Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jen's Drunken Christmas Fruitcake

I've written about my Christmas Fruitcake before, but I get so many requests for my fruitcake each year that I thought I'd share a step-by-step recipe, with photos and a FAQ!  It's tough making the best Christmas Fruitcake in the world, but somebody has to do it...And maybe, if you follow this recipe, you too will become famous for your Christmas Fruitcake :) So, in honour of Stir-up Sunday, I give you...


Jen's Drunken Christmas Cake

This is a very dense, very fruity, very alcoholic fruitcake.  Fruitcake needs time for the flavours to mingle and develop - DON'T leave your fruitcake baking until the week before Christmas!  Plan to make your fruitcake 3-6 weeks ahead of time.  I started my fruitcakes this year in the last week of October.  If you store them correctly, they will theoretically keep for a year - but who can resist eating a fruitcake that long?  If you want to be super-traditional, you can make your fruitcake on Stir-up Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Advent - about 4 weeks before Christmas.

You really do need to dedicate a whole weekend to fruitcake making.  The fruit needs to soak overnight, and the fruitcake bakes for at least 4 hours.  Make sure you can set aside this time to be at home attending your fruitcake.  Leaving your fruitcake home alone while it's baking is NOT recommended.

I make this fruitcake in 2 sizes.  The basic recipe is perfect for my 7-inch square tin.  I do a 1.5x recipe in my 8-inch square tin.  You could do the basic recipe in a 6-inch square tin as well, it may just take a bit longer to bake.  The original recipe says you can double for a 9-inch round tin (and bake for 5.5 hours), or triple for a 10-inch square tin (and bake for 6.25 hours), but I've never done those sizes - and who makes round fruitcakes anyway?  All my measurements are Imperial, this is a very old recipe.

Apart from the ingredients list below (which is in two parts - the fruit for soaking and the rest) you will also need:

A cake tin (as detailed above)
3 bowls: large, medium, small
Kitchen scales
Measuring spoons
A wooden spoon (or spatula, but wooden spoon is better)
A grater or zester
An oven (obviously)
Baking paper
Clingwrap

Other things that will come in handy:

An electric mixer
A sifter
Cooking spray
A cooling rack

The night before you want to bake your fruitcake, soak your fruit.  You will need:

12 ounces sultanas
6  ounces raisins
6  ounces currants
2  ounces glace cherries
2  ounces candied peel
Alcohol of choice

You can chop the cherries if you want, but I don't bother.  Mix the fruit together in a medium bowl and pour the alcohol over, then mix again.  I have used Bacardi white rum, Bundaberg dark rum, Jim Beam bourbon and Southern Comfort in my variations.  You could use sherry or whisky also.  Whatever you have in the cupboard.  Cover your bowl with clingwrap and leave to soak overnight.


The next day, assemble the rest of your ingredients.  You will need:

6 ounces butter
6 ounces brown sugar
1 tablespoon treacle
2 eggs
2 tablespoons brandy
6 ounces plain flour
2 teaspoons Gravox
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ounces chopped almonds
grated rind of 1 lemon (For my 1.5x size I still just use 1)


Pre-heat your oven to 135 degrees Celsius/275 degrees Fahrenheit/Very Slow.  If your oven is fan-forced, I recommend you use the non-fan-forced setting.  The fruitcake is going to be in there baking for a really long time.  If you can't turn off the fan-force, drop the temperature a bit (20 degrees Celsius) and keep a really close eye on it after the first 3 hours.

In a large bowl, cream the 6 ounces of butter, 6 ounces of sugar, and tablespoon of treacle - I don't really measure the treacle, I just run a  dessert spoon under hot water, shake it off, and scoop out some treacle.  You could substitute golden syrup or molasses if you wanted - golden syrup has a lighter flavour and colour while molasses has a dark, strong flavour and colour.  The butter needs to be soft but not melted.  If you have an electric mixer, use that.  I use my trusty Sunbeam Mixmaster.  Cream it for a few minutes, until the mixture changes colour.  If you need to cream by hand, you have several minutes of hard work ahead of you!  Creaming is simply mixing the ingredients vigourously at high speed, to beat air into the mixture and break up any lumps of butter.



Add your two eggs and give it a quick mix to break them up, then add the two tablespoons of brandy (don't worry too much about measuring exactly, just a couple of good glugs) and mix for a minute or two, until well-mixed.  The mixture will look like it's split a little bit and might look a bit funny, this is fine.  It should be about the consistency of pancake batter at this point.  You're done with the electric mixer now, so remove the bowl from the mixer.  Lick the beaters if you want (there's raw egg in there though!).


