Currently bedside: Nigel Slater’s latest, The Christmas Chronicles. He’s one of my all-time favourite food writers, and Christmas is my favourite time of year, and the two are packaged together perfectly. (Here’s a taste from the Guardian.) I love how much he loves the “crackle” of winter, just like I do, how he finds the cold brisk and invigorating. He makes me want to get up early and write by candlelight, then build a fire and slice crisp apples into a pot and simmer them with warm spices, a clementine and some brandy while a pork belly roasts in the oven. He perfectly encapsulates why I love these short, cold, cozy days, particularly in early winter – and even (especially?) the grey ones. Who better to refer to when seeking out a new fruitcake?
Over the years, I’ve short-sightedly been thinking of fruitcake in black and white, or light and dark, always drawn toward the dark, sticky fruitcake of my childhood – specifically the one from the 1977 edition of The Joy of Cooking. (They aren’t the same, if you look at the dark fruitcake recipes in more recent editions.) It has been a fine recipe, and served us well for decades, but in recent years my results have varied, and although my mom always baked hers in an assortment of oddly shaped ring pans of various sizes, which I wound up doing as well, necessitating varying cooking times and producing too many hard edges, I like the idea of settling on one round cake, or a couple loaf pans. (In fact, Elizabeth Baird told me a few weekends ago that she bakes hers in a 9×13-inch pan, using Rose Murray’s recipe, and cuts it into 6 logs. It cooks quickly and evenly, and the logs are the perfect size for slicing.)
In short, I’ve felt the need to broaden my fruitcake horizons. When Nigel described his, which he refers to as “The Cake”, as having the colour of toasted almonds, I couldn’t not give it a go.
By the way, I’m not the sort to make a fruitcake months in advance and mop it with booze every few days – only because my mom doesn’t like hard alcohol, and a super boozy fruitcake isn’t appealing to kids either, and I aim to raise another fruitcake lover to help keep the cakes alive for future generations. If you want to feed yours, Nigel suggests poking it all over the surface with a skewer or, as his mother did, with a knitting needle, and spooning over 3-4 Tbsp of brandy at a time – enough to moisten without making the cake soggy. Wrap it in parchment or waxed paper and store it in a tin, opening it up to feed every few days over a few weeks to a month.