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Suvir Saran

The Fruitcake Topic

402 posts in this topic

I originally posted the following a couple of years ago. Since then I have also posted it in RecipeGullet, with some corrections.

I was fortunate in that several of my ancestors were avid collectors of receipts and stories about foods from earlier times. The great-grandmother I knew well as a child, came from England. The great-grandmother who found this recipe and adapted it to "modern" measurements around 1880, was born in Charleston and was decended from some of the early colonists.

This is my cocoa fruit cake. 

I have re-created this from a recipe written in difficult-to-read, spidery handwriting in the journal of an ancestor in the early Carolina colonies with the entry dated 1690. 

It is important to use Dutch process cocoa.  I use King Arthur Flour's Double Dutch Cocoa and Black Cocoa Half and Half.

When glazed with the glaze at the end of the recipe, this cake will keep for several days at room temp and will stay incredibly moist with just a loose cover.

I have in the past made this cake well ahead of time and wrapped it tightly in aluminum foil and kept it in a cool place for 6 or more weeks.  However I now live alone.  When my family was still all together, I could not keep it more than a couple of days......to give you an idea of the way things used to be, the original "receipt" called for 6 pounds of twice-boulted flour and 3 full pound loaves of sugar well beaten..... 2 pounds of butter and 3 dozen eggs.  I have cut it down to a manageable size. 

FRUITED COCOA CAKE original recipe ca. 1690

1 cup BUTTER unsalted

1-1/2 tsp SALT kosher

1 tsp CINNAMON ground

1 tsp CLOVES, ground

1 tsp NUTMEG, ground

1 tsp ALLSPICE, ground

6 Tbsp COCOA, Dutch process

3 cups superfine SUGAR

4 large EGGS

3 Tsp BAKING SODA

4 cups, sifted FLOUR

1-1/2 cups CURRANTS

1-1/2 cups DRIED CHERRIES (I prefer the dried Bing cherries

1-1/2 cups WALNUTS, chopped or use pecans or macadamia nuts, etc.

3 cups APPLESAUCE, unsweetened chunky style if you can find it.  Homemade is even better.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Grease and flour a deep 11" x 15" pan or 2 10-inch square pans or 2 holiday mold pans

Or you can use one of the large Bundt pans - if it is heavy cast aluminum bake at 375 degrees and it can take 10 minutes or more longer baking time.  Test in 3 spots in center of mass.

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter, salt, spices, cocoa and sugar. beat until smooth.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after adding each one.

Mix baking soda with flour - reserve 2 heaping tablespoons of the flour.

Instead of sifting the flour you can simply put it in a large bowl and run a wire whisk through it which does the same as sifting, i.e. fluffing it up a bit.  Then measure it, spooning the flour into the measure.

Add flour to batter alternately with applesauce.

Sprinkle the fruit and nuts with the reserved flour, shake well to coat and fold into cake batter.

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 1 hour or until cake tests done. (deeper pans will require longer baking.

ORANGE GLAZE  This is optional - I often serve this cake with only powdered sugar dusted over the top.

GRATED PEEL OF 2 ORANGES

1/3 CUP SUGAR

1/4 CUP WATER

1 CUP ORANGE JUICE

3 TABLESPOONS GRAND MARNIER LIQUOR OR BRANDY

Combine ingredients in saucepan, bring to simmer, stirring constantly, continue cooking until liquid is reduced by 1/2. Drizzle over cake ( I use a turkey baster and a perforated spoon as the glaze is too hot to dip my fingers into which is usually the way I drizzle icing . After the glaze has set, decorate edges of the cake and the plate edges with powdered sugar sifted thru a fine strainer.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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Have you tried it?

I'm doing Janet's chocolate fruit cake this year (chocolate alcohol cake) and I think I've decided to do Maida Heatter's chocolate pan forte, too. It's an endless round of acquiring and using up citron . . .


I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Prasantrin, for baking fruit cakes in Japan, I really like the disposable paper cake pans. They don't conduct heat as well as a metal pan, so a small cake in a small oven doesn't dry out badly.

I can only buy one size of round paper cake pan, and I think that your ingredients would make a smallish cake in one of these??? I think I usually make a 2-cake batch which is around double the size of your recipe...

I sometimes douse the sweeter dried fruits such as pineapple in boiling water before soaking it in alcohol, as it is so very sugary.

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Prasantrin, for baking fruit cakes in Japan, I really like the disposable paper cake pans. They don't conduct heat as well as a metal pan, so a small cake in a small oven doesn't dry out badly.

