December 9, 2004

too late for Christmas, maybe?

Tuesday, December 7

I was being late baking fruit cakes for Christmas this year. It is not that I bake fruit cakes for every single Christmas or that I do so well ahead of time every single time. Nor that I always make fruit cake in several weeks advance of the planned day to eat it, either. It is only the case with Christmas fruit cake, for which I have special feelings, maybe because I have made this my personal tradition to bake fruit cakes for Christmas since I was a teenager.

And last year I was well on the track, starting in October with making mince meat, and baked the cakes in late November to let them age for at least a month before Christmas.

It is now already middle of December and I don't have much time left... so I skipped a few steps and didn't make mince meat. Actually, I didn't have to - because I had a jar of one-year old home-made mincemeat from last year.

I'm not going in detail about the definition of "mincemeat" here, but it basically refers to a mixture of dried fruits with or without nuts cooked/soaked in spirit(s) with spice, sugar, and fat, traditionally suet. Last year I made one based very vaguely on Delia Smith's recipe, using raisins, currants, cherries, home-made candied lemon and orange peels, and an apple and a pear. I had two jars of this, and used one of them in fruit cakes for Christmas last year, while the other one sat in the fridge for a little more than one year.

Occasionally boozed up with some fresh doses of rum and brandy, my mincemeat or soaked fruits or whatever you call has aged and become nice and mellow.

Once you have the fruits ready, making fruit cake is half done. The rest is fairly straightforward; making the cake.

I have become aware that, over here in the US, fruit cakes may sometime be seen more of doorstops than holiday-time favorites. I don't know exactly why, as I have never had heavy, rock-hard, inedible fruit cake before (fortunately). I like dense but soft fruit cakes, specially ones that have ground almonds and caramel in the batter. So that is what I usually make. Last I spent a lot of time searching for a right recipe and ended up putting a few recipes together to adjust to my taste. Although I made a fresh search over again, I settled down pretty much the same sort of recipe that I made last year.

First I ground some Spanish marcona almonds in a blender and made caramel sauce in a pan. While I used cane sugar in these, the main sugar content in my cakes this year were light muscovado and dark molasses sugars which I happened to have at hand. Generally speaking, I prefer brown to white sugars in dense, rich fruit cake like this.

I also made the cakes pretty small, using mini-loaf pans, partly because I can keep more cakes fresh after having a slice from one of the cakes this way, but primarily because I don't own regular-sized loaf pans. Anyways, I had three mini loaves to be tightly covered and kept in in the fridge for the next couple of weeks, plus one small one which might probably be eaten in a week or so for "tasting". In any case I haven't had tasted the cake yet, so tasting report should be expected at around Christmas day.


In the meantime, I baked another batch of cakes. While I really do appreciate the desired "aging" process of cakes, all the same I want to eat what I have made in no time. So when I make something that is to be sit for more than a couple of days, I'd typically make something else alongside so that I can immediately reward myself for my labor put in cooking.

Today I made chocolate cakes. Not a regular chocolate, but a supposedly special kind.

If you thought you didn't see anything so special about this cake, you were right; this cake totally looks like a plain chocolate cake, but it really is chocolate-pistachio cake.

This is the second recipe that I have tried from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking (2001, Hyperion) following the fresh green pistachio macarons , and this happens to use pistachios, as well. I thought that a chocolate cake made using ground pistachio nuts would be rare, and that it sounds so special.

This actually turned out not to be so special, to my great disappointment. It was, plainly, plain dark chocolate cake. We didn't taste a faintest trace of pistachio, other than seeing a tiny small bits of the nuts that had not been ground all the way. The cake was delicious on its own account, but there didn't seem to be any good reason or necessity to use pistachio here; other nuts, such as almonds or hazelnuts would probably do.

I don't know whether the chocolate I used was too bitter and too strong to be paired with nuts with delicate and subtle flavor like pistachos, or it was just the way it was supposed to be - at any rate, one thing I know for sure is that I will use my supply of raw pistachio nuts in other cakes/desserts in which I can definitely taste the precious nuts.


Reid said...

Hi Chika,

I started my Christmas baking a bit late too. I've only finished 3 batches of melting moments cookies and need to bake more this weekend. After that I'll be baking some miso/macadamia nut cookies and some with arare. *sigh* I hope I can finish in time.

Your fruit cakes sound yummy and I'm sure they are! I don't know why people don't like them here. In fact, I remember my parents sighing over the fruit cakes they received every year and I also remember their attempts to recycle them.

