Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Baking as extreme sport

'Tis the season for culinary craziness. In that spirit, and as a friendly nod to all those hungry browsers that come here looking for breakfast, this week's feature article will chronicle the adventures of someone hell-bent on creating that all-time holiday favorite: fruitcake.

This might as well also be our word of the day: My trusty Merriam-Webster informs us that 'fruitcake' designates (since 1848) a "rich cake containing nuts, dried or candied fruits, and spices."

With typical deadpan delivery (what else can you expect from a dictionary?) they also refer us to the definition of NUT, 6a: "a foolish, eccentric or crazy person." So yes, fruitcake is the butt of many jokes.

Be that as it may, my family has a long history of fruitcake-fondness [you may place the wisecracks in the comments section]. The weekend before Thanksgiving I chose to continue the tradition with my first ever attempt to make fruitcake. Believe me, this should be considered an extreme sport.

First, the recipe.

Grandma Jones' Fruitcake, from a 1939 issue of American Home Magazine.

1 lb. Pecan meats (2 lbs in the shell or approximately 2 1/4 cup nutmeats. [Yes that's a lot of nuts.]
1 lb. Raisins [!]
1 lb. Candied Pineapple
1/2 lb. citron
1/2 lb. Candied orange peel
1/2 lb. Candied lemon peel
1 lb. Dates [!!]
1 lb. Candied cherries, red and green
1 lb. Flour (3 3/4 cups)
1 teaspoon each of nutmeg, cloves and mace
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons soda
1 lb. Butter or margarine
1 lb. sugar (2 1/4 cups)
10 eggs separated [yes, I mean 10!]
1 cup dark molasses
1/2 cup brandy, sherry or fruit juice [I highly recommend the brandy].

Ok, as you can see that is a lot of fruit and a lot nuts. This should put the phrase "Nuttier than a fruitcake" in a whole new perspective.

Here's a photo of most of the ingredients assembled on the counter:

The recipe continues:
Break up nut meats and cut fruits in small pieces except cherries, which are left whole. Mix half the flour with fruits and nuts. Use large bowl or roasting pan. Sift other half of flour several times with spices and soda, set aside. Beat egg whites until stiff, set aside. Cream butter and sugar, add beaten yolks, molasses and brandy. Fold in beaten whites then floured fruits, and lastly the sifted flour. Turn into pans, lined with several thicknesses brown paper -- top one well greased with Crisco [I used parchment paper in place of the brown paper. My mother used to use cut up brown paper grocery bags -- remember those? I used butter, being unsure whether oil or shortening was intended. Probably shortening, which is just too gross.]

Bake 2 hours in a slow oven (300 degrees). Cool on rack. To store, wrap in waxed paper and "newspapers" or foil [I used aluminum foil, and have only ever seen it done in foil]. Unwrap, sprinkle with brandy twice during storage. Full recipe makes a large tube pan, 2 medium loaves and 2 small loaves. A little tip from mom: line the pans before you start mixing the dough.

Traditionally, we make these the day after Thanksgiving for serving at Christmas. It needs to cure and ripen and soak up all that brandy before you eat it.

This is a HUGE recipe. I think I pulled out most of the pans and bowls in my kitchen to try to accomodate the mess. Really what this recipe needs is a cauldron.

Here's a bit of trivia for you: The ingredients cost about $3.00 in 1939. This year, including a 12 dollar bottle of brandy, a new tube pan for 10 bucks, some foil, parchment paper and wax paper, the ingredients cost an astounding $110.00! Yet another reason why I may be certifiably insane.

Here are the overflowing pans of goo:

And the wonderful finished product:

Even if you don't like fruitcake, it's not a total loss: the loaves can serve as bricks for starting the anarchist revolution.

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