May 22, 2015
Fresh baked fruitcake can be hard to come by, so here are some recipes for making your own.
Light Fruit Cake
submitted by Mike Ciola, former owner of Dutch Epicure in Amherst
2½ lbs. walnuts
2½ lbs. red cherries
2½ lbs. green cherries
3 lbs. 4 oz. pineapple
6½ lbs. white grapes
½ ounce vanilla extract
1 pint brandy
1 pint water
2 lbs. 4 oz. sugar
2 lbs. 4 oz. bread flour
1 lb. 12 oz. hi-ratio shortening
2 lbs. 4 oz. egg
8 oz. milk
Soak walnuts, cherries, pineapple and grapes in vanilla, brandy and water overnight. Cream the sugar, 1 lb. 2 oz. of bread flour and shortening together for five minutes. Mix in the egg, milk and 1 lb. 2 oz. of bread flour, then fold in fruit. Cook for one hour at 325 degrees.
created by Alison Ladman, of The Crust and Crumb in Canterbury
1 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
Zest of 1 orange
¼ cup orange juice
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup candied peel
¾ cup chopped dates
¾ cup candied cherries
¾ cup chopped dried apricots
¾ cup chopped toasted pecans
Colored sugars, if desired
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, salt and baking soda. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and orange zest, then beat to combine. Add the orange juice and half of the flour, then mix, scraping down the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing. Add the remaining flour and mix to thoroughly incorporate. Stir in the candied peel, dates, cherries, apricots and pecans.
Working in batches, drop the dough by the tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with colored sugars, if desired. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 40 cookies.
Chocolate Rum Fruitcake
created by Alison Ladman, of The Crust and Crumb in Canterbury
Makes one large loaf or two smaller loaves
For the fruit and syrup:
¾ cup dried cherries
¾ cup dried cranberries
¾ cup chopped dried dates
¾ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup spiced rum
¾ cup sugar
For the cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg yolks
1½ cups flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup toasted pistachios, optional
Heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a large loaf pan or two smaller loaf pans with baking spray, or grease the pan with butter and dust with cocoa powder.
In a medium saucepan, combine the cherries, cranberries, dates, apricots, rum, sugar, and ¼ cup water. Bring up to a simmer and then remove from the heat. Allow to cool and then drain, reserving the liquid. Set the liquid aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla. Beat together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl and beating for 1 minute after each addition. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt together and add to the butter and egg mixture. Stir just to combine. Mix in the drained fruit mixture, chocolate chunks, and pistachios, if using. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
With the cake still in the pan, poke the cake all over with the wooden skewer. Pour the reserved rum syrup all over the cake. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before turning out of the pan to finish cooling.
Where to find fruitcake
A quick search for fruitcakes in the Granite State left us empty-handed but you can order blogger Isabelle Kyrk’s favorite fruitcakes from these websites:
And we did find a few bakeries and specialty shops at which panettone and stollen can be found.
Christmas stollen is available:
• Dutch Epicure Bakery, 141 State Route 101A, Amherst, 879-9400, dutchepicurebakery.com
• German John’s Bakery, 5 W. Main St., Hillsborough, 464-5079, germanjohnsbakery.net
• The Good Loaf, 75 Mont Vernon Road, Milford, 673-1500, thegoodloaf.com
• Harvey’s Bakery, 376 Central Ave., Dover, 742-6029, harveysbakery.com.
Fresh panettone is also available at Dutch Epicure in Amherst and Dancing Lion Chocolate (917 Elm St. in Manchester, 625-4043, www.dancinglion.us). Call for more information about availability.
Imported panettone from Italy is available during the holidays at Butter’s Fine Food and Wine, 70 N. Main St. in Concord, 225-5995, www.buttersfinefood.com.
Know of a bakery or specialty shop that makes or sells fruitcake, stollen or panettone? Let us know at email@example.com.
It’s hard to say when and where fruitcake earned itself a bad reputation. When did people begin to question whether it was better served as a dessert or used as a doorstop? I bet you didn’t know that at one point the unloved loaf was a sign of prosperity rather than a gift to be scoffed at and left untouched.
While the holiday season is usually a time for redemption, it seems as though the poor fruitcake can never catch a break.
“I’m sure there are an army of artisanal fruitcake bakers around the country that do a wonderful job, but when I hear ‘fruitcake’ I think of the hideous rectangular blocks of cake-like matter cellophane-wrapped at the grocery store with day-glo fruits in them and walnuts,” said J.M. Hirsch, food editor of the Associated Press. “To me that’s everything that’s wrong with food.”
