What is a fruitcake? To me, it’s a sweet, dense pound cake that’s filled with dried fruits, nuts and all good things to make it taste and look festive. I baked a Holiday Fruitcake with Dried Mangoes, Pineapple and Jackfruit to give as gifts and for our family’s Christmas day dessert. Filipinos love fruitcake. The decadence of all the ingredients combined does not escape us. We love fiestas and any excuse to celebrate something special going on. Thus, when we moved to America, I was surprised to hear my American neighbors and friends joke and laugh outrageously about fruitcakes as gifts. Some friends even kept re-gifting the same fruitcake around our neighborhood till they forgot who gave it first. That’s a true story. I was sad to hear this because we love fruitcake at home. At my childhood home in the Philippines, we were always given fruitcakes for Christmas. All were homemade and baked from scratch. We lived in a rural town in the Philippines so mail-order fruitcakes were unheard of then. The fruitcake was such a coveted gift that my sister started to bake them early in November for friends. She religiously brushed her fruitcake loaves with rum or brandy every week till it was ready to be wrapped in bright-colored cellophane and hand-delivered to special friends and family.
All this time I’ve been curious about the origin of the fruitcake. My search online yielded stories about its Roman origins when it was a mash up of barley, pomegranate seeds, nuts and raisins intended as energy food. Today’s modern fruitcakes go back to the Middle Ages when dried fruits came around. From then, variations of the fruitcake from different countries around the world appeared on the holiday table. In the 18th to 19th century, the fruitcake was a tradition for weddings, as well.
But today, in my American kitchen, I baked fruitcakes for Christmas because I had not done so in a while. I was still stinging from the unkind fruitcake jokes of neighborhood friends, so I avoided giving to those who made fun of it. Personally, I feel if it’s homemade and a lot of work and good intentions are behind the gift, then that makes the fruitcake endearing.
I was inspired by the luscious fruitcake recipe of my dear culinary friend Jenni Field of Pastry Chef Online. She had just posted on her blog the recipe for The Beloved’s Fruit Cake – baked by her husband, from a recipe by Alton Brown. Anything that Jenni bakes or cooks on her popular blog, I take note of. I trust Jenni’s superb, no-fail recipes. The Beloved’s fruitcake was so easy to do and mine came out intensely fragrant and moist. The procedure was simple: Soak. Mix. Bake. Enjoy.
My own version of fruitcake, inspired by Jenni’s The Beloved consisted of tropical fruits: dried mangoes, pineapples, langka (jackfruit) plus the magnificence of dates, raisins, cashews and walnuts. I baked for our family and to give to close friends who I know will appreciate the love and good thoughts that came with these scrumptious fruitcakes. As the cakes came out of the oven, the heady aroma from the brandy hit me swiftly. I was ready to send these beauties to some happy homes and good friends.
Holiday Fruitcake with Dried Mangoes, Pineapple and Jackfruit
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup chopped pitted dates
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried mangoes
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried pineapple
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried jackfruit (langka)
- about 2 teaspoons zest of a lemon
- 1/2 to 1 cup divided, use 1 Tablespoon for brushing cake after baking rum or brandy
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons softened at room temperature butter
- 3/4 cup apple juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 large whole eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup dark molasses
- 6 to 8 pieces for topping glazed dried cherries, red or green
- 6 to 8 pieces for topping whole pitted dates
- 1/4 cup chopped, for topping roasted cashews (unsalted)
- 1/2 cup chopped, for topping walnuts (unsalted)
- for basting in the following weeks rum or brandy
- The day before: Soak the raisins, chopped pitted dates, dried fruits, lemon zest in 1/2 cup or up to 1 cup rum or brandy. (I personally prefer less so I soaked the fruits in half a cup). Place these soaked fruits and the liquid in a large resealable, plastic bag. Keep refrigerated overnight.
- How to bake the fruitcake:
- The following day, prepare the loaf pans. Grease and line with parchment paper at the bottom. *Note: When I used the oven-safe paper loaf pans, I did not need to grease them. Set aside.
- Preheat oven at 325 F.
- In a small sauce pan, pour the contents of the resealable bag -- the soaked dried fruits and the liquid.
- Add the sugar, butter, juice, ground cloves, cinnamon, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Then turn the heat down. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove this sauce pan from the stove top.
- Transfer the contents to a large mixing bowl and let cool on the counter for 30 to 40 minutes. (If in a rush, I put the bowl in the refrigerator to cool for 20 minutes).
- In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda and powder.
- When the fruits have cooled, gradually mix in the flour mixture. Blend well.
- Add the eggs one at a time. Mix well.
- Pour the vanilla extract and molasses. Blend all ingredients together with a wooden spoon till batter is smooth.
- Pour the fruitcake batter into the loaf pans, filling about 3/4 full.
- Decorate the top of the fruitcake with dried cherries, whole pitted dates, and nuts.
- Bake in the preheated oven at 325 F for 1 hour and 10 minutes.
- To check if fruitcake is done, pierce the middle of the cake with the tip of a sharp knife. If it comes out clean, cake is done.
- Remove from the oven and cool loaf pans on the counter for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Brush the top of the fruitcakes with one tablespoon of rum or brandy.
- When fruitcakes have cooled completely, keep in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Every so often during the week, open the containers and brush the top with rum or brandy. Do this 3 to 4 weeks before giving the fruitcakes as gifts or serving them.
- To prepare as gifts: Wrap the Holiday Fruitcake in clear or colored cellophane or place them in decorative tins or boxes as gifts.
- Cook's comments: If you prefer other traditional glazed dried fruits, feel free to substitute the tropical mix I used of dried mangoes, pineapples and jackfruit to candied fruit (for fruitcakes) available.
- Recipe tip from Jenni Field of Pastry Chef Online: If you prefer not to use rum or brandy, Jenni Field suggested you can soak the dried fruits in apple cider. Her recipe for The Beloved's Fruit Cake is here.
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