I’m not sure where fruitcake got such a bad reputation. But I am determined to restore it to its rightful place as a Christmas delicacy and renew its role among the traditional Christmas celebrations.
If you want to join me and need inspiration I suggest you read Truman Capote’s, autobiographical short story, A Christmas Memory. In fact even if you have no interest at all in fruit cake you need to read this and buy a copy for a friend, it is just that good. This is a story of Capote’s life as a child and his special friendship with his elderly cousin. The story begins with their yearly ritual of baking fruitcakes and the way he tells it will undoubtedly warm your heart and will probably make you cry.
This version has beautiful pictures and it makes a great Christmas read-aloud (it is just a bit too difficult for my daughter, but probably would work for elementary kids on through adulthood). If it can’t inspire you to re-consider fruit cakes then I don’t know what could.
Now for the recipe. . .
So this recipe is different from the one in Capote’s story (no whiskey in this one), though it as a fruitcake nonetheless. It is actually an Italian fruit cake called a pan forte, which is a blend between a a dense cake and a candy.
Almost everyone raises their eyebrows when I offer them this, in fact my own mother didn’t even taste it when I mailed it last Christmas until I showed up to visit and threatened to eat all of it myself. She tried it and I never got a bite.
This recipe is an original, developed by one of my gifted friends Rhoda, who has no facebook or blog for me to link to in order to give her proper credit.
It is best made a week or more ahead, the flavor gets better over time (I don’t know how long it keeps, it always gets eaten too fast but I imagine it would keep for several weeks). It goes well with wine, tea or coffee. It is spicy and sweet making it a perfect desert for a winter meal.
Pan Forte or Italian Fruit Cake
2 ¾ cups whole almonds, skin on and toasted
1 tsp. cinnamon
¾ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp. finely ground black pepper
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 lb. assorted dried fruit: raisins, apricots, figs, cherries, cranberries, etc., cut up into ½” pieces (one pound usually measures out to about two cups for me)
2/3 cup honey
1 cup sugar
Butter and parchment to prepare pan
Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit in a tart pan (you can use a round cake pain or a spring-form pan).
Brush parchment well with melted butter.
Heat oven to 300 degrees.
In a large bowl combine the almonds, spices, flour and cocoa powder. Add the cut up fruit.
In a saucepan combine the honey and sugar and bring to a boil without stirring. Brush down walls to keep sugar crystals from forming (I’m not sure why we do this but I do it, it’s fun).
Cook to softball stage (240 degrees). This “soft ball terminology” can be a little intimidating for the novice candy maker. The easiest solution is to just use a candy thermometer. You will be at 240 just about the time you have reached a good steady boil, drop a few drops in cold water it should form soft flexible ball.
Quickly stir syrup over the fruit mixture and combine, it will be thick and sticky so it takes a bit of work.
Dump mixture into a pan.
Dip hands in water and press flat .
Bake on the middle rack 50 – 60 minutes. Remove and cool.
Store at room temperature.
There are all sorts of variations on this, substitute almonds with pistachios or hazelnuts, or serve sprinkled with cocoa powder or powdered sugar.
And then surprise your friends at how delicious a fruit cake can be.
Enjoy and Merry Christmas.
Things will be a bit quite over here for the next week or two while we celebrate the holidays and get organized to start the 2016 reading list.