The golden years
Before cane sugar was available, people could only sweeten their desserts with apricots, raisins, figs and other fruits of that nature, said Mike Ciola, former owner of Dutch Epicure in Amherst.
“There wasn’t even a lot of that around … they were highly prized and maybe available to the nobility but not the common man,” he said. “Things weren’t like they were today 500 years ago as far as being able to go to the store to buy things.”
Fruitcake and stollen were so appreciated that they were served only for grand occasions and on holidays; both were also given as gifts. Fruitcake had at one time been a standard wedding cake in some parts of Europe. Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, requested a multi-tiered one to serve at her wedding to Prince William earlier this year.
Serving fruitcake as a wedding cake became a ritual because, as the heavy pastry was filled with rare and expensive fruits, it signaled prosperity and fertility for the new couple, Ciola said.
“People who don’t understand the background today just go to the store to get stollen or fruitcake and don’t think twice about it,” Ciola said. “Now it’s easy to go get a bag of cane sugar and make something sweet.”
More than just fruit
It is the depth and the complexity of the traditional holiday cake that Isabelle Kyrk appreciates most.
“I would say that the ingredients make a good fruitcake,” she said. “The ones I have tasted that are the best actually, surprisingly, have been the homemade ones that I’ve been sent and the ones that use the most decadent, wholesome ingredients — real butter, dried fruit or well-made candied fruit.”
“Good, honest ingredients that are made with care as opposed to some of the mass-produced cakes made with industrial ingredients — high-fructose corn syrup and fillers,” she said.
Kyrk is one of the lucky ones. She grew up with good fruitcake and therefore was unable to understand how and why a baked good could be so hated by so many. Six years ago, Kyrk, of Chicago, Ill., decided to take her curiosity to the next level by starting Mondo Fruitcake (mondofruitcake.com), a blog devoted to dissecting both the good (yes, some are good) and bad fruitcakes of the world.
“You would actually be surprised how many people do like fruitcakes,” Kyrk said.
Kyrk puts fruitcakes into three categories — Southern style, monastery style and “other” fruitcakes — depending on how the ingredients are used. The Southern style cakes are not made with alcohol and most, particularly the ones made in Texas and Georgia, contain a lot of nuts — “The batter is more like a filler that just holds the ingredients together,” Kyrk said.
Monastery style fruitcakes have more batter to them and there is more of an equal ratio of cake, nuts and fruit. The batter is made with alcohol, typically brandy, and the flavors and ingredients are mainly natural. “Other” fruitcakes are the ones Kyrk says she would recommend for people who just aren’t that into fruitcake. These are usually made with non-traditional flavors and ingredients such as the aforementioned dried fruit. “A lot of people think candied fruit is weird and people are trying to make [fruitcake] a little healthier,” she said.
Alison Ladman, owner of The Crust and the Crumb in Canterbury, said the use of dried fruits in fruitcake has become a growing trend as many people are turning away from unnatural food products — food coloring and corn syrup included. Dried cherries, apricots and dates make good additions to the shunned sweet slab.
“Adding cherries, cranberries and some pecans would be delicious,” Ladman said.
Dark fruitcakes are typically made with molasses and are “kind of a cousin” to gingerbread. Light fruitcakes are made with light fruits such as golden raisins and apricots, Ladman said.
“Honey is sometimes used, too, but that’s just based on the recipe,” she added.
Artisanal fruitcakes have emerged from the ovens of many bakers looking to class up the unloved loaf, but such cakes can run up to $50, Kyrk said.
Kyrk said the fruitcake never stood a chance in the “land of Twinkies” because of its density and texture.
“I’m starting to think maybe tastes have changed … a lot of people don’t like chunks in their cake,” she said. “[Fruitcake is] just this complex kind of Old World heavier old cake. I think people’s tastes are getting more refined.”
Green cherries don’t grow on green cherry trees
Hirsch said just the fact that fruitcake has candied fruit and nuts in it (Hirsh is a firm believer that baked goods shouldn’t have nuts in them) earns it two strikes before he has even tasted it.
“Basically it has everything wrong for me,” Hirsch said.
The fruit used in most fruitcakes is candied by being soaked in a sugar syrup and can also be cooked in the syrup, Ladman said. The commercially produced candied fruit involves a lot of corn syrup and has much of its fruit flavor removed so it is “just kind of these chewy flavorless colored bits that taste like sugar,” she said.
“Some people really like it,” Ladman said. “Some people are into the bright green cherries and the bright red cherries. For some people that’s what the holidays are all about, those brilliant colors.”
Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and clove are usually the combination of spices used in fruitcake, but Ladman said the amount used is based on personal preference. Some bakers also opt to make chocolate fruitcakes, which she noted are “delightful with cherries.”
