Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Holiday Fruit and Nut Cake

"No, no, not the dreaded FRUITCAKE..." Fear not: this hasn't even a sliver of citron or candied fruit, which therefore disqualifies it for true fruitcake status. Instead, this moist, dark cake is loaded with yummy dried fruits and chopped nuts. Serve it to an unsuspecting audience without calling it fruitcake, and you'll find it gets a much friendlier reception. Oh, and if by chance you're actually surrounded by fruitcake lovers. go ahead, call it fruitcake.

Fruit*
1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) chopped dried pineapple
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) raisins
1 cup (6 ounces) snipped dried apricots
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) chopped pitted dates
1 cup (6 ounces) candied cherries
1/3 (2 1/4 ounces) cup diced crystallized ginger, optional
3/4 cup (6 ounces) dark rum or brandy
*Our Fruitcake Blend is a delicious mixture, and the perfect amount for this recipe.
Batter
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) butter
2 cups (15 ounces) brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup (5 1/2 ounces) boiled cider* or dark corn syrup
1/2 cup (4 ounces) apple juice, cranberry juice, or water*
2 cups (8 ounces) chopped, nuts (almonds, pecans or walnuts), toasted if desired
rum, brandy, or vanilla syrup, for topping

*For great flavor, use 1 cup boiled cider, omitting the juice or water. Boiled cider-cider boiled down till it's thickened and highly flavorful-gives this cake delightful tang.

To prepare the fruit: Combine the fruit and rum or brandy in a microwave-safe bowl, cover, and microwave for 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture comes to a boil. Leave covered, and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour; the fruit should absorb nearly all of the liquor.

To prepare the cake: In a large bowl, cream the butter until soft, then add the sugar, salt, spices, and baking powder. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add about half the flour and all the syrup to the batter. Then add the remaining flour and the juice or water, and mix well. (Note: You can prepare the cake in most stand mixers up to this point; but if your mixer has smaller than a 5-quart bowl, you'll need to stir in the fruit and nuts by hand.) Fold in the fruits (with any remaining liquor), and the nuts.

Grease the bottom and sides of the pans. This recipe makes enough for 8 mini-loaf pans (5 1/2" x 3" x 2" tall); two 9" x 5" loaf pans; or four mini-loaf pans, plus one 9" x 5" loaf pan. (Our stoneware tea loaf pan, or a 12" x 4" loaf pan, can step in for a 9" x 5" pan, and makes a longer, slimmer loaf.) Or, use the pans of your choice: whichever pans you choose, fill them about 3/4 full. Tent with aluminum foil; don't fasten it down, just lay a sheet gently atop whatever pans you use. It helps to set the pans on a cookie sheet, so that you can move them around all together, rather than one by one.

Bake the cakes on the middle shelf of a preheated 300°F oven, removing the foil halfway through the baking time for the mini loaves, or about 1 hour before the end of the baking time for the larger loaves. The mini loaves will bake for about 1 hour, 50 minutes; the full-size loaves for about 2 1/2 hours. The slimmer tea loaf will bake for about 2 hours, 15 minutes. The cakes are done when a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, and the top crust seems firm all over, including in the center. While you don't want to burn the crust of these cakes (that's what the foil helps prevent), you also don't want to underbake them. If you're at all uncertain, let them go another 5-10 minutes, putting the foil back on, if necessary.

Remove the cakes from the oven, and let them rest in the pan for 5 minutes (the mini loaves) or 10 minutes (the larger loaves). Carefully turn them out of the pans onto a rack under which you've placed a piece of parchment, plastic wrap, or waxed paper. Brush the cakes all over with rum, brandy, vanilla syrup, or spiked vanilla syrup, which you've made by adding as much rum or brandy as you please to vanilla syrup. (If you like just a hint of rum or brandy flavor, add 1 tablespoon of liquor to 3/4 cup vanilla syrup.)

Wrap the cakes in cheesecloth or parchment paper, then in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, and store them in a cool, dry place. Unwrap the cakes every week (for up to 5 weeks) and brush them with more liquor or syrup. By the fifth week the cakes will have absorbed as much liquid as they're able. They'll keep for several months this way, as long as they're tightly wrapped. The flavor improves and mellows over time. Yield: 2 to 8 cakes, depending on the size.

©2006 The King Arthur Flour Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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