Real men who want fruitcake make their own

December 14, 1997|By Rob Kasper

I GOT SOME DISTURBING news the other day. I was told that if I wanted any fruitcake this year I was going to have to make it myself. My wife, the usual fruitcake maker, had decided to pursue other areas of interest, specifically baking Christmas cookies. There wasn't enough time to bake both, she said, so she was choosing cookies over cake.

I took the news like a man. I begged. I whined. I whimpered. I told her, "It just won't be Christmas without the fruitcake." She had seen this act before, and was unmoved.

Next I tried negotiating. I said I would make the fruitcake if she would candy the orange and lemon rinds. Candying the orange and lemon rinds is a nasty job. The mounds of rind that go into the fruitcake have to be free of any pulp. This means you have to spend a lot of time attacking oranges and lemons with tools called zesters, or with sharp vegetable peelers. Last year I helped with the zesting part of the process. However, most of my rinds were rejected as being too pulpy. A pulpy rind is a bitter rind, I was told, and bitter rinds would ruin the flavor of the fruitcake.

Most of the time my contribution to fruitcake making consists of fetching the 23 ingredients that go in this cake. The original version of this recipe, found in "Maida Heatter's New Book of Great Desserts" (Knopf, 1982) called for a few more ingredients. But over the years, my wife has tossed out some ingredients and increased the quantities of others.

To get the goods, I visit Jeppi Nut, a store that sits on a short stretch of North High Street between Fayette and Gay streets, behind the main post office. The store, filled with the aroma of roasted peanuts, is a pleasant place to visit. But I always feel guilty when I go there because, according to the timetable of veteran fruitcake makers, I am behind schedule. I usually end up buying fruitcake ingredients in late November or early December. The pros were in Jeppi Nut way back in October. The pros have their fruitcakes aging, while mine are still theories.

I shake off the guilt by remembering the remarkable taste of this fruitcake. It is a fruity, nutty and rich delight that is a stratosphere in flavor above the gummy, store-bought fruitcakes, the ones the disc jockeys and other would-be comedians make so much fun of.

Making it, however, is a ton of work. I got tuckered out just typing the recipe for this column. First, you have to chop the

fruit, candy those rinds, and soak the fruit in booze for at least a week. Next you make the cake batter, mix it with the marinated fruit and bake the cakes for 5 hours. Then you age the cakes for weeks, letting them rest in a cool spot, absorbing brandy, and leading, in general, the good fruitcake life.

There is no instant gratification in making this fruitcake. Instead, it requires lots of long, slow labor. But as the old saying goes, "Them that works, eats." And when my fruitcake labors come to fruition several weeks from now, I will have a hard time sharing.

Rob Kasper's Fruitcake

Yield : 6 cakes baked in 8-inch diameter cake pans.

FRUIT

1 pound raisins

1 pound currants

1 pound pitted dates, each cut into 2 or 3 pieces

1/2 pound dried apricots, each cut into 2 or 3 pieces

1/2 pound dried brown figs, each cut into 2 or 3 pieces

1/2 cup candied lemon rind, (see below) cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup candied orange rind (see below), cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 pound candied pineapple, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 cup brandy

1/2 cup Triple Sec

(To candy orange and lemon rinds, remove only orange and yellow part, not white, of the peels. Cover with water and simmer 10-12 minutes. Drain, refresh with cold water. In another pan, boil 1 cup sugar, and 1/3 cup water to 230 degrees. Remove sugar water from heat, stir in rinds, let stand 30 minutes or more.)

Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to mix well. Then transfer to large jar with tight cover, or divide among two or three jars. Cover tightly. Let stand for a week or more, turning the jars from side to side and from top to bottom occasionally to marinate fruit thoroughly.

CAKE

2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon powdered cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon mace

2 teaspoons powdered (not granular instant coffee or instant espresso)

1 pound unsalted butter

1 pound dark brown sugar

9 eggs (medium or large) or 8 extra large eggs

1 1/4 cups dark molasses

2 pounds pecan halves

2 pounds walnut halves

additional brandy to be used after cakes are baked.

Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 225 degrees (check temperature with portable thermometer; if oven is hotter, cakes will burn). Butter sides only of cake pans. Cut baking-pan liner paper or aluminum foil to fit the bottoms of the pans, butter one side of the paper or foil, and place buttered side up in the pans. Set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa, cloves, cinnamon, mace and powdered instant coffee and set aside.

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