What Makes Chef Becky's Fruitcake Special?
“There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other." - Johnny Carson
This is how I felt about fruitcake as a kid and actually until about 10 years ago. Every year we’d get a fruitcake at Christmas time – sent from some well-meaning relative. I would look at it and wonder, “why?” but my parents seemed only obligatorily grateful, so I wasn’t feeling the “love” about fruitcake from them either. I think it was the brightly colored dried fruit that most discouraged me. I just couldn’t bring myself to eat that bright green candied whatever-it-was (I think it was supposed to be fennel?) or the bright yellow colored… lemon peel and citron? I suppose the food color-laden fruit was supposed to make it look appetizing but it didn’t. It was dense and heavy and it did not remotely resemble a “cake.” Even as an adult and a budding cook, I could not put that childish conceit about fruitcake away. Luckily, it became a little out-dated and people didn’t seem to make it as much, so I lived happily through many Christmases without it.
Because of an abundance of dried fruit and requests, yes, people were actually requesting fruitcake, about 11 years ago I decided to experiment. I wanted it to actually be a cake and not just a dense, compressed loaf of alcohol-soaked dried fruit. I looked through many recipes and, at last, found one. I began tweaking and experimenting and finally arrived at the recipe we now use.
I decided that they should be small - a little goes along way as it is still very rich. I didn’t want people to feel overwhelmed or for the fruitcakes to be unwelcoming as there are still a lot of people who get a little uneasy when you give them a dense, brightly-colored fruitcake.
We started making our fruit cake in mid-September and finish up in mid-November. They are traditional in that they have plenty of alcohol, dark Rum in this case and are best after they sit for 3 weeks to a month before being sold. Otherwise the cakes are too “hot” with rum that will overpower the flavor and make the texture a little boggy. We use our dried peaches, dried cherries, and candied orange peels that we make in the kitchen. The fruit and walnuts are soaked in rum over night before the cakes are made. Then, the leftover rum from the macerated fruits is added to a batter and is sprinkled over the cakes as they come out of the oven. When cool, they are wrapped in cheesecloth that has been soaked in rum. Yes - lots of rum in those cakes.
They are then set in an aluminum foil pouch and let to rest until it is time to sell. I am happy to report that those, who like me, didn’t like the traditional fruitcake and those that always have, both enjoy it. I love a small slice with a cup of coffee and it is divine with a slice of a perfectly ripe Warren Pear.
Now, this is how I feel about fruitcake:
“… a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "Buddy, it's fruitcake weather! ..." - A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote