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Years and years ago my brother-in-law brought me a swank little fruitcake, all packaged and primped and wrapped up, all the way from London to my not-so-tony walk-up apartment in Manhattan's Upper West Side. I opened it up, fully expecting my fussy palate to become enthralled at the first bite of fancy cake, but no amount of passport stamps, customs forms, and British spelling ("coloUr"!!!) could make me choke the vile thing down.
Dry and marbled with Technicolor gummy bits, it was rank with booze as a wino's belch. I spit it out. And then I taped the decorative almonds to my fingers and pretended they were press-on nails. The remains were laid to rest in the rubbish bin (as they say across the pond).
Fruitcake has a bad rap, and I'll admit to talking trash about it. Crumbly, overly liquored, garishly done up with over-processed fruit, it's a downright tramp of a dessert. And it takes forever to make. Did you know that fruitcake can be made years in advance? It apparently likes to ripen. (Shivers of horror).
I began writing out my holiday cake lineup back in August and penciled in fruitcake. It was inevitable. I began writing for Serious Sweets last January, which meant this year it was an absolute must that I bake a series of seasonal cakes like orange-cranberry, ginger, sticky toffee, etc., etc., etc.
There was no playing coy and skipping over the fruitcake, like I do when I see someone I know in the street when I'm not wearing any makeup and quickly pass by pretending I didn't see them (later I write a note and say, 'OH! I think I did see you the other day, but goodness, I had a terrible sty in my eye and wasn't wearing one of my contacts—you do know I'm blind as a bat, don't you?! Yes...sad. Coke bottle glasses).
I looked deep into fruitcake's soul and came back with a simple math equation. Fruit + cake = fruitcake. I was floored. Why, I adore fruit and cake! Most of my cakes have fruit in them! I could surely make this work.
And I did. This cake is not dry, not bedazzled with funkified fruit, and it's tickled with liquor just enough to loosen it up like the first cocktail at a party. I worked in a trick from Orange Kiss-Me Cake and included an orange in the batter (skin, pith, and flesh!) for a bracing backbone, as well as freshly grated ginger to keep it sharp.
In lieu of those stale gummy bits, dried fruits like black figs, red plums, tart cherries, golden raisins, and chocolate-y, gooey dates poached in Grand Marnier and cognac—spirits that herald forth glowing fireplaces and burning embers. Golden nuggets of candied pineapple and fiery crystallized ginger gently singe through the dense forest of molasses and brown sugar that make up the moist crumb of this cake. Jade tinted pistachios and meaty walnuts peek through, too, and a sticky veil of laced cherry juice sheaths the whole thing.
Here at last is a cake that doesn't require weeks or months of preparation, nor a napkin to politely spit the unsavory bite out into.
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About the author: María del Mar Sacasa is a recipe developer, food stylist, and author of the food blog High Heels & Frijoles. Behind her girly façade lurks a truck driver's appetite. Read about her cravings and suffer through her occasional rants on Twitter @HHandFrijoles.