Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Alton Brown's Fruit cake -- for Christmas and New Year

This is my last post for 2013. As per the "last-post-of-the-year" norm, this should be a post looking back, evaluating the days past and making resolutions for the coming year. But I will do none of that.I don't take stock and no longer make resolutions at the start of a new year. All I do is hang a fresh new calendar on my wall.

As I grow in age I have realized that I no longer bound my life by the beginning and end of a single year. The end and beginning are fluid with days merely spilling into each other. As months, days and hours, march in to fill the empty year ahead, I know that some days will follow the same pattern as in the past years, some a little worse, many a little better and only a few with a streak of rebel in them. Those are the ones that will be different. And for both you and me I wish that those days bloom into something good to remember them by.

Like this fruitcake which I had made for Christmas and then again not for Christmas. Sweet, rich, and filled with plump drunken fruits. The kind you look back on the next year and say "Oh, remember that fruit cake last year, the Alton Brown Fruit Cake ? It was so good". May most of your days in the coming year be just like that. Sweet, rich, and good enough to fondly look back at. And if you want to fill them with drunken fruits, so be it.

Most of you have rich, moist, raisin and nuts studded memories of the Christmas cake. At least from the way, everyone on my FB timeline waxed nostalgic about the Fruit Cake, it looks like it was a family tradition for many.

Not so in my home though. I mean we did have a cake on Christmas for how can you celebrate a birthday without a cake. But my mother did not soak dry fruits in rum for weeks to make that cake. Actually she did not even make that cake. We lived in the suburbs and on most winter holidays we visited my grandparents who lived in North Calcutta. Nahoum, the famous New Market bakery, was not  known to them and Flury's was a long distance away.

So on 25th December, my grandfather, who was a believer in everything from Poush Sankranti to Christmas, that is everything that involved good food and cheer, would get us a cake from the local bajaar. In those crisp Christmas mornings, the best kind of mornings in Kolkata, the air would be a delicious cold and the egg yolk watery sun, just the right kind of warm. A hand-knit full sweater would be too warm and prickly but had to be worn anyway. My Mother or grandmother would have knit it sometime in November, carefully selecting patterns of knits and purls from a magazine called Manorama and then spending many a afternoon in the comforting sound of clickety-clack of the needles, creating cardigans and turtlenecks right in time for December.I was lucky enough that my Mother didn't force me to wear a monkey cap or wrapped a scarf around my throat .We were used to more severe winters where we lived and so she took winter in Kolkata much less seriously than most Bengalis did.

I loved going to that local bajaar with my grandfather when I was the same age as my youngest. Later however, I would feel embarrassed as my grandfather had the tendency to stop each and every person there and strike up a conversation, every time mentioning my visit and my report card which he thought was stellar.

On Christmas day, however, the mundane bajaar donned a festive look.People in bright colorful woolens spilled from its various alley ways and the air smelled of  sweet "notun gur" -- date palm jaggery. The local bakeries who supplied the daily loaves of bread and buns dressed up in festive buntings. Yellow, red and green cellophane wrapped pyramids bedazzled their front counter. Wrapped in those colored cellophanes were deep brown fruit cakes, dense and speckled with tutti-frutties, currants and nuts. They weren't as rich or moist as the best and I didn't really like them a lot. I liked the fluffy Britannia cakes much more. But those store bought, yellow cellophane wrapped, brown fruit cakes were a Christmas tradition and my grandfather always brought one home.

Strangely those fruitcakes never made much of an impression on me. I remember the cellophane wrapping of the cake more vividly than the taste of the cake itself.

Naturally in all these years I have never really craved a Christmas Fruit cake. This year, however I remembered that dense taste on my tongue, the sweetness of raisins, the crunch of red-green tutti frutties. That is how memory plays its tricks as one grows older. The taste was so strong that I had no choice but to bake myself a fruit cake. But before that I needed to find a recipe. An easy one. For as you know any baking recipe that says "beat butter and sugar" or "separate egg white", numbs my brain and makes my heart grow cold.

So when I found Alton Brown's recipe for Fruit Cake, I looked no further. Well I watched the video and read the reviews on that cake, but that's it. No further than that. Alton Brown is the husband-man's cooking guru and after the great success he had with his Thanksgiving Turkey following Brown Saheb's recipe, I knew that even if the  cake turned out less than right, it would all be devoured just in the name of Mr.Brown.

The cake in fact turned out to be delicious. Just like I think fruit cakes should be.Sweet, rich, and filled with plump drunken fruits.

Since the original recipe and video are good enough, I will not re-write the recipe again. However I took many pics so I will share a photo tutorial of the cake as we made it at home.

The most important part of this cake is the dry fruits. Raisins, Currants, Cranberries, Cherries, Blueberries, Apricot, Candied ginger -- all of which lends its own special taste to the cake

4 Cups of dry fruits is needed in all. I did not have the dry blueberries and so used 1 cup of chopped apricot

Freshly ground spices work better and instead of a tsp of dry ginger powder I used 1 tsp grated ginger

Remember to keep a tray of warm water in the lower rack of the oven. That keeps the cake moist. The cake will bake for an hour. Do not, and I repeat, do not open the oven in between. After an hour do the toothpick test i.e. insert a clean toothpick in the cake and see if it comes out clean. If it does not come out clean, leave the cake in the oven for 5 -10 more minutes until done.

Once the cake is done, take it out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. Then spritz or baste the cake with brandy and keep in an air-tight container. Every three days take it out and spritz with brandy to keep it moist. The cake tastes better as it ages.

Now honestly it is very hard to keep your hands off this cake for two weeks, the recommended time for aging.I suggest you eat a thin slice every time your spritz it. That will keep you in good spirits and make you feel far better. With a slice of it by your side, you will forget all your resolutions.

Happy New year to all of You See you again on the other side.


  1. The cake does look good Sandeepa. Your writing more so. All I remember of the fruit cake back home was they had tutti fruiti and a bit dry but that never stopped anyone from eating them.

  2. Your memories are fresh and the loaf looks perfect :) Happy New Year to you and Your family,Sandeepa!

  3. Fabulous Brown's Fruit cake …looks delicious and yummy…
    Thanks for this one….

  4. Hi... Hope you are doing great. Wish you and your family a very Happy New Year. Just wanted to share that like every year, I got fruit cake from Flury's. Its a must have for my dad and my mother did buy manorama yet again for latest design for sweaters. So let me assur you, not much has changed here :)
    Take care
    Love Lipika

  5. The loaf looks perfect and delicious.

  6. sounds like you have made a new family tradition of your own Sandeepa. Hope you all had a good and fun-filled holidays.


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