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How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fruitcake Weather

       
    It was Fruitcake Weather last week—dark and cloudy, cool and damp—just right for baking something dark and mysterious, with ancient scents of  spices and brandy. I always remember Truman Capote’s story of baking fruitcakes with his slightly odd aunt when I begin ours, for the process is still complicated and takes at least four days.

 Day One: Procurement.
The first step requires a visit to the liquor store for soaking brandy and orange liquors, which feels a little weird. We’re not big drinkers here—very different childhood issues with alcohol still ripple through our lives—and the store is cold and drafty, and still smells lightly of cigarettes. After I have procured the spirits, I have to buy the fruits. I trek to the co-op with the long list and my trusty tin two-cup measure. No glowing, falsely colored mystery fruits here. Four cups of walnuts, two cups of dates and figs….I measure and Mark writes down the bulk bin numbers. Four cups of brown sugar and a pound of butter later, we leave. All of the ingredients hang in a bag in the back hall, waiting for step two…

Day Two: Chopping

I used to chop everything by hand, but then I experimented with the Cuisinart. If you chop equal proportions of nuts and fruit, with a little flour tossed in (take it away from the recipe), most fruits will chop loudly, but neatly, in the machine. I have to hold it down as it attempts to walk across the counter, but that’s faster than hand chopping. Mark and the cats hide from the noise. Dates and raisins can go into the batter whole. Once the chopping is done, we zest the lemons and oranges with our handy dandy zester, add all of the spices and brandy, and soak the mass overnight in a huge yellow bowl. The marvelous scent has begun. Real Fruitcake smells Medieval, or like Charles Dickens and the Christmas Carol.

Day Three: Baking

The next night, after dinner, I bake the cakes. First I mix the butter and sugar, eggs and vanilla, in the KitchenAide mixer, adding flour after everything is well creamed. Then, I dump the soaked fruit into my biggest container—a commercial sized stockpot that was once used to cook pasta at Anthony’s Restaurant in Portsmouth New Hampshire—and mix the batter in by hand. It’s the only way to do it. I am over wrist, almost to elbow in batter, folding the mixture together, breathing in allspice and lemon, brany and plums, butter and sugar. Heaven. Once mixed, I plop the batter into the nine small loaf pans lined with waxed paper waiting on the table. Batter is everywhere. We taste. The pans rest in the oven and bake.  When they come out, I pour more brandy over them.

Day Four: Wrapping

            On the last day, I knock the loaves out of pans and wrap them up, firmly, in waxed paper and tinfoil. I want them to breathe, but not too much. We nibble on the crumbs. Then, I stack the loaves in the larder to mellow and wait for Christmas time and distribution.



Dark Fruitcake—from Fannie Farmer

3 cups of raisins
1 cup of currants
2 cups of apricots
2 cups of figs
1 cup of prunes
1 cup of dates
4 cups of walnuts
2 cups of pecans
the zest of three oranges and three lemons
.5 cup of candied ginger
2 t cinnamon
1 t allspice
1 t mace
.5 t cloves
1 cup of molasses
1 cup of brandy
.5 cup of orange liqueur

Chop all of the fruits and nuts. Mix everything together in a huge bowl. Rest overnight

1 pound of butter
3 cups of brown sugar
8 eggs
1 T vanilla

Cream together until fluffy.

4 cups of flour
1 T BP
1 t BS
1.5 t salt

Mix together and add to butter and sugar. Mix everything. Place in pans. Bake 275 degree oven until just done.  Soak with brandy and store.

Eat with cream cheese until Twelfth Night.









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