Christmas cake at its very best
It is that time of the year when one can smell the upcoming holidays in the air. There is a sudden urgency to get things done and start preparing for the holidays and time with family and friends, writes Hennie Fisher
HE fashion for traditional fruit cakes or Christmas cakes appears to ebb and flow like so many other trends, but for some it will always remain one of the cornerstones of the festive season.
Youngsters appear to have less of an affinity for the rich and dark fruit-laden cakes of yore. These cakes tended to benefit from being baked well in advance and doused with brandy, after which they were wrapped and kept in a tin to haul out should guests arrive, to add to the tea table in the afternoons, or even to serve with some great cheese in lieu of dessert at the end of a meal.
The concept of keeping a fruitcake “moist” has always baffled me; the relatively small amount of alcohol drizzled over the surface of a cake could hardly moisten nor prevent the interior from drying out. Research into the matter provided very few solutions as to why precisely fruit cakes are moistened, cured, fed or even ripened as some other sources called this technique. Of course the obvious reason would be preservation, and some sources in fact confirmed that cakes that are “fed” well last for up to two years.
In fact, many other aspects of fruit cakes make them excellent “keepers”: they have a relatively high sugar content, the dried fruit that makes up a large part of their composition stand little chance of spoiling and they are generally baked for a long time (often more than three or four hours).
In our South African weather it is imperative that one’s fruit cake is baked thoroughly as we tend to make them for festive December periods when the high temperatures and high humidity make them prone to spoiling.
To add another dimension of flavour is an understandable reason for the practice of feeding a cake, and for this reason it may not be necessary to use liquors high in alcohol content such as brandy or whiskey. If flavour is the main reason for feeding a cake, one might do much better by considering any one of an array of dessert wines produced in SA such as Simonsig’s Vin de Liza Noble Late Harvest 2010, the Fleur du Cap 2012 Noble Late Harvest or, for an even more interesting option, the Simonsig Muscat Ottonel Straw Wine 2009. Simonsig’s Cape Vintage Reserve would clinch the fruity flavours in any classic fruit cake nicely.
However, fruit cakes do not necessarily have to be of the heavy, dark persuasion.
The following recipe is for a light, white fruitcake with a nice buttery taste that is much simpler and quicker to prepare and perhaps will appeal to those who do not appreciate the traditional, heavier ones.
Of course, it will not last as long as a traditional, heavily soused one, but it makes for easier eating so it may not hang around for as long. The amount and type of dried fruit can be varied and it is equally good with snipped up apricots and almonds or dried pear and glacé ginger. The original recipe was included in Petit Propos Culinaires and comes from Kirkcudbrightshire in Scotland.