As a side note, I tried the caramel pound cake recipe that you sent me. I had a bit of trouble with the caramel though. After I cooked it, I let it cool like you had mentioned, but it started to get really hard and tacky. How do you keep it liquid? Otherwise, the cake was delicious. =)

obachan said...

Being inspired by your post, I've decided to bake fruit cake for Christmas this year. (My very first time ever! )
I know it's definitely late, but it'll be only me who eats the cake on Xmas day, so if I don't mind, no one will complain ;) Mine won't be as excellent as yours, but I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun!

chika said...


Reid - oh there must be a LOT of melting moments baking over there! Miso/macadamia nut cookies sound very intriguing. I am even more intrigued though, wondering what could your parernts' attempts to "recycle" the unwanted fruit cakes... :)

As for the caramel, I have had the same problem before, and I guess an increased amount of cream might help prevent it from getting really hard when it is cool. (The original recipe calls for 50g heavy cream, but I found a bit more (about 5 Tbs) helps make it more manageable.) It seems also important to make sure the cream is warm when it is added to the caramel. I don't usually leave caramel for a very long time, but I'd typically make the carame first, then keep it in the fridge if it is a hot day, then make the cake batter. By the time the butter is light and fluffy, the caramel would be just ready.
And even if the caramel get really hard, if you reheat it a bit it will loosen up, although you have to take an extra time to cool it down again :P
Hope this could be of any help!

obachan - That is great you have made your own fruit cake! Hope you had a fun. I think it really isn't too late anyways, you've still got a couple of weeks. And if you don't like it like you usually don't with the ones you've had before, send it to me and I'll be more than happy to "dispose" of it!! ;)

pinkcocoa said...

hi Chika
I just have to visit your site to look at your christmas fruit cakes after reading obachan's fruit cake post ;-)

Gosh! I havent even started any Christmas baking yet. I havent any faintest ideas at all too.

The chocolate cake looks so rich and divine! I could smell the sweet yet bitter chocolate flavour as I look at the pic! Maybe a flourless chocolate cake recipe might help to bring out the pistachio flavour? Just my 2 cents worth here. Not particularly good about baking. :p

Reid said...

Hi Chika,

Thanks for the tips. I'll be sure to try them next time. =)

chika said...

Hi there,

pinkcocoa - that's not a big deal, you can always bake up some cookies when you have no idea or time to make fancy cakes!

The chocolate pistachio cake is in fact a flourless batter, like you sugessted... it was pretty rich cake, and I guess it could be hard to highlight the taste of pistachio when they are all the way combined with strong dark chocolate... but if you can do it right, I am sure it will be a wonderful cake!

chika said...

Reid - Hope it will work fo you! ;)

Sara, The Wine Makers Wife said...

Hi Chika! Do you happen to have this recipe anymore? I checked the link and the sit eyou linked was down. I'd love to make fruit cake and mail it to my brother this year- its his favorite food! 

Posted by sara

Anonymous said...

Tis the season for fruitcakes. Like those above, they're usually light brown in color with red bits of cherry, a piece of a pecan or other nut here and there, and the occassional glimpse of green whatever-that-green-jelly-like-crap is they put in fruitcakes. Those cakes look harmless enough. But sometimes as a child, when Christmas neared, it became fruitcake season at my house. Grandma invaded our kitchen and for two to three days, batches of fruitcake batter were created so large that they were mixed with a canoe paddle (honest). Unlike the usual light brown fruitcakes in stores, these were nearly black; so dark that the cherries and nuts and green-thingies were only identifiable on close examination. Perhaps it was that the cakes were so dense that light had trouble escaping from their surface. In any event, unfortunate relatives were enlisted to come over and take shifts monitoring the oven around the clock until all of the fruitcakes were baked. Even less fortunate relatives received one of these cakes as their Christmas present. I was only a small lad when this was occurring, but I can recall that it was all so very necessary to make fruitcakes and that it took many bottles of whiskey to make them. I can still recall my grandma individually wrapping dozens of these great ten pound lumps of indigestion in layers of brown paper, then proudly inscribing the name and address of a distant relative on the paper and taking them to the post office. Perhaps it was the combination of my disdain for the awful taste of the cakes, or my tender years, but I always imagined Uncle Roger in California calling out to his wife, "Hey Bessie, come see. Somebody shit in the mailbox!" 

Posted by MailElf