Do you like fruitcake? Do you have leftover mincemeat? Do you hate being hit on the head by half empty bags of Brazil nuts every time you open your kitchen cupboard? If you answered yes to each of these questions, then this is your lucky day because I have the perfect recipe for you.
It’s a common problem, especially for a baker: You buy an ingredient for a recipe, and then you find you don’t really need the whole packet. So you shove the remainder in a cupboard and forget about it. Then a couple of months down the line you have a rummage and you find the packet but you’re not sure what to do with it. So you just end up chucking it away.
Recently I saw a news item that said that we throw away something like half the food that is produced every year, food that is perfectly good to eat, but it’s two minutes past the use by date or doesn’t look absolutely perfect. I think that is appalling. But the good news that the answer to this problem is perfectly and deliciously simple: fruit cake!
Fruit cake doesn’t care how old you are or what you look like. Once you are folded into it’s warm and spicy embrace, you will taste as delicious as the freshet, juiciest plum plucked right from the tree. Also fruit cake, once it’s made, lasts practically forever as long as you store it properly. There was an instance of an old lady at the turn of the 19th century who made a fruit cake and then she dropped dead (probably because she was so exhausted from making the cake). The family of the old lady could not bear to eat the cake as it was their last connection to their beloved relation. So they wrapped the cake in some paper, placed it in an airtight tin and put it in the attic as a keepsake. A hundred years later some descendants of the old lady uncovered the cake still in the attic, tucked away and forgotten. One of them was brave enough to try a piece…. and it was delicious!
You only get this magic with home made fruit cake – it’s the cake equivalent of the Highlander: immortal and indestructible. Fruit cake will save us all!
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
For the Brownie Base
- A loose based, non-stick cake tin 8 or 9 inches across
- Baking paper
- Scissors and a pencil
- Cling film
- Tin foil
- zip lock food bag
- Rolling pin
- A large mixing bowl
- Several smaller bowls
- A mixing spatula
- An electric mixer
- A cooling rack
- A large empty jar
- 225 grams of plain flour
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon of ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon of allspice
- 225 grams of butter (soft at room temperature)
- 225 grams of soft dark brown sugar
- 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
- 1 tablespoon of black treacle
- 1 tablespoon of marmalade
PLUS leftover dried fruits and nuts from your kitchen cupboard. The following are what I found in my cupboard:
- 155 grams of raisins
- 50 grams of dried apricots (chopped)
- 40 grams of currants
- 55 grams of dried cranberries
- 40 grams of candied peel
- 55 grams of glazed cherries (washed, dried then chopped)
- 50 grams of chopped walnuts
- 25 grams of almonds (crushed)
- 25 grams of Brazil nuts (crushed)
Making for a grand total of almost half a kilo of dried fruit and nuts. Your combination will probably be different from mine, but try to aim for the half kilo mark. Oh yes, and not forgetting….
- 200 grams (approximately) of leftover mincemeat
This is a jar of leftover mincemeat from Christmas. I make my own mincemeat ever year because I am simply that awesome. However, as you are a lesser mortal, you can use the store bought stuff for this recipe. You’ll need about half a jar (approximately 200 grams):
Before we do anything else, we need to do our prep work. It may appear to be a lot of faffing about, but as with anything, if you do take time and do your preparation properly then once you come to do the actual job it will all move along a lot more smoothly.
You’ll need a loose based cake tin approximately 8 or 9 inches across. You can use a round tin, but on this occasion I chose to use a square one just for a bit of variety. Line the tin as follows. Cut out two pieces of baking paper to fit the base of the tin. Then cut two long strips of baking paper to go around the inside of the tin. Cutting two short strips that overlap each other as opposed to one long one makes lining the tin a lot less fiddly. Apply a liberal coating of vegetable oil to the insides of the tin before you apply the cut out pieces of baking paper. The baking paper around the sides should extend at least an inch above the lip of the tin:
Place the lined base plate into the tin and put the second cutout of baking paper inside:
Around the outside of the tin wrap a long piece of baking paper and secure it with a length of string. This will provide a protective wall for the cake and prevent it from burning, because it is going to be in the oven for quite a long time:
A WORD OF ADVICE: Loose based cake tins sometimes have a habit of leaking. To help guard against this all you need to do is line the outside of the tin with some sheets of tin foil:
Now that’s the prep done, we can get on with making the fruit cake.
Preheat the oven to 150˚C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2.
These is the glimmering treasure of leftover fruit and nuts I found in my cupboard. The apricots were too big so I had to chop them into quarters. I washed the cherries to get rid of most of the syrup and then I chopped those too. The walnuts were already chopped. With the almonds and Brazil nuts though I needed to put them in a zip lock plastic bag and crush them roughly with a rolling pin. Take care not to crush your nuts too much though as you need a bit of texture in this cake. Put all of the fruit and nuts into a small bowl and mix them together:
A WORD OF ADVICE: One of the biggest pitfalls of making a fruitcake is that the fruit sometimes tends to sink to the bottom of the cake. There are two main reasons why this happens:
- The cake batter is too thin. For a fruitcake the batter needs to be a stiff dropping consistency. That means if you scoop up a spoonful of batter and tap it against the side of the bowl, then the batter should drop form the spoon after one second. If the batter is too thick then add some milk until it reaches the right consistency. If the batter is too thin, keep adding flour until it reaches the right density.
- The second most common reason why fruit sinks in a fruit cake is the fruit itself. I have learned that a lot of dried fruit these days is sprayed with a thin coating of vegetable oil as a method of preservation. This makes the surface of the fruit very slippery. The solution to this is very simple; just dredge the fruit with two or three tablespoons of flour. This will create a barrier around the oil and provide greater friction to enable the fruit to remain evenly distributed throughout the cake during baking.
That sounded a bit daunting did it? Don’t worry; just follow the pictures below – pictures always make it simpler:
In a separate bowl mix together your dry ingredients: the flour, salt and spices:
In the big mixing bowl tip in the butter and sugar and smooth them together with your mixing spatula:
Whip the sugar and butter together with your electric mixer until you have a light and fluffy mixture:
Add the eggs one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition:
Once the eggs are well incorporated, tip in the dry ingredients and gently fold in with your spatula:
Stir in the black treacle and marmalade, then add the mincemeat and mix thoroughly:
Stir in the flour coated dried fruit and nuts. The finished mixture should be quite thick and feel crowded. If you push your spatula into the middle of the batter, it should stand upright on its own with no danger of toppling over:
Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tin and smooth out the surface, making sure you get the mixture into every corner:
Cover the top of the tin with two layers of cling film, making sure the cling film does not touch the top of the cake. This should provide a further barrier of protection for the cake and prevent it from burning as this fruit cake has a very long baking time. Don’t worry about getting bits of melted plastic in your cake. That won’t happen; cling film was made for this sort of thing:
Put the tin into the preheated oven for between 2.5 to 3 hours. test it after the two and a half hour mark by pressing a toothpick into the centre and see if it comes out cleanly.
Another great downfall for the fruit cake (and indeed for any cake for that matter) is when the cake sinks in the middle. Even if the toothpick comes out cleanly, sometimes there can be just that little bit of batter in the middle that isn’t quite cooked completely through, and that’s when you end up with a big ugly crater in the middle of your beautiful cake. So my advice is, even if the cake looks done, just pop it back in the oven for another 15 or 20 minutes to be on the safe side. If the surface of the cake stays even after the first five minutes out of the oven then you’re safe. If it does sink then don’t worry; that’s what marzipan was invented for, and the cake will still be delicious no despite what it looks like.
Your cake should now look like this:
Leave it in the tin to cool for about 30 minutes. To extract the cake first remove the outer wrappings. Find a large jar – the jar that contained the mincemeat should do if it is tall enough:
Place the tin on top of the jar:
Push down on the outside of the tin:
Unwrap the baking paper from the cake. The second layer of baking paper you placed on the base of the tin should help the cake slip off quite easily. Leave this paper on the base as you place the cake back on the wire rack to cool completely:
Once the cake has cooled peel away the baking paper from the base. Wrap it up first in a layer of cling film and then a layer of tin foil and place it in an air tight tin or box. Leave it for a few days for the flavours to mature:
This is not the end of the story though. This cake is special, but we are going to make it even more special by decorating it…