Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Unlike

I have, for many years now, resisted the allure of dark fruitcakes. It is true that I have often, particularly at this time of year, leaped to the defense of fruitcakes whenever some misguided and underinformed soul has issued a blanket condemnation of fruitcakes as doorstops. And I've made black cake, which some would say is the cake that all dark fruitcakes hope to become in their next lives. But I haven't made the traditional dense and rich dark fruitcake of the sort that my mother makes. And I love it, truly I do. Even though my mother includes those horrible red and green cherries in her dark fruitcake, she also includes the best pecans, and she cloaks everything in a really good, spicy dark cake. What she ends up with is notably humongous, and it lasts, wrapped in cloth, soaked in spirits, and then wrapped again in aluminum foil, in a closet for much of the following year, disappearing a slice at a time.

I am very happy with my light fruitcake. I have always been very happy with it, and, now that I've perfected it, I'm happier still. But I still wanted a dark fruitcake that I could slice up and pass around to all the fruitcake haters out there whenever one of them mentions either doorstops or bricks. And then a few days ago, I was going through the pantry, trying to make some space so that V. wouldn't have another storage-related meltdown, and as I was going through the dried fruit section, I realized that I hadn't done anything with the big bag of prunes that I'd bought recently from Costco. And that got me thinking about my awