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20 December 2007

Good Fruitcake

A few years ago, I found a New York Times article on fruitcake. The only thing I knew of fruitcake was that old story of a fruitcake that had made the rounds since 1954, never tasted but passed on from year to year to some new unsuspecting victim. The article made fruitcake seem edible, so I followed the recipe. The result was good. So good that I've made the fruitcake every year since then. It's one of the Consort's favorite Christmas-time snacks, and he was whistling and bouncing around last night the entire time we were making it (the dates I requested on the shopping list hadn't gotten purchased, so when I mentioned that I'd just postpone making the fruitcake to the next night, he grabbed his keys and went out to buy the dates. A car trip for a single item -- doesn't happen too often around here). I present to you now: Good Fruitcake.

Time: About 2 hours plus 30 minutes' chilling

Butter for pans
1 pound pitted Medjool dates (I have never gotten anything but "dates"; I know not of this Medjool)
1/2 pound prunes from Agen or use more dates (from Agen? Pshaw. I get mine from Sunsweet)
1 pound candied pineapple
1 pound candied cherries
1 cup chopped candied orange peel, or 1/4 cup freshly grated orange zest
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (they said kosher salt in the original, but kosher won't sift, as they want it to, so again, I use the pedestrian version available to pedestrian me)
4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 cups shelled salted pistachios
1 cup shelled almonds
2 1/2 cups shelled pecans
2 cups shelled walnuts
White corn syrup
1/3 cup Armagnac, bourbon or whiskey

The most bothersome part will be shelling the pistachios. Two cups! But definitely worth it.

I usually buy the candied pineapple, cherries, and orange, just as the recipe calls for. This year, being in the boondocks, the Consort could only find the green and red colored pre-cut mix. I shuddered, then plowed ahead. I definitely recommend getting the individual whole fruits if you can. Better texture, better flavor, and none of that crazy irradiated-colored fruit.

1. Butter two 9-inch springform pans. Line with parchment paper, and butter again. Heat oven to 275 degrees.

2. Coarsely chop dates, prunes and pineapple. Combine fruit in a bowl with cherries and orange peel. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift this over fruit [Too much sifting. I plop it all together, then sift, once, as I sprinkle it over the fruit]. With your hands, toss to coat.

3. In medium bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Beat in sugar, then almond extract. Pour over fruit. With wooden spoon, mix well. Fold in pistachios, almonds, pecans and walnuts, and mix until coated with batter.

The only way to get everything well mixed is to go in there with your hands. Please ignore the terrible home manicure (supposed to be candy-cane stripes) and the pajama pants. Pretend I'm doing this in a neat TV show kitchen.

4. Divide mixture between pans. Using your hands, pack batter firmly and fill in open spaces [I cover my hands with a thin layer of vegetable oil to press the filling into the pans. Otherwise nuts and fruit stick to your palms and create a bit of frustration]. Bake for about 1.5 hours, until tops of cakes look dry but not brown. When cakes are done, transfer to cooling racks. Let stand for 5
minutes, then release springform and peel off parchment paper on sides.

5. While cakes are still hot, brush lightly with corn syrup. Let cool 30 minutes, then spoon Armagnac on top. When completely cool, remove cakes from pan base and peel off parchment paper on bottom. If not eating right away, wrap fruitcakes in plastic wrap. They will keep for two months in refrigerator. If storing, sprinkle with more Armagnac an hour before serving.

Yield: 2 fruitcakes.

I do usually make this in two springform pans, but I didn't bring them this year. I made it instead in a cake pan and two loaf pans. It worked just fine and they were easy to unmold (but I do prefer my springforms).