It’s late to write about Christmas…..but I wanted to complete what I started. The past decade I always worked on Christmas day or just spent the day by myself. A price paid for living overseas away from family and friends. Last year, PR and I were with my family and had a great time with our relatives. This year was special because we were on our own as a couple. Practicing customs helps us follow traditions. We put up the Christmas tree on the second week of December, decorated with candy canes, santa, snowman, nut crackers, glitter balls and bows. Along with putting up the tree, buying a poinsettia plant, sending greeting cards to family and friends, making orange pomanders and filling the flower vase with my favorite fresh tulips for a festive holiday display came the week long baking and cooking.
If you wish to know more about fruit cakes, click here
What’s Christmas without a fruit cake. Fruit cakes at Christmas is a holiday tradition. It is a must have in some families. Usually, our family buys it from the neighbourhood bakery. Last year, mom bought one from Thoms Bakery in Frazer town, Bangalore. In India, Fruit cake is called Plum cake. I have no clue why it is named Plum cake,as there is no plum in it. Most of the store bought fruitcakes are thick like a brick, so I was not an avid fan of fruitcakes till I baked my own.
To establish family traditions, I baked a fruit cake 2 weeks ahead and religiously basted it with Cognac every 3-4 days. I baked gingerbread cookies and a yule log (that was a boo boo,not good enough to publish here). On Christmas day, there was lamb briyani and mirchi ka salan – Indian version of Christmas lunch. I was tired to make anything more.
After hunting the internet for almost a week, I settled for Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruit Cake. For a first try I wanted a workable recipe. I tweaked a bit to suit my taste.
Christmas Fruit Cake
Yields 12-15 slices. 8 x 8 square casserole dish or cake pan.
1 cup Raisins
1 cup Sultanas / dried black currants
2 cups Candied fruit mix or use a mix of dates, prunes, dried apricots, dried figs, dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried pineapple, dried papayas, dried mangoes and dried bananas. * I used ‘glow in the dark- neon red and green’ kind of colorful fruit mix. It had Cherries, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Pineapple, Citron, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Citric Acid, Natural & Artificial Flavors and lots of preservatives. 😦 Had I known the requirements of AB’s Free range recipe I would have bought good quality dried fruits instead of this colorful mix with so many preservatives. Lesson learnt!
1 cup Almonds (toasted and roughly chopped)
1 cup Pecans (toasted and broken) *Can be substituted with walnuts
1 3/4 cups All purpose flour/ Maida
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1/2 cup Molasses or Treacle * see notes for molasses substitute.
2 Eggs, lightly beaten * For an egg free version, use half a cup of whipped plain yogurt as a substitute for 2 eggs
1 stick unsalted Butter (4 ounces)
1 cup Apple juice
1 cup Cognac/Brandy of choice/ Rum * I used Courvoisier VSOP Fine Champagne. For a non-alcoholic version, use grape/ orange juice/ freshly brewed black tea (2 black tea bags in a cup of hot water)
4 Clove buds (ground)
1 teaspoon All spice powder * All spice is a berry that looks similar to black pepper.
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh Ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Caraway seeds/ Shahjeera/Cake seeds * Back home, fruit/ plum cakes have cake seeds to enhance the spicy flavor
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Lemon zest * Zest is the yellow colored portion of the peel, not the white pith which is bitter and unpleasant.
1 tablespoon Orange rind * Though the candied fruit mix had orange rind,it was soaked in corn syrup with no flavor. I added fresh orange rind.
1 tablespoon Flax meal * I add flax meal to all my cakes and curries (optional). It helps as a binder. This is optional.
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1 teaspoon Baking powder
Cognac/ Brandy/ Rum for basting * If you do not prefer alcohol, add 1 teaspoon of rum extract to the cake batter. Depending on the company which makes it, rum extract may contain a small amount of alcohol, although alcohol-free versions are also available. Non alcoholic fruit cakes do not require basting.
- Roughly chop raisins, sultanas and the fruit mix. Combine the chopped dried fruits with lemon zest and orange rind.
- Add Cognac to this mixture. Macerate it for a week mixing it once everyday for good results. If short of time, macerate it overnight or microwave it for five minutes to re-hydrate the fruits. * Non alcoholic version calls for soaking the fruits in grape/ orange juice overnight. If you soak the dried fruits for longer, keep it refrigerated till used.
- In a large stainless steel pan or any non reactive utensil, place the dried fruits + cognac or non alcoholic substitute + zest + rind mixture. Over medium heat, add sugar, molasses, butter, spices and apple juice.
- Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-7 minutes stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool it to lukewarm. * If you plan on baking the rest later, cover the mixture and keep it refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before baking the cake.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients and flax meal (optional) to the liquid mixture. I used a large wooden spoon to bring the batter together.
- Now, fold in lightly beaten eggs (or whipped plain yogurt) one at a time and integrate into the batter.
- Combine the nuts and vanilla extract to the batter. If making non-alcoholic version, add the rum extract now.
- Butter or spray vegetable oil and prepare a square cake pan/ loaf pan. If you have parchment paper, line the pan with that.
- Pour prepared batter into the prepared pan and set the oven timer 60 minutes . Check cake after 50 minutes for doneness. If not, bake for another 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove cake from oven. Cool the fruitcake completely in the pan. Using a skewer prick holes on top of the cake. Bast with Cognac/ Brandy/ Rum/ non-alcoholic substitute. Remove from the pan.
- Wrap fruitcake in plastic wrap/ cling film + aluminum foil. Place the wrapped cake in an airtight container and store at room temperature. Non alcoholic fruit cake need to be refrigerated beyond 2-3 days. Else the cake will grow mold and get spoiled.
- Periodically (3-4 days) lightly dampen the cake it with more rum, brandy or cognac and wrap it tightly. This is not necessary for non-alcoholic fruit cakes.
- The cake’s flavor will enhance considerably over the next two weeks. This cake ages well and can be frozen.
- Slice the fruitcake with a thin sharp serrated knife, dipped in hot water to cut through the nuts and dry fruits.
- My cake had few cracks on top. It was easy for me to sptriz it. I decorated with ready made Wilton’s fondant to cover the cracks 🙂
Molasses substitute – Traditionally treacle is used in fruit cakes to give that robust flavor and moist texture. I substitute with molasses. If you can’t find molasses, make a syrup with palm jaggery. This gives a similar flavor and viscous texture. You can also use honey or maple syrup. But the flavor differs.
- 1 cup grated palm jaggery. Khejur gur in Hindi/ Karupatti vellam in Tamil
- 3/4 water
Method – Bring water to a boil. Add grated jaggery. Keep stirring till the syrup reaches the thread consistency. Strain syrup using a tea strainer to remove debris. When cooled the consistency should be like honey. Store in a bottle. Keep refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using for fruit cakes.
More about this fruitcake
- While baking, the aroma and flavor was divine.
- This cake was moist and rich with balanced spices, not overly sweet.
- Cognac added while mixing the batter is baked out in the oven. The alcohol is destroyed by the heat, but the flavor is retained. However, not all alcohol is lost. So be mindful if you’re giving this cake to kids, pregnant women or lactating mothers. Periodic basting and feeding with cognac is required to enrich the flavor.
- I decorated the cake with Wilton’s rolled fondant and colored fondant for the red ribbon and green holly leaves. I placed a few cranberries for holly berries. The icing was for a festive display. PR and I didn’t bother to taste it.
- We finished half the square cake and kept the rest for later. After thawing, we had quarter of it yesterday with tea, it tasted wonderful. I didn’t stop at one piece.