spynotes ::
  December 12, 2006
Better than a doorstop

Kelley2 has nicely sent me a bunch of yummy sounding cookie recipes, at least some of which I plan to attempt in the near future. Today, however, AJ and I made one of my childhood favorites, chocolate cookies. The version my mom and I used to make had pecans in it, but AJ and I substituted candy cane bits instead for a more festive look and taste and it worked beautifully, although the melted candy cane bits made it a little hard to get the cookies out of the pan. I particularly enjoyed watching AJ, wearing a Cordon Bleu apron that came down to his ankles, smashing up a plastic bag of candy canes with the bottom of my stovetop espresso pot, which gets more use these days as a kitchen hammer than as a conduit of caffeinated goodness. Moreís the pity.

The cookie baking wore AJ out, so much so that he could barely hold his head up during lunch and instead lay sprawled across the counter. He seems to have revived though. When last I saw him, he was involved in a three-way friendly shoving match in line in front of the school.

Staecie has asked for my fruitcake recipe. I have to say that there is some extent to which I make it up as I go along every near. But this should be fairly close.

This is an adaptation from a book I got in a holiday grab bag once called The Ultimate Christmas Cookook (New York: Hermes House, 1997). Itís one of those giant glossy books that looks like itís meant for the coffee table rather than the kitchen, but itís one of my most used cookbooks, as it has many tasty and easy recipes for entertaining and excellent instructions.

The chief difference between my recipe and that in the book is that I prefer my fruitcake with mostly fruit and very little cake, so I double or triple the fruit content. I also use a bigger pan to accommodate it Ė and because thatís what I have. And I spike it with booze for a month before frosting it. Because what is fruitcake if not a stealth medium for alcohol? Speaking of which, Iíd better find my recipe for rum balls. They always make the Christmas Eve party more interesting.

Harrietís Favorite Fruitcake

INGREDIENTS

2 cups golden raisins
1 cup currants
1 cup pitted, chopped prunes
1 cup halved candied cherries (I use a mix of green and red)
1 cup chopped mixed citrus peel (if Iím feeling inspired, Iíll make my own, but usually I buy it)
3 tablespoons brandy or bourbon
2 cups flour
pinch of salt
Ĺ tsp cinnamon
Ĺ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Ĺ pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
finely grated rind of 1 orange and half a lemon
2/3 cup ground almonds
Ĺ cup chopped almonds

To decorate
ľ cup apricot jam
1 lb. almond paste (NOT the stuff in the can. I use marzipan. Honestly, Iím not sure what the difference is.)
Royal icing. (see below)
Red and green sugars or other decorations

Royal icing
2 egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp glycerin (I can never find this so I just skip it)
1 lb. confectionersí sugar

1. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites, lemon juice and glycerin (if using) together with a fork.

2. Sift in enough confectionersí sugar to make a thick paste. Stir to mix

3. Using a wooden spoon, beat in the remaining confectionersí sugar until the icing forms stiff peaks. Cover with plastic wrap until needed.

Cake

1. The day before you bake, soak the dried fruit (not the candied fruit Ė it loses its color) in brandy or bourbon overnight or longer. The next day, grease an 8Ē round cake pan (I use a 9Ē springform pan Ė I highly recommend using springform, as itís MUCH easier to get the cake out at the end) lined with parchment (wax paper works in a pinch as well).

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sift together the flour, salt, spices and cocoa powder. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar, then gradually beat in the eggs. Mix in all the fruits and nuts, including the soaking liquid, and the flour mixture.

3. Spoon into the cake pan, level the top and give the pan a tap on the work surface to disperse any air bubbles (If youíre using a springform pan, be careful not to whack it too hard!). Bake until a fine skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. I check it after an hour, but itís usually more like 1.5 to 2 hours. (My last oven was unreliable in the temperature department, so Iím not exactly sure). Then remove the cake from the pan, leaving the paper on, and cool on a wire rack.

4. After itís cooled, wrap it up in paper, then in plastic and keep in the refrigerator. Every few days, pierce the cake all over with the skewer and pour a tablespoon or two of brandy or bourbon on it. You can skip this step if you donít like boozy cake, but I do so I usually do this for about 3-4 weeks before finishing.

5. Whe youíre ready to finish the cake, remove it from the paper and place on the serving plate or cake board. Warm the apricot jam, then push it through a sieve to make a glaze. Brush it over the cake. Roll out the almond paste/marzipan and cover the cake with a thin layer of it. Cover with royal icing. Sprinkle with red and green sugar or decorate as you wish.

NOTE: Iím not usually a big fan of icing on fruitcake, but in this case, the icing keeps the cake incredibly moist for a very long time. I donít recommend leaving off that step (Iíve tried).

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