Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Fruit cake - an alcohol and egg free cake to indulge in some Holiday Gluttony

We went to attend an essay presentation night at DD's school 2 evenings earlier. These are all high school kids and have to prepare an essay on a topic of choice (approved by a faculty member/advisor) and work on it over 2 semesters. We were only able to attend may be 1/8th of the presentations as we sat in the room that DD was in along with 11 other classmates. The topics were as diverse as - patterns and uses of mathematical group - why moving Boeing manufacturing (or part of the facility) out of state is not beneficial - how Jhumpa Lahiri uses food in her short stories to convey something and a whole gamut of other topics. A very enjoyable evening. What does this have to do with today's post, you ask? Well, it is a prelude to what is to follow :-).
One of the presentations was about striking unity in diversity and how India manages to do that generation after generation. The presenter talked about her parents telling her stories of growing up in a diverse neighborhood in India where all festivals were given equal measure of importance and indulgence. That is true, in all the years I was growing up in our small city of Mysore, we never experienced any disharmony with our neighbors from different religious backgrounds. I personally think the religious tolerance in India is very high as we respect and live happily among a multitude of different practices, the key being 'Live & let live'.
I studied in a convent, went to the chapel to pray before heading to many an inter school competition :-), put up nativity displays and organized Christmas plays every year in addition to eating the cakes that the nuns gave us and those that many friends brought from home. Though Nammamma never baked anything in her kitchen, we had our share of yummy baked goodies from the neighborhood Iyengar bakeries or from friends. While we didn't do anything specifically for Christmas at home, there was enough festivities around to suck us into the joy of the season and celebrate it with our friends.
After coming here, Christmas has been so much part of our lives. Initially it felt like a wonderland outside especially in the snow clad Eastern states we have lived in. The novelty wore off slowly, however I never tire of walking through artfully lighted streets and neighborhoods. We started placing our tree in the house for the little girl who had that innocent, childhood faith in the fact that the big man in red suit would come in on Christmas eve even in the apartments we lived that didn't have a chimney :-). As she grew older and the secret Santa was identified to be the doting mom & dad, lists & letters to Santa turned into subtle pre-Christmas hints to the parents. While many things changed, tradition of decorating the tree continued. This season can get pretty lonely (ironic given that everyone is celebrating) and I ache for my family that are not here with me.  We have been fortunate to have somebody at home - cousins, grand parents, aunts, uncles or friends when we actually decorate the tree every year, it is our small Christmas miracle. Last year, looking at all the majestic pine trees we are surrounded with, we decided to get a small live tree instead of the plastic one we had been using. After New year, we transplanted the plant into a bigger pot not expecting much but it grew a few inches taller over the summer and we have a cute, little live tree that we don't have to cut. We brought it inside last weekend and a young cousin who has recently moved to town showed up for brunch and we had a great time putting some trinkets and dressing up the small tree after a heavy lunch. We thought it looked pretty without lights, didn't have the heart to wrap warm strings of lights around a living, breathing tree :-)
Tiny little decked up tree inside the window talking to the giant aunts/uncles outside
With our little tree up in the corner and lights on the windows, I wanted to bake something special for the Holiday season. I have heard much bad rap about fruit cakes but they never seem to go out of fashion when it is the end of the year :-). Once when I was in India, a friend of my FIL from Kerala brought a big home made fruit cake to share with us. I had never had the dark kind of cake before, so greedily grabbed a big piece and settled down on the sofa next to amma. Both of us bit into the slices in hand when I asked the lady for the recipe. She promptly started with flour and Rum :-). Now the only time alcohol has knowingly entered our bodies is via a cold/cough medication and we both have a 'thing' about it, so we put the cake pieces down into our respective plates hoping that our generous friend would not notice the dip in enthusiasm. Needless to say that BH all of a sudden seemed to grow a lot of interest in the discarded piece of cake :-). But that conversation made me wiser to the fact that typical fruit cakes had Rum or brandy and good ones were actually ripened over months with a steady feed of alcohol resembling the drip irrigation.
I have wanted to make a fruit cake for a long time and kept looking for an alcohol free recipe, found some, book marked them and never got to making one. Now that I feel much more confident about baking and have learnt the use of replacement ingredients, this year I decided to make a fruit cake and make it without both Rum or eggs. Here is the recipe mine is loosely based on but I have made modifications to replace the 2 ingredients. It doesn't have the 'caramelizing' process usually done in Indian fruit cakes so no elaborate cooking needed. The verdict at home was, 'it is simply superb', wish I could send a slice to each of my readers, but here is one for all of you virtually.
