Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nuttier Than a Fruitcake!

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Few things can stir up a controversy faster than that word. As a kid I remember fruitcake appearing right around Thanksgiving. I thought it was disgusting. The colorful cherries, the mere weight of that small cake, and the lack of, well, cake. Over the years I have had many fruitcake experiences, and they just keep getting better.

When I first started my "little part-time" job 14 Christmases ago, we sold Assumption Abbey Fruitcake. I knew it had to be good, it's made by monks, and the webpage shows them injecting alcohol into the cakes. (Could it be Christian Brother's Brandy? I mean, let's keep this in the family right?) The first time I tasted it, I was so pleasantly surprised. It was dark, and nutty, and mildly fruity. The problem is, if you are like me and live among non fruitcake eaters, it can take a year to get through a 2 pound cake.

Last January, I was in Florida visiting the parents, and my dad opens a tin from the fridge and unwraps a little chunk of fruitcake. Hey, what is that amazing aroma? It just so happens that my sister in Iowa sends him a fruitcake every fall. It's actually 3 small loaves and he soaks one in whiskey, one in rum and one in amaretto. Then, he wraps them in old white t-shirt scraps that are soaked in the liquor, (he's 81, give him a little slack on this one, why buy cheesecloth when you have a drawer full of perfectly good, worn, white t-shirts? I personally suggest avoiding the armpits of the shirt). He gives the chunks a little nip now and then, and shaves a thin slice or 2, or 3 for breakfast every day. It is delicious. He would have made a great frontiersman (or pirate) with this innate ability to preserve food with alcohol, plus he's a great shot!

But still, my personal fruitcake dilemma lives on. I have shopped the nicer grocers, but honestly, the fruitcakes are huge. I want a taste or two, not a two month supply. Then my friend Melinda was talking about her friends bugging her to make her fruitcake cookies. Whaaaat? Two things I love wrapped up together! So here we go. Here is the recipe as she gave it to me.

Melinda's Fruitcake Cookies

½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter
2 eggs, well beaten
½ cup whiskey
1½ teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 1½ Tablespoons milk
1 lb. dark raisins
1lb. pecans, chopped
1 lb. candied cherries, cut in half
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ nutmeg
1½ cups flour

Mix all ingredients. Drop by teaspoonful on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes.

So before I even go on how I made them, let me say this. For a foodie like me, nothing means more than a handwritten recipe. I love this. There is something about that little card that says "Enjoy, Melinda" that I will always cherish. It is a symbol of a friendship, the sharing of a recipe, the note of good tidings. It will find a home in my Christmas file and for years to come I will remember my friend at Williams Sonoma. Okay, I digress. Back to the cookies.

My apologies to Melinda, I never follow a recipe. So, I used Bourbon not Whiskey. I could not bring myself to buy the candied cherries. The ingredient list was long and full of syllables, and they are very colorful. So I substituted ½ lb. of dried cherries and a bag of semi sweet chocolate chips. I thought chocolate would convince the non fruitcake eaters to taste them. I used Monukka raisins, they were dark and smaller than many of the other varieties, and soaked them in the Bourbon for about an hour. I also added ½ teaspoon of salt, I just thought there was a lot of sweet and it was going to need balance, especially since I used unsalted butter. I searched the web, avoiding the crazy million recipe sites and really couldn't find a recipe like this one.

They are dark and not really cookie-like. My 17 yr old who insisted on the chocolate but hates raisins and fruitcake ate 2 right out of the oven. They are delicious. I am going to chill the dough before I bake the last of them, in hopes they will hold more of a shape. Then I will freeze the baked cookies, and plan on sending some to dear old Dad. These are a keeper.

So, what are ya waiting for? Put on the Christmas music and get in there and bake!

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