Sift the 6 ounces flour, two teaspoons Gravox, and half-teaspoon each of cinnamon and mixed spice together into a small bowl.  You can use a hand sifter or just chuck it all in and mix it up with a fork.  You don't need to get heaps of air in it or anything.  The Gravox gives the pinch of salt you need and helps with the dark, rich colour.  Gravox is vegetarian-friendly and contains NO animal ingredients, if you're baking for someone concerned about that.  I forgot to take a picture of this step but it's fairly straightfoward.

Uncover your soaked fruit and take a whiff.  It should smell deliciously alcoholic.  Add the two ounces of chopped almonds and the grated rind of your lemon (you can use a zester if you want to be fancy) to the fruit and mix it up.


You will now have 3 bowls of ingredients - the creamed mixture, the sifted dry ingredients, and the fruit.  Now to mix it all together!  The mixing will be in the big bowl you used for the creaming, so make sure it's big enough.  Take the big bowl with the creamed mixture and tip in some of the fruit - if you're doing the basic size, half is fine; if you're doing a larger size, add a third or a quarter.  Mix it up until the fruit is evenly distributed.  Now add some of the dry ingredients - the same proportion you added of the fruit.  Mix it up until there's no dry patches of flour.  Continue alternating fruit and dry ingredients until everything is mixed in. By the end, the mixture will be very dense and it should be pretty hard work to get the last of it mixed up evenly.  I use a wooden spoon for this step because the mixture really is very dense and a spatula just isn't strong enough.


Now prepare your tin.  Even if you have a fancy non-stick tin, DON'T think you can get away with not lining it.  You need to line your tin!  Give it a spray with cooking spray or  a wipe with some butter or oil, then add a long strip of baking paper (or brown paper, if you have it) so that it overhangs at either end.  Another quick spray or wipe with oil or butter, and add another long strip of baking paper, again so it overhangs at either end.  It doesn't have to be pretty or fit perfectly, it will have corners and folds when you squish it into the tin - this is fine.  The overhangs are important though - don't skimp on the paper!


Scoop your mixture into the prepared tin.  It will be thick enough that you can just scoop up spoonfuls with the wooden spoon.  Dump a couple of big spoonfuls in the middle of the tin and push it out into the corners with the wooden spoon.  This will also push out the edges of the baking paper so you don't end up with it dripping down inside your lining.  Keep adding big spoonfuls to the tin, spreading it out and pushing it down and into the corners, until it's all added.  Spread it out flat and make sure you've pushed it into the corners.  The mixture won't really rise at all, so don't worry if it's fairly close to the top of the tin.


It will look messy and rustic, that's fine.  Put it on a rack in the middle of your oven and set your timer for two hours, then make a cup of tea and put your feet up - making fruitcake is hard work!

After two hours, check on the fruitcake.  Spin it around 180 degrees in the oven to help it bake evenly.  Check it again in an hour.  If it's starting to get really dark on top, cover it with a double layer of foil and leave it for one more hour.  Obviously, if you're making a bigger size, adjust these times to suit.

When the fruitcake is done, it will be dark and slightly crisp on the top.  When you push it with your finger, it should feel firm and slightly springy, and will spring back into shape.  The fruit near the top will have swelled up.  You can stab it with a skewer if you're really worried - the skewer should come out with no wet mixture bits on it.  Sit the tin on a cooling rack (if you have one - it just helps it to cool down a bit faster due to air circulating under the tin) on the bench and cover it with a clean tea towel and leave it for about an hour.  After an hour, the tin should be cool enough for you to pick it up, but it will still feel really hot.



This is the tricky part.  Put a large plate over the top of the tin and carefully flip it over onto the plate, then lift up the tin.  The outer layer of baking paper will probably come away with the tin but the inner layer will stick to the fruitcake.  Peel it off and put the baking paper back in the tin.  You should now be looking at the naked bottom of your fruitcake, and it should look cooked.  Take the same type of alcohol you soaked the fruit in, and pour a couple of glugs over the bottom of the fruitcake - if you stick your thumb over the mouth of the bottle it won't come out so fast.  Then, take your tin with the lining still intact and push it back down over the fruitcake - that's why you needed the overhang, to make this step easier!  Carefully flip the plate and tin back over so the fruitcake is back in its tin with its bottom soaking in alcohol, put it back on your cooling rack, and put the tea towel back over the top.   Now leave the fruitcake to cool completely - for 24 hours.

Once the fruitcake is completely cool, pour some more alcohol over the top.  Lift the fruitcake out of the tin using the baking paper, and then peel off the baking paper.  Wrap the fruitcake in two layers of clingwrap, then two layers of foil. 


