Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Fruitcake Experiment, Interim Report

The 2008 Fruitcake Experiment has concluded Round 1, Stage 1: The Cookening. Six (six!) loaves from four recipes have been assembled, baked, cooled, drenched in spirits, wrapped in Saran and stowed in plastic freezer bags in the cupboard. On January 15, we will initiate Stage 2: Taste-a-tron. Round Two will then begin, if I still have the energy.

None of these recipes are what I consider 100 percent typical of fruitcake. All have their peculiarities.

Patricia's Holiday Fruitcake

This is a light-colored fruitcake, without brown sugar or molasses. It has no flavoring except salt. No spices, not even any vanilla. The batter has only one egg, another oddity.

McMillan’s Bakery Fruitcake

This is another light-colored fruitcake, again without any flavorings except salt. The baking instructions are odd. The batter doesn't seem like nearly enough for a 10-inch springform pan, and produces a pancake-like fruitcake only an inch thick. The fruitcake is baked at 350 degrees F, an unusually high temperature for fruitcakes, which are usually baked very slowly, at lower temps. The toasted pecans are an interesting idea, though. 10 minutes may too long to toast them; they seemed slightly burned to me. Maybe 5 minutes would have been better.

The assembly procedure is unusual. In baked goods generally, butter and sugar are creamed, eggs are added gradually, followed by the sifted dry ingredients. This recipe adds the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar, to produce something like a roux, to which the eggs are then added.

This recipe is said to be from a popular Philadelphia area bakery. In the early 1970s, when I was between colleges, I worked as a short-order cook in a southern Vermont resort town. My boss, when a local publication requested his famous blueberry muffin recipe, instead gave them some random recipe he found in a magazine. "No way in hell I'm giving away our recipe," he said. Ever since, I've mistrusted published recipes from famous establishments. Maybe they're as reluctant to give away the family secrets as he was. Maybe there are a lot of Piltdown recipes out there.

Carol's Christmas Cake

This is a more classic dark fruitcake, with spices. It's unusual in that it contains only a small amount of nuts in relation to the amount of fruit, and those nuts are almonds. I've always felt that walnuts were essential to a true fruitcake, but maybe that's just me. The proportion of spices is odd. Generally the ratio of cinnamon:mace/nutmeg/allspice:cloves is something like 4:2:1. In this recipe all amounts are equal, which should make it very clove-y. We'll see. There's also some voodoo home economics in the overly-precise instructions on how to add the liquid and dry ingredients. The recipe calls for an "8x8x3 inch fruit cake pan." I have no idea what this is. I used two 8.5 x 4.5 glass pans, and I suspect I baked it too long. In smaller pans, especially glass ones, two hours should be sufficient, as it is in the recipe below, in which the batter has about the same mass. The toothpick test for cake doneness is problematic with fruitcake, because the toothpick is more likely to go into a piece of fruit than batter, and the results are difficult to interpret.

Because commercial candied fruit is usually so disastrous, I candied my own lemon and orange peel for this recipe.

Marion Cunningham's Dark Fruitcake

This recipe makes four fruitcakes. I halved it. The candied ginger is a slightly unusual addition, as are the figs. Both are alarmingly expensive. There is no candied fruit at all, citrus flavors being carried by the zests, and a small amount of orange liquor. The ratio of spices is canonical.

I accidentally included an extra half-cup of prunes and dates. I doubt it will make much difference. All previous fruitcakes have been doused with brandy before being wrapped. This one got bourbon instead, because I had run out of brandy by fruitcake No. 3.

Of all the recipes, I feel this one holds the most promise. The batter was so good that I licked the bowl and beater clean.

Or maybe I was just hungry.
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