Glorious Fruitcake

I love fruitcake. And I’m happy to say that I’ve never had one from the grocery store which is where I’m hoping most people get a misunderstanding about how one is supposed to taste – which is…fantastic. Glorious, even.

Thing is, fruitcake is just a regular cake, really. A regular cake with fruit that you actually like. If you aren’t crazy about figs or dates or green-colored cherries, leave them out. Put in what you do like – golden raisins? pineapple? some mayhaw or muscadine? pecans or walnuts or both?
Get the chocolate chips ready too if you like that.
…and your favorite whiskey. Now that just makes it.
My recipe is based very, very loosely on the one that Sook Faulk, who was Truman Capote’s aunt in Monroeville made. Hers is the fruitcake that Truman writes about in “A Christmas Memory”.
He lived in Monroeville for a while growing up with family, and as luck would have it had Nelle Harper Lee as a playmate next door. When they grew up, she helped him with research on his book ‘In Cold Blood’ and she included him as a character in ‘TKAM’. Eugene Walter who I love knew him when he would visit family in Mobile. But Eugene called him “Bulldog” because Truman had such an underbite and of course that would just run all over him. Nowadays Truman’s house in Monroeville is a lot with a dairy bar. Oh, I’m getting away from myself here. Back to the recipe.
Well, Sook apparently liked a lot of things in her fruitcake, because her recipe includes Brazil nuts, raisins, candied cherries, candied pineapple, citron, blanched almonds, pecans, black walnuts, dried figs, nutmeg, cloves, chocolate, grape jelly and grape juice, whiskey, cinnamon, and allspice. Whew! Mine’s much simpler but our ‘base’ recipe is almost the same.
Oh, and I should mention that a good fruitcake is like a good crabcake. Not much filler. Just enough ‘cake’ to hold everything together.
This recipe starts the night before, so the dried fruit has time to soak up the whiskey.
Here we go.
This recipe makes 5-6 dozen fruitcake ‘cupcakes’ or 2 of the 8″ cakes.

1 lb. pecans (you can use halves if you like but I like to chop them up just a bit)
6 cups – or so – of your favorite dried fruits (me? raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried pineapple)
8 oz. jelly (I used mayhaw but feel free to use grape or muscadine or apple or…)
1-2/3 cup whiskey
1 cup butter, softened
1-1/3 cup sugar
5 eggs
2 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp salt
…and if you want to make some with chocolate chips, I use one bag (hmm…is that 12oz or 15oz? just the regular-size bag of chocolate chips. I like using milk chocolate chips.) for every dozen cupcakes. For the chocolate ones, I remove enough dough from the big bowl to make a dozen cupcakes and add a bag of chocolate chips. This makes them super chocolate-y. Sook added bitter chocolate to her fruitcakes but use what you like and only if you like.
The night before, place all the dried fruits into a glass or ceramic dish and pour the whiskey over. Stir well. Cover and stir a few times the next day. You can let the fruit soak for eight hours or up to 24:

Preheat the oven to 300*.
The next day, you can tell that the fruit has soaked up the alcohol. Put one cup of the flour into the bowl with the fruit when you’re ready to bake, and stir to coat the fruit pieces. This is to help suspend the fruit in the batter:

In the Kitchenaid, combine the softened butter and sugar and mix until light and fluffy:

Add one egg at a time to the sugar/butter mixture and mix until incorporated before adding the next egg until they are all in the batter. Add the pecan pieces and mix well:

Add the flour, salt, and all the fruit including the jelly. If you like cloves, cinnamon, etc add a dash of that (I don’t – but make this recipe what you like!). It really fills up the Kitchenaid bowl but it’ll be fine.
Prepare the pans – cupcake liners (or if you’re making 8″ cakes, butter and line the bottom with parchment paper):

The fruitcake dough doesn’t really rise – so fill them:
At 300*, they should take 20-30 minutes to cook. If you’re making cakes, the cook time will be more like 1:15 or 1:30.
These are some all baked up that I added chocolate chips to. Yum!!

My friend Alan sent me a link to a story in the NYT yesterday about the layer cake tradition in Alabama:

They’re currency, comfort and status. Everyone knows whose cakes are tender and whose consistently reach 12 layers or more.

“Three or four weren’t nothing to brag about,” said Franklin Peacock, who has been eating layer cake here since the 1930s. “Five or six is about where you’d want to start talking about your cake.”

Martha Meadows, 77, learned to bake 15-layer cakes from her mother, who cooked each layer one at a time in a cast-iron hoe-cake pan. The pan now lives in a kitchen cupboard in the small house in a cotton field between this town and Slocomb, Ala., where Mrs. Meadows has lived for 34 years.

I was introduced to Mrs. Meadows by Franklin Peacock’s son, the chef Scott Peacock, who was raised on southeast Alabama layer cake. He now lives in Atlanta, where he runs the Watershed restaurant, but he has recently been traveling home to record stories from cooks in their 80s, 90s and 100s for an oral history project.

He is forever bragging about the layer cakes from Hartford, his hometown. I met him in Alabama to see for myself.

Especially at Christmas, the cake ladies of Alabama distinguish themselves with cakes whose recipes are a century old.

The little layer cake is perhaps the showiest of the extensive southern Alabama repertory. There is always a poundcake on the table at Christmas, as there often is year-round. And, usually, there is a fruitcake, like the simple ones with pecans and two kinds of dried fruit that the members of the Sardis United Methodist Church are making this season. A core group of about eight cranked out 1,000 of them, selling various sizes for $5 a pound. A couple of years ago, they made enough to buy a new grand piano for the church. Last year, the cakes helped pay to remodel the church kitchen.

There is, of course, coconut cake with its fluffy frosting whipped from egg whites and boiled sugar, with fresh coconut pressed into its sides. And certainly, there are Lane cakes, made with an 1898 recipe named after Emma Rylander Lane of nearby Clayton, Ala., who called it her prize cake. The cake was a childhood favorite of President Carter, whose hometown of Plains, Ga., is a few hours’ drive from Clayton. Harper Lee, who grew up in Monroeville, Ala., mentioned Lane cake in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Time to make a Lane cake. And a layer cake. And a caramel cake too…

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