December is National Fruit Cake Month!

By Chris Burchell, Executive Chef, MediLodge of Monroe

MediLodge of Monroe

MediLodge of Monroe

Hello again to all MediLodge friends and family! Has everyone put away all the summer clothes, and broke out all the sweaters and long underwear? It is admittedly a dismal time in the Burchell household. But fear not! The joys of the holiday season are nearly upon us. December is both an end and a beginning… the end of another year and the beginning of winter (although technically speaking this doesn’t happen until Jan. 21, tell my body that when the temperature is below freezing and the car needs scraped before heading to work).

December is also National Fruit Cake Month! Yay! The fruit cake…given as gifts during the holiday season, it would seem, has been around since time immemorial. Some like it, some absolutely hate it. There isn’t a whole lot of in between on this one. I used to be in the hate category, but I do believe that had a lot to do with public opinion at the time, which really hasn’t changed in the few decades that I’ve been aware of this holiday confection. Now however, I really do like fruit cake. But not your run of the mill, very dry almost stale types, that get re-gifted 3 times over. There does exist in the world very moist, dense, and superbly flavorful fruitcakes.

The oldest reference that can be found regarding a fruit cake dates back to Roman times. The recipe included pomegranate seeds. Pine nuts, and raisins that were mixed into barley mash. Honey, spices, and preserved fruits were added during the Middle Ages. Crusaders and hunters were reported to have carried this type of cake to sustain themselves over long periods of time away from home. Mail-order fruit cakes in America began in 1913. Some well-known American bakers of fruit cake include Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and The Claxton Bakery in Claxton, Georgia. Both Collin Street and Claxton are Southern companies with access to cheap nuts, for which the expression “nutty as a fruitcake” was derived in 1935.

Commercial fruit cakes are often sold from catalogs by charities as a fund raiser. Most American mass-produced fruit cakes are alcohol-free, but traditional recipes are saturated with liqueurs or brandy and covered in powdered sugar, both of which prevent mold. Brandy- or wine-soaked linens can be used to store the fruit cakes, and some people feel that fruit cakes improve with age. If a fruit cake contains alcohol, it could remain edible for many years. For example, a fruit cake baked in 1878 is kept as an heirloom by a family (Morgan L. Ford) in Tecumseh, Michigan. In 2003 it was sampled by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. To lengthen the shelf life of a fruit cake, wrap the cake in alcohol soaked linen before storing. I actually think I would enjoy sampling this fruit cake! Now I have never had the opportunity to make a fruit cake, so I am going to include a recipe from the Food Network. I have examined this recipe, which is from one of my favorite chef ’s, Alton Brown, and do believe it has the makings of an excellent holiday gift!

Free Range Fruitcake

Ingredients:Alton Brown Free Range Fruitcake
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
1/2 cup sun dried cranberries
1/2 cup sun dried blueberries
1/2 cup sun dried cherries
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
Zest of one lemon, chopped coarsely
Zest of one orange, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 cup gold rum
1 cup sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter
(1 1/4 sticks)
1 cup unfiltered apple juice
4 whole cloves, ground
6 allspice berries, ground
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans, broken
Brandy for basting and/or spritzing

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325°F.
1. Combine dried fruits, candied ginger and both zests. Add rum and macerate overnight, or microwave for 5 minutes to rehydrate fruit.
2. Place fruit and liquid in a nonreactive pot with the sugar, butter, apple juice and spices. Bring mixture to a boil stirring often, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. (Batter can be completed up to this point, then covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before completing cake.)
3. Combine dry ingredients and sift into fruit mixture. Quickly bring batter together with a large wooden spoon, then stir in eggs one at a time until completely integrated, then fold in nuts. Spoon into a 10-inch non-stick loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Check for doneness by inserting toothpick into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, bake another 10 minutes, and check again.
4. Remove cake from oven and place on cooling rack or trivet. Baste or spritz top with brandy and allow to cool completely before turning out from pan.
5. When cake is completely cooled, seal in a tight sealing, food safe container. Every 2 to 3 days, feel the cake and if dry, spritz with brandy. The cake’s flavor will enhance considerably over the next two weeks. If you decide to give the cake as a gift, be sure to tell the recipient that they are very lucky indeed.

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MediLodge of Monroe

MediLodge of Monroe

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