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It’s not too late to bake fruitcake

When I was four years old, the New York Times published an edition of its cookbook that included a recipe for Nova Scotia Black Fruitcake. I don’t know if this cake is included in later editions, because I’ve been toting this particular book around since I left home decades ago.

Maybe my parents were bored by the soon-quaint recipes for Pot au Feu and Chicken Kiev, or perhaps they were put off by the indulgently carb- and fat-heavy recipes for souffles and pasta. No matter, I love this cookbook, which has followed me overseas (three times) and back again, and has now lived in six states.  I run my hands over its wrinkled, stained pages and see the spaghetti dinners of my teens, the quiches of my twenties, the mousses of my thirties, the baked squash of my forties, the bouillabaise of my fifties, and all through these decades, off and on, when time and resources allowed it, this wonderful fruitcake.

For Fiona, who took time from her work day in Sydney to share a real pub lunch with me and her friends, I say since you’re allergic to nuts, leave them out. The nuts add a nice meaty crunch, but the real trick of this cake, like any good fruitcake, is the complex melding of moist dried fruit bound together with the thinnest neural network of batter and the sparking synapses of frequent and regular applications of hard liquor. (For those of you who don’t drink, I have a date cake and a cranberry cake that will make your socks roll up and down, but this particular cake really won’t be the same without the hard stuff.)

Naturally I have adapted it — isn’t that the point? Start this cake at least a month before you plan to serve it — the week before Thanksgiving is perfect.


For the fruit and nuts:

4 pounds total dried fruit: up to 8 oz dried citrus (lemon, orange, and/or citron — preferably not purchased in a mix, as that seems to have a soapy taste) plus golden raisins, muscat raisins, currants, dried mango, candied pineapple, and if you can’t resist them in their dyed glory, candied cherries (hell, it is Christmas, right?). Prunes and other dried fruit are also wonderful.

8 oz nuts — shredded almonds, chopped walnuts or pecans, or just about anything except peanuts (or substitute another 1/2 lb fruit)

For the batter:

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon mace

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup butter

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar, packed

5 eggs

Plus: dark rum, cognac, bourbon, brandy, or sherry


A day in advance:

Mix the fruits, cutting into large dice as necessary (think end of your thumb), and toss with 1/2 cup liquor (pick something you like, as you’ll be using it during the seasoning process, too). Cover and let stand at least overnight.

Toss in the nuts, if you’re using them, and then toss the mixture with 1/2 cup flour.

Cream the sugar butter, beat in the sugars, and then the eggs, one at a time. Sift or whisk the remaining 1 and 1/2 cups flour with the dry ingredients and then stir into the egg-butter-sugar mixture until blended.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and spray 2 9×5 loaf pans with cooking spray. (You can also bake the batter in other containers, such as smaller loaf pans, but watch accordingly.)

Pour the batter over the fruit mixture and mix thoroughly. Fill the pans and press the batter into the pans very firmly and evenly (spray your hands with cooking spray to make this easy).

Bake loaves about three hours (less if your loaves are smaller). Let cakes stand thirty minutes, then turn out on a rack and cool.

Sprinkle cakes with liquor and then wrap in a thin layer of cheesecloth. Sprinkle the cakes with a little more liquor. Place in a crock or deep kettle and cover tightly. Several times a week dribble more liquor over the cloth — if it’s a tiny bit damp, that’s what you want. The cakes should become aromatic.

To serve, chill the cakes for an hour or two if possible — they will slice better that way — and slice thinly with a long serrated knife.

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