmas was so bad it might well have been made in 1610. Go on! Tell your jokes about fruitcakes being used as doorstops, or as lethal projectiles. Propose again the theory that there is only one fruitcake in the world, and that it is endlessly passed on from one family to the next.
We all know that it’s not cool to like fruitcake.
I won’t deny that there’s a lot of bad fruitcake out there, bricklike and topped with bleach-white frosting that breaks off in pointy shards. I also don’t trust those chemically-treated red and green things that used to be cherries.
And I can understand why younger people can’t get into the molasses-musky traditional fruitcake that might have delighted our grandparents. We’ve grown up with daily doses of factory-produced candy, devoid of any naturally derived flavours. Our lazy tongues can’t interpret a taste as complex as candied orange peel.
Which is a terrible shame. Fruitcake at Christmas is such a lovely thing: a spiced batter just barely holding together a cluster of deliciously boozy bits of winter fruit.
I make a light fruitcake from an Italian-ish sort of recipe. It’s beautifully golden and damp, and can be eaten a day after its made, unlike the usual Newfoundland-style fruitcake that would have to have been made around Remembrance Day in order to be any good now. The Italian recipe is great for me, because I can’t quite muster the energy to do anything Christmassy until fairly late in the game, when cars are packed densely around the periphery of the mall, and the folks in their houses are trying to pry the cat out of the Christmas tree.
Fruit-wise, the ingredients vary a little from year to year. Golden raisins and dried apricots, always. Candied lemon and orange peel, yes. This year I put in dried pears, because I like the way they feel kind of sandy, yieldingly gritty, between the teeth. And figs, because of their infinite, tiny, popping seeds. They’re what champagne would be if it were a solid.
This recipe is long, but it’s not complicated, trust me. You really just whack all the ingredients together and then throw them in the oven. The fruit has to soak up the liqueur for a few hours, and the cake takes a little while to bake (about an hour and forty-five minutes), which should give you exactly enough time to read a great work of Shakespeare. Or to watch a movie version on TV.
Or to watch that stop-animated Rudolph with Burl Ives as the banjo-playing snowman narrator five times over.
¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted
¾ cup candied lemon or orange peel, or a combination of both, finely chopped
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup chopped dried pears
½ cup chopped figs
½ cup citrus liqueur, like Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup dry breadcrumbs
½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon for the pan
½ cup white sugar
½ cup plain Balkan-style yogurt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Combine almonds, fruit, and liqueur in a bowl and set aside to soak at least 2 hours (or overnight).
Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir in breadcrumbs.
With an electric beater, beat one cup of the butter, gradually adding in the sugar. Continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between. Beat in yogurt, lemon juice, and vanilla. Gently add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Fold in fruit mixture. Pour into a greased pan – I use an enamel casserole dish, but a 4-cup fluted cake pan would be more conventional. Cover with a lid or greased foil.
Place your cake pan inside a deep roasting pan. Add hot water to the roasting pan until it comes 1/3 of the way up the side of your cake pan. Bake at 350F about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Unmold while warm and let cool completely.
Send your questions, comments, suggestions and lost Shakespearean manuscripts to firstname.lastname@example.org