Happy Holidays And the PM 2011 Edition Fruitcake Recipe
December 12, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The strange brews have been concocted. The three dozen fruitcakes of various sizes have been baked, soaked in bourbon, wine, and cognac, and wrapped up in fondant, waiting to be shipped. Some of the Christmas shopping has been done, but there’s still more to go and not a lot of time. The holiday meal menu is being pondered and tweaked. And now is the time for the good people at IT Jungle to take a well-deserved break from the rat race that is the news business.
As it has been for several decades now, it is my great joy to thank you, dear readers of The Four Hundred, Four Hundred Stuff, Four Hundred Guru, and Four Hundred Monitor, for the trust you place in us to keep you informed about what is going on in our neck of the midrange woods. And it is also our great privilege to serve the many sponsors that actually pay the bills here at Guild Companies Incorporated and make it possible for the IT Jungle site and our Four Hundred stack of newsletters to exist as an employer as well as a service to its readers. The three of us together comprise a micro-ecosystem that feeds families and keeps them out of elements. And in the case of some of us here at IT Jungle, maybe it keeps us off the streets and out of trouble . . . . You know who you are.
I know that for many of us in this rapidly changing and choppy global economy, this time of year can be particularly tough even if it is one of thanksgiving, reflection, and fellowship. I have seen enough recessions in my relatively short life to have my fill, and I wish, as I have wished since I was a boy, that this economy–more precisely these economies, since there are many different atmospheric layers and continents in the global economy, and they have very little to do with national boundaries–was easier on all of us. It’s hard, and we take it hard. I am naturally and chemically optimistic, despite the empirical data to the contrary, and I think that may in fact make me crazy. But this is what I know:
I used to hope I could change the world even though I never really believed I could in the egomaniacal sense that most people think of that concept. For many years, I struggled just to find a place in New York City and a job that I could do and do reasonably well. As I age, I have come to believe that it is far more important for all of us to focus on our own spheres of influence, where we have the most leverage, than worrying about changing the entire world. The desire to have the world be a better place is still there, but I think more bottom up than top down these days.
So I try to run my household in such a way to make things easier for my wife, my children, and my extended family. I volunteer for the PTA and stupidly have been president of the co-operative apartment where I live because I believe we all need to contribute. These extra activities are hassles and eat my time–being the co-op prez has been especially difficult for the past several years because of the economy and the aging building I live in–but you have to contribute because that is what makes civilization. I believe strongly that those who can work must work, but also those who can employ must employ, so I run Guild Companies and take care of my people as best I can even as I am writing my brains out at my full-time job at The Register. I work to be a good neighbor here in Inwood, on the northern tip of Manhattan. And every week, I reach out to all of you to try to do something useful and informative.
This is what I can do, and even if this can be exhausting and even if this doesn’t change the world, there is honor in being a gardener taking care of a small plot of it and making that patch as close to Eden as I can.
And you thought this was just about the AS/400. Nope. It is about people, all of us. And I wish you whatever peace and joy can be yours during the holiday season and the strength to persevere against the tests you no doubt will face.
Now, in last year’s holiday message, where I showed off the family fruitcakes, I told you that if the fruitcakes turned out well that I would share the recipe. It was a little heavy on the ground cloves last year and a little shy on the other spices, and this year’s cake is a lot better. So without further ado:
Prickett Morgan Fruitcake, 2011 Edition
Makes eight loaf cakes, so divide accordingly until, like me, you have so many people asking for one you’ll be doing them in batches of eight.
The dried fruit:
80 oz (5 pounds) candied fruit mix–Paradise is the brand I can find, which has orange peel, lemon peel, cherries, pineapple, and citron
6 cups of flour. Set aside 2 cups to coat fruit.
In a large bowl, add to the 4 cups of flour:
3 tablespoons ginger
In the mixer bowl (we have one of those 1940s-style KitchenAid devices):
Cream six sticks of butter
Beat and mix in a dozen large (not jumbo) eggs. Do it slowly or you will end up with egg on your face.
Coat mixed fruit with the excess 2 cups of flour. Pour the cake goo on the fruit, mix with a cement mixer, jackhammer, or whatever you have handy, such as Hank. I use the giant wood salad bowl that the head of a rhinoceros could fit inside, and this recipe barely fits inside. It takes the 3 footer beer brewing spoon to get anywhere with it. You could use a shovel.
Coat the cake pans with butter and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. (I use the cheapo aluminum ones you get at the grocery store for volume production.) Fill ’em up and bake at 350 degrees for an hour or so. Then turn the heat down to 250 degrees and give them enough time for the cake to be done but not burnt. In proper metal or glass loaf pans, this cake will cook faster, so be careful. I suspect in a larger oven than I have in the man-cave that is my office and in a situation where you only have one cake in the oven, the cake will cook a lot faster, too. I have no idea, since this has been a volume operation for the past five years.
Let them sit in the oven and cool, and then soak them with cheap cognac for about four weeks. I take each cake out of the tin and drizzle some cognac in the bottom and then put the cake back in and soak the top. For the 29 cakes I did this year (it would have been 32 if we didn’t eat three of them already), it took 3 liters of cognac. And then a little more just because. The key thing here is to not drizzle, but soak the cake. You want them to be moist and inhospitable to any life form (like bacteria) and, if you are lucky, children. (That’s more for you.) I wrap the cakes, tin and all, in clear plastic breadloaf bags you can also buy at the grocery and use twisty ties to keep the booze locked in as it soaks into the cakes deeply.
Once they look as dry as they are gonna get on the outside, coat them in rolled fondant and decorate with holly leaves and berries. The fondant coating is a whole process unto itself, and there’s no need to go there if you don’t have the time. Luckily, I have Liz, and she is the fondant producer in this operation.
Fondant adds a complementary sweet yet stiff layer of candy to the outside of the fruitcake. You could also use royal icing, which is canonical for fruitcake, but that usually requires three layers and with 22 cakes last year and 30 cakes this year, man, there is not enough time in the world for me to go through that process. (Technically, I am supposed to put a layer of marzipan under the fondant, too. But come on, there’s only one of me. . . .) If you are trying to make an impression, I bake the family cakes in bundt pans, but these are a real challenge to get the fondant on (you have to cut various sized trapezoids out of the fondant and wrap it up). The cocoa powder moistened by cognac is particularly devilish to work with around white fondant, so be careful as you wrap the cake.
I screw up the fondant on the first cake every year, we open up a bottle of wine, and we move on. Usually to another bottle of wine.
Cakes on a plane
One other funny thing. This paragraph in last year’s holiday message turned out to be prescient:
“Did I mention that fondant is a white substance with glycerin that bears more than a passing resemblance to C4 explosives? Thus, I don’t think the Transportation Security Authority will allow you to take these on planes. You don’t want to make the papers as the Fruitcake Bomber, especially if you are like me and you have a beard that, most days, makes you look like a Civil War general.”
One of my friends from London who lives in New York tried to take one of my fruitcakes home in his carry on luggage the week after The Four Hundred ran last December. Check this out:
It’s not the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but you can get one of these slapped onto your fruitcake if you are willing to risk the full body cavity search and bomb sniffing dogs at the airport. By the way, the TSA did allow him to take the cake on the plane–eventually.