Monday, December 23, 2013

A fruitcake recipe for people who dislike fruitcake

A fruitcake recipe for people who dislike fruitcake

The thing about fruitcake is, you have to keep an open mind.
Keep reading. This story has a happy ending.

Mashed persimmons add moisture, color and sweetness to the batter. 
Decorate as you like; green cherry not required

My name is Roxana, and I love fruitcake. I didn’t always love fruitcake but, in time, I learned to love it profoundly. 

If you are among those who dislike fruitcake, I pledge to you to keep an open mind. I believe you when you say you’ve never had one you’ve enjoyed, but I would like to reassure you that, with a few updates and minimal substitutions, the fruitcake of your nightmares could easily become the treat of your dreams.

The fruitcake of my childhood –or Christmas Cake, as it’s also known- was dense and crumbly. The cake batter binding the dehydrated fruits would be completely dried out, so much so that the mere action of attempting to slice it with a knife would make it fall apart. The raisins were so drenched in alcohol they could almost burn your tongue, and the mix of spices was so over the top, I often had to spit out my first morsel of cake while no one was looking. In spite of its deplorable reputation, fruitcake was then, and continues to be, a popular Christmas gift in my family.

My interest in fruitcake grew exponentially a few years later, when I noticed I had an affinity for baking. In my senior year of high school, I decided to make some extra cash selling loaves of fruitcake to my mother and her friends that they could gift each other for Christmas. In preparation, I studied a recipe borrowed from a lady with credentials of having trained as a professional cook in Paris, and made a few adjustments to make the cake more palatable and affordable. I cut back the amounts of rum, spices and dried fruits, and increased the butter, brown sugar and eggs. My first few trials were successful. I liked making it, but more than anything I loved eating it. I sold each loaf for $5 a piece. I can’t remember how I spent my gains, but they must have been good because I continued to sell fruitcakes for another couple of seasons.    

I didn’t bake another fruitcake for years. But once I moved to LA and started to work as a professional baker, I looked back at my recipe and realized that, just as I did before, I needed to make a few adjustments. A “Californication” of my fruitcake was in order. Prunes were replaced by dates, crystallized cherries by dried apricots, and macadamia nuts by almonds and walnuts. I baked a dozen fruitcakes that Christmas and gave them away as gifts. I have never seen a more apathetic reaction in a recipient of a baked good. No one was excited to try it, and most were convinced they wouldn’t like it. The lack of enthusiasm was such, I didn’t bake a single fruitcake for another decade.

A couple of years ago, the time felt right. I read a figgy pudding recipe written by Nancy Silverton -of La Brea Bakery fame and a mentor of mine- in which she added mashed persimmons to add moisture, color and sweetness to the batter. Inspired by this genius modification, I also added dried hachiya persimmons to the mixture of golden raisins, currants and pecans to compliment the fresh ones in the batter. I went for sherry instead of rum, which harmonizes better with the dried fruits. When the cakes came out of the oven I bathed them in a caramel-like sauce spiked with bourbon, instead of in straight up alcohol. I’m very proud of my new and improved fruitcake and I’m glad to share the recipe here hoping someone will make it and learn to love fruitcake as much as I do.

Hot tip: the batter can be baked as a traditional loaves, but it’s best if you bake it in two 6-inch cake pan. You may also use a muffin tin, which will allow you to make multiple mini gifts. Happy holidays!

Fruitcake for people who dislike fruitcake

Makes two 6-inch round fruitcakes or 20 mini fruitcakes


For the Cake Batter:
7 ounces dried hachiya persimmons, stems and seeds removed, diced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup currants
1 tablespoon orange zest, minced
1/2 cup sherry
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups mashed ripe hachiya persimmons, stems and seeds removed
1 cup pecans, toasted, chopped

For the Caramel Bourbon Sauce:
4 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup 
2 tablespoons bourbon


Combine all the dried fruits with the orange zest in a non-reactive, medium-sized bowl. Add the sherry and set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Lightly coat the pans of your choice with non-stick spray. If using cake or loaf pans, line each one with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan. 

Let's make the cake batter. In the stand up mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the brown sugar. Add the eggs one by one. Combine all the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and add in three batches to the butter mixture alternating with the mashed persimmons. Stop the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom of the bowl and mix for another minute. By hand, fold the pecans and dried fruit mix into the cake batter. Distribute the batter evenly into the two cake pans; or alternatively into the individual muffin tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes (or 30 minutes for the muffin size cakes).

While cakes are baking, make the caramel bourbon sauce. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, add the cream, sugar and corn syrup and bring up to a boil stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and add the bourbon. Set aside in a warmish spot in the kitchen.

Remove the cakes from the oven and place on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Carefully invert each cake onto a plate, and spoon them generously with the caramel bourbon sauce. Let cool completely and serve. To enjoy later on, wrap the cakes tightly with plastic film, and keep for up to a month in the refrigerator.