Christmas Fruit Cake

Festivals always arrive a few days before “the” date. They can be felt in the air, smelled in home kitchens, heard in excited conversations of the children and elders alike, seen in the markets and just everywhere. The patient wait and the preparations for the celebrations, days in advance, make revelry even more special.  So, in our home Christmas  festivities almost always arrives in October, when I soak fruits in alcohol for this traditional Christmas Fruit Cake.

Camera360_2015_12_24_042809-001This cake is different from a regular fruit cake as it has a good amount of caramel in it. Caramel gives it a typical deep brown color as well as the toffee flavor which amalgamates beautifully with the alcohol and fruits, and at the same time keeps the cake moist. I prefer to bake my cake at least one week in advance and let the flavors mature with regular feeding of rum. The alcohol not only keeps the cake moist, it increases its shelf-life as well.

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Though I have been baking this cake for as long as I can remember, this year I baked two cakes. One is what you see here, and the other one using the same recipe, with brown sugar replacing the regular sugar and rum replacing the caramel altogether. That cake is still maturing and it will be another couple of days before I can update you on that one. Till then, here is the traditional Christmas Fruit Cake in all its goodness. Merry Christmas!

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(Update 28.12.2015- So, we finally had the rum cake and we did miss caramel in it. This cake was light brown in color unlike one with caramel, and more on sweeter side. It lacked the toffee-rum flavor which I feel is the very soul of the Christmas cake. So, I don’t think I am going to replace caramel with anything as for now! )

Christmas Fruit Cake
(Yields two 8 inches square cakes)

Ingredients

For the fruit mix:
• 500g chopped mixed dry fruits
• 1/4th cup rum/brandy
• 1/4th cup orange juice
• Zest from the peel of one orange
• Juice from one lemon
• 1 tbsp vanilla extract
• 1/4th tsp powdered cloves
• ½ tsp powdered cinnamon
• ½ tsp powdered nutmeg

For the caramel:
• 1 ½ cup sugar
• ¾ cup hot water
• 1 tsp instant coffee powder

For the cake:
• 500 grams alcohol soaked mixed fruit
• 2 cups plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
• 200 gms unsalted butter, room temperature
• ¾ cup sugar
• 4 eggs
• caramel syrup
• 1 ½ tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp salt
• 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To make the fruit mix:

• In a non-reactive bowl, place all the ingredients listed under the “fruit mix” and stir well.
• Cover with a fitting lid and keep under refrigeration for 3 days or more. I soak my fruits 3 months in advance
• Mix thoroughly every 3rd day and feed more alcohol as and when needed.

To make the caramel:
• Place sugar in a heavy bottomed pan. Keep the pan on medium-slow flame and let the sugar melt.
• Once sugar begins to melt, rotate the pan to swirl the sugar till it completely melts. Don’t fret if the sugar crystallizes, just keep stirring and it will melt to become caramel.
• Let the caramel reach deep amber color, at which point turn off the flame. Very carefully, slowly add the hot water into the pot and keep stirring. It’s a good idea to wear baking gloves at this time as the caramel will splatter A LOT. Keep mixing the caramel till it settles and dissolve a teaspoon of instant coffee powder to it. Reserve.

To make the cake:
• Heat the oven to 150° C. Grease two 8X8 inches square pans and line thrice with parchment paper. This step is very important since the cake bakes for a long time and not lining with enough parchment layers will result in hardening of the edges. Grease parchment paper as well.
• Toss the soaked mixed fruit in flour well in a large bowl so that the fruit is completely coated. Add the salt and baking powder and mix well. Keep aside.
• Beat the butter and sugar with electric blender till fluffy, about 2 minutes. Then add the eggs and beat well again
• Add the caramel syrup and vanilla extract and beat again till well incorporated. The mixture may appear curdled.
• Add the flour coated mixed fruit mixture to the butter mix and stir well.
• Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about an hour. The cake, when done, will be dark golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake will turn out clean.
• Turn off the oven and let the cake cool. Once cooled, poke several holes into the cake and feed it with rum. Cover the cake in multiple layers of parchment paper and let the cake sit on room temperature for about a week. Feed rum at least twice while the cake is maturing.

Extra notes:
1. Do not pack the cake directly with aluminium foil as the juices of the cake may react with the metal. Its better to cover in the parchment paper and clean wrap and store at room temperature.
2. Though it is better to mature the cake for at least a week, a minimum of two days is much desired.

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