Fruitcake has an unfortunate reputation. It’s the gift that keeps on giving – or getting given – as it’s passed back and forth between households as a hostess gift. In Italian families, panettone has a similar reputation: it’s said that the panettone that you give at Christmas will come back to you at Easter!
But there’s no reason for fruitcake to be so perpetually unloved: it’s the perfect way to combine organic dried fruits and spices for a delicious and rich Christmas treat. Try our favorite fruitcake recipe, and you’ll feel good about giving it away at Christmas… and saving one loaf for yourself!
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. Brandy
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. + 3 Tbsp. sugar, separated
1/4 cup warm milk
1 packet yeast
2.5 cups flour, plus more for kneading
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
pinch of nutmeg
1 1/3 cup butter, softened
¼ cup candied orange peel
¼ cup candied cherries, quartered
1/8 cup candied ginger
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp. water
Combine the raisins, dried cranberries, vanilla extract and Brandy in a bowl. Allow to steep.
Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar and the warmed milk in a small, wide bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Leave in a warm place for about 5 minutes, then stir to combine. Leave in a warm place for 10-15 minutes, until the yeast is foamy and the combination has doubled in size.
Combine the yeast mixture and the flour. Use a wooden spoon to stir until the mixture resembles sand. Allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Add the rest of the sugar and the eggs. Mix until well combined, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead five minutes. The dough will be extremely sticky; don’t fight it. Simply grab a handful of dough and pull it towards you. Then turn your hand right side up and fling the dough (gently!) away from you onto your countertop (like Spiderman). Then bring your hand up to fold the dough still sticking to your hand over the dough that has landed, and start again. (Seems complicated, but you get used to it). After about 15 minutes of kneading, when the dough is very elastic and stays together, cover with a kitchen towel and allow to sit another fifteen minutes.
Knead in the salt and spices. Knead the butter into itself until you have a soft paste, then add the butter, bit by bit, to the dough, continuing to knead using the “Spiderman” technique. The dough will start to get quite soft, but it should stay together. When you add the last of the butter, it will be very soft, but it should remain elastic. If it ever starts to lose its elasticity, allow the dough to rest 5 minutes, and then pick up kneading again. You may not be able to knead in all the butter, especially if your kitchen is very warm. You can use some more flour here, if necessary, but try to avoid it.
Combine the steeped fruits with the orange peel, cherries and ginger.
Grease a glass bowl with butter. Separate the dough into four sections, and flatten them slightly. Place a layer of dough into the bottom of the bowl, then top with a layer of fruit. Repeat until you have used up all of the dough and all of the fruit, making sure the last layer is dough. Roll the dough into something resembling a ball and coating it on all sides with the butter in the bowl.
Cover with a dishtowel and leave in a warm place until it doubles in size (1-3 hours, depending on room temperature at your house). Punch down, cover with a dishtowel and place in the fridge. Allow to double in size (about 2 hours) and punch down again. Cover, and leave in the fridge overnight.
In the morning, shape two loaves and place them in the dish you will be baking them in. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to double in size. Brush with 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp. of water.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 25 minutes, until the outside crust is golden brown.
(Note: these baking times are for baking one loaf at a time. This bread goes stale quickly, so I usually bake one loaf one morning, and the other loaf the next morning).
Image: Randy Son Of Robert