Ode to Fruitcake
By Rochelle delaCruz
Everyone has heard at least one joke about fruitcake…you know, that dense doughnut-shaped delicacy chock full of candied fruit and nuts, soaked in 120-proof brandy and aged to delicious perfection. Not much cake in fruitcake but who’s complaining? Lots of people apparently, and one joke claims that in reality, there has been in the history of humans only one, single loaf of whiskey-embalmed fruitcake in circulation all these years, going round and around, received and re-gifted every holiday season.
Am I the only one up here who likes fruitcake? At December potlucks in the Northwest, I always look for it, that lonely dessert still intact while pies and cookies have been demolished. How come nobody’s eating that delectable cake and howzabout I take some home with me? Shameless I know, but who will rescue these lovely loaves if I don’t? And while I’m at it, let me also object to the use of this word fruitcake to describe someone a little out of touch. I myself have even caught…myself muttering “What a fruitcake” until realizing the aspersions I’m casting on one of my favorite holiday traditions! I have since organized the Fruitcake Rescue Committee - or FRC - whose sole mission it is to restore honor to fruitcake, both literal and figurative. (It’s a small committee.)
Growing up in Hilo, I thought everyone liked fruitcake, but maybe it’s because my mother loved it. Every Christmas she raved especially about the fruitcake that arrived faithfully from Honolulu from my brother’s mother-in-law. “Mrs. Pang,” Mom said, “makes the best fruitcake!”
So it was with some surprise that I started hearing jokes about fruitcake when I arrived in the Pacific Northwest. There are people who don’t like fruitcake? It was a revelation.
A good friend of ours used to send a 2-lb fruitcake to Seattle every December, made by dedicated monks living and baking in a remote monastery. How I waited for that blessed tin to arrive! But then the children grew up, flew the coop and the holy cakes stopped coming. I can only guess that our dear friend must have concluded that an entire fruitcake was too much for a family whittled down to two, but boy, was he wrong! Oh sure, that wreath made with East Coast greenery is nice, but I can’t cut it up to put in the freezer for a mid-February snack. I’ve been wracking my brain for ways to suggest to him that while a yule log is truly fine, I really miss the fruitcake.
I know what you’re wondering: Why doesn’t she just buy her own fruitcake? Because nobody buys their own fruitcake. It’s a cake made to be given during the holidays and I’m sure that if we had to buy our own, it wouldn’t be so `ono. OK, so then why doesn’t she bake a fruitcake for heaven’s sake? I suppose I could, but have you seen those recipes, twenty-five lines of ingredients and baking directions that continue onto the next page, with such curious instructions as: When cooled, wrap in plastic and foil and let sit for 45 days to blend flavors. Let sit for 45 days!? Only monks have that kind of patience.
So here we are at the season where I wistfully watch for the mailman, hoping for a miracle that is a fruitcake. When none arrives, I briefly entertain the thought of baking one myself, until I snap to my senses, knowing I can never measure up to the monks. Instead, I rummage through my recipe files looking for a substitute and here it is, a recipe for fruitcake cookies, which isn’t anywhere near as satisfying as fabulous, funky monk-made fruitcake, but in a pinch, it will have to do.
½ c. raisins
In medium bowl, combine raisins, candied fruit, honey, sherry, lemon juice, nuts and 1/8t. salt. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight at room temperature.
The next day, cream butter, spices and sugars in another large bowl until smooth – 3 minutes with electric beater. On low speed, add egg and mix well, then slowly add flour and ¼ tsp. salt. Mix until just combined but do not overmix. Add in fruit and nuts.
Divide dough in half and roll each half into a log about 18” long and 2” thick. Wrap each log in wax paper and refrigerate until firm.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350º and butter baking sheets. Cut log into ½” thick slices and place ½” apart on prepared sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes until lightly golden and cool on racks.
One saving grace: like fruitcake, these cookies freeze well. Mele Kalikimaka!
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