I've posted this recipe in one form or another on a different virtual community every December for the last three years, and now it's time for it to hit E2. I'm taking a risk here, as I understand there are some purists out there who can't abide adulterations of real fruitcake, despite its being reviled to the point of being the default punchline to half the Christmas jokes in America. There are still some people who insist on standing up for fruitcake's integrity, its standing as a classic folk dish, its dark and sophisticated flavor (one of the few real acquired tastes of the holidays), or, around these parts, probably just its high alcohol content.

Well, I am not a purist. In fact, my exposure to types of fruitcake other than the one you're about to read is very limited, so I've become something of a purist about this one. I also like Stove Top stuffing, so take that, foodies. So, as anyone careful to do justice to favorite childhood foods should do, I wrote to the home office and got the source code straight from the source. Quoted bits are pasted directly from the email I got in return.

"Dave's Light Fruitcake"

That's the title. Dave is my dad. The recipe's his by now, but it started out coming from Better Homes and Gardens or something before getting run through our patented processes here at the Sugarbaker Search-and-Destroy Cooking Institute. "Light" refers to the color and flavor of the fruitcake, not to caloric content. A few years ago Mom turned one of them over on a cutting board, left it there for a minute, and I swear I can still kind of see the butter stain.

"1 pound pecan halves (4 cups)
1/2 pound California walnut halves (2 cups)
3/4 pound whole candied cherries (2 cups)
1/2 pound diced candied pineapple (2 cups)
1-1/2 cups light raisins / dried cranberries / dried cherries
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour"

Now, me, I object to this business about dried cranberries and cherries. Too bitter. Early models of this cake from my childhood featured nothing but Sunmaid Golden Raisins. Everything in here should be like candy; that's the point. So I encourage you to leave those out. As far as other variations, Mom made one with regular dark raisins this year. It tasted okay, but it looked a little disturbing. "The fruitcake has spots, Ma."

Also, candied pineapple can be tough to find, and when you do find it, it may come in unnatural colors (he said, as if the pornographic red and alien green of the candied cherries are natural). In a pinch, you can substitute conventional dried pineapple and cut it up into cubes slightly smaller than one inch. The texture isn't going to be as moist and lurid, though.


"1-1/2 cups butter or margarine
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1-ounce bottle (2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) lemon extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Light corn syrup"

Those are the ingredients. Note the lemon extract. It's almost a shame that there's so much fruit in these; the batter is exquisite.

Now to procedural matters:

"In one large mixing bowl combine pecans, walnuts, cherries, pineapple and raisins. Toss with the 1 cup flour; set aside."

We are talking about large mixing bowls. Biggest ones you have. Dad uses things that are like a cross between woks and big steel kettles.

Take your time with this stuff, the mixing the flour with the dry ingredients. A good distribution of flour isn't too hard to get, but a large amount of flour gathering in the bottom of the bowl might give you trouble. Anyway. Center yourself. Shift a large amount of expensive ingredients around in a bowl that isn't quite big enough. Eat the ones you accidentally crush. Relax. You're not at the hard part yet.

"In another large mixing bowl, mix together the 2 cups flour, 1.5 cups sugar and the baking powder. Mix in the butter. (Butter should be soft, but not melted.) Stir in lemon extract."

Pause to marvel at the sheer amount of alcohol in cooking extracts. Try not to get a contact high. Continue.

"Add eggs, beating well after addition. Mix well.

"Add batter to fruit, mixing well to coat all fruits and nuts."

This is the hard part. That bowl you put the fruit and nuts in wasn't big enough to begin with, was it? And now you're adding volume, as well as finding that the batter and fruits do not sort into each other like magic. Just keep working it, rolling it and flipping it in the pan, looking for dry spots to drop a ball of batter into. It will happen for you eventually. You will get batter on everything, and very possibly break a wooden spoon clean in half (happened to me this year). Soon, things will start to look evenly coated in yellow delicious batter, the bowl you mixed the wet stuff in will look pretty empty, and you will pause for five minutes to lick things. Keep some spare batter around, though.

"Transfer batter to a well-greased 10-inch tube pan."

This means a pan with a tube down the middle, usually attached to a removable plate forming what will become the top of the cake. It's a torus pan, if that helps. The pan is probably important for cooking reasons, but it's also easier to cut it if it's a ring shape, and anyway it's tradition and DON'T MESS WITH IT. ACCEPT IT BEFORE IT DESTROYS YOU. (However, Dad also makes little square ones, about 3 x 5 x 3 inches, for gifts. If you're undertaking this, the cooking times and such will change, but we'll get into that.)

The important thing about filling the pans is you want them filled really, really densely. Pack the stuff down. Mom used to have the worst trouble with this, and the cakes came out on the dry and crumbly side, which is a terrible waste of a lot of butter. Last year she claims she actually had to enlist a "big strong man" to help her, and the cake came out much better. Whatever you do, pack that batter down. Not so you're crushing all the cherries and such, but you want to avoid air bubbles and ensure a dense, yummy cake. This is a good time to take whatever scrapings of batter you didn't lick up and patch the top of the cake with them. You do want the top to be kind of level, although it'll end up being the bottom.

"Cover tightly with foil. Place a pan of hot water on bottom oven rack. Bake cake on shelf above water in slow oven (300 degrees) for 2 1/2 hours. Remove foil; bake 5 minutes or till top is slightly dry."

Two and a half hours, no joke. If you're using little pans the size of my dad's gift cakes, or even like a meatloaf pan or something, you might want to stop at two. At any rate, that's when you open up the foil and see if there's some separated butter floating at the top, or if the top is otherwise wet. If so, take the foil off and continue cooking until the top looks dry and done. "If it looks done, it probably is." That advice is a little unsatisfying, sure, but that's what Dad just told me on the phone.

"Remove cake from pan when cooled thoroughly. Store in tightly covered container. Slices best when cold, but not frozen."

Just stick the thing in the fridge when it comes out. You do not want to de-pan it too soon. So let it chill, then cut with an electric carving knife while it's cold. They freeze really well. Slice the big ring ones into skinny little fingers, and then heap them on big platters and serve them at parties, where all of your woefully ignorant guests will be afraid of them. Then eat the leftovers yourself, saying a silent prayer of thanks for fruitcake's bad reputation.

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