Fruitcake, oh fruitcake, how I do love thee…
Oh, go ahead, start with your jokes, mock the baked good that moonlights as a doorstop, wrecking ball, and scapegoat for holiday angst. Get it out of your system fruitcake grinches, for I am here to redeem the reputation of this much maligned Christmas confection.
And may I just say, there are plenty of cakes out there that deserve one’s ridicule, though fruitcake is not one of them. Red velvet cake, really? It’s just a dyed devil’s food cake in disguise and has about as much flavor and presence as pre-wrapped Susie Q. Angel food cake? Um hmm, just an excuse to waste egg whites. Yellow cake? Sorry, its sole purpose is to be a vehicle for buttercream frosting. Sponge cake? Don’t even get me started. (Full disclosure: I am a pie man by genetic predisposition.)
I have to admit the neon-bright candied fruit of old-school fruitcakes can be off-putting, but that’s an easy fix; indulge in the amazing variety of dried fruit available these days, usually found in the bulk section of a grocery store. For me, that includes all or any combination of the following dried fruit: apricots, candied orange peel , golden raisins, currants, sour cherries, blueberries, figs, and crystallized ginger.
I’d like to share a recipe, an updated version of this bejeweled baked good, a recipe festooned with the sweetmeats of summer and sopped up with a wee bit of worthy spirits. The recipe comes from one of my favorite celebrity chefs, Alton Brown, the no-nonsense science guy of cooking.
Alton (oh yeah, we’re on a first name basis) calls it a free range fruitcake, no doubt because he takes what has become the sad standard and improves upon it ten-fold. His cake is moist, aromatic, spicy and chockablock with sweet treats to tease your tongue.
As fruitcake is known for the boozey company it keeps, I went local and substituted the rum with Idle Hour Whiskey from the Seattle Distillery which is located here on Vashon Island. It’s a smooth bourbon-remiscent spirit, that is tamed with just a nuance of honey. So let’s toast to our new year, your new love of a better fruitcake, and a plenty of idle hours to enjoy.