Thursday, December 3, 2015

Foraged Fruitcake (Operation Elf)

**Please note: this post is not totally finished yet. I'll be posting decoration ideas closer to Christmas. I just wanted to post the recipe now since it has to age and I thought you might want to follow along with me. :)

Ahh...fruitcake. You love it or you hate it. Me? Oh I LOVE it, if it's done right! I guess I'm more of a traditionalist. And let me tell you, fruit cake is an old tradition. "Culinary lore claims that ancient Egyptians placed an early version of the fruitcake on the tombs of loved ones, perhaps as food for the afterlife. But fruitcakes were not common until Roman times, when pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and barley mash were mixed together to form a ring-shaped dessert."
This trend carried into the Medieval times, when fruit cake was used for celebration. Imagine that processed sugar was rare and expensive, and spices were traded from far away lands for high prices. How luxurious a sweet cake laden with rich fruits and nuts and spiced with exotic flavors must have tasted! No wonder they were a special celebratory treat. And speaking of celebratory, you know the modern tradition of saving the top of your wedding cake in the freezer and eating it together on your first anniversary? Well that tradition actually carries back centuries as well but the cake in question wasn't our modern sugary and buttery (and quickly-staled) wedding cakes. It was rich, booze-soaked fruitcake. 

Considering the rich history of this misunderstood cake, I think it is absolutely applicable for a winter celebration. But you have to start early- fruit cake should age for at least a month and possibly much longer before it is said to properly "cure." I'm a little late-just less than a month till Christmas. But I'm making extras to store until next spring and test out then. 

And, because it's me, I want to make a fruitcake that tastes of the area I grew up in and love: the Northwest. I've got lots of foraged goodies in my pantry to play with: pine-nut whiskey, elderflower vodka, acorn flour, shelled pine nuts. I want my cake to be floral and nutty and rich. I also want it to be vegan and gluten free, because I have many friends with dietary restrictions and I know how great it feels to receive a food gift that I can actually eat during the holidays. (I'm horribly intolerant of dairy.) Well, this time, fruitcake for everyone!

The fruit:

Here's my logic on fruit: I'm not a fan of the plastic-looking waxy fruit commonly found in fruitcakes. Traditional fruitcakes used real dried fruit, and I like that much better so that's what I'm going to use. You can add citron if you'd like, but I know that some of the recipients of this cake would be put-off by its slightly bitter flavor. I do think that homemade candied citrus peels (perhaps infused with pine or spruce needles?) would be divine. Keeping it in mind for next year!

Fruit should be soaked in some kind of combination of booze and juice for at least 24 hours (and up to several weeks, depending on how boozy your mix is) before baking it into a cake, which allows it to soften and plumpen and take on lovely flavors. Roughly chop 6 cups of dried fruit, any combination you'd like. I kept my apricots and dates separated because they're more delicately flavored. Then cover your fruit with some combo of juice and/or alcohol. I put my darkly-colored fruits (cherries, cranberries, blueberries, and a raisin mixture) in with a good slosh of homemade elderflower vodka (about a cup?), some honey, and a bottle of orange juice- just enough to cover them. I wanted to really amp-up the elderflower flavor in the apricots and dates, so I added some elderflower vodka to them, plus a juice box of "elderflower  drink" from a recent trip to Ikea. (It's damn tasty, by the way.) Then I let them sit in the fridge at least overnight.

Okay, Okay, The Recipe! (makes 12 small loaf pans, and is easily halved)

Oven 325F

In a medium bowl, mix:
6 cups of pre-soaked fruit (see above; strain before adding and save the juice for later!)
3 cups mixed nuts, coarsely chopped (I used pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and cashews)
1 cup gluten-free flour*
Mix well to coat the fruit.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix:
3 cups gluten-free flour*
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/2 cups acorn flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Then, in another very large bowl, beat 1 3/4 c. shortening until it is fluffy. Add in:
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
Add in one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Make sure the batter is fluffy! Then beat in 2 tsp each of vanilla, almond extract, and apple cider vinegar. Then add 2 cups applesauce and beat well.

Mix the flour mixture into the applesauce-shortening mixture slowly in 3 batches, alternating with one cup of almond milk. When it's all combined, stir in the fruit/nut mixture and pour into pans.

Bake at 325F for about one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, then poke some holes on the top of each cake and sprinkle some pine nut-infused whiskey over the top (about 1 Tbs. per loaf cake.) Store wrapped in plastic in the fridge for at least 4 weeks, adding another 1 Tbs. whiskey every week. Eat as-is, or top with a thin powdered-sugar icing and candied fruits. (I'm going to make my icing by mixing powdered sugar with equal parts whiskey and almond milk until it reaches the right consistency.)

*My recipe for gluten free flour is equal parts rice flour and tapioca starch. 1/4 tsp. xantham gum powder for every cup should be thoroughly mixed in!

The Result?

Holy crap this stuff is good, if I do say so myself. I was worried that all the substitutions might make the cake's texture weird, but it worked out wonderfully! Moist, dense (without being a brick) with lovely nutty and floral flavors of acorn and elderflower. The pine nut whiskey was a great touch to round it out. I can't wait to test these in a few weeks!

** Remember, this post is not totally finished yet! I'll be posting decoration ideas closer to Christmas. :)

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