This is the first time I've had the opportunity to make my grandmother's unctuous fruit-filled cake in many years. While I was in Japan I usually worked over the holidays, up until New Year's eve when we could look forward to a glorious week off, but even then some of the ingredients would have been hard to come by or impressively dear. Even here it is not an inexpensive undertaking to make the recipe, which produces a large round cake and a large loaf. Because of the cost, and also because I was trying out a gluten-free version for the first time, I halved the recipe and still came out with two good-sized loaves and a 6-pan of muffin tins, about two thirds full each as pre-Christmas tasters.
For the vegans among you, I have a bit of bad news. I don't think this cake would be as good without butter. Yes, I am allowing myself just a bit, as it's Christmas. Local and organic, mind you, and limited to only 1 cup in this large recipe, but still it makes a big difference to the flavour. For the daring bakers among you, I would be delighted if someone tried it with margarine and reported on the result. As I am making it for family gifts, I just couldn't take the chance.
For gluten-free folks, though, I`m happy to report that this is just as good, if not better than the wheated version. The texture is fine, the taste sublime, considering that I tasted it in the day or two after baking, when the flavours had not been allowed to develop. Nor had I given it the bath of brandy that it will be getting soon. Right now it`s swaddled in waxed paper and foil topped with slices of apple to keep it moist.
I can barely keep my hands off it, having tasted it with deep dark coffee, surely one of the best seasonal parings imaginable. Especially as the secret ingredient, and I`m letting the cat out of the bag here, is good brewed coffee. Really. And you'd never know, if I hadn`t told you. But it makes a difference.
The other good news is, though most fruitcakes benefit from aging, and you're supposed to make them about a month ahead, this one is good right after it`s baked or aged only for a week, with or without the liquor bath. If you're going to add the brandy, rum or even bourbon then you poke a few holes down in the cake and bathe it from all sides, wrap it up tight with just a bit of compression to maintain its shape and put it in foil or a tin to await the glorious day on which you decide to serve it. Traditionally I would wrap it in liquor soaked cheesecloth, as the underwrapping, especially for keeping longer, but waxed paper works too.
This cake is not iced, but sliced in thinish slices and served with a drink of coffee or tea. It`s not too sweet, so it can follow a richer meal. But of course, if you like, you could make a nice white icing and gild the lily.
Whatever you do, be sure to share it with someone who appreciates an old-fashioned fruitcake. Serve it on a nice plate, with a few shortbread cookies on the side, if you like. Make sure you are sitting down, because this one might make you a bit weak in the knees.
If it does, Nannie would be pleased. She was proud of this one. And I am too.
Nannie's Darkest Fruitcake (Gluten-free) Double if you dare!
2 lb (900 g) raisins ( I use a combination of golden and the large dark seeded ones)
1 lb (450 g) currants
1/4 lb (110 g) mixed citrus peel ( I made home candied: orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime)
2 oz (50g) walnuts ( I used pecans)
1/4 lb (110 g) candied cherries ( I omitted and added extra raisins, peel, and pineapple)
1/4 lb (110 g ) candied pineapple ( I candy my own from tinned pineapple in juice, but fresh would be glorious)
1/4 lb (110 g) dates
1/4 lb (110 g) figs ( I used black mission, de-stemmed and sliced and chopped)
juice of 1 orange (I used tangerines) and 1 lemon
1/2 -1 tsp ( 2.5-5 ml ) all-spice
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon
1/2 tsp ( 2.5 ml) cloves
(I added about a tsp (5 ml) of ginger and 1/8 of a fresh grated nutmeg)
1/2 lb (250 g or about 2 cups) brown sugar
1/2 lb (250 g) butter
2 cups mixed gluten-free (or all-purpose, if you're not GF) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2-1 cup good brewed coffee, black
Get your biggest bowl or roaster and cut up all the fruit and nuts into about 1/4-1/2 inch dice.
Use the flour in the recipe to dust over the fruit and mix it through with your hands as you go, breaking up any clumps.
My mixture was: 1/2 cup cornstarch, 3/4 cup white rice flour, 1/2 cup tapioca flour and about 1/4 cup potato flour, 2 cups in all.
Mix up the cake batter by creaming the butter and sugar (in another bowl) and then beating in the eggs one-by-one until they are incorporated. Add the baking powder and coffee and fruit juices. Alternatively, if you are preparing the fruit a day or so ahead, dust the spices over the floured fruit and nuts, and add the coffee and distribute it through. This will help to keep everything moist, as you cover and refrigerate it.
Then, on baking day, just make the cake batter, pour it over the rest of the ingredients and slowly distribute it through, gently lifting it over and around the fruit so you won't break it up too much. When it is evenly wrapped around the fruit, pack it into two standard bread loaf pans, buttered and prepared with waxed paper draped in the bottom and over two sides and buttered again. This will ensure that you can get the cake out nicely in one piece. I simply accordian-fold the excess paper up to sit on the outside rim of the pan as it cooks. Since the cake is meant to cook slowly at 275 degrees, for between 1-2 hours, you may need to put a piece of waxed paper and tin foil, with the reflective side out, on top at some point in the cooking to prevent the top from being scorched.
I always do as my grandmother did when packing the cakes into the pans, that is, use the back of the spoon to push the batter down and into the corners, layer by layer, and then sharply drop the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles. This is one cake you don't want to be light and airy, but dense and heavy. Make sure to smooth the top of the cake with the spoon, so that it is level.
The full double batch cooks for 2-3 hours at 275 degrees F, but that is for a very large solid round cake. Smaller cakes cook more quickly. To test, put a thin-bladed knife or cake tester in the center. When most of the moisture is gone, and there is no uncooked-looking liquid on the tester, they can be taken out and allowed to cool in the pans on cake racks. I let them cool completely before I try to unmold them. Depending on the cooling time, there may be some bits of waxed paper that you need to scrape out or off with a knife. Don't be worried about that; just take patience in hand, pressing back any fruit that may flake off. The result will be worth it.
The cake can be wrapped and stored for from a week to several months, topped with a few apple slices to make it moist, and a liquor bath, if you want to guild the lily and increase its keeping power or eating punch. Just make sure that it's well-wrapped. My mom always used metal tins when she was keeping it for a long time, and wrapped it up inside them.
Note: I have just made the 2009 batch and I made a few edits to the recipe. I added metric measurements and corrected an ommission ( currents). I hope it is now a better, more accurate recipe. Merry Christmas everyone. May your holidays be filled with...fruitcake!