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

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

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.

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