Paula Nemzek for KCTS 9 Cooks
This is one fruitcake that won’t be re-gifted or used as a doorstop! This version uses dried fruit instead of the traditional candied fruit. It still needs to be baked well in advance – plan on at least 2 weeks to develop the full flavors. A wooden spoon makes a difference in this recipe, and this is where the whole family, in the English tradition, can have a stir.
Combine dried fruits, candied ginger and both zests. Add rum and soak overnight to re-hydrate fruit and bring out their flavors. As a shortcut, microwave fruit for 5 minutes.
Place soaked fruit and any liquid in a non-reactive saucepan with the sugar, butter, apple juice and spices. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for at least 15 minutes. Stir occasionally while cooling, to prevent a skin from forming. If prepared in advance, this will keep, refrigerated, for 2 to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before completing cake.
Heat oven to 325 degrees and place a shallow pan of water in the bottom of the oven. This prevents the loaf from cracking during the long bake time. Not as critical if you are making tiny loaves. Butter the bottoms of two 81/2 x 41/2-inch loaf pans.
Combine dry ingredients and sift into fruit mixture. Quickly bring batter together with a large spoon, wooden if you have one. Stir in eggs, one at a time until completely integrated, then fold in nuts. Spoon into prepared loaf pans and bake for about 1 hour. Check for doneness with the toothpick test. If it comes out clean, fruitcake is done. If not, bake an additional 10 minutes, and check again.
Remove cake from oven and place on cooling rack. Baste top with brandy and allow to cool completely before turning out from pan.
Line a food-safe container with parchment. (This will make the fruitcake easier to remove.) When cake is completely cooled, place it in the lined container and seal tightly. Every 2 to 3 days, check on the cake. If it feels dry, brush with brandy. (Unless it seems gummy, brush with brandy anyway.) The cake's flavor will enhance delightfully over the next 2 weeks. Three weeks is even better.
Great toasted and served with a spread of lightly sweetened whipped mascarpone cheese. The cake slices best when refrigerated first.
Cook’s Note: Fruitcake is expensive to make. We like to split it into smaller loaf pans to use as gifts. You can even split the batter between two 9-inch standard loaf pans. Just check for doneness at 40 to 45 minutes and use the toothpick test. If you have any leftovers, stash them in the back of the fridge and take them out to enjoy, even months later! You may vary the choice of dried fruits – use chopped prunes, dates, or figs. You’ll need about 1 pound, 6 ounces of fruit combined, exclusive of nuts.