> While the post-World War Two era ushered in many time saving appliances and products and permanently altered life in the kitchen for most families, one of the side effects of this change was a loss in flavor and textures for many foods. We are all accustomed to bewailing the hot-house tomato and bland pre-packaged meals and snacks but some food items were changed so drastically as to become unrecognizable. It often comes as a shock to our guests to discover that they do like fruitcake, they just don’t like the dry, heavy, sticky block which comes in the mail from any number of purveyors (and then gets re-gifted until thrown out). Here at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, we believe that good food starts at home and we try as much as possible to make all of the food we serve in our own kitchen.
|Candied Orange and Lemon Peel|
Like so many things in life, a fruitcake is only as good as the ingredients which go in it. And in this case, the first place to start is with the fruit. It was in the Middle Ages when the process of candying, or “glacee” fruit was developed in order to preserve it. The French claim to be among the originators of the process and anyone who has ever traveled to France will remember the beautiful Autumn displays of candied fruit in the shops around town. When we lived in France, I made a fruitcake using fresh candied fruit and it was an eye-opener! So the first place I start when I am going to make a fruitcake is with the fruit. While “mixed peel” can be found in some grocery stores around Christmas it is a vastly inferior product to freshly candied orange and lemon peel. Orange and lemon peels are boiled in water until soft (a process which removes much of the bitterness) and then boiled once more in a simple syrup. They are left to dry overnight, and finished by tossing them in sugar. It’s hard not to eat them all before I get to the fruitcake!
You can pretty much use any dried fruit. I have often substituted when I couldn’t find something. Just make sure your fruits are fresh and of high quality. The particular recipe I use calls for a mix of dried and candied fruits, including pineapple, apricot and raisins as well as the candied peel.
Nuts and fruits are chopped, then mixed together with a orange toffee sauce and left to marinate for about ten days, thus making sure the fruits are moist and the flavor permeates throughout them.
The cake itself is a very simple concoction of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. Again, just fresh, simple, ingredients. Some fruitcakes will be full of a lot of spices but I like to let the fruit flavor come through
As you can see, the ratio of fruit to cake is high. The batter really acts as a binder to keep the cake together. Once mixed, the batter is placed in a fruitcake tin which has been triple lined with greaseproof paper to keep the sides of the cake from burning during the long, slow, cooking time needed to cook such a large cake.
When the cake is removed from the oven, I use a wooden skewer to prick holes all over it and then pour two to three tablespoons of Grand Marnier over the top. The cake is left to cool completely in the tin, then removed, wrapped in cheesecloth which has been soaked in another two to three tablespoons of liqueur, then wrapped in tinfoil and returned to the tin. It is placed in a cool spot to “ripen”. Every week for the first month I will replace the dampened cheesecloth with a freshly soaked one and then once monthly after that. I usually make our Christmas fruitcake in September for serving in December, but it is possible to make them much more in early then that. My mother was famous for a particularly boozy fruitcake she once made almost a year in advance!
Christmas in Asheville is pretty special, the Biltmore is a blaze with light, Gingerbread is on display at the Grove Park Inn and houses are decorated with fresh greens. And here at the Carolina we will be serving fruitcake and eggnog to those who like them!