I didn't grow up eating fruitcake, so I have no emotional baggage surrounding it.* No grimacing with false gratitude as I open up a gift of chemically sweetened candied fruit, no family jokes about the fruitcake that's passed around from year to year.
* Save that for herring in cream sauce with raw onions.
And yet it seems that even talking to people about fruitcake sets their teeth on edge. Which I don't get, because hey: dried fruit, toasted nuts, sweet spices, and lots of booze? What's not to love? Does fruitcake deserve its maligned reputation when it has the potential to be the condensed version of everything that's delicious about cake?
The result is this, an ice cream that's all fruitcake in spirit, but easier to make. The base is a sweet brown sugar custard revved up with allspice, clove, and orange zest. There's some rum in it too, but it functions more like vanilla than a super-strong flavoring in and of itself. The real boozy punch comes in from the dried fruit—I went with a mix of cherries, apricots, candied ginger, and golden raisins—rehydrated overnight in about a cup of rum. The fruits become tiny rum bombs, soft and chewy even when frozen, releasing their rummy payload as you bite down on them. But when chilled and mixed with nuts and sweet frozen custard, they offer the balanced boozy bite you wish fruitcake had: assertive but not overpowering.
Like in a traditional fruitcake, this ice cream is meant to be dense and full of chunks—you get to enjoy chewing it from start to finish. And even though it's a frozen dessert, it's plenty warming. The spices and fruit mingle just so, and roasty-sweet nuts, brown sugar, and rum come together for something that tastes a whole lot like Christmas. I may be eating Chinese food and seeing a movie on December 24th, but this is what I'll be eating afterward.