I'm not exactly sure how popular Fruitcake is in the Philippines for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Feast), or at any other time for that matter. But considering that fruitcake is mostly seen as a joke here in the states, I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that this wintertime loaf rarely appears on any Filipino tables as well.
For the most part, I can understand Fruitcake's bottom position on the culinary totem pole. At its worst, fruitcake can be nothing more than a heavy brick studded with overly sweet, radioactive day-glo candied fruits. But at its best, fruitcake is wonderfully sweet and aromatically spicy--filled with dried fruits and toasted nuts and preserved with a hefty dose of good liquor.
So with the best fruitcake intentions in mind, I bake a couple of loaves at the end of every October every year--aging each cake for a few weeks and enjoying the first at Thanksgiving, and enjoying the second on Christmas Eve. Sure, fruitcake can be eaten straightaway right after baking, but the cakes are exponentially better after being spritzed with brandy every now and again.
My go-to fruitcake recipe is from Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here For More Food". The original recipe calls for golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, dried cherries, and dried apricots, but I tend to use different fruits every year depending on what I can find. For this go around, I stuck with the dried blueberries and cranberries, but I also included some tropical fruits like dried mango, dried rambutan, and dried mangosteen that I found at Trader Joe's. Dried fruits are best for fruitcake because they won't spoil, and they're better for you than candied fruits.
This was the first time that I've ever seen dried rambutan and mangosteen before, so I was excited to open up the packs and give them a try.
At first glance, the dried mangosteen and dried rambutan look a lot like styrofoam, and sadly, they tasted a lot like styrofoam too. Luckily though, they were brought back to life after an overnight soak in rum with the rest of the dried fruits and some fresh orange and lemon zest:
After a dip in rum, the fruit is then simmered with some hard apple cider, sugar, and butter, then folded into some flour and eggs to form a batter. After baking, I spray the fruitcake with apple brandy (100 proof!) that I've poured into a spray bottle. The original recipe calls for normal brandy, but I like the aroma of apple brandy too. Really, any brandy will do. Moesha!
Snazzy spritzer, eh?
At this point, you will be very tempted to cut a slice off of your fruitcake loaf because it smells amazing out of the oven! But I do encourage you to resist this temptation and wait. After the fruitcake cools and has been spritzed on all sides with brandy, I wrap it in plastic wrap, and then in foil, and then I even stick them in a giant zip-top bag on which I write the date.
2 kilos of, uh... 2 bricks of fruitcake, that is.
Every two days for the first two weeks I carefully unwrap the fruitcake and spritz every side with more brandy. After the first two weeks, I then spritz the fruitcake only once a week until I decide to eat it. Don't overdo it with the spritzing, you don't want to soak the cake every time. A light spritzing to wet the surface of the cake will do--it's a sipper, not a chugger.
As long as you keep the fruitcake well-wrapped and give it an occasional brandy spritz, don't worry about it going bad or growing mold. And remember, the dried fruits were preserved in rum to boot, so aging a fruitcake for a month or two is no big deal.
Like I said earlier, I'll cut into my first loaf for Thanksgiving after one month of aging, and I'll cut into my second loaf on Christmas Eve after two months of aging. But because I make this fruitcake every year, I can assure you it's worth the wait.
Adapted from "I'm Just Here for More Food", by Alton Brown.
Note: Alton Brown's original recipe says it makes one 9-inch loaf, but I always seem to get two loaves out of the same recipe. Perhaps my loaf pans aren't as deep as the recipe needs, so do be wary of this if you try this recipe out. If it seems to yield more batter that will fit in your loaf pan, have a second loaf pan ready.
Any combination of dried fruits works well in this recipe. And don't be discouraged by the long list of ingredients--it's still a simple and worthwhile recipe.
3/4 cup dried rambutan
3/4 cup dried mangosteen
3/4 cup dried blueberries
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup dried mangoes, chopped
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
zest from 1 lemon
zest from 1 orange
5 whole cloves, freshly ground
3 whole allspice berries, freshly ground
1 cup dark rum
3/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup hard apple cider
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Brandy for spritzing
In a large bowl, combine the dried fruits, ginger, lemon and orange zests, ground cloves, ground allspice, and rum. Cover and soak overnight.
The next day, pour all of the fruit, zests, spices, and rum into a large saucepan. Add the apple juice, hard cider, butter, and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Stir in the eggs.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray loaf pans with nonstick spray, then line with parchment paper "sling" so that fruitcake can be easily lifted out of pans after baking.
In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pecans. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until combined. Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for one hour. Check for doneness with a skewer or toothpick poked into the middle of the cake--if it comes out clean its done.
Set pans on cooling rack and spray the top with brandy. Cool completely before removing cakes from pan.
Remove cooled cakes from pans, then spritz top and sides with brandy. Remove parchment paper, then wrap cakes tightly in plastic wrap, and then in foil.
Unwrap cakes and spritz with brandy every other day for two weeks, then once a week for the next two weeks.
I like to serve the fruitcake by toasting slices under the broiler for juuuust a minute, then topping with a dollop of mascarpone cheese. Tasty!