I can only buy one size of round paper cake pan, and I think that your ingredients would make a smallish cake in one of these??? I think I usually make a 2-cake batch which is around double the size of your recipe...

Thanks! I was thining of doubling the recipe, so I might need two pans, too! I actually have some of those sisposable paper pans lying around. I like using them a lot for gifts or for bringing things into work. I think when I finally move back to Canada, I'm going to bring a whole lot of them back with me. Only Y100 a pack! How can you go wrong?

I sometimes douse the sweeter dried fruits such as pineapple in boiling water before soaking it in alcohol, as it is so very sugary.

My mother loves the sugar, though! I haven't decided yet what fruits to use. I have some dried fruits that I always have on hand (raisins, cranberries, assorted other dried berries, prunes, mangoes...) but I feel I need some dates or figs. As for the candied fruits--there doesn't seem to be a huge selection, even at the foreign food stores. So I may get stuck with mostly candied cherries since I'm avoiding mail-order. That's OK. My mother will still love it!

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Glace fruit - can be found at upmarket department stores and fruit boutiques, at upmarket prices. Recently I see glace kiwifruit around.

It's worth glaceeing a little citrus peel - I sometimes freeze the peel in later winter and spring, and glacee it as needed. For baking purposes, you can be a bit more slapdash about the process.

Sometimes I add shredded fresh ginger, to add a bit more variety.

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andiesenji. I want to make your FRUITED COCOA CAKE fot Christmas. What'a your advise - when the cake should be baked? Ahead of time or right before X-mas?

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I usually bake them about a week ahead of time. Depending on how much time I have.

I also sometimes bake them a month or so ahead and freeze them tightly wrapped (now in the "Release" aluminum foil - I used to use waxed paper then the foil) and then in the Jumbo plastic zip close bags.

This cake freezes very well.

If you cook the glaze until it is almost like candy, and paint in on all over the exposed surface, it forms a sort of shell which keeps the cake nicely moist.

When I make it as a Bundt cake, I use one of the "keepers" made for that type of cake and find that it works beautifully to keep the cake fresh.

The first one I bought was 25.99 but they have come down in price significantly.

Amazon has it for 14.99 and they are worth every penny.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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I've baked my black cakes for this year, but I encountered a probelm that perhaps a more experianced baker can help me out with. The first batch I overmixed a bit and they turned out a bit rubbery. I didn't soak them straight out of the oven, and now they won't take on liquid, if I leave them soking do you think they will finally absorb the booze, or is it a lost cause?

My second batch I didn't overmix and the got soaked the minute they came out of the oven. They drank up the liquid quite quickly too.

Is the first batch doomed?

I used a recipe where the flour wasn't added last and I think that contributed to the overmixing. For the second batch I summoned up some courage and followed my intuition, adding the flour last.

thanks for your help guys.


does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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Luckylies,

I've never, ever encountered this problem before so I'm puzzled.

The only thing I can think of is to use a toothpick or cake tester to poke holes in the "gummy" cakes. Then try pouring the rum/wine combo over the cakes. Hopefully it will sink in that way.

After taking the baked cakes out of the oven, I usually let them cool for about an hour or so. Then I remove them from the cake pan, place them in a tin lined with plastic food wrap and start soaking the cakes then. You want to do it while the cakes are still warm.

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yeah, I guess that's what I'll do. The cake texture isn't terrible, it could just be better. After a few months maybe the funnyness will relax a bit.

These can mellow until christmas right?

Kris thanks for all your help, it's really helping this project run smoothly for me :smile:


does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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I'm almost positive that after a few weeks soaking with rum and port wine, those cakes will be just fine. lol I doubt anyone will be thinking about their "so-called gumminess." Nor will they notice.

Your cakes will definitely keep for Christmas 2006. Just add a sprinkling of rum/wine every two weeks or so. This will ensure their moistness and freshness.

I find that the liquor tends to settle at the bottom of the cake. So you can even turn the tin upside and let it sit that way for a week or two to evenly distribute the liquors throughout the cake.

If you wanted to keep the cakes longer than Christmas, you would just sprinkle them with a little rum/wine combo every week or so. My black cakes from last Christmas lasted well into February 2006.

However, if you preserve the cakes right, they could probably last until Christmas 2007. A black cake would never last from one Christmas to another in my house though. LOL

I'm going to bake up my batch of this year's black cakes on November 11th. That will give me plenty of time to mellow them out before Christmas.

