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Fruit Cake: In With The Old

Those traditional holiday bricks need not be inedible—just try this one

There’s only one fruitcake in the entire world, right? The original re-gift, this proverbial fruitcake keeps getting passed along year after year because nobody wants it.

Like the equally inedible Twinkie, which I have heard has a shelf life of 30 years (or so I learned from my father-in-law, who bought each of his five children a Twinkie upon their arrival and then presented it on his or her 30th birthday), and the current “it” treat the marshmallow Peep, the fruitcake is nearly a non-food. To my knowledge I have never eaten fruitcake, nor have I ever seen any eaten. But I have seen the dry, faded, unnaturally colored cakes themselves, every year at holiday time and in nearly every house. The ubiquitous unwrapped fruitcake. You can smell it through the plastic.

Is this simple nostalgia? A throwback to hard(er) times, lest we forget that some people actually had to eat such things, and not just buy them to look at them and talk about how icky they are?

Fruitcake should, by definition, be delicious. Who doesn’t like fruit and cake? There are many much-maligned items that grace the obligatory yuletide table, which seldom meet the taste buds of anyone. For instance there’s wassail, figgy pudding, trifle, buche de noel (“yule log”), and the oft-disputed egg nog (people either love it or they hate it, they either cook it or they don’t). Such things can be good—and are good—if made well, using the fine, modern ingredients we have at our disposal in this first decade of this new century.

Here’s a recipe for an entirely edible fruitcake, made more delicious with a side serving of creole whiskey sauce, and some egg nogg to wash it down.

Meet Tom and Jerry

The Christmas spirit, hot and frothy

When it’s time for a festive drink during the holidays, a Tom and Jerry may be just the thing. It’s a decadently old-fashioned drink with its own set of rituals.

A bowl with “Tom and Jerry” painted on the side holds the batter, and the warm nog is served in matching small mugs. The liquor-laced, sweet and milky concoction is found in Western New York this time of the year at venerable, dark-wooded restaurants including The Place on Lexington and Schwabl’s in West Seneca.

While their drinks are tasty and sure to put a little pink in the cheek, the most luscious concoction is made at home. Purists will want to scour secondhand stores to find a set of mugs and bowl, though any small cup will do.

Gail Graham has been making Tom and Jerrys for his New Year’s Day party for at least 30 years, and his recipe sets the bar for a tantalizingly rich potion. Here’s his method: Separate a dozen eggs into two bowls and beat the whites until thick, using a handheld beater. Beat the yolks (in your Tom and Jerry bowl, if you have one). Fold the whites into the yolks, and stir in a teaspoon of baking soda. Add 12 shots rum, beat a bit, and then put in 3⁄4 to one cup sugar, beating till stiff. Heat a couple of cups of whole milk till almost boiling in the microwave or in a saucepan. Put 2 shots of batter in mug, and slowly add 1 shot brandy, stirring. Stir in warm milk to the top. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

A caveat or two: A single Tom and Jerry is usually plenty for each person, and make sure your eggs are fresh.

—patricia watson

Fruit Cake

First make a simple syrup:

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest, cut in strips
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the lemon zest and juice and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

For the cake:

1/2 pound mixed dried fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries, cherries, raisins, and chopped apricots
1/2 pound, (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup Grand Marnier, or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup bourbon

Put the dried fruits in a large mixing bowl. Pour the simple-syrup over them, toss to coat and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and reserve the syrup.

Cream the butter and together. Beat until the mixture is fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, mixing in between each addition. Add 1/4 cup of the Grand Marnier.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-size mixing bowl and blend well. Add this mixture 1/2 cup at a time to the butter mixture Add the warm fruit and all of the nuts a little at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease a bundt pan. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until golden brown and the top springs back when touched, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool the cake for 20 minutes in the pan, then remove and continue to cool upside-down on wire racks. Make tiny holes with a toothpick randomly on the rounded end of the cake. Combine the remaining simple syrup with the remaining 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier and the bourbon. Wrap the cake in a layer of cheesecloth and pour 1/4 cup of the syrup over the top of each cake. Store in a plastic zip bag for 3 or 4 days until the cake is slightly stale. Sprinkle syrup over cakes once every 2 to 3 days until all of the syrup is used. Let the cakes age for up to 3 weeks before eating.

Whiskey Sauce

3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine 2 3/4 cups of the cream with the bourbon and sugar over medium-heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1/4 cup cream. Add this to the cream-and-bourbon mixture and simmer, stirring, until thickened. Remove from the heat and serve warm with the fruitcake.

Egg Nog

6 eggs
2 1⁄2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup brandy
1⁄2 cup dark rum
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground or grated (fresh is best)

Beat the eggs together until frothy. Add sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. A little at a time add the cream, Then, only a little at a time, beat in the milk. Stop before your arm falls off. Add rum and brandy.

Serve cold.

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