Sonoma Dish: In defense of fruitcake

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Brandied Fruitcake

Makes 2 loaves

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

4 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

2 eggs

½ cup molasses

½ cup milk

½ teaspoon lemon extract

2 cups mixed candied fruit

½ cup best-quality candied citron

1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

2 cups brandy

two large pieces cheesecloth

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves and mix together. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter. Add the brown sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs and beat well. Blend in the molasses. Stir in the flour mixture. Add the milk and lemon extract and beat until smooth. Stir in the candied fruit, citron, and walnuts and combine well.

3. Liberally butter two 9x5-inch loaf pans and evenly divide the batter between the pans. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn out onto racks to cool.

4. Soak the pieces of cheesecloth in the brandy. Wrap the cakes in the cheesecloth, then wrap well in foil. Pour additional brandy over the cheesecloth occasionally if preserving the cakes. Enjoy!

What’s not to love? Before you protest, you must taste the poor thing. The poor fruitcake, that is. It’s gotten a bad rap, this much maligned treat, and undeservedly so. It shows up every year wrapped in the traditional curled ribbon, only to be squirreled away in some deep dark pantry drawer. The loaf variety, heavy as a brick, makes a handy doorstop and the round-style cake is a great substitute for a hockey puck. (Trust me, I know this.) Or it’s tossed away, literally, at the Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou Springs, Colorado. (The organizers of this annual event ask that you use recycled fruitcakes.)

It all started when somebody discovered you could preserve fruit by storing it in high concentrations of sugar. Back then, sugar was cheap and in great abundance. Fresh fruit was not. Thus, the birth of the candied fruit. And the plethora of fruitcake. A spicy yet intensely sweet cake, dense with brightly colored candied fruits and nuts, and heavy-laden with brandy, what’s not to love?

Besides, it’s the ultimate do-ahead holiday gift. You make it well in advance of gifting it. (Candied fruit shows up in the produce section right around the same time as the Christmas décor is arriving in department stores — weeks before Halloween). And this is a good thing. The more time the cake steeps in the alcohol, the more deep and delicious flavors develop and emerge. But the best tasting cake is all about the fruit (OK, the brandy, too). One might say this is no way to waste good brandy, but a great tasting cake begins with the best-quality ingredients. You’ll find the candied fruit and citron in the produce section. However, I’ve found the top quality fruit is worth sourcing on-line at specialty food companies. And to take it to the next level? Top it off with a dollop of brandy-spiked whipped cream. For adults only.

An intensely sweet yet spicy cake. Trust me, you’ll love it.

Brandied Fruitcake

Makes 2 loaves

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

4 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

2 eggs

½ cup molasses

½ cup milk

½ teaspoon lemon extract

2 cups mixed candied fruit

½ cup best-quality candied citron

1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

2 cups brandy

two large pieces cheesecloth

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves and mix together. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter. Add the brown sugar and beat until light. Add the eggs and beat well. Blend in the molasses. Stir in the flour mixture. Add the milk and lemon extract and beat until smooth. Stir in the candied fruit, citron, and walnuts and combine well.

3. Liberally butter two 9x5-inch loaf pans and evenly divide the batter between the pans. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Turn out onto racks to cool.

4. Soak the pieces of cheesecloth in the brandy. Wrap the cakes in the cheesecloth, then wrap well in foil. Pour additional brandy over the cheesecloth occasionally if preserving the cakes. Enjoy!

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