Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Joke-Defying Fruit Cake

Photograph by A. Schloss

Fruit cake is a joke. Take your choice of punchlines from "edible doorstop" to "endlessly recycled holiday gift" fruit cake has to be the most maligned sweet in history. And I have a hard time arguing. Commercial fruit cake is for-the-most-part nasty stuff; cloying, dank, and leaden - a cinnamon-scented anti-digestif - and the polar opposite of this masterwork.

A spin-off of Fig and Walnut Fruit Cake on page 205 of Cooking Slow, this is a substantial indulgence  packed with pounds of dried fruit and nuts and barely enough batter to keep everything from falling apart. The finished cake is closer to a giant energy bar than fruit cake - chewy, crunchy, wholesomely decadent.

Cleaning out the top shelf of our baking cabinet this weekend I unearthed nearly half a dozen opened bags of dried fruit, and invention being the offspring of cabinet cleaning I opened Cooking Slow to fruit cake and started winging it. 

The original recipe calls for a pound each of dried figs and walnuts mortared with a bit more than a cup of batter.
Photograph by A Benson
I had about 1 1/4 pounds of scavenged fruit, a combo of calimyrna figs, Turkish apricots, and dried sour cherries from Washington state. I cut the figs and apricots in half and used the cherries as is. Tossed them with a scant pound of cashew and pecan pieces that were hiding in the rear of the freezer, and set about to mix up the batter, which usually takes less than 5 minutes. But not today.  We had no baking powder (how could this be?) and no candied orange peel (understandable since I barely tolerate the stuff).  

Think, Schloss, think. Because baking powder is a combination of baking soda and some sort of acid, I DIY'd a facsimile by substituting a pinch of baking soda and a tablespoon of orange juice. I figured the juice could do double-duty replacing the acid in the baking powder as well as some phantom orange flavor from the missing candied peel. In a few minutes the batter was together (There's no need to haul out a mixer), and folded into the pile of fruit and nuts. I took a taste and damn if it didn't need more orange. So I peeled a few fresh clementines from the fruit bowl, munched on the fruit, diced up the peel, and tossed it in the batter. 

Another change: the recipe in the book was baked in a shallow rectangular baking pan and cut in squares. It worked great, but I was never satisfied with the resulting snack-food look. I was scared to make the cake too high thinking it might turn out on the dense side of slag, but what the hey - I was messing with everything else - why not take the plunge? So I greased a 1 1/2 quart souffle dish and packed it with batter to the brim.

After 6 hours of low-temp baking (no need for a water bath) the surface was gorgeously golden and a tester inserted into the center pulled up clean. I cut a slice while the cake still steamed and endulged - best tasting doorstop ever.

Joke-Defying Fruit Cake
Makes 12 servings

Photograph by A. Schloss
Non-stick oil spray, as needed
1 lb/455 g nut pieces (I used cashews and pecans)
1 lb/455 g dried fruit ( I used figs, apricots, and tart cherries0
3/4 cup/95 g all-purpose flour
Pinch of baking soda
1/2 tsp/2 g fine sea salt
1 cup/190 g sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tsp/5 ml vanilla extract
the peel of 2 clementines, diced
Non-stick oil spray
1/4 cup/60 ml liqueur (I used Triple Sec)

Set oven at 225°F/110°C/gas 1/4. Spray the interior of 1 1/2 quart souffle dish with oil; set aside. Toss nuts and fruit in a large mixing bowl; set aside.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Toss 3 Tbsp/45 ml of the dry ingredients with the nuts and fruit to coat.

Add the egg, orange juice,s and vanilla with the remaining dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon to form a smooth batter. Mix in the diced orange peel. Scrape into the nuts and fruit and toss with a rubber spatula until everything is evenly coated.

Scrape the batter-coated nuts and fruit into the dish, wet your hands with cold water and pack the nuts and fruit firmly into the dish. Set in the oven and bake for 6 to 8 hours until the top is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the cake should register 215 to 225°F/100 to 110°C).

Remove the dish from the oven and spoon the liqueur over top. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen, invert on to a rack, remove the soufflé dish, turn right side up and cool to room temperature. 

Photograph by A. Schloss
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Will Last: 1 week wrapped at room temperature

Variation In a Slow Cooker: You can “bake” this cake in a slow cooker; you will need a 1 1/2 qt/1.5 L soufflé dish and a large (6 qt/5.7 l or larger) slow cooker. Once the batter is in the baking dish put it in the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours. 


  1. I agree with everything you said about fruit cakes. Ugh like keep the cake and fruit separate. How hard can that be? Joke defying fruit cake lol. What a witty name.

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