Here's one I prepared earlier!  If you're making multiple fruitcakes for multiple people and are doing something different for each person, you may want to label each cake so you know whose is whose.  If you have tins to store them in, put the wrapped cakes in tins.  I can't find square cake storage tins ANYWHERE though, so I just stack mine up wrapped in the cupboard.  Put it in a cool, dark cupboard and leave it for 3-6 weeks.  Serve in very small slices - it's really rich!

FAQ

But Jen, what if I don't know how to bake?
Lots of people find baking scary.  It really isn't.  It's very hard to screw up this recipe because it's so forgiving.  If you assemble all your ingredients first and take your time to measure and mix and follow the recipe step-by-step, you'll be fine.  A lot of the time, if your baking fails, it's your oven - not you!  Each oven is different.  The more you bake, the more you'll get to know your oven.  Is it hotter on one side?  Is it consistently hotter or cooler?  For example, my oven is hotter towards the front, and also just hotter in general - so I always rotate my cooking halfway through, and lower the temperature by about 5-10 degrees.

But Jen, I don't want to mess about buying all the different fruit, can't I use a premixed fruit mix?
I suppose you could use the equivalent weight in a premixed fruit mix.  I like doing my cake old school though.  You could also adjust the weights if you have more or less of one of the fruits, or like one more or less than the others.  As long as your total weight of fruit is the same, it would probably be fine.  Just don't use 28 ounces of one fruit only - that's boring.

But Jen, what if I'm allergic to one of the ingredients?
This is a really, really forgiving recipe.  You can substitute different types of sugar or flours.  I sometimes substitute rapadura sugar for the brown sugar, and this year I made a variation with home-milled wholewheat flour instead of white flour (although that's yet to be tasted).  You could substitute gluten-free flour or use spelt flour if you wanted.  The fruitcake doesn't have a leavening agent and doesn't rise, the flour is mainly just a binding agent, so you don't need something to help make it light and fluffy - it's a really dense fruitcake.  You could leave out the almonds and/or the lemon peel all together.  If you want to make a vegan adaptation you'll need to substitute the butter and eggs with something else - I'm no expert at that, so if you try your own substitution, let me know how it turns out!

But Jen, you're not coating your fruit in flour first, won't it sink?
Lots of fruitcake recipes want you to mix the fruit and dry ingredients first to help stop the fruit from "sinking" and making your fruitcake dense and fruity on the bottom and fruit-sparse on the top.  That isn't a problem with this recipe because there is SO. MUCH. FRUIT.  Don't worry about it!

But Jen, where's the marzipan icing?
This fruitcake is really, really rich.  It doesn't need icing.  Seriously.  Dave is a huge fan of marzipan icing and even he doesn't want it on this fruitcake.  If you really, really want to, you can ice your fruitcake, but I don't have a recipe.  It doesn't need it.

But Jen, can I put a coin in it like my Grandma does?
If you like.  I don't because I think it's a choking hazard and because I give my fruitcakes as gifts so it's too risky.  If you're making a fruitcake for yourself and there won't be small children sharing it with you, feel free.


But Jen, what if I don't drink alcohol?
Then this recipe is probably not for you.  If you have a religious or moral objection to alcohol so you can't have ANY alcohol, you could adapt this recipe by substituting cold, strong, black tea wherever it wants alcohol.  I haven't tried that though, so if you do, let me know how it turns out!  If you just don't really like drinking alcohol, you may still find this fruitcake has a strong alcohol flavour.  There's a LOT of alcohol in it.  That's why it's Drunken Christmas Fruitcake.  You're the best person to decide if that's okay or not.

But Jen, the family recipe I have is different and superior!
Use your own recipe then.  This is the recipe Dave gave to me a very long time ago, and it's the recipe I've used and refined over several years.  It's the recipe I have used to start our own Christmas tradition.  I think it's the best recipe and my fruitcake is the best fruitcake in the world.  Your mileage may vary.

But Jen, I don't like fruitcake!
...I have nothing to say to you.

Public Service Announcement

Now that you're thinking deep thoughts about Christmas, I'd like to take a moment to mention my Christmas charity of choice - Child's Play.  I know that some of my readers already contribute generously to charity, or may not have the means or desire to do so - that's fine, I'm not proselytising.  But, if you're sitting there thinking that you want to share some Christmas cheer with a charity, and you're not sure where to go, Child's Play is the one I recommend.  I have donated to them each year since their inception in 2003.  Child's Play was started by the guys who run the Penny Arcade webcomic when they were frustrated with the media portraying gamers as violent sociopaths, and each year the gaming community steps up and amazes me with its generosity.  You can donate toys and games through Amazon to your chosen children's hospital, or just donate cash (some hospitals won't take toys and games, only cash).


Wishing you all a very happy, loving, and peaceful holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it!

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