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Boozy Christmas Fruit Cake

Posted Dec 18 2012 3:11am
What would Christmas be without Aunt Ethel's fruit cake? And I imagine you're probably wondering; what is she doing posting about this fruitcake recipe? I mean come on - it's fruit cake. A cake that we all *cringed* at the thought of as kids. That strange aroma and those weird bits of fruit. You wouldn't catch me milling around the fruit cake table. I'd be over by the cheese and pickle platter, or cracking my way through a cluster of walnuts like a foraging squirrel, or filling my pockets with chocolates and candy.

But over the years I have grown very fond of this cake, appreciating the cost, effort and time that goes into making it. I've also learned that the key to a great fruit cake is a lot of booze - brandy or rum will usually do the trick. It wasn't until a few years back that I sampled my mother-in-law's recipe, and my mind was changed. I was completely smitten with the boozy flavor, and I asked for a copy of the recipe in hopes of making it a family tradition. Others must also feel affectionate towards this cake, because it was the first dessert to go at our holiday party, despite its close proximity to the cherry thumbprint and ginger cookies.

Early last week I set out to make this cake, allowing enough time for it to soak up the rum flavors before our holiday party. Most ingredients I found in the pantry.  A few however - candied green and red cherries, citron, and mace - were all but unknown to me. It turns out that mace isn't just a company whom produces pepper spray, it's also a spice - who would have thought? It is the waxy red covering that surrounds the nutmeg seed, and it has a flavor quite similar to nutmeg, but a little more peppery.
I scoured three grocery stores in search of candied cherries and citron before finding them at Safeway, conveniently located in the produce aisle on the bright and festive singing Christmas fruit cake display stand. I'm not sure you'd have much luck finding candied fruit any other time of year, so if you think you're going to have a fruit cake craving in July, you'd better make some extra and store it in the freezer. 
As for the booze, Mr. H and myself have now acquired a proper liquor cabinet, following my birthday gift to him (a decanter and whiskey glasses). We have a few different bottles of rum, but I'm always confused which one is the *special* rum. That's the one we brought back from Belize, and it is only to be drank in fancy glasses, no ice, no coke. I know that we also have a few less classy bottles tucked away in the back, so I rooted around the cupboard and pulled out what I thought to be an *ok* bottle for the cake. After taking a sip to test it out, I noticed a weird mesh lid on the spout. I also noticed that there was a deep burn that lined my esophagus. I shrugged it off as my distaste for rum, and low tolerance. Mr. H returned from work that day, and noticed the bottle of rum on the counter. He was curious. "What do you plan to do with this Bacardi 151 (which is apparently 75% alcohol)?" he asked. I probably would have known it was 75% alcohol if I read the label, but I didn't. It turns out that the mesh lid is a flame guard and the burning in my esophagus was real. Lucky, it was only a 1/2 cup used for soaking the fruit, so to make up for my mishaps, I decided to brush the cake with the fancy rum instead.

I feel as though it is important to note the take home message from this incident. Always read the label on the alcohol bottle before you start throwing it around like a drunken sailer. Throw out that bottle of Bacardi 151 that mysteriously ended up in the cupboard, and do not serve your 2 year old nephew the boozy rum cake. He'll be fine will cheese and crackers. 

makes 2 regular sized loaf cakes
notes: Christmas cake can be made well in advance, up to one month. The longer you let the cake soak in the rum or brandy, the more flavor is will have. Candied cherries and citron are hard to find during the year, except at Christmas. They are kept in the grocery store either in the baking aisle or near the produce. 

1 cup glace/candied red cherries
1 cup glace/candied green cherries
1 cup citron peel
2 cups Thompson raisins
2 cups golden raisins
1/2 cup brandy or rum + extra for basting
2 cups pitted dates, chopped
2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp mace

In a large bowl, combine the candied cherries, citron peel, and raisins. Add the brandy or rum. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 2 hours, up to 24 hours - stirring periodically.

Once you are ready to make, grease the loaf pans with butter and line with parchment paper so that the cakes are easy to remove once baked.

Reposition the oven rack to the middle and preheat the oven to 275ºF.

Toss the fruit with 1/2 cup of the flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the granulated sugar on low-med speed until light and fluffy - 3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and mix until combined.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Beat in the vanilla and almond extract until combined.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining flour, baking soda and spices with a wire whisk.

Add the flour to the fruit mixture and mix thoroughly on low speed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Place the loaf pans in the oven and bake for 3 to 3 ½ hours. Insert a toothpick after 3 hours. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done.

Let the cakes cool for 30 minutes in their pans, and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

When the cakes are cool, wrap them in cheesecloth and brush with brandy or rum to dampen the entire cheese cloth. Place the cakes in a plastic bag, and let sit for up to a month. When the cheese cloth looks dry, brush the cakes with more brandy or rum.  Can be eaten 2 days after baking and stored in the freezer for up to 6 months.

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