At its best, fruitcake is simply a mixture of fruits, nuts, and just enough rich batter to hold them together.
Time is of the Essence
The key to decadent fruitcakes is allowing enough time for the flavors to blend, or “ripen”--both before and after baking. Some bakers in the Caribbean begin soaking fruit in rum for many months in advance.
- For most recipes, a full month of ripening is a necessity. You can always store it longer than a recipe requires, but don't shorten the aging time.
- Ideally, take several days to make your cake or cakes. Chop the nuts and fruits, cover with liquor and/or fruit juice, and let the mixture stand, covered, for two or three days. Then make the batter and bake your cakes.
- Cool cakes thoroughly after baking. Use a toothpick or skewer to poke holes in the cake, and sprinkle with brandy or rum if desired. Wrap in liquor-dampened cheesecloth, and store in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. The fridge is fine, but don't transfer cakes to the freezer until the flavors have ripened and mellowed.
- Check the cakes once a week. Brush the cakes with more liquor, if necessary, and then rewrap them in the damp cloth.
As You Like It
A recipe is only a guide. Feel free to substitute other types of candied or dried fruit and nuts; just be sure that the weight of the fruit and nuts you choose equals that of the original recipe. Dried fruits cooked in juice or wine until they're plump can take the place of candied fruits; home-candied fruits are far more flavorful than the store-bought variety.
A Long Day's Bake
Always bake fruitcakes slowly, at a low temperature--between 275 to 325 degrees F (135 to 165 degrees C). The cakes are dense with fruit that will release liquid during baking.
Prepare your pans by greasing and flouring them or by lining them with greased parchment paper. When the cake batter is ready, spoon it into the prepared pans, and tap the pans on the work surface to pop any air bubbles. Arrange pecan halves, whole almonds, candied cherries, or other fruit decoratively on the cake.
- Place cake pans on center oven rack; pans should not be touching each other. You may wish to cover fruitcakes with aluminum foil for the last half hour of baking.
- With such a long baking time and with so many varieties of fruitcake, color alone won't indicate when the cake is done. Test for doneness by poking a skewer or a toothpick near the center of the cake. It should come out clean.
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