17 December 2007

Fruit Cake (history and recipe)

I was resisting doing a blog about the the seasonally omnipresent Fruit Cake, jokes and all. Over the years I've had a few that were quite good; the problem is when you get a whole cake as a gift: After a taste or two -- that's it for the year, enough! But what do you really know about the origin of the fruit cake? From Answers.com comes a bit of history, and trivia:

"History and lore mingle in the retelling of the fruitcake story. The ancient Egyptians made fruitcake for their departed loved ones to carry with them to the afterlife. The dense cake and preserved fruit were thought to withstand the journey, and the riches of the fruits and nuts communicated the wealth of the consumer and the family's esteem for their relative. The Middle East overflowed with the variety of dates, citrus fruit, and nuts that were virtually unknown in Northern Europe until the Crusades. Returning Crusaders brought fruit with them, but the trade that was initiated was frequently interrupted by war, and, of course, the fruit was highly perishable. These dilemmas were partially solved by drying or candying the fruit for travel, and, when the fruit reached Northern Europe, it was shared by mixing it in breads and cakes. Because the fruit came from the Holy Land, it was also revered and saved for feast days, particularly Christmas and Easter...

...The English fruitcake or Christmas cake reached its heyday in Victorian times when, with the introduction of the Christmas tree and other festive customs, religious traditions exploded into colorful, season-long celebrations. Fruitcakes (and other fruit-bearing holiday treats like the plum pudding and Irish plum cake) were made well in advance of the holidays. The cakes were wrapped in cheesecloth that had been soaked in brandy; periodically, the cheese-cloth was resoaked and the cakes rewrapped to absorb the liquid. The day before Christmas, the cakes were unwrapped, coated with marzipan or almond paste, further coated with royal icing that dried and hardened, and then glazed with apricot glaze. These Christmas cakes demonstrated such abundance that the same kind of cake is used today in England as wedding cake, and it has the advantage of preserving well for anniversary celebrations."

Read the whole story at Answers.com.

And of course, a recipe (out of the multitude that exist) from the FoodNetwork:

Creole Christmas Fruit Cake with Whiskey Sauce
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2003


For the Simple Syrup:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest, cut in strips
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the Cake:
1/2 pound mixed dried fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries, cherries, raisins, and chopped apricots
1/2 pound, (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 ounces almond paste
4 large eggs
1/2 cup Grand Marnier, or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup bourbon


Make a simple-syrup by combining the sugar and water in a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the lemon zest and juice and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

Combine the dried fruits in a large mixing bowl. Pour the simple-syrup over them, toss to coat and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and reserve the syrup.

Cream the butter, sugar and almond paste together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle at low speed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat until the mixture is fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, mixing in between each addition on low speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add 1/4 cup of the Grand Marnier and mix to incorporate.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-size mixing bowl and blend well. Add this mixture 1/2 cup at a time to the butter mixture with the mixer on low speed, each time mixing until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. The batter will be thick.

Add the warm fruit and all of the nuts a little at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease a bundt pan with butter or non-stick baking spray. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until golden brown and the top springs back when touched, about 45 to 50 minutes (turning the pan to ensure even browning after 30 minutes.)

Cool the cake for 20 minutes in the pan, then remove and continue to cool upside-down on wire racks.

Make tiny holes with a toothpick randomly on the rounded end of the cake. Combine the remaining simple syrup with the remaining 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier and the bourbon. Wrap the cake in a layer of cheesecloth and pour 1/4 cup of the syrup over the top of each cake. Store in a plastic zip bag for 3 or 4 days until the cake is slightly stale. Sprinkle syrup over cakes once every 2 to 3 days until all of the syrup is used. Let the cakes age for up to 3 weeks before eating.

For the Whiskey Sauce:
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine 2 3/4 cups of the cream with the bourbon and sugar in a medium-size nonstick saucepan over medium-heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1/4 cup cream. Add this to the cream-and-bourbon mixture and simmer stirring often, until the mixture thickens, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm with the fruitcake.

The sauce may be stored, after it has cooled, in an airtight container for 24 hours. When ready to serve, warm over low heat.

And for those of you who don't have the fortitude to make one (or two) from scratch, you can find many sites online that offer various versions, including: iGourmet, Hickory Farms, Figi's.

04 December 2007

"Roast Chicken and Other Stories", by Simon Hopkinson

Photo: Zachary Zavislak for The New York Times. Food stylist: Liza Zernow.

So many cookbooks, so little room to put them. I read them like novels, make notes on which recipes to use, and usually relish the stories that go along with a particular food, recipe or notable meal the author has deemed important enough to share. "Roast Chicken and Other Stories", by Simon Hopkinson is the newest publication I am awaiting the arrival of. This book seems to promise all of these aspects I enjoy reading, and I was just plain intrigued by the press it's received. From The New York Times, Food: The Way We Eat, Simon Says, by By Aleksandra Crapanzano:

"...'Roast Chicken' is one of those rare cookbooks that, once opened, becomes indispensable — perhaps because it takes so many of the dishes you thought you had already mastered and, quite simply, does them that much better. Foodies know it as the winner of the 1995 Glenfiddich award for best food book, and publishers know it as the book that trumped Harry Potter on Amazon.com’s British best-seller list. The British magazine Waitrose Food Illustrated named it the most useful cookbook ever, but here I must disagree. 'Roast Chicken and Other Stories' is far too idiosyncratic to be labeled 'useful.' Rather, it is deliciously random and highly opinionated." Read the whole article Here.

A little bit more from Jessica's Biscuit:

"In England, no food writer’s star shines brighter than Simon Hopkinson’s, whose breakthrough Roast Chicken and Other Stories was voted the most useful cookbook ever by a panel of chefs, food writers, and consumers. At last, American cooks can enjoy endearing stories from the highly acclaimed food writer and his simple yet elegant recipes.

In this richly satisfying culinary narrative, Hopkinson shares his unique philosophy on the limitless possibilities of cooking. With its friendly tone backed by the author’s impeccable expertise, this cookbook can help anyone -- from the novice cook to the experienced chef -- prepare down-right delicious cuisine . . . and enjoy every minute of it!"

Roast Chicken And Other Stories
by Simon with Bareham Hopkinson
240 Pages
Publisher: Hyperion
Pub. Date: Sep 04, 2007
Photos: Color Illustrations

Available online from Jessica's Biscuit and Barnes and Noble.