I spent most of today up to my elbows (literally!) in fruitcake: chopping and then mixing up 17 pounds of dried and candied fruits, creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs, flour, and pineapple juice, and then mixing fruits and batter together in a giant tub, tossing it like salad with my (spotlessly clean) hands. I felt like Midas, running my hands through heaps of golden raisins, picking up handfuls of candied bergamot peel and letting them fall through my fingers. Flaked coconut, candied lemon peel, dried apricots, oh my!
Even more rewarding than playing with my food was the atavistic pleasure of knowing I had personally created most of the goodies that went into it: candied Meyer lemon peel, bergamot peel, sweet orange peel, Seville (bitter) orange peel, candied citron. Candied sweet cherries. Candied sour cherries, fresh out of the syrup this weekend. I admit to purchasing the dried papaya, the golden raisins, dried apricots, dried figs, flaked coconut, and slivered almonds, but at least half the goodies that I was tossing so gleefully were the products of my own labors. And that makes the fruitcake so much sweeter.
This year I am trying a few experiments in fruitcake flavor. Last year, I followed the recipe given to me by a family friend fairly strictly. It called for sprinkling the cakes with Southern Comfort and Amaretto, which is an unusual choice. This year I plan to sprinkle half the cakes with Southern Comfort and Amaretto, but the remaining cakes will be divided between bourbon whiskey, spiced rum, and brandy. I’ve also doubled the amount of vanilla and added some cinnamon and just a dash of nutmeg to the mix. The cakes smell delicious (they’re in the oven baking now), so hopefully some of the changes were good ones!
I’ve got eighteen cakes in the oven: nine large (2-pound loaf cakes), nine small (1-pound loaf cakes). The oven is packed to the gills; it was a chancy thing getting the last two loaf cakes in. But they’re baking away. I just have to resist the temptation to eat some straight out of the oven! Fruitcake is one of those things that is unfinished even after baking: it’s like drinking “raw” firewater, it needs time to mellow and age before it’s really fit to eat. So tomorrow morning I will start sprinkling with liquor – one tablespoon per cake for eight weeks (half a tablespoon for the smaller cakes). One month after that, and the cakes should be suitably mellowed/alcoholic, just in time for Christmas.
Yum! I can hardly wait to taste them.