Holidays a piece of fruitcake

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It’s time to haul out the holly and start the fruit cake jokes. I don’t know why fruit cake gets such a bad rap, but it’s a staple for comedians this time of year.

My experience creating fruit cake started two years ago when my mother-in-law passed the honor of baking it to me. The family recipe is on a yellowed piece of paper marked with stains from years of use.

First I figured out how many pecans are in 1 ½ pounds and then worked out how much candied pineapple makes ¾ of a pound. There was an issue with the directions and I wasn’t sure whether the cake stayed wrapped in cooking sherry drenched cheesecloth for two weeks, or if I soaked the cheesecloth in sherry for two weeks and then wrapped the cake. My mother-in-law said the first option right.

So with high hopes and a strong stand mixer, I set out to bake a fruit cake. Creaming the butter, sugar, eggs and flavoring went well. Although for two years, I couldn’t find brandy flavoring called for in the recipe. The first year, I used vanilla extract and the second I poured in cooking sherry. After I added the flour, the batter was heavy, but with the addition of candied fruit, golden raisins and pecans, the mixer groaned as it folded it together.

Once blended, I plopped (and that’s what this batter does — plops) it in a tub pan and waited while it baked for four hours. At the time, I didn’t know my oven was cooking about 50 degrees hotter than where I set it.

So the cake was edible, but a bit “done” on the bottom. Everyone was nice and said the crispy burnt layer wasn’t a problem. I knew different, but appreciated their kindness.

Last year, the outcome was better. I figured out how to correct the oven temperature and my mother-in-law declared the cake as good as those she and all the relatives before her baked. That was high praise and I felt the glow of fruit cake success.

On Monday after Thanksgiving, I pulled out the mixer, cut the fruit, chopped the pecans, soaked the cheesecloth and adjusted the stove. Oh and the first year I forgot to put a shallow pan of water in the oven while the cake baked.

When the timer sounded, I smiled as I set the cake out to cool overnight (another important step). The next day, I made another one — the first went to my mother-in-law and the second stayed with me.

So now I am a fruit cake baking expert and join those who defend this culinary creation against the jokes. By the way if you need one, here is a fruit cake recipe, (not mine because that’s a family secret), bon appetit.

Holiday Fruitcake

4 oz. Fruit Bits

1 Railroad Tie

Wood Saw

Large Rubber Mallet

Safety Goggles

WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES. (Children: Get help from an adult!)

Cut a one-foot section from the middle of the railroad tie. The resulting block of wood should be the size and shape of a loaf of bread.

Then, take fruit bits and pound them into the block with your rubber mallet. Spread the colors around, or you might get an ugly fruitcake. Don’t be afraid to throw some elbow grease into that mallet.

Good fruit bits should be harder than the railroad tie, For best result, pre-treat the fruit bits by setting them on top of your garage for a year (or by microwaving them on HIGH for 30 minutes).

Finally, cover it tightly in plastic wrap, and give your loved ones the timeless and enduring gift of fruitcake.