Christmas fruitcake, evolving
My mother and I used to make fruitcake together every Thanksgiving so it could sit and ripen six weeks until Christmas. The recipe we used was her mother’s, which we assumed was a long-cherished family recipe from England. In fact my grandmother clipped it from a magazine in Saskatoon in the late ’40s.
Since Vivian died I’ve been having trouble locating the most important ingredient — seeded muscat raisins. One year I skipped making the cake entirely. Other years I made different recipes but they just weren’t the same. This year I was more persistent.
Seeded muscat raisins are special because seeding the grapes before drying them punctures the skin. The raisins dry with grape juice both inside and out and they are soft and sticky. It turns out that they are no longer being distributed by Sun-Maid which left me with the alternatives of ordering them online or substituting. Since shipping would bring the price of internet raisins to over $50, and paying that kind of money would go against everything Vivian stood for, I substituted. Just as Vivian would have. This is the 2013 adapted recipe. (The other change I made is to use ginger instead of cloves because this recipe is the only use I have for cloves and they go rancid from one year to the next.)
Line sides and bottoms of baking tins with parchment.
1½ c shortening
2 c sugar
⅓ c sherry or brandy
675 mL (2½ c) molasses
750 g (1½ lb, 4½ c) Thompson raisins
3 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground ginger
1 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1¼ c chopped dates
¾ c drained maraschino cherries, halved
750 g (1½ lb, 4½ c) sultana raisins
1½ c currants
500g (1 lb, 3 cups) mixed cut fruits (glacé fruits and/or candied citrus peel, dried apricots, golden or green raisins and dried cranberries)
200 g (½ lb, ¾ c) slivered almonds
Mix Thompson raisins with molasses. Heat in microwave, let cool.
Lightly toast the almonds on low heat in a cast iron pan.
Sift dry ingredients. Stir in chopped dates and break them up with your fingers.
Combine remaining fruit and toasted almonds. Combine with sifted dry ingredients and dates.
Beat shortening until fluffy. Beat in sugar and sherry or brandy. Separate eggs and beat in the yolks one at a time, reserving the whites in a tall, clean glass or metal bowl.
Fold molasses and Thompson raisins into creamed mixture.
Add the dry mixture and mix thoroughly.
Wash and dry beaters well and beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold a third of them into the batter to lighten it before folding in the rest.
Bake at 300°F for 2½ hours.
Take strips of old cotton sheets, wet them in water and wring them out well. Sprinkle with sherry or brandy. When cakes are cooled, wrap them in the prepared cotton strips, wrap again in plastic bags and put them away for six weeks. While the cakes are aging you can take them out a few times to sprinkle with more sherry or brandy if you want.
Makes 7½ lbs fruit cake.
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Bring out the Christmas cakes at least a day before serving. Invert onto a serving plate. Protect the serving plate with strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake.
Roll out marzipan or almond paste thinly like pastry dough and lay it over the cakes, covering the top and sides. Cover thinly with Christmas Cake Icing, below. You may decorate with bits of cut fruit at this point. Let the icing harden at least overnight.
Christmas Cake Icing
½ lb icing sugar
1 egg white
pinch cream of tartar
Beat til shiny.
Enough for one medium cake
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Granny’s original version, clipped from a magazine in Sakatoon in the 1940s, exactly as she passed it on to my mother Vivian in the 1980s.
1 c shortening
1½ c brown sugar
6 eggs, separated
¼ c fruit juice or sherry
¾ t baking soda
½ c molasses, heated
½ c drained maraschino cherries, halved
3 c seeded muscat raisins
3 c sultana raisins
1 c currants
2 c (1 lb) mixed cut fruits
¾ c chopped dates
1½ c blanched toasted almonds (I use less)
2 c all-purpose flour
½ t ground cloves
½ t nutmeg
½ t cinnamon
Cream shortening until fluffy. Add brown sugar while continuing to work with spoon. Add beaten egg yolks and fruit juice (or sherry or rum) and mix well. Dissolve soda in heated molasses and add to mixture.
Combine fruit and almonds and mix with 2 tablespoons of sifted dry ingredients. Add alternately with dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and stir thoroughly. Fold in stiffly-beaten egg whites.
Line baking tins with heavy oiled brown paper — both sides and bottom — and bake in a slow oven 300°F for about 2½ hours. Makes 5 lbs fruit cake.
It is best to get all the fruit measured and prepared first as this takes a bit of time. You add some of the flour and spices to prevent it all sticking together in a solid mess.
I don’t think any of the quantities are critical — I tend to add & subtract depending on what I have but in general follow the rules.