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Try steaming the rubbery cakes. I would take one of the cakes, cut it into thirds, wrap it tightly in muslin dampened with liquor and place in a steamer and steam for 5 minutes.

Remove it from the steam, cut off a piece and re-wrap the remainder and let it cool. Meanwhile try the piece you cut off. if it is okay, treat the remainder, if not, steam the piece you re-wrapped for another 5 minutes and see how it compares to the first one.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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The only bad fruitcake is a bad fruitcake!  I have never understood why it is the butt of so many jokes.

One odd thing I noticed when I moved to the States is that wedding cake is not fruitcake.  Seems to be a cake mix sheet cake.

Isn't this amazing?

When I was married, I wanted a fruitcake, and was told that one could be procured *if* one ordered it at least 3 months in advance, from only god knows where. Comforting in a way, but we didn't have 3 months (my husband was between startups), so we settled for some kind of apple cake filled with some kind of pastry cream. We put the top layer in the freezer - we can do that now, which we couldn't years ago.

Interesting that this thread should turn up now; my dh confessed not long ago that he *likes* fruitcake, and I have excavated my grandmother's recipe. I will have to figure out how to translate it from antique imperial to contemporary standard, and figure out what sort of tins and how many it will need, but I should think it would be fun to make. She made wedding cakes to order occasionally, with marzipan and royal icing ...

We had a friend years ago who made fruitcakes as a hobby, soaking them in sherry, rum, whatever seemed different. He had a huge collection of fruitcake recipes, and everyone he knew got one for Christmas. Some of them were very nice.

In Canada, it was ALWAYS a fruitcake enclosed in marzipan.  No wedding reception is large enough to wipe out a three layer fruitcake, so the leftovers got us through some very thin times in our early married life!

Ah .. you were supposed to save the top part of that for the Christening! Or at least for your first anniversary .. lol!

I had better go and make a fruit list if I am actually going to make one of these cakes. I found the plum pudding recipe, too, but it's too late for that this year. Maybe next year ...


Lynn

Oregon, originally Montreal

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "holy shit! ....what a ride!"

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I'll throw down the gauntlet here with an odd question... has anyone ever had fruit cake with lard or pork in it?  Specifically a white fruit cake?

I'm pretty sure my grandmother's fruit cake (wedding cake) uses suet. Which means I have to call about suet, too ... thanks for reminding me :-)

I am trying to re-create a fruit cake for a family member who grew up in Texas, and her aunt used to make a fruit cake that (as she says) "had pork in it".  I ask "was it lard" and she says "I don't know... do you think you can do it?"  The only other thing I can get out of her is that it wasn't actual chunks of pork. 

Ideas??  I was looking at andiesenji's recipe for white fruit cake as my starter... maybe I should use freshly rendered lard in place of butter?  Maybe that "second" rendering of lard (as per the e-Gullet lard recipe) that's more pork-like?

If you can't find out for sure, I'd use leaf lard. Either rendered yourself, or Dietrich's has *beautiful* lard. (610-756-6344) I'd start there anyway ...

A lot of old cake recipes use leaf lard, or part leaf lard. Cheaper than butter. Different flavour, better texture than shortening.


Lynn

Oregon, originally Montreal

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "holy shit! ....what a ride!"

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]CHOCOLATE ALCOHOL CHRISTMAS CAKES.

1650 gm dried fruit.

1/3 cup honey or golden syrup.

1 cup alcohol of your choice (choc or choc-orange liqueur is good, whisky or brandy or rum)

Just want to be sure: when you make this cake, do you drain the fruits, or add them with the rest of the alcohol that they didn't absorb when macerating?

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The Pork Cake thread has the story about where the recipe for Christmas Cake made with Pork Mincemeat from my Dad's Grandmother "Meemaw".... Viva's remarkable photos are worth looking at. Hard to believe that was two years ago.

Meemaw's recipe.

The "mincemeat" is not at all like commercial mincemeat but we don't have an alternative term to explain it better.

Pork was much more plentiful than beef (and there is a lot more fat on a hog, pound for pound) in the south, and hogs fatten well on less expensive food and can forage for themselves in the woods, on acorns and roots, so people in the rural areas were much more likely to have pork fat than beef suet.

People in rural England also knew the worth of hogs so I believe that in many cases traditional recipes were altered over time to reflect the materials available at the time, whether pork fat, beef fat, etc.

My maternal great-grandmother came from England and was an avid collector of "receipts" from earlier eras. Since she was born in 1844, earlier times for her meant Regency, Georgian, and etc. She died in 1949, when I was ten, two months shy of her 105th birthday. We talk about the changes we have seen, think about what she saw. The industrial revolution, most of Victoria's reign, Edward, George, Edward and George.

