It happens at this time every year…you can’t avoid it…the fruitcake joke. I have to admit, I never really understood it, since I was never subjected to fruitcake growing up. I was never gifted it, never tried it, never really thought about it. All I knew is it must be really, really bad for it to somehow come up as this terrible thing every year.
Enter Christmas 2014 – what I am deeming as the “fruitcake phase.” I found out from my mom and aunt that not only did they grow up with my grandpa making fruitcake every year, but he never really gave it away…since he loved it so much. To this day, it is the only thing he has ever baked in his entire life – that is how much he loves the stuff. So, we found the old recipe he used, from a 1950 copy of the Gourmet Cookbook. Still having this cookbook is a treasure in itself, and I think this is about as classic of a fruitcake as you can get.
So, we made a few loaves…and I started to understand the stigma around the dreaded dessert. It’s a dense cake full of weird candied fruit whose sole purpose is to put in the cakes, and then it literally “ripens” in booze for a few weeks. What? I’m all about things chillin in booze, but it was a little weird. However, this fruitcake is real, it’s not a store-bought 10 pound bowling ball that’s already wrapped and easy to regift. It’s real, old-school ingredients, that really don’t end up tasting that bad, if you are into that sort of thing. Which my family is. Jordan and I are still on the fence about classic fruitcake, but I totally get it now (finally). But I couldn’t stop there, I had to go on and make fruitcake cookies…
Don’t ask about the cat…He was apparently going through a fruitcake phase as well. Anyways though, I was a tad skeptical about these cookies. I hoped they would be lighter than actual fruitcake while I was letting the fruit soak in some booze. I hoped people would actually want to eat them…and they turned out great! They are not the prettiest cookie in the world…Sort of like the ugly duckling of cookies, not too cute, but once they hit your lips…so good!
They are easier to make than fruitcake, updated with figs and candied ginger, and you don’t have to wait around for them to soak in the booze for a few weeks, only a few hours. I could see kids not being too thrilled about these holiday cookies, they remind me more of an adult breakfast cookie…and at this time of year, they are probably the best cookie you could eat for breakfast. Hey…they have real fruit in them!
And so it goes. This holiday season I went through a fruitcake phase. Last year, I went through a Christmas Balls phase…and a candied citrus peel phase. It was amazing, and I wish I had time to make them all again this year…but I had to tackle fruitcake once and for all!
adapted from Ina Garten
makes about 4 dozen cookies
- 1/4 pound dried figs, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 pound candied cherries, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 pound candied ginger, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 pound fruitcake mix (can sub out raisins if you aren’t feeling particularly festive)
- 1 tbsp honey
- 3 tbsp brandy (can sub out sherry, triple sec, whatever booze you desire, really. Well not really, vodka would be a bad choice in this situation.)
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 6 ounces chopped walnuts (pecans would also work)
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 large egg
- 2 2/3 cups flour
Snip off the hard stems of the figs with scissors or a small knife and coarsely chop the figs. In a medium bowl, combine the figs, cherries, ginger, and fruitcake mix. Add the honey, brandy, lemon juice, walnuts, and a pinch of salt. Give it a good stir. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight at room temperature. I did mine in the morning and got to baking that evening – a good 6-8 hours should do the trick!
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, cloves, vanilla extract, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg and mix until incorporated.
With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour and 1/4 tsp salt and mix just until combined. Don’t overmix. Add the fruits and nut mixture, including any liquid in the bowl. Divide the dough in half (or thirds, in my case as I was using smaller sheets of wax paper), and place on the long edge of a piece of parchment or wax paper. Roll each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches thick, making about and 18 inch long roll. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350F. With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2 inch thick slices. Place the slices 1/2 inch apart on greased sheet pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden.
Old School Fruitcake
from the 1950 Gourmet Cookbook
Makes 3 loaves of Fruitcake
- 1 C white raisins
- 1/2 C sliced citron
- 1/2 C sliced lemon peel
- 1/2 C sliced orange peel
- 1/4 C chopped candied pineapple
- 1 C shredded coconut (optional)
- 1 C chopped almonds or walnuts
- 2 1/2 C cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 cup Brandy
- 2 tbsp Sherry
- 3 tbsp orange juice