I think once again, longingly, of fruitcake. I know, to most people that seems like idiocy at best, or prima facie evidence of derangement. Too bad for them. Here, for those who care, is one of the things they’re missing, as interpreted by someone who delights in eating perfume. (Y’all have been warned.)
First things first: The Impoverished Student always preheats the oven. (In this case, you want it rather low, probably around 250 Fahrenheit.) You will want to wait until baking day, though production of this cake begins about two days before the oven comes into the picture. Oh, yes on baking day, you’ll also want to grease and flour two loaf pans. ...But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Now, you must understand that I’ve never seen the actual recipe for this cake. I got it, verbally, from Marilyn Holt, early in January, 1998.
(Gratuitous aside) There comes a point, in cooking, where you can follow recipes if you care to (unless you’re like me, in which case it’s a lost cause), but where if you don’t have print in front of you, you can usually wing it. I’ve gotten to that point, and it is a tremendous relief. If I want cookies, I make cookies. If I want a fruitcake, well, I ask my dessert-maven friend Clifford how he makes fruitcake, and he sends me to his wife, Marilyn. Marilyn, in turn, tells me that she makes some sort of Celebration Cake, from Australia. As nearly as she can recall, it is claimed that the cake was originated for a visit paid to The Land of Oz by Queen Victoria, about a century back. Take this with a grain or two of paradise I have no idea whether Victoria ever did visit Australia. In any case, she read me the recipe over the phone, and I took my usual half-assed notes, after which I made the cake three times and wrote it down. (End of gratuitous dreck. We now return you to your previously scheduled fruitcake, describing his previously scheduled fruitcake. Ahem.)
This cake takes 1 cup of self-raising flour, 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 stick of butter, 5 eggs, some spices (see below for details), and 6 cups of dried fruits that have been soaked in brandy. (Marilyn reports that she pours off whatever brandy is left after the fruits have absorbed as much as they can, and uses it as the liquid for the batter; I do the same.) The cake (the recipe actually makes two loaves) bakes at 300 degrees F., for about two hours; Marilyn reports that she usually starts checking it after an hour and a half. I tend to run it around 250 F, as I’ve already mentioned, and I start checking after an hour to an hour and a half. No accounting for personal taste.
A hurdle arises, at least for me: I’m allergic to wheat, so I use this handy substitute. I add a half-tsp of soda, a half-tsp of Rumford baking powder (anything good will do; I just try to avoid the ones with aluminum or other peculiar things in them), and a pinch of salt.
Having passed the first hurdle, we meet a second: I’m also allergic to milk and milk products. Well, that’s even easier. Find the mildest extra-virgin olive oil you possibly can, and use perhaps 2 Tbs of it. I know, that’s not even close to a stick of butter. So what? (...And no, it doesn’t ruin the flavor. I’ve done it three times now. If you are really concerned, or if you want to use a lot, go with Canola or peanut or whatever you like.)
Now: fruits. I tend to use about ten different fruits, including glace pineapple wedges, glace citron peel, glace lemon or orange peel, dried figs, dried bananas, dried apricots, dried sour cherries, dried cranberries, dates, and so on. It’s your choice.
Chop the larger fruits (figs, for example) into manageable bits. They should probably be a bit smaller than the glace pineapple wedges, if you’re using pineapple wedges. Otherwise, make them small enough that they won’t disconcert you when you encounter them again as you actually eat the thing.
I strongly suggest soaking the fruits for two or three days, turning them occasionally so they "pickle" evenly. If you don’t soak the fruits, or if you don’t soak them long enough, the resulting cake definitely lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Of course if you hate alcohol or are allergic to it, you should forget I even mentioned this.
...And, of course, spices. I use these:
(About a Tbs of each of those, except the mace -- I use less of that.)
If you don’t have any of the following, just forget them. They are probably frills:
Choose your spices for compatibility with the fruits. If, for example, I have lots of orange peel in the mix, I usually put vanilla into the batter and increase the amount of grains of paradise.
For some reason, almost every time I make this cake the fruits total enough to just about fill a 2-quart saucepan, more or less 8 cups. I end up using a cup and a third to a cup and a half of flour to compensate for the increased amount of fruit, with increases in soda and baking powder and salt to match.
Now to produce the batter: mix the spices (and the Rumford and the soda and the wee bit of salt) into the flour (substitute) in one bowl. In another bowl, mix the brown sugar thoroughly into the poured-off brandy (or whatever you soaked the fruits in); add vanilla if you are using it, and any other liquid flavorings; add the oil and the eggs. Beat until you decide that it has had enough. Mix the liquid stuff into the dry stuff.
Stir the fruits thoroughly into the batter, and pour the result into the two greased-and-floured loaf pans I mentioned about two days ago. Cover the tops with nice fresh pecans and bake ’til a toothpick, stabbed cruelly into the heart of a cake, comes out clean. (Ahem. Poetic license, okay?)
If you want to do this right, wait until the cakes have cooled, bathe them in the same alcohol in which you soaked the fruits, and leave them sealed up for as long as possible, up to about a year. (If you really want to do it right, and if fruits and spices and alcohol are all compatible with the flavor, soak with a mixture of the alcohol and some rosewater.) These cakes are optimally made during December, and consumed during the following December, or so they tell us. I am far too impulsive for anything so well-bred; I tend to start eating them the minute they come out of the oven, without any soaking at all.
They go very well with hot tea, no surprise.