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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Martha's Boozy Fruitcake

I'm trying a new fruitcake recipe this year.  The one I usually make -- my own creation -- is complicated and time-consuming; I just wasn't up for it.  This one has a lot of booze, which, of course, is the real reason why anyone eats fruitcake, and goes together fairly easily.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it could be even easier than the creator makes it.  For example, why is the cocoa mixed with water separately?  And why mix that and the molasses into the batter after the flour?  Why not mix the cocoa and the molasses with the butter/eggs?  And what's with all the folding?  It's not like we have whipped egg whites we're trying not to deflate.  The results were quite wet, which further makes me question the water with the cocoa.  There's a LOT of liquid in this recipe, and not a lot of flour.

The original recipe is HUGE -- it makes 4 cakes! -- so I cut it down by one quarter.  As usual, I put my own stamp on the recipe.  For one thing, there wasn't so much as a grain of salt, so I added some.  Also, I didn't think 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg was too much to ask of one cake, especially considering that they have to compete with all that fruit, the cocoa, and the liquor, so I left them at their original quantities.  (Yes, my friends, that means 4 TIMES the original recipe!)  And I question the tiny quantity of almonds.

I started the fruit macerating on October 25, then mixed up the recipe and baked it on November 11.  After cooking and brushing with Myers rum, I kept the loaves tightly wrapped in a cool room over the next six weeks, brushing them once a week with additional Myers rum.

My changes in quantities from an exact 1/4 reduction are shown in italics.  Here's what I used:

1/4 pound pitted prunes
1/4 pound dark raisins
1/4 pound dried currants
1/4 pound dried tart cherries
3/4 ounce (2 tablespoons) candied citrus peel (orange, lemon, and grapefruit)
3/4 ounce (2 tablespoons) candied ginger
3/4 cup dark rum, plus more for brushing cakes
3/4 cup ruby port

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon boiling water
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ounce blanched almonds almond flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons packed dark-brown granulated sugar
2.5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Confectioners' sugar

At least 2 weeks before you plan to bake the cakes, place prunes, raisins, currants, cherries, citrus peel, candied ginger, rum, and port in a container with a lid; shake or stir once a day.

When ready to bake the cakes, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Lightly grease your pan(s), line with parchment, then grease the parchment and set aside. (I used one 8"x4" loaf, one 6.5"x3.5" loaf, and one 4.75"x2.75" mini loaf.)   In a small bowl, whisk together boiling water and cocoa powder until smooth; set aside.  (This is where I recommend incorporating the cocoa into the butter/sugar mixture and leaving out the water.)

Transfer fruit mixture to the bowl of a food processor along with the almond flour (or ground almonds.)  Process until a chunky paste forms, about 1 minute.  (You can leave the mix chunkier if you prefer.)  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the molasses and vanilla.  (Add the cocoa dry at this point.)  Add the eggs, one at a time, being sure to scrape sides of bowl occasionally, then beat in the cocoa mixture.  In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix, starting on a low speed, until well-blended.  Stir in the fruit until completely combined.

Ready for the oven.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake until cakes are firm on top and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 3 hours.   (The small pan was ready at 2.5 hours; the medium at 3.25 hours; and the large at 4.5 hours.)  Remove from oven and immediately brush tops of cakes with rum. Let cakes cool completely in the pans.  When cool, remove from pans and brush with additional rum. Wrap cakes in cheesecloth, a clean dish towel, or sturdy paper towels, and then in aluminum foil. Let stand at room temperature at least 3 days before serving, and up to 1 month. If storing more than a week, brush cakes with additional rum once a week.   If desired, decorate cakes dusted with confectioners' sugar or frosted with royal icing.

I must say, I am disappointed in the presentation of this recipe as originally written.  Martha's standards are slipping.  It turns out the creator of this recipe, Melissa Clark, is a food writer -- not a chef, or a cook, or a baker.  She worked as a caterer out of her apartment "briefly".  (How long is "briefly"?)  How she's managed to become a successful cookbook author is beyond me, because she has little experience in creating recipes or, it appears, even in preparing them.  I saw no logical order to the ingredients, and her directions are just as convoluted.  I don't think she has any idea why she does what she does other than it worked.  Except it doesn't.

I suspected the batter was too wet, and the cakes did fall a little after coming out of the oven.  The final results were too moist despite the long bake, resembling a "cake" only in the most general sense of the word, i.e. "something that is shaped like a rectangular block."  The flavor was flat, homogeneous, and indistinct.  I tasted no spices.  I miss the crunch of nuts, and the occasional chunk of fruit.  I miss the myriad flavors and textures that emerge and retreat and that are the fruitcake experience.  And for all the booze, I miss the sense I'm eating a booze-soaked confection.  I did taste the chocolate, in a cool, dark sort of way.  Thank goodness I added salt -- at least there was SOME sense of zest, although it could have used a touch more.

Here's another thing...  If you listen to the video, am I mistaken or did I hear Martha tell Melissa that a whole nutmeg equals 1/2 teaspoon?  What?!  I think Martha's been sampling too much of that macerated fruit.  (She does seem to slur a lot.)

Conclusion:  I wouldn't classify this as a fail, but anyone expecting fruitcake will be disappointed.  It's very dense and smooth, fudgy even.  Surprisingly, considering its density, it eats like a light dessert.  For one, it's not very sweet, which is nice.  But because nothing stands out, there is little impact on the tongue.  There's no visceral reaction; think instant pudding.  Or a prune.  It's like eating a prune.  The cake wasn't bad, just boring in both flavor and texture.  The uncooked fruit was very tasty, so there is promise here.  I'm thinking it might need to be wrapped in a very buttery crust.  Just a thought.

Original recipe:  Moist and Boozy Fruitcake with Rum and Port by Melissa Clark via Martha Stewart

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