Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Let the fruit cake debate begin

Candied fruit, nuts and brandy are just a few of the elements that go into a fruit cake, with each as individual as the next

Love them or hate them

Love them or hate them

For countless Canadians, Christmas cakes have a bad rap. I’m speaking fruit cakes here — you know, the one found in jokes and comedic situations? It is made fun of in movies, TV shows and all over the internet. Even hearing or reading the word brings up a negative reaction for most people. However, there is such a thing as good fruitcake. All it takes is one that is homemade using a tried-and-true recipe.

The first recipe below is a great one to bring this tradition back to Christmas in your house. The main ingredients are pecans, candied cherries and pineapple preserves. It can be made right up to Christmas as it doesn’t need to “mature” in some dark place. For readers who might love a traditional fruitcake, but nut-free, the second recipe might just fit the bill. Give fruitcake a second chance. You never know, it may be a part of your holiday baking from now on.

Christmas Fruit Cake

1 pound candied cherries

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

5 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 jar (16 ounces) pineapple preserves

4 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Cut cherries in half and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and lemon extract and mix well.

Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Stir in pineapple preserves, cherries and pecans. Pour into prepared tube pan. Bake for 3 hours or until a toothpick inserted in cake comes out clean. Cool cake completely in pan. Remove cake from pan and transfer to a cake plate.

Golden Brandy Nut-free Fruitcake

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup dried fig, trimmed and chopped*

1 cup coarsely chopped candied pineapple

2/3 cups coarsely chopped dried pears

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricot

1/2 cup candied citrus peel

1/3 cup dried currants

1/3 cup candied cherries, halved

1/2 cup brandy (approx)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

In large bowl, combine raisins, *figs, pineapple, pears, apricots, citrus peel, currants, cherries and brandy; toss well. Cover and let stand for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

Line 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Wrap outside of pan with triple-thickness newspaper; tie with string. Set aside.

In bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and nutmeg; remove 1 cup and toss with fruit mixture.

In another large bowl, beat butter with brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in vanilla and orange rind. Stir in flour mixture just until incorporated. Stir in fruit mixture until combined. Scrape into prepared pan, smoothing top.

Set shallow pan on bottom rack of 250 degree F oven; pour in enough water to come halfway up side. Bake cake on centre rack for 4 to 4-1/2 hours or until cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan on rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; peel off paper. Let cool on rack.

Cut double-thickness square of cheesecloth large enough to wrap cake; soak cheesecloth in brandy. Wrap around cake; wrap in plastic wrap then foil. Refrigerate for 1 month. (Make-ahead: refrigerate for up to 3 months.)

*I dislike figs with a passion so substitute cherry or dates.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.