28 November 2015

Fruitcake Tasting 2015!!

Last night was the annual Fruitcake tasting party at my friend Sherry's house. This event has truly evolved. A couple years ago we featured primarily purchased fruitcakes featured on this blog, with only one homemade cake. This year, there were seven--yes, seven-- homemade fruitcakes featured.

Another interesting progression has been our attitudes toward fruitcake. Previously, the attendees were fruitcake-curious. Now they are full on fruitcake aficionados, defenders, and even proselytizers.

So on to the party. We started with cocktails using a mixer that was really delicious and could be used to create both a fruitcake-esque type cocktail, or it could go full-on tropical. Here it is:

The Owl's Brew Coco-lada was very delicious mixed with vodka, because it created a cocktail that was fruity and coconut-y, but also light and not cloying. Certainly when you're steeling yourself up to plow through six fruitcakes, you don't need cloying. 

After our cocktails and dinner, we prepared ourselves for the fruitcakes. And what a beautiful variety met our eyes:

The center fruitcake is one from the New Antoinette Pope School cookbook, an older cookbook, I think from the '70s, and a local Chicago favorite, the Antoinette Pope School of Fancy Cookery being based in Chicago.

So in the photo, going clockwise around, starting with the cake immediately to the left of center, we have:

Quite an impressive showing, eh? I must mention that my friend Laura, besides contributing the White House and Antoinette Pope, also made mini-loaves of two previously-made and highly esteemed fruitcakes, the Gourmet Best Fruitcake Ever (sorry, I'm not finding a link for this one) and Fiona Cairns' Rich Tamarind Fruitcake, aka the Will and Kate fruitcake, since it was served at their wedding. So I was sent home, blissfully happy, with a plate that looked like this:

PLUS two more loaves. I think I'll be set for the year......except I have family members with whom I must share my bounty. We'll see about that.

Anyway, on to the tasting. I'm going to group these into the darks, the whites, and the others. I won't be mentioning any Southern-style fruitcakes (which I define as very sweet, almost candy-like, without alcohol), because, it turns out, we all like our fruitcakes plenty boozy. 

The two white fruitcakes were the Mary Meade White and the Apricot-Macadamia. Both of these I would consider "gateway"  fruitcakes or "fruitcakes for beginners."  They both were more like rich pound cakes with fruit (and booze) added. They were both delicious--keep in mind we had already had cocktails and eaten pizza, so I think a lighter fruitcake was welcome. They were well balanced, boozy, rich, and with a nice pound-cake-type crumb. The macadamia-apricot cake in particular was on the edge of what you could consider fruitcake, versus the Margaret Meade, which had cherries in it and so seemed a bit more fruitcake-esque. We all agreed, however, that these were delicious. 

The darks included the Toasted Almond, the Nigella Lawson, and the Antoinette Pope, although the latter was more of a happy medium. 

I made the toasted almond and on first tasting it, was not a big fan. There is a lot of raisin in this fruitcake, and anyone who has read other posts knows what an un-fan of the raisin I am. This one also has a lot of molasses, and I used stout in the batter as well, so overall the cake had a very dark, toasty flavor. The others in the party, however, liked the unique flavor, and I have a feeling that on its own, I will appreciate this more as the rich, dark, spicy cake that it is. 

The Nigella Lawson is also a rather dark fruitcake, having cocoa in the batter, which I'm sure gives it a darker flavor. It does not, however, give the cake a chocolate flavor, so if you were hoping for chocolate gooiness, this is not that cake. There are prunes in this one and overall it also shares that dark, rich spiciness. It's very elegant as well if you choose to decorate it as my friend Sherry did, with gold dragees.

Coming in sort of in the middle of the ones I've mentioned so far was the Antoinette Pope. This is a classic, quintessential fruitcake, boozy, fruit-filled, and spicy, but not overly so. My friend went with a lot of citron and peels for her fruit mix on this one. I personally love orange peel because it gives cakes a fresh, bright flavor, but this was tempered with the slightly bitter taste of citron, which added complexity. I liked this recipe as a very nice take on a classic fruitcake. 

On to the last two. The White House fruitcake was my favorite of the night, primarily because it was flat out sweet due to the delicious apricot glaze and icing. It was a really moist, boozy cake. If you peruse the recipe you'll see that it has a few different additions--almond extract, dried pears, etc---that adds to its uniqueness. 

The final was a really unique cake or bread, called barmbrack, a traditional Irish fruitcake or bread. Upon a little investigation I learned that it's actually associated with Halloween more than Christmas, but I was thrilled to have this on the table. It has a really unique and yummy flavor, containing dried fruits like apples, and those fruits are soaked in tea. It was really unique. The one we had was a bit too moist and resembled in a way a bread pudding, but it was delicious. Definitely a recipe to investigate in the future.

There was some interesting discussion about the amount of care, time and let's face it, money that goes into making a fruitcake. We discussed going super hard-core and candying our own fruit for next year--but honestly, then, the preparation for these cakes would have to start in summertime, and as it is we were baking cakes around Halloween. What I take away from those discussions, however, is a real appreciation for what a fruitcake is--a celebration of bounty, richness, time, and love, all combined in one cake.

Happy Holidays all!!

25 May 2015

On Hiatus

Hi all -- last time I posted was back in January and you see it's already May. I created this blog back in 2005 to address all of the fruitcake hate out there. Since then I've taken an incredibly fun, alcohol- and calorie-enhanced journey through the fruitcakes out there for purchase--good, bad, excellent and horrible.

