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Traditional Fruit Cake
When the leaves begin to turn and there's a bracing coolness in the breeze, it's time to think ahead to Christmas fare. The first thing to do is to collect the ingredients to make a traditional fruitcake to serve at Christmas time. This time of year, candied fruit is easy to find in the supermarket, but don't forget to buy your brandy or rum in which to soak the loaves: this will add moisture and will bring out the flavors of the fruit as well as ensuring that no mold will grow on your precious fruit cake!
 

3 oz Lemon peel

3 oz Orange peel

lb Candied cherries

1/4 lb Walnuts, filberts, or almonds

1/4 lb Pecans

lb Pitted dates

1/4 lb Candied pineapple

1/4 lb Preserved citron

lb Seeded raisins

1/4 cup flour

 

1/4 cup apple cider or orange juice

1 cup shortening

cup sugar

cup honey

5 well-beaten eggs

1 cup flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp allspice

tsp nutmeg

tsp cloves

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Shred fruit peels, halve cherries, nut meats, and dates.  Cut pineapple & citron to the size of almonds.  Dredge fruit in 1/4 cup of flour.  Cream shortening & sugar; add honey, then eggs and beat well.

Add flour sifted with dry ingredients alternately with fruit juice; beat thoroughly.  Pour batter over floured fruit & mix well.

Preheat oven, placing pans with plenty of water on bottom rack for greater volume and moisture.  Check frequently to maintain water level.  Do not let any of the pans run dry.

Line 2 greased 3.5" x 7.5" loaf pans with parchment allowing " to extend above all sides of pan. Spoon batter into pans but do not flatten. Bake in slow oven, 225-250° F, 3-4 hours.

If you're planning to give fruitcake as a gift at Christmas, perhaps as part of a gift basket, you may wish to make more, smaller loaves. Using a coffee can to produce a cylindrical loaf is traditional, but you may wish to purchase tiny tin loaf pans at the supermarket. Of course, these will bake somewhat more quickly than the regular sized bread loaf cakes. Small cylindrical tins make a splendid round fruitcake . . .

Cool cakes on rack, then place on wrapping materials and pour brandy or rum (or Scotch) over loaves, targeting any cracks on the surface. You can place cheesecloth in a bowl and soak in rum, then wrap the loaves in cheesecloth and also in heavy foil. To economize on rum, omit cheesecloth and pour directly into cracks on top of loaves and repeat this every week until the loaves are moist and dark. Place wrapped loaves in plastic loaf-sized containers and store in cold cellar or other cool, dark, dry location.

Following the procedure above, the fruitcake will keep beautifully for a very long time. It only improves with age--the best cake is the one made the year before! This may be the reason that fruitcake is the traditional wedding cake: it's become a symbol of endurance. If you're lucky enough to have some left over, it's fine to serve it during the summer months as well . . .

Another option is to use flavoring ingredients from your home-made liqueurs to help along the aging process of the fruitcake. For example, you may have made a coffee liqueur with vodka and whole roasted coffee beans. After drizzling liquor over your cakes, sprinkle some vodka-soaked coffee beans over them before you wrap up the cheesecloth around them and seal the container. Both the flavor and the preservative vodka will seep from the beans down onto the cakes. Coffee liqueur lends a deep and mysterious flavor to fruitcake, similar to that of brandy. If you have a lot of these flavoring agents, you could even try packing a loaf in them.

Fruitcake has been popular for thousands of years, but fell into disrepute in the United States when the talk-show host Johnny Carson criticized those who give fruitcake as a gift at Christmas. Carson's reputation as a curmudgeon was further enhanced by those he interviewed who reported that, during commercial breaks, he would ignore his guest in favor of staring blankly at his desk and drumming perididdles with his pencil. As soon as the commercial was over, however, Carson would instantly assume his friendly, engaging demeanor, thus putting his guest off balance.

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More recently, fruitcake has become one of the items not allowed on airplanes because of its density. The fruitcake is so dense that an xray machine could not detect a concealed weapon! In Britain, the fruitcake remains highly esteemed and is often decorated in great detail. For many, great sentiment is attached to the family tradition of baking fruitcake from a recipe handed down through the generations. Possibly, inhabitants of northern climates appreciate the fruitcake more than those in tropical latitudes.

Another raging debate about fruitcake concerns the difference between light and dark fruitcake. Traditionally, light fruitcake does not contain molasses. In the above recipe, using Demerara sugar instead of white or light brown sugar could be construed as turning the light fruitcake recipe into a dark fruitcake. To maintain the light fruitcake status, one might also use white rum instead of brandy or dark rum to season the cake and, if you're a purist, use light-colored raisins like Sultanas instead of the darker Thompson raisins.

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