She often talked about how the traditional methods of cooking and baking, and the ingredients had changed so much from when she was a girl.

She really did no cooking herself, I don't think she had ever done so, but she was interested in recipes and cultivated cooks and bakers and winkled their secrets and faithfully recorded them in her journals.

One of my earliest memories was watching her perched on a high stool in the kitchen and giving detailed instructions to the cook on how to prepare something new.


Edited by andiesenji (log)
1 person likes this

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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The Pork Cake thread has the story about where the recipe for Christmas Cake made with Pork Mincemeat from my Dad's Grandmother "Meemaw"....  Viva's remarkable photos are worth looking at.  Hard to believe that was two years ago.

Meemaw's recipe.

The "mincemeat"  is not at all like commercial mincemeat but we don't have an alternative term to explain it better.

We should maybe be calling it 'sweet mincemeat' ... I have (untested) a lot of recipes for this, whatever you'd like to call it, which call for everything from pork through beef and venison ... the recipe I use is my grandmother's, which rather modestly keeps the meat down to mere suet.

Pork was much more plentiful than beef (and there is a lot more fat on a hog, pound for pound) in the south, and hogs fatten well on less expensive food and can forage for themselves in the woods, on acorns and roots, so people in the rural areas were much more likely to have pork fat than beef suet. 

You'd think so .. but old English recipes seem to be the ones which are dependent on suet. And often, though you can make them with butter or lard, or tallow, they really don't come out 'right' unless you find a butcher who will sell you actual beef suet.

People in rural England also knew the worth of hogs so I believe that in many cases traditional recipes were altered over time to reflect the materials available at the time, whether pork fat, beef fat, etc.

Until the last few years, hog fat was a very desireable commodity for a lot of purposes. I think it's interesting that we started having 'health problems' (apparently) related to fat consumption - after our diets became loaded with hydrogenated fats. I'm sure much of this is excess; all things in moderation seems like a useful principle, but real fat in seems to me to be useful and tasty.

My maternal great-grandmother came from England and was an avid collector of "receipts" from earlier eras.  Since she was born in 1844, earlier times for her meant Regency, Georgian, and etc.  She died in 1949, when I was ten, two months shy of her 105th birthday.  We talk about the changes we have seen, think about what she saw.  The industrial revolution, most of Victoria's reign, Edward, George, Edward and George.

Very true - I like old recipes, and have a good many of my own grandmother's - and some of my husband's grandmother's. I use several of my grandmother's still, partly out of cantankerousness - but I think that old recipes are very interesting, in that they show a kind of evolution of cooking. I like to get hold of old cookbooks, which are often amusing, and just as often enlightening.

Unfortunately there were rather a lot of things she didn't use recipes for, and either my taste memory is flakey or I haven't found the right formula to duplicate them. One day ...

She often talked about how the traditional methods of cooking and baking, and the ingredients had changed so much from when she was a girl. 

She really did no cooking herself, I don't think she had ever done so, but she was interested in recipes and cultivated cooks and bakers and winkled their secrets and faithfully recorded them in her journals. 

One of my earliest memories was watching her perched on a high stool in the kitchen and giving detailed instructions to the cook on how to prepare something new.

One of mine was watching my grandmother draw the Christmas turkey on the kitchen table :-) She worked for several years as a meat cutter, too, and was the scourge of the local butchers - when she wanted a piece of meat, she knew what she wanted, and how she wanted it cut. It made them crazy, being as how she was not only in the wrong time as often as not, but also the wrong part of the world! lol!

Maybe it's genetic ... a few years ago, we bought a side of beef, and I couldn't get the butcher to give me the cuts I wanted from it. In the end, I told him that when he got to the round, just to bone it out and call me and I'd come and get it. He was skeptical. He said 'you don't really just want the whole round, intact ..?'

I said yes I do - just call me when you get it boned, and I'll come and get it.

So he did.

I got the thing cut and packed, but I'll never do that again! lol!

Maybe ... :-)


Lynn

Oregon, originally Montreal

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "holy shit! ....what a ride!"

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Cookman,

Janet hasn't seen your question, apparently about her cake.

I have done the macerating, so maybe I can help --

I used a cup of Grand Marnier and the honey and the amount of fruit called for. The fruit entirely absorbs all of the liquid and becomes a wonderful gob of honeyed fruit.