Ladman said the use of alcohol in a fruitcake recipe could go either way.
“I’ve seen a lot of people skip the alcohol altogether and some kinds that you need to make three weeks in advance and baste with alcohol every other day, which essentially makes them alcohol cakes,” Ladman said. Brandy and rum are the most common boozy fruitcake additions.
“It’s all about personalizing to your taste, using what you like … making it fit to your family,” Ladman said. “It’s a very versatile cake.”
Similar to fruitcake in that it is laden with fruit, Dresden Stollen is a rich fruit bread with a marzipan (sweet almond paste) center. Close to 500 loaves of the German and Austrian specialty will be made at Dutch Epicure in Amherst this holiday season.
“It’s become quite popular over the years,” Ciola said. “Over the years we’ve had to make more and more each holiday.”
Hirsch noted that the addition of marzipan really changes the texture of the dough: “It’s not nearly as gummy or sticky sweet [as fruitcake],” he said. “It’s a much more airy dough … it still has a lot of fruit in it but it doesn’t have the nuts, usually.”
“And they’re usually bathed in powdered sugar, which makes everything better,” he said.
Hirsch finds stollen “slightly less offensive” than fruitcake.
“You can get really bad stollen, too,” Ciola said. “Like fruitcake, it really boils down to the ingredients.”
Stollen is made with rehydrated apricots, white and dark raisins, pineapples and sour cherries, which allow for the bread to maintain its moisture and boast a lengthy shelf life.
“We sell it when it’s six weeks old with a fully clear conscience,” Ciola said. “You can buy it at Thanksgiving and have it for Christmas.” Most stollen recipes also call for rum, brandy, sherry, almond paste, clove and cardamom.
Educating people about how fruitcake should be eaten might help boost the popularity of both, Ciola said.
“It isn’t supposed to be eaten like birthday cake … you don’t just sit down and eat a big wedge of fruitcake or a big piece of stollen,” Ciola said. Both the cake and stollen should be sliced ¼ to ½ inch thick and enjoyed slowly.
“Stollen should be served all day — with coffee at the start of the day, then in the late morning you can have a second slice, in the afternoon you can have a slice and then you can serve it after dinner,” Ciola said.
Who you callin’ fruitcake?
Panettone is often called a yeasted fruitcake but is more similar to a buttery brioche bread.
“The texture is more like cake than bread,” Ciola said. “The breadcrumbs are like cake crumbs.”
A traditional panettone is made with raisins or currants and dried candied citrus peel.
“The dried candied peel isn’t really as scary as most people think it is,” Ladman said. Some artisan panettone offerings have emerged from Italy — look for cherry, fig and chocolate, and classic varieties at Butter’s Fine Food and Wine in Concord — and a traditional version of the Italian loaf is made with white and dark raisins and apricots at Dutch Epicure.
The panettone is made at Dutch Epicure using only four ounces of water — which Ciola noted is “nothing” — and 12 whole eggs. Two pounds of butter is added for every 2.4 ounces of flour.
“That’s how rich it is,” Ciola said, adding that he will often refuse to butter a slice for customers unfamiliar with the bread but instead will steer them to jam because so much butter was already added to the dough. A good French toast can also be made with Panettone, he said.
Let them eat cake
Ciola said fruitcake has become such an easy mark that some joke about the same loaf being shuffled around the world because no one will eat it.
“It really is a crime,” he said. “That’s not what fruitcake is all about.”
Fruitcake, Ciola noted, has been bastardized by the cheap fruit that has been added to it over the years. The use of cheap fruit in what was once an honorable cake was an attempt to keep the loaf affordable.
“I think a good fruitcake, personally, is full of dried fruit or nuts,” Ladman said. “A lot of people enjoy it made with candied fruit but at the same time electric colors of the candied fruit turn them off. Like those green cherries. Cherries aren’t supposed to be green.”
Kyrk calls herself a champion of the fruitcake, as she samples four to six fruitcakes annually and pays for most of them with her own money.
“There is no reason to make fun of them…. It’s a matter of taste really … don’t knock it,” she said. “If you’re on the edge, try one of the better ones. You might find that you like it.”
Hirsch said he thinks fruitcake has become an urban myth in the sense that is has taken on a life of its own.
“I don’t actually think there are many people that love it … I think people make it because it is ingrained in the American holiday tradition as something that is bad,” Hirsch said. “Much like overeating at Thanksgiving and putting marshmallows in sweet potatoes.”
“I think that with fruitcake it’s ingrained in our notion of what celebrating the Christmas holiday is as much as leaving cookies out for Santa Claus and drinking eggnog,” he said.
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