I Can't Believe It's Fruitcake

I Can't Believe It's Fruitcake

"Children don't like fruitcake." My son's first grade teacher shuddered when, years ago, I suggested miniature holiday fruitcakes for a class baking project.

We've all heard the jokes about fruitcake as a doorstop or pothole filler, and for commercial fruitcakes, these are indeed appropriate uses. But the cakes I had in mind didn't reek of preservatives or artificial flavors, just good fruit.

Despite the teacher's misgivings, it went off without a hitch — unless you count batter-streaked hair and clothes. Even the pickiest eater in the class, who ate only peanut butter, declared, "I really like fruitcake" as he asked for another slice.

Hands-On Time: 45 minutes
Ready In: 12 hours
Yield: 6 small loaves

Ingredients

    The fruit mix

    2 pounds mixed dried fruit, chopped if large (cherries, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, in the proportions of your choice)
    12 ounces each candied orange and lemon peel, diced (try the natural, unsulphured kind from King Arthur Flour, $5 for 6 ounces, kingarthurflour.com; supermarket mixtures are loaded with chemicals)
    1/2 cup white grape juice
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    4 ounces toasted slivered
    almonds (optional)

    The cake

    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon each ground mace and cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1 stick unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup white sugar
    1 cup packed dark brown sugar
    5 large eggs
    1 tablespoon milk mixed with 1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. The day before making the cake, mix dried and candied fruits together in a large bowl. Stir in grape juice, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let soak overnight in a cool dry place. The next day, stir in flour and almonds (if using).
  2. Heat oven to 275. Have your assistant cut parchment or wax paper to fit the bottoms of 6 (5 3/4-by-3 1/4-by-2-inch) loaf pans. Butter pans, then line with cut paper.
  3. Sift together flour, spices, and baking powder into a bowl. In another bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth, then gradually add sugars and beat until mixture is fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then beat in milk mixture. Add flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time, beating just until batter is smooth with no lumps.
  4. Pour batter over fruits and mix thoroughly — you can use a rubber spatula, but nothing does the job like little hands. Fill pans to within 1/2 inch of the top, pressing batter down firmly, especially at the corners. Bake cakes until tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Cool cakes in pans on wire racks 1 hour, then turn out, peel off paper, and cool completely. Unlike most fruitcakes, which need to age, these are ready to eat right away.

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