Okay, yes I know. We just nicely got past Thanksgiving, Halloween is still two weeks out and here I am mentioning Christmas! As if the shops and malls weren't bad enough. Some of them started with the Christmas decorations before the kids were back in school. Enough already!
But, there's method in my madness -- the time to make a luscious dark fruit cake in time for Christmas is now so it has time to mature for the holiday season. My mother was born and raised in England and came to Canada in the 1940's after marrying my father. As such, a rich dark fruitcake was a staple in our home at Christmas time.
I never understood why Christmas cake receives such a bad rap here in North America until I spent a Christmas with my parents at their winter place in Florida. What was referred to there as "Christmas Cake" was indeed truly awful. A dry, crumbly thing with a few shrivelled raisins in it. No wonder why no one likes it and it's generally the brunt of jokes. Properly made (and most importantly, properly cured) fruitcake is moist, chewy, chock full of fruit and nuts, and redolent of rum, brandy and spices. Something truly wonderful!
There are probably as many recipes for fruitcake, light and dark, as there are bakers to make it and my mother had several recipes that she had collected over the years and used interchangeably. Most make several large cakes and as there will only be a small number of us here this Christmas, I wanted to use a recipe I could scale down and make a single small-ish cake. The recipe I used this year is one of my mother's and can be found here.
It calls for a 10-inch tube pan, which I don't have and would still be too big, so I halved the recipe and used a 9 1/2" x 5 1/2" x 2 3/4" loaf pan instead.
On the suggestion of my friend, Colin, an English ex-pat who will be spending Christmas with me and who loves a good dark fruitcake, I am gilding the lily here by soaking the raisins and currants overnight in a quarter-cup of brandy and a quarter-cup of dark rum.
So, we mix the fruit and nuts together and sift the flour, baking powder, salt and spices together. I like to pick up all the nuts and candied fruit from Bulk Barn since they have everything under one roof and I can buy only as much as I need.
Creaming the butter and brown sugar together and mixing the dry ingredients with the fruit and nuts.
Mix everything together, pour into a greased and parchment paper lined loaf pan and bake in a 300F oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours Allow the cake to cool for a hour or so before lifting it out of the pan and removing the paper. Allow to cool overnight on the kitchen counter on a wire rack, covered by a clean tea towel.
Now starts the magic!
Unfold a package of cheesecloth to single thickness and cut a length enough to double-wrap the cake. Measure a quarter-cup of brandy and a quarter-cup of dark rum into the same measuring cup.
Place the cut piece of cheesecloth in the measuring cup and allow the rum/brandy mixture to thoroughly soak in.
Wring out the cheesecloth slightly. It should still be very wet, but not dripping. Spread out one end of the length of cheesecloth on a plate or platter and place the fruitcake on top.
Wrap the cheesecloth around the cake making sure to tuck in and cover the ends.
Tear off a length of aluminum foil large enough to generously wrap the cake in and place the cake on it towards one end. Pour the remaining rum/brandy over the top of the cake, thoroughly soaking the cheesecloth.
Wrap the aluminum foil around the cake and press tight to seal, then place in a sturdy, intact plastic food bag (such as a bread bag or produce bag). Make sure there are no holes in the bag as you want it to be airtight to assist the rum/brandy in soaking into the cake.
Pop it into a dry, dark place like a kitchen cabinet and allow it to rest. Every two weeks or so, open it and check the cheesecloth. Dampen with more rum/brandy, but don't allow it to get soggy.
By mid-December, it should be lovely, dark and moist and ready for finishing. Traditionally, a layer of almond paste or marzipan is spread on the top of the cake followed by a layer of royal icing. As I happen to have some fondant left over from a previous project, I will be using that. Look for a post on this sometime in December.