Temperatures have fallen and the bees are clustered keeping the queens warm. We have done all we can do for our bees to help them through winter, so now we just have to wait for spring. Now with free time on my hands, I turned to a new project….learning how to make fruitcake.
My only previous knowledge of fruitcakes came from two sources, Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and The Swiss Colony store located in our mall circa 1980. Nobody in my family made fruitcakes. I wanted to know what all the fruitcake fuss was about, so I went down the fruitcake rabbit hole and am going to share with you what I found. I substituted honey for Karo syrup in the recipe just so I could write about it in my bee blog.
Nobody I know had a recipe to share that they had made. Where could I find a time tested old fashioned fruitcake recipe? YouTube, of course. I found a very nice southern lady named Phyllis who made a video of herself making her traditional fruitcake. I trusted Phyllis because she reminded me of someone’s grandma. She also pronounced the word pecan as PEE-can instead of the customary puh-KAAN. This told me she was a true southerner who probably knew a good fruitcake when she tasted one. I used her recipe. (Here is the link to her video, and the recipe is included in the video’s description.) The only substitutions I made were using honey instead of dark Karo syrup, and I used gold rum instead of light rum. I used the gold rum because that is what my mom had left over from one of her baking projects. She didn’t need any more rum, and it would be crazy for both of us to have partial bottles of rum in the pantry waiting until next Christmas to be used.
Let me discuss my use of rum for my friends who don’t believe in using liquor. Rum imparts a unique and traditional flavor to the cake. The ethyl alcohol evaporates during the baking process leaving just the flavor. Some rum is also spooned onto the cake after baking, so the cake will contain some alcohol. However, your body will feel the negative effects from all the butter and fruit long before it feels the effect of the alcohol should you choose to over indulge. Some people use fruit juices instead of rum, but I used rum because I wanted the traditional flavor. People should make their fruitcake in whatever manner they like, so feel free to adjust the recipe to your personal taste.
Fruitcake is unlike any cake I have ever made, and I have made quite a few cakes. It has no leavening agent, so it is a very dense cake. The cake has very little flour, and you coat the fruit with the flour rather than adding it to the batter. You have to age the cake. I tasted it after one week of aging and really liked it, but some people say you have to age the cake by at least one month.
Here are the key points I learned from my fruitcake experience:
- Fruitcakes are expensive to make. I used mostly store brand items and estimated the total cost to make this cake to be approximately $50.
- This cake is really heavy. I didn’t put it on the scale, but I am going to guess it weighed at least 7 lbs just based on the weight of the ingredients.
- It is best to buy individual fruits instead of the fruitcake mix. All of the fruits are diced to the same shape in the mix. Buying individual fruits allows you to vary the sizes of the pieces giving you much more variety in each bite and a prettier sliced cake.
- That very strong unique taste that fruitcake and fruitcake mix often has comes from citron. People seem to like it or hate it. This recipe doesn’t use citron.
- Lining the angel food cake pan (aka tube pan) with parchment paper was the hardest part of the whole process. It took me over 20 minutes just to do that. I had some creases in the paper, and the creases show through in the cake.
- Fruitcakes usually are classified as dark or light based on their ingredients. Because I substituted honey for dark Karo syrup I wound up with a tan cake. The color was fine, but I thought it would have been more appealing if it was darker. After the exterior had been soaked with rum it sort of looked like a pâté.
I thought the cake was delicious, and my aunt and uncle who serve as my testers liked it too. The cake was dense, but it was moist and rich. This cake hits your taste buds in a really unusual way. You need to eat it slow to savor all the different flavors. You taste the rum first, but that quickly fades to the flavor of the fruits which then fades to the buttery taste of the cake. You are left with this really satisfying sweet and buttery feel on your lips that leaves you wanting more. This fruitcake tasted nothing like any store bought fruitcake I have ever eaten, and I think more people would like fruitcake if they tasted a homemade cake. I’m going to go dust off my book of American short stories and go read Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” again. I think I can appreciate it more now.