For most of us, eating fruitcake never sounds like a good idea, so making it would be a complete waste of time. And under normal circumstances, there really would be no reason to even try to make it better because the ingredients on their own: the funky red and green cherries, the unidentifiable weird crunchy nuggets (whose idea were those?), and the strong liquor just aren’t appealing. And, its sooooo dark that you can’t help but feel that there must be something hiding in there.
And then there are those tales that you see in the newspaper around this time of year about someone opening a fruitcake from the 1920s (still edible!).
So for a long time, I pretended fruitcake didn’t exist, and no one seemed to miss it — until one fateful day. I noticed a woman perusing the display case at Sweet Melissa’s, but she didn’t ask for a thing.
“Are you looking for something specific?” I asked.
I had caught her by surprise and she began to blush as she slowly started to stammer, “Well, my mom … she sent me … and, well, I know no one really makes it — heck, no one really even eats it — but my mom thought maybe you might have a recipe, so she sent me to check, I told her you wouldn’t … but do you? — by any chance? — make (she paused, looked both ways, then whispered) fruitcake?”
Ahhh! “Fruitcake” had become a dirty word! This cake was in dire need of redemption! And when cakes are in trouble, Melissa Murphy gets going. The challenge was on: I was going to create a delicious fruitcake.
Better still, the French Culinary Institute (my alma matter) had just announced that the California Almond Board was holding a recipe contest called “Marzipandemonium” and were accepting entries which used almonds and marzipan.
Traditionally, a layer of marzipan is draped over a fruitcake, which helped keep it fresh. My cake was nice and moist, so I didn’t need marzipan, but I did like the tradition of it, so I added little “bits” to the batter (I really wanted to win the trip to Munich to bake the cake at the Marzipandemonium contest — and I did!).
So here’s hoping fruitcake’s reputation has been restored forever.
from “The Sweet Melissa Baking Book”
1 cup chopped dried fruit (¼- to ½-inch pieces)
¼ cup brandy, apple juice, or orange juice
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅓ cup almond flour or ½ cup sliced blanched almonds (see “Pro Tip” below)
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup whole natural almonds, coarsely chopped, or blanched slivered almonds
¼ cup (2½ ounces) marzipan, cut into ¼- to ½-inch pieces and frozen
¼ cup brandy, apple juice, or orange juice
3 tablespoons sugar
To make your own almond flour, pulse the ½ cup sliced blanched almonds in a food processor with the ½ cup of granulated sugar from the list above until it becomes a coarse flour texture.
Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly butter and flour a 1½-quart loaf pan.
In a medium saucepan over very low heat, heat the dried fruit and brandy, stirring occasionally. When the mixture comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and cover (allowing the fruit to absorb the brandy), stirring occasionally.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars, and zest until light and fluffy, three to five minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond extract and vanilla. Mix until combined. (At this stage, the mixture will appear slightly broken.)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt.
On low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two batches, mixing until just combined after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dried fruits along with their soaking liquid. Fold in two-thirds of the chopped almonds and the frozen marzipan (it’s easy to forget this because it’s in the freezer).
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle the remaining almonds on top. Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan and reduce the oven temperature to 325. Bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (Be careful when testing with the wooden skewer. You could poke into a piece of marzipan, which will look like raw cake batter on the skewer, so test the loaf in a few different spots.)
Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before glazing.
For the glaze: Warm the brandy with the sugar until the sugar dissolves (it’s easiest to do this in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time).
Using a pastry brush, brush the glaze over the fruitcake while it is still warm. You will not need all of the glaze, but use as much as you like. Glaze the cake at least once, but if you want more, simply wait for each layer to soak in before you glaze again. The more you glaze, the boozier your fruitcake will be. Let cool to room temperature.
Melissa Murphy is the chef/owner of Sweet Melissa Patisserie [175 Seventh Ave., between First and Second streets in Park Slope, (718) 502-9153; 276 Court St., between Butler and Douglass streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 855-3410]. All major credit cards accepted. Full menu at www.sweetmelissapatisserie.com.