I have had mine macerating for several months and am about to make my cake, perhaps this weekend. Will most likely end up freezing it as it is not an ageing type fruitcake.

Linda


I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Cookman,

Janet hasn't seen your question, apparently about her cake.

I have done the macerating, so maybe I can help --

I used a cup of Grand Marnier and the honey and the amount of fruit called for.  The fruit entirely absorbs all of the liquid and becomes a wonderful gob of honeyed fruit.

I have had mine macerating for several months and am about to make my cake, perhaps this weekend.  Will most likely end up freezing it as it is not an ageing type fruitcake.

Linda

Thanks, Linda. One other question: the original recipe from Janet says to use either a chocolate liqueur or brandy/rum/etc. Do you think the fruit will be too sweet if macerated in a chocolate liqueur?

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Cookman,

Janet hasn't seen your question, apparently about her cake.

I have done the macerating, so maybe I can help --

I used a cup of Grand Marnier and the honey and the amount of fruit called for.  The fruit entirely absorbs all of the liquid and becomes a wonderful gob of honeyed fruit.

I have had mine macerating for several months and am about to make my cake, perhaps this weekend.  Will most likely end up freezing it as it is not an ageing type fruitcake.

Linda

Thanks, Linda. One other question: the original recipe from Janet says to use either a chocolate liqueur or brandy/rum/etc. Do you think the fruit will be too sweet if macerated in a chocolate liqueur?

Hello everyone - I'm just catching up with this thread. Linda's answer on my behalf was exactly right - there's little actual liquid left.

I have used chocolate liqueur and it is fine - probably a little sweeter, but fruit cake is meant to be sweet, isn't it? You could always reduce the sugar by a tablespoon or two if you wanted, I'm sure it would turn out OK.

MY favourite combination a couple of years ago was about half choc liqueur and half orange-y (Grand Marnier I think).

I think next year I might use something nutty like Frangelico.


Happy Feasting

Janet (a.k.a The Old Foodie)

My Blog "The Old Foodie" gives you a short food history story each weekday day, always with a historic recipe, and sometimes a historic menu.

My email address is: theoldfoodie@fastmail.fm

Anything is bearable if you can make a story out of it. N. Scott Momaday

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Many years ago there was an article in Gourmet about a man who kept pieces of fruitcake from one year to the next, and each year he'd take out his collection and savor a small slice of each one. The fruitcakes had been baked in different years, and he would reminisce about the particular year that one had been created, and the events that had happened, then would carefully fold each one back into its wrapper and store them for the next year.

It was beautifully written, and I found the article fascinating, but I have always wondered... is this for real? Can you keep and age fruitcake the way you would a wine? (And please assume for this question, that you actually like fruitcake and would consider doing such a thing...) I know that, traditionally, a groom's fruitcake is eaten on the first wedding anniversary, but I'm thinking in terms of years. If a fruitcake is kept chilled and moist enough to not dry out, would it be safe to eat after several years?

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Fruitcakes can definitely be kept for several years.

There is some info here.

I personally have some mini fruitcakes and a "loaf" fruitcake that I originally made in (pause to pull the tin out and look at the date)

Well, that will have to wait until later, I can't reach the shelf. I will get someone to get it down for me in a little while.

I was born in March 1939 and I remember the Christmas after the end of WWII, that a fruitcake that had been sent from England the year I was born, was brought out, sliced and served at teatime on Christmas Eve 1945.

I remember that it looked like stained glass when it was cut into very thin slices. I can't remember how it tasted but I recall the appearance because my grandmother had crystal dessert plates with a Christmas design engraved on the underside. The light coming through the plate illuminated the fruit in the slice of cake.

The mini fruitcakes were made in 2001. The "loaf" fruitcake was made in 2000.

I didn't use loaf pans. I used to make this type of fruitcake in a large rectangular deep cake pan, an odd-sized one that was my grandmother's, made of heavy steel and was one of the pans included with the Estate ranges my grandfather bought in 1949.

Before baking parchment was readily available, I would line the pan with waxed paper so the fruitcake would release easily. I would then cut it into rectangles or squares to fit cake tins.

When I have a bit more time I will unwrap it and take a photo.

This is a "crossover" post - regarding fruitcakes that are so dense that the liquid doesn't soak into the cake - wrap the cake in a very damp cloth, mositened with the liquor you use.

Vacuum seal the cake and leave it for a couple of days, repeat weekly for 3-4 weeks, using a fresh back each time to be sure of a good seal.

This works much like the "instant marinade" containers, drawing the liquid into the cake.


Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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This is a "crossover" post - regarding fruitcakes that are so dense that the liquid doesn't soak into the cake - wrap the cake in a very damp cloth, mositened with the liquor you use. 

Vacuum seal the cake and leave it for a couple of days, repeat weekly for 3-4 weeks, using a fresh back each time to be sure of a good seal.

This works much like the "instant marinade"  containers,  drawing the liquid into the cake.

ooh, hadn't thought of this one.


does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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      by David Ross

      I was pushing my shopping cart through the aisles of Yoke’s Supermarket on a recent “Fresh Friday,” when a spritely-sounding young woman announced over the public address system, “Attention shoppers, attention shoppers, two minutes until the next Cakewalk, two minutes.” Frozen with suspense and the anticipation of winning one of Yoke’s chocolate crème de menthe cakes, I stood pat on the number 36 yellow flower pasted on the floor in front of me. I wasn’t going to budge off that number 36 -- I wanted a cake. While I waited to hear my number called, I was overcome with a sense of nervous anxiety --the same emotion I had felt as a young boy waiting to win a cake when I was seven years old. I wondered why a boyhood fascination with winning a cake still left me with such a deep, lasting hunger some 47 years after I first danced a Cakewalk.

      What was it that tugged at my heart, telling me to delve deeper into the meaning of the Cakewalk? Why did I sense that there was an underlying truth I hadn’t discovered as a child? The only way I could unveil the mystique behind my relationship with this odd little dance to win a cake would lie in retracing the footsteps of my childhood, setting forth on a quest to discover the history of the Cakewalk.

      + + +
      We moved to Salem, Oregon from The Dalles, in the Summer of 1964, when my Father, Edgar Ross, accepted a position at the Oregon Department of Agriculture in the Commodity Commissions Bureau. My parents settled on a ranch-style, three-bedroom home on the corner of Ward Drive and 46th Avenue in the new community of “Jan Ree” Gardens. Our lot was bordered by new homes on two sides and to the East was a field of Blue Lake bush beans that would soon be consumed by the encroaching development. Mother and Father shared a few details about our new home. It had a second bathroom, a wood-paneled living room and an unfinished family room that my father promised would have a metal wood stove. But they kept one little secret from my sister and me until we were a block from our final destination on the day we drove to Salem -- our new house was next door to the grade school. I didn’t know whether to feel good or sick at the thought of living next door to the school where I would spend the next five years.

      Hayesville Elementary School was typical of the architecture of grade schools built in the early 1960’s-an L-shaped, non-descript building painted in drab green and grey. The assembly room, cafeteria and administrative offices anchored the building with the classrooms jutting out from the principal’s office. I started the school year in Mrs. Rhonda Sample’s second grade class. She was young, blond and attractive, totally unlike the spinster vision I had of the teacher that awaited me at my new school. The highlight of the school year was the annual “Open House at Hayesville.” Students showcased their talents, dazzling parents with displays of frogs and snakes in aquariums, samples of cursive writing on paper chains hung over the blackboard and paper mache busts of historic American figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Mothers and fathers could take a tour of the gleaming, stainless steel kitchen where Mrs. Fox prepared our hot lunches each day-warm, billowing cinnamon rolls dripping with powdered sugar frosting and her buttery, oven-fried chicken. But the most anticipated event of Open House at Hayesville was the annual Cakewalk Raffle -- a silly fun dance around the classroom. The winner won a cake and the proceeds went to fund other activities at school.

      We cut footprints out of colored construction paper and pasted them in a large circle on the spotless, pink vinyl-tiled floor. Each “foot” was given a number from one to twenty. Red, white and blue streamers were tacked on the outer walls and then brought to the center of the ceiling to define the center point of the cakewalk circle. When the room was ready, Mrs. Sample turned on the lights and opened the door, welcoming a parade of Mother’s who pranced into the room carrying Tupperware cake caddies, Pyrex baking dishes, glass cake domes and disposable aluminum trays coddling their precious cake creations.

      Three long tables were placed against the wall and covered with proper linen tablecloths. The tables served as the stage upon which the cakes would strut their stuff. The chorus line of cakes went on and on through the annals of cakedom-Chiffon, Angel Food, Devils Food, Sponge Cake, Pound Cake, Marble Cakes, Chocolate Torts and Jelly Rolls. There were cakes garnished with coconut, dusted with nonpareils, frosted with peanut butter, sprinkled with peppermints, and dotted with spiced gum drops. I entered the Cakewalk over and over until I won, seemingly always at the end of the evening when very few of the best cakes were left on the table. While Mother’s “Burnt Sugar Cake with 7-Minute Frosting” was good, it would be a total embarrassment in front of ones classmates for a kid to choose the cake made by his mother. No, should I win the Cakewalk and should it still be available, I would choose the Spiced Praline Crunch Cake made by Bernie Bennett’s Mother.

