I have to confess I have an odd fascination with fruitcake. I love everything about it — everything, that is, except for that nasty candied fruit, which has a texture as unnatural and unappealing as its irradiated color.
Still, there had to have been a reason fruitcake was the Christmas treat for generations. And it was probably because the candied fruit years ago actually was fruit, as opposed to some sticky chemical byproduct.
But who said you had to use candied fruit? Dried fruit works just as well, as this Whiskey Nut Cake recipe ably demonstrates.
I came across this recipe of my mom’s while working up a cookbook of her treats, and it seems to have come from the backwoods of Tennessee or Kentucky. She hasn’t made it in decades, but she remembered it well enough to talk me through baking it and making it my own, because I did make a few substitutions.
First off, the supermarkets nowadays are filled with all kinds of dried fruit. Why settle for just raisins, when you can use dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, figs, apricots, pineapple and even kiwi slices? Just make sure the fruit is cut up in bites as small as raisins.
Remember, you’re using a combination of 4 pounds of dried fruit and nuts in the cake. This is a dense and heavy cake. Lifting it out of the oven three hours after you start baking it could startle you.
Perhaps the biggest change I made was in the treatment of the cake itself. This is one of those cakes that tastes better if you let it sit for three or four weeks before you cut into it. You don’t have to refrigerate it or even seal it in something like a Tupperware container for cakes. Just wrap it in foil and forget about it.
Or you could treat it like a fruitcake. That means, wrapping it in cheesecloth that’s been soaked in a fine whiskey, bourbon or even rye. (I used Rebecca Creek because its tropical fruit flavors seemed to complement the cake.) Wrap it thoroughly in foil and forget about it for a month. Then uncover the cake and pour more whiskey on it. Recover it and repeat the process each month for at least two months. I”ve had mine for four months now, and it’s a real winner.
Whiskey Nut Cake
7 eggs, separated
3/4 pound butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sorghum molasses or corn syrup (not backstrap molasses)
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
3 pounds raisins
4 cups (1 pound) pecans, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whiskey
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Grease tube pan and line bottom and sides with wax paper.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks. Slowly add flour, then molasses, nutmeg, raisins, pecans, vanilla and whiskey, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Carefully fold in egg whites. Pour into pan.
Bake for three hours.
Let cake rest for 10 minutes after removing from oven. Then turn over onto cake rack. Immediately remove wax paper and turn onto serving plate. Let cool before serving.
Or, if you want to age the cake, wait a week or so after baking. Soak some cheesecloth in whiskey and wrap it around the cake. You don’t need to fill the center. Pour a little extra whiskey, about 1 shot, over the top of the cake.
Then place the cake in a tin or wrap in aluminum foil. (Do not store directly in plastic.)
Repeat the process on a monthly basis for at least two months before serving.
Makes 1 cake.
From Annaliese Griffin