I must be the only person who makes fruit cakes after Christmas.
Actually I got a head start, a big head start—I soak my fruits in alcohol months ahead. But this year I decided to try baking the fruit cakes in the little oven above our fireplace. BIG BIG MISTAKE. The usual gentle fire roared that day and reduced the cakes to dried-ness and blackened sides, tops and bottoms, within all of… 20 minutes!!! Have you ever heard of a fruit cake that bakes in less than half an hour?!? To top it off, the thermometer was totally off—by more than 100 degrees!!! What a joke. I didn’t even have the time to react. By the time I realized something was up, it was too late. And to think that I had waited until Sunday to bake them so Bob could smell fruit cake baking. For I deem it very important to experience The Smell of Fruit Cake Baking in the Oven at least once in one’s life.
I weep for the cake meant for my family, for all those fruits i had painstakingly chopped up and steeped, and all those times I had been tempted to dip into the jar and have some with vanilla ice cream but sat on my hands.
At the very last minute, I decided that my family needed to have fruit cake no matter what! So off we went again. This time I settled on the first Nigel Slater recipe I found. This must be the ‘whitest’ fruit cake I’ve ever made. I usually use a recipe I got from a very kind Trinidad blogger who gave me her family recipe for their version of the Jamaican ‘black cake’. I am very intrigued by fruit cake lore, by the way, how it has evolved and its various incarnations across the globe. Did you know, for example, that in Sri Lanka, they use garam masala and cashew nuts in their fruit cake? Anyway, this recipe called for grinding the soaked fruits to mush. It was probably an adaptation of the original pudding. Since I like some whole fruits in my cake, I usually grind just a portion and leave a good part whole.
Well, this year it’s ‘arid’ fruit cake, not helped by the fact that I over-baked by a tad. Are you like me? Each year, I write notes to myself—DO NOT overbake! WATCH OVEN!!! Put ramekin of water in oven for moisture!—only to ignore them in a rush of panic or sheer fatigue. Did I also mention that I have a collection of fruit cake recipes, labelled “MUST TRY!”, “NEXT YEAR!”, “DO THIS!!”. I scrutinize and compare them, in anticipatory glee. Fruit cake madness, fruit cake anti-climax.
I also made biscotti for my sister. For the anise-flavoured ones, I used this recipe I found on Chowhound, purportedly from the Culinary Institute of America, doubling the qty of almonds.
My bench notes:
-right level of sweetness
– right level of anise. i.e. strong. I left out the vanilla essence and also toasted the anise seeds.
– too eggy, to reduce to just two eggs?
-what is the baking soda doing here? I could taste it in the final product
– chop up almonds properly, if using whole ones like I was. Too large pieces will prevent smooth slicing, yes I’m looking at lazy me.
– while working with the dough, I remembered how the last time I made biscotti ages ago, I tried this method of oiling some plastic film very lightly, then scooping out the dough onto the film, and using the sides of the film to shape the dough into a log, for the reason that less contact with hands = less dough on hands = less dough in my stomach but more biscotti for everyone else. I then refrigerated the logs until dough had hardened. This dough spread out quite a bit in the oven. Was too busy to try to slice the biscotti really thinly and neatly and it shows!
The chestnut flour biscotti from Juls’ Kitchen was a recipe I had clipped for a while now, just waiting for an occasion to make. Bench notes again:
– lovely chestnut flour flavor. I used 250g chestnut flour and 100g wheat flour because I had no oat flour, but I imagine oat flour would complement the chestnut taste very well.
– I used pine nuts and no orange zest. I imagine pine nuts and rosemary would be a winning combination too.
-Qty of nuts and chocolate bits spot on.
-Only thing I would change is qty of sugar perhaps? Too sweet for my taste, especially since chestnut flour has a certain sweetness on its own.
– This dough was not sticky and very easy to work with. Perhaps because I had refrigerated it before baking, there was some cracking while baking. Made for some broken off bits while slicing but no harm done.
Well, everything’s packed and labelled and ready to be sent off to the family! I’m an inveterate labeller, and my family is used to finding post-its with detailed instructions. Hey it can be helpful, for instance, when unearthing fruit cakes of a certain vintage from the freezer 🙂 Just have to buy the panettone and the shipment goes out. Yes, I chickened out of making a panettone but that’s another story.