Ten years is a long time and I think I've fallen prey to the short attention span that Facebook and Twitter have inspired. For whatever reason I just can't bring myself to post long posts about fruitcake anymore--or maybe I've simply just eaten most of them, and there are fewer fruitcakes to write about!

For whatever reason, I'm not going to mince words anymore--this blog is on hiatus. You can continue to find me on the Mondo Fruitcake Facebook page, and I've been storing recipes, etc., on a Mondo Fruitcake Pinterest page, as well.

Thanks to everyone who's taken the journey with me. I have met that silent minority of people who truly love and appreciate the fruitcake, and they are fantastic people to know. I'm honored to stand among them.

I feel, in a way, as if I'm shutting down this blog right at the time when fruitcake will begin to become appreciated again. There are so many craft and artisanally made foods nowadays--I would not be at all surprised if fruitcake made a resurgence. I have personally tasted many home-made fruitcakes, from many of you, that could proudly stand as evidence of the deliciousness of the product.

So I won't say I'm "shutting down" the blog. But it's definitely on hiatus. Certainly people come here to look for reviews of fruitcakes, and I continue to stand by my reviews. You may continue to see posts about home-made fruitcakes I've tasted or made, since I've learned through this journey that that's truly the best.

Thanks all!!

24 January 2015

Happy New Year all!!

Well it finally hit me--one of the reasons I don't think I've been posting as much on my blog has not been my lack of interest in fruitcake--far from it. It's been a technology-related problem.

I don't have a computer at home. Well, I should be more specific--I don't have a computer with a full keyboard at home. For the past 4 years or so, I've been using tablets--first an iPad, now a Nexus. That was actually the problem. Have you ever tried writing a lengthy, thought-provoking post on fruitcake while tapping on an extremely tiny keyboard? Let me tell you, it's not easy.

This just hit me the other day. I just haven't wanted to compose posts on my 7 inch tablet!

This post is the product of my most recent purchase -- a Bluetooth keyboard. I am typing with the ease and comfort that only a full-sized keyboard can bring.

So I hope you can look forward to more posts from me on the subject of fruitcake. And in this new year 2015, I am going to state an unlikely prediction--that fruitcake will see a resurrection. The tide is turning, and I think fruitcake will finally win some followers. Stay tuned for more musings on that.

In the mean time, happy new year to all! If you have a special fruitcake memory from this past season to share, please do so in the comments!!

09 December 2014

Laura's Stollen recipe

My friend Laura, who is an excellent baker, made the stollen we enjoyed at our fruitcake tasting. She cobbled and jiggered (I suppose you could say "stole," ha-ha) stollen recipes from the New York Times and Slate to create her own recipe, aptly named Frankenstein Stollen. Here it is!!

Frankenstein Stollen

1 cup golden raisins
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup candied orange peel
1 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
3/4 cup orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup chopped candied ginger
1/2 cup mixed candied citrus peel (optional, see note)
2 cups confectionerssugar.

1. The night before baking, mix golden raisins, dried cherries, candied orange peel, crystallized ginger, slivered almonds and orange liqueur in a small container. Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.
2. The next day, in an electric mixer with paddle, set on low speed, mix yeast with milk until dissolved. Add 1 cup flour and mix until a soft, sticky dough forms, about 2 minutes. This is the starter.Transfer starter to a lightly greased bowl, cover with greased plastic, and let rest for 40 minutes at room temperature.
3. In an electric mixer with paddle and set on low speed, mix remaining 3 cups of flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, lemon zest and vanilla seeds. With motor running, pour in 1 cup melted butter. Mix on slow for 1 minute, then add egg yolk. Mix until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute more.
4. Divide starter dough into 3 pieces. Add starter to mixture in bowl, 1 piece at a time, mixing on slow until each addition is thoroughly combined, 2 to 3 minutes after each addition. After starter is absorbed, mix dough on a medium speed until glossy, 4 to 5 minutes.
5. Add fruits and almonds, and mix on slow until combined, 4 to 6 minutes.
6. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until fruit and nuts are inside dough rather than stuck on surface, and dough is smooth and glossy, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a medium bowl and cover with plastic. Rest for 1 hour to let rise slightly. Then knead it once or twice, cover with plastic and let rest for another hour.
7. Divide into 2 equal pieces and shape each into an oval loaf about 8 inches long. Stack 2 rimmed baking sheets on top of each other, lining top pan with parchment. Place loaves on doubled pans and cover with plastic. Allow loaves to rest 1 more hour at room temperature.
8. About 20 minutes before this rise is completed, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic covering loaves and bake for about 1 hour. Loaves should look uniformly dark golden brown and internal temperature taken from middle of each loaf should be 190 degrees.
9. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and 2 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger. When stollen is done, transfer top pan holding loaves to a wire rack (leave stollen on pan). While still hot, brush stollen with remaining 1 cup of melted butter, letting butter soak into loaves. Sprinkle ginger sugar on tops and sides of loaves. When loaves are completely cool, cover loosely with waxed or parchment paper or foil and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.
10. The next day, sift 1 1/2 cups confectionerssugar over loaves, rolling to coat bottom and sides evenly with sugar. Wrap each loaf in plastic and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 days before sifting remaining 1/2 cup confectionerssugar over loaves and serving.

Yield: 2 loaves, each about 1 1/2 pounds.