Thursday, December 4, 2014

Anna Sultana’s Fruitcake Baking Hints

I know… you had really good intentions this year.
But, as usual, life got in the way.
Here we are, one week into December and you haven’t made a fruitcake.
Same as last year… and the years before.

If you’re celebrating Ukrainian Christmas and following the Julian calendar, you have some wiggle room.
But then, if you were Ukrainian, you wouldn’t be looking for a fruitcake recipe. 
You’re not Ukrainian, and you’re in a panic. 
Don’t be.

Ma’s Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Coffee Cake has nuts in it, looks festive and doesn’t need to be aged.
Ma’s Pineapple Cake with Coconut Pecan Topping also could be whipped up in a couple of hours the day the relatives are due.
No booze in either recipe, so the kiddies can have all they want.

Carmela Soprano's Mom's Pear and Grappa Pound Cake is also great for holiday gatherings, especially if you're expecting all the relatives.
It can be made in a couple of hours and doesn’t need to be aged.
It has canned pears and your choice of rum, brandy or grappa in it.
Yes, the booze will come in handy with the visiting relatives.

Okay… those recipes can take care of this year’s Christmas dinner.
But you may be wondering why a real fruitcake is such a hassle.
Here’s a quick fruitcake course:

Recipe hints
Don't feel absolutely bound by a recipe.
If you don’t have or don’t like something you can substitute.  Really!
If the recipe calls for                    You can substitute
brandy, rum, etc.                        wine or even a fruit juice 
citron                                         another candied or dried fruit 
raisins                                        more chopped dates and fewer raisins 
candied pineapple, cherries          the same weight of a candied fruit mix 

The weight of fruit and nuts should be about the same as in the recipe. 

Use fresh good quality ingredients, and make sure the spices are fresh.
Dredge fruit and nuts with some flour so they won't sink in the batter. 
Shake off excess flour and use the excess flour in the recipe.
Want a a moister fruitcake?  Add 1 cup applesauce to your recipe.

Baking hints
Two or three days before baking prepare the nuts and fruits.
Pour the liquor or fruit juice over the nuts and fruits, and let the mixture stand well covered at least overnight or for two or three days.
Then drain and use the excess liquid in the recipe.

Fruitcakes may be baked in muffin tins, disposable pans, etc.
If changing the pan's size, remember the baking time will be different.
Be sure to grease and flour pans or use greased brown paper or wax paper.

Place a pan of hot water on the floor of the oven to keep them from drying out. 
Always bake fruitcakes at a low temperature, no higher than 325º F. 
If the cakes are browning too quickly, place a sheet of foil on the top of the cakes.
Be careful not to over bake.
Test with a cake tester or metal/wooden skewer inserted in the centre of the cake. 
It will come out moist, but not doughy, when the cake is done.

Post Baking hints
Sprinkle hot cakes liberally with whatever liquor or wine was used.
You can also poke the cake with a skewer.
Cool fruitcakes on a rack in the pans in which they were baked. 
When cooled, turn them out of the pans and carefully peel off the paper. 

Liquor based cakes may be stored several months in a cool place.  
Wrap the cake in brandy or wine-soaked towels, and then wrap in either plastic wrap or aluminum foil. 
For very long storage, bury the liquor-soaked cake in powdered sugar and place in a tightly covered tin in a cool place. 
Once a week, brush the cakes with more liquor. 
Check liquored-soaked cakes periodically and rewrap in liquor soaked cloth. 
Fruit cakes can be enjoyed as long as 25 years this way. 
But, really, why anyone would brush cakes as a hobby escapes me.

Non liquor soaked cakes may be kept in a cool place for short term storage or in a freezer for long storage.

Storage hints
Fruitcakes taste better after they have aged. This is called "ripening." 
Fruitcakes should be made at least a month ahead of when you’ll need it. 
Two, three, or even four months is better if you can store them in a cool and dry place.
Fruitcakes freeze well, but they must be aged at least four weeks before freezing.
They won’t ripen while they are frozen.
Do not decorate the cakes before storing them.

Serving hints
Frost cakes close to serving time. 
You can brush a sugar syrup glaze on cakes for a shine.
Slice cakes in a sawing motion with a sharp thin-bladed knife or a serrated knife.

Refresh stale fruitcakes by gently heating slices in a microwave or a steamer and serving with a hard sauce, brandy sauce, glaze or desired topping. 

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