A Fruitcake Manifesto
by Miriam R.
While working as a professional pastry chef and baker, the holiday season always brought a few people inquiring, "I can't bake. Can you make my grandmother's fruitcake recipe for me?" or "Why don't you sell a fruitcake?", and so on. Here are my answers:
1) Making a good fruitcake is, first and foremost, a labor of love. The "grandmother" recipes usually take weeks, if not months of preparation, requiring the storage of the cakes, repeated application of liquors and syrups, and other labor-intensive processes. There's no substitute, and no way a commercial bakery can do this economically.
2) The best fruitcakes don't taste or look like the brightly colored pale-crumbed gummy specimens available in the grocery store. Make your own candied fruit (there are instructions online and in "The Joy of Cooking"), use real butter, don't stint on the good quality liquor.
3) Making fruitcake is one of the best learning-to-bake exercises. The traditional base is pound cake, the simplest of cake batters, with various spices, fruits, nuts and liquors for the different flavors. If you want to get fancy, try candied lemon peel, hazelnuts, and Frangelico liqueur for my favorite version.
4) Fruitcake should be eaten, not re-gifted, used as a doorstop, or fed to squirrels. It can be soaked with a lot of liquor and sweet enough to retard mold for months, but if you've done it right, there won't be a crumb left.