The cake doesn't look very dark as I used light brown sugar and didn't have the molasses but the juice soaked fruit bites and the cake itself are irresistible. In my quest of a perfect fruit cake recipe which has gone on for a couple of years atleast, I have gathered some 'fruit cake baking wisdom', look for the tips at the bottom of this post. I found them very helpful as I baked mine. Do give this a try, you have some time before 25th and can still make it if you are getting ready. Drop in and let me know how you liked it.
What do you need to make fruit cake?
1/2 cup (1 stick US measure) butter
3/4 packed cup brows sugar (use dark brown sugar if you are particular about the color)
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce (or 4 eggs)
1 & 3/4 cup AP flour
1 Tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 Tsp freshly powdered cloves (about 6 cloves)
2 Tsp lemon juice
1 Tsp baking powder
1 cup ground almond
3 cups chopped dry fruits - any combination of dark raisins, golden raisins, cranberries, blue berries, apricot, dates, pinneapple etc.
1 cup orange juice - I took 2 big oranges and squeezed fresh juice, the flavor was undoubtedly stronger and better than store bought orange juice
1 cup candied orange peels
1.5 cups chopped nuts - any combination of walnuts, pecans, pistachio etc
How do you make fruit cake?
  • Chop all the dry fruits into small pieces and soak them for atleast 48 hours in the orange juice. Use a big container with lid, put it in the refrigerator and shake them every few hours to make sure all the pieces come in contact with orange juice.
  • I made the orange peels at home following this recipe, original source here as I couldn't find them anywhere in the stores near me even after a much hilarious wild goose chase, story for another day. They turned out so good that we ended up eating half of them just like that :-)
  • On the day you make the cake - Chop the candied orange peels and nuts into small bits, keep it ready.
  • Powder almonds into a fine consistency and keep it ready.
  • Mix softened butter (keep it out of the refrigerator a few hours earlier) and brown sugar in a big bowl, beat them with a whisk to a creamy consistency. I used my stand mixer which made the task a no-brainer :-)
  • Add 1/4 of the apple sauce, beat it in until homogeneous, add 1/4 of the flour and mix it till well incorporated.
  • Continue this process 3 more times until all the apple sauce and flour have been used.
  • Add powdered nutmeg, cloves and lemon juice and mix them well. Add the baking powder and give a good mix.
  • If you are using the stand mixer, switch it off and fold in the remaining ingredients gently - start with powdered almonds, soaked dry fruits along with any remaining orange juice, chopped nuts and candied orange peels.
  • Prepare a loaf pan by laying a parchment sheet to cover the bottom and the sides leaving about an inch or so hanging out from the sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper with butter or cooking spray.
  • Preheat the oven to 325F,  keep a wide baking tray half filled with water on the top shelf.
  • Pour the prepared cake batter into the pan, smoothen the top with a flat spatula.
  • Place the loaf pan in the middle of the water tray and bake it for 135 minutes (2 & 1/4 hour) to 150 minutes (2 & 1/2 hours) until a tooth pick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  • Let the loaf pan stand on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before you pull the cake out holding the hanging parchment sheets and let the cake cool completely over night - DO NOT slice atleast for the next 10 hours. This cake develops flavors slowly.
  • I rolled the cake in a cling wrap after about 6 hours to keep the cake moist and let it continue to cool for the next 4-5 hours.
  • Make thick slices of the cake and enjoy with family and friends.
  • The cake has a good weight you can feel in your hands but is not dense when you eat it.
  • The dry fruits soaked in orange juice tasted wonderful in every bite, if you want it to be milder use apple juice or a combination of orange and apple juice.
  • Fruit cake baking wisdom 1 - Put the loaf pan inside a preheated pan containing water, this helps prevent an early browning of the cake as it is in the hot oven for a long duration.
  • Fruit cake baking wisdom 2 - Putting parchment paper in the pan not only helps develop the color slowly but also makes it easy to lift this cake out once baked.
  • Fruit cake baking wisdom 3 - Soak fruits in juice overnight or as long as 2 days for them to soak up the liquid and soften.
  • Even if you have big bottles of store bought nutmeg & spice powder in your pantry, do yourself a favor and powder them freshly. It makes the cake come alive with fragrance.


Lakshmi Grandhim said...

Slurrp! Nange bayalli neeru bartha ide ri. Super agi ide Fruit Cake..

NamsVeni Pothas said...

Merry Christmas to all Sattvaa readers and a very happy new year also. the Christmas tree and the decorated cake wonderful. i am very much eager to taste it next. wonderful recipe for a pure veg. people like me.

kitchen queen said...

awesome andyummy fruit cake.

Saranya Balaji said...

lovely cake looks awesome without egg and alcohol...