December is the month to bake our traditional family holiday favorites. With so many competing demands on our time this month, I’ve simplified the recipes.
In my family, Christmas Day was my grandfather’s birthday. Every year, my grandmother poured alcohol over a fruitcake sent by a client of my grandfather, stored it for a year in a barely accessible closet shelf, and served the one she had put away a year earlier.
My grandparents’ annual fruitcake was a family joke. A year soaked in alcohol could not hide the overly sweet and sticky chunks of dried fruit.
Fruitcake wasn’t always the subject of ridicule. Medieval Europeans were proud to bake with their new-found access to more fruits and to exotic spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Throughout Europe, many styles of pastry emerged for holiday baking with fruits and spices. Wikipedia lists 20 countries with distinctive fruitcake traditions.
The Italian panettone and the German stolen are beloved holiday treats, unlike the much maligned American fruitcake. Panettone and stolen are both baked with embedded fruit, though they are more like bread than like cake.
The British fruitcake is more cake-like, but is more elaborate than the American version. The British cover what is already a very rich cake with marzipan icing.
Rather than wait a year like my grandmother, I soaked 4 cups of dried fruit overnight in 2/3 cup of alcohol. This year, I used a local blackberry & raspberry wine by Olde Schoolhouse in Eaton. If stored for a year, as my grandmother did, a higher proof alcohol like rum or bourbon should be used to preserve the fruit.
I mixed dried organic raisins, cranberries, cherries, blueberries, and apricots. All of the dried fruit came from MOON Co-op’s bulk bins or from organic distributors. Use any combination that appeals.
The next day, I prepared 8 small (6 inch) loaf pans by generously buttering the surfaces and covering the bottom of the pan with a piece of buttered parchment paper. This step is important to prevent the cake from sticking to the pan after baking.
Keeping this simple, I used an organic non-GMO cake mix from MOON called Namaste Spice Cake Mix. By all means, make your own batter from scratch, but the fruit and spices so dominate a fruitcake that it isn’t worth the added time and effort.
As I beat the batter, I added 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon allspice. The key with any spices, but especially with spicy food like fruitcake, is to use fresh spices.
To the batter, add the soaked fruit, plus 1 cup of chopped organic walnuts. Mix thoroughly.
Bake for around 45-50 minutes at 300 and cool on wire racks for one hour before removing the cakes from the pans. Store in a tin at room temperature, not in the fridge, and definitely not in the freezer. Or, like my grandmother, hide it until next year.
MOON Co-op Grocery is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. MOON Co-op, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. Visit the website at mooncoop.coop.
About the Author