      The historical importance of the Cakewalk wasn’t a part of Mrs. Sample’s second-grade curriculum at Hayesville in 1964. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we were insulated from the racial struggles of the South at that time. I was a young white boy in a middle-class American family. I led the colorful life of a kid, yet I lived in a country that saw only shades of black and white.

      Only three years before my second grade, in the Spring of 1961 the Freedom Riders set out on a campaign to test the Supreme Court Ruling that upheld the segregation of blacks and whites at bus depots, waiting rooms, lunch counters and restrooms throughout the South. The Freedom Riders were met with ignorance and violence. African-Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountain I drank from. I never knew.
      + + + The Cakewalk played an important role in the history of America -- a long-forgotten chapter that tells the story of the struggles forced upon the enslaved, who in spite of their burdens rose above the oppression of race and found a new form of the expression of freedom.

      The seeds of the Cakewalk were sown in the segregated deep South sometime around 1850, as a parody of the way plantation owners escorted their ladies into a formal ball. The women wore long, ruffled dresses of silk and glass beads with long, white gloves that reached above the elbow. The gentlemen were outfitted with top hats and tail coats. Couples pranced and paraded into lavishly decorated ballrooms, arm-in-arm in high-stepping fashion, marching into the center of the party, often to the music played by a banjo-strumming fiddler who worked in the fields.

      The winner of the dance contest sometimes won a cake presented by the master of the house, leading many to think this is where the name the “Cakewalk” comes from.

      African-American slaves who watched the proceedings took the dance on as their own in the yards outside their shacks, mocking what they saw as the frivolous customs of the plantation owners. According to the oral histories of slaves and their descendants, the Cakewalk was a marriage of traditional African tribal dances and rhythms combined with the dance steps of the upper classes. When the land barons and ladies saw the slaves dance, they missed the satirical element entirely, but the popularity of the Cakewalk had been established among the elite and it now transcended the boundaries of class.

      Wealthy farmers went on to sponsor competitions between plantations and the dance moved to large cities in the South and then to the East where it became a staple of traveling minstrel shows and ultimately to Vaudeville, the lights of Broadway and throughout Europe.

      On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation with these humble words, “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Inspired by the renewed freedom gifted to them through Emancipation, a freedom that allowed them to express themselves openly through dance and music, African-Americans led a creative revival that would usher in new forms of dance and music that had never before been seen or heard. The artistic contributions of former slaves and their descendants would forever change the creative landscape in America.


      From this humble beginning in the sweltering, humid heat and back-breaking work of picking cotton, African-American artists penned the notes of a new from of music called ragtime that would eventually evolve into jazz. It was the Cakewalk, unintentionally and ironically, that crossed the bounds of race and class status as it burst into the popular consciousness of America By the 1890’s, African-American actors, dancers and musicians had started forming their own production companies and staged versions of the Cakewalk became all the rage.

      Scott Joplin, (1867-1917), was an early musical pioneer of the Cakewalk style of music. Known as the “King of Ragtime,” Joplin wrote and performed in the style of rag—a combination of dance and marching music entwined with the “ragged” rhythms and soul of African music. One of Joplin’s most famous pieces was “The Ragtime Dance,” (published in 1902), that included a Cakewalk:

      “Turn left and do the “Cakewalk Prance, Turn the other way and do the “Slow drag, Now take your lady to the World’s Fair and do the ragtime dance. Cakewalk soft and sweetly, be sure your steps done neatly.”

      The vaudeville team of Mr. Egbert Williams and Mr. George Walker were two of the first African-Americans to take their musical show on the road in a grand scale. Crowds packed into The New York theatre in 1903 for 53 stunning performances of song and Cakewalk dances in William’s and Walker’s new production “In Dahomey” -- the first all-black musical to be performed on a grand scale in a major Broadway venue. After its raging success in America, “In Dahomey” crossed the Atlantic, performing for seven months of standing-room-only audiences at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London before returning to New York.

      By the turn of the century, Americans were moving off farms and into towns and cities in record numbers. Ragtime music transformed into a new genre called “Jazz,” with emerging talents like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington playing at the Cotton Club in New York.

      By 1930, the public fascination with dance theatre began to fade as America was lured by the intrigue of other forms of entertainment like talking motion pictures. But the early concepts and the heritage established by the Cakewalk endured throughout the twentieth century and into the 21st, namely, as a contest to raise money at church socials and school functions. The Cakewalk also delivered new words into the American vocabulary-“take the cake,” and “it’s a real cakewalk,” are terms used to refer to something that is “the best,” or a job easily done. Cakewalk software is a cutting-edge firm today that produces award-winning digital audio and recording software to the music industry.

      + + +
      I’m nearing my 54th birthday in November, some 46 years removed from my second-grade class. I had been lost until that Cakewalk at Yoke’s, yet now I’m found. I’ve learned a lesson in respect through the Cakewalk -- a lesson that taught me how emancipation allowed the enslaved to express themselves through music and dance. A lesson that freedom is an unalienable right bestowed upon all Americans. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the place that this little ditty we call the Cakewalk plays in the history of America, opening our eyes to a world that was color blind.

      I found my personal truth in the Cakewalk -- a truth far richer and deeper than the dreams of a boy winning a cake.

      * * *
      David Ross lives in Spokane, but works a one-hour plane ride away. When he's not tending to his day job -- or commuting -- he writes about food and reviews restaurants. He is on the eGullet Society hosting team.
    • By JohnT
      I have been asked to make Chinese Bow Tie desserts for a function. However, I have never made them, but using Mr Google, there are a number of different recipes out there. Does anybody have a decent recipe which is tried and tested? - these are for deep-fried pastry which are then soaked in sugar syrup.
    • By shain
      Makes 40 cookies, 2 loaves. 
       
      50-60 g very aromatic olive oil
      80 g honey 
      120 to 150 g sugar (I use 120 because I like it only gently sweet) 
      2 eggs
      2 teaspoons of fine lemon zest, from apx 1 lemon 
      230 g flour 
      1 teaspoon salt 
      1 teaspoon baking powder 
      75 g lightly toasted peeled pistachios
      50 g lightly toasted almonds (you can replace some with pine nuts) 
      Optional: a little rosemary or anise seed
      Optional: more olive oil for brushing
       
      Heat oven to 170 deg C.
      In mixer (or by hand), mix oil, honey, sugar, lemon, egg and if desired, the optional spices - until uniform. 
      Separately mix together the flour, salt and baking powder. 
      Add flour mixture to mixer bowel with liquids and fold until uniform. Dough will be sticky and quite stiff. Don't knead or over mix. 
      Add nuts and fold until well dispersed. 
      On a parchment lined baking tray, create two even loaves of dough. 
      With moist hands, shape each to be rectangular and somewhat flat - apx 2cm heigh, 6cm wide and 25cm long. 
      Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden and baked throughout, yet somewhat soft and sliceable. Rotate pan if needed for even baking. 
      Remove from tray and let chill slightly or completely. 
      Using a sharp serrated knife, gently slice to thin 1/2 cm thick cookies. Each loaf should yield 20 slices. 
      Lay slices on tray and bake for 10 minutes. Flip and bake for another 10-15 minutes until complelty dry and lightly golden. 
      Brush with extra olive oil, if desired. This will and more olive flavor. 
      Let chill completely before removing from tray. 
      Cookies keep well in a closed container and are best served with desert wines or herbal tea. 
       
        
    • By Tennessee Cowboy
      I'd like help from anyone on making the best Pistachio Ice cream.  This forum is a continuation of a conversation I started in my "introduction" post, which you can see at 
      I recently made Pistachio ice cream using the Jeni's Ice Cream Cookbook.  I love Pistachio ice cream, so I've launched an experiment to find the best recipe.  I am going to try two basic approaches:  The Modernist Cookbook gelato, which uses no cream at all, and ice cream; I'm also experimenting with two brands of pistachio paste and starting with pistachios and no paste.  Lisa Shock and other People who commented on the earlier thread said that the key is to start with the best Pistachio Paste.    
      Any advice is appreciated.  Here is where I am now:  I purchased a brand of pistachio paste through nuts.com named "Love 'n Bake."  When it arrived, it was 1/2 pistachios and 1/2 sugar and olive oil.   I purchased a second batch through Amazon from FiddleyFarms; it is 100% pistachios.  I bought raw pistachios through nuts.com.  The only raw ones were from California.  If anyone has advice on using the MC recipe or on best approaches to ice cream with this ingredient I'd appreciate them.  I will report progress on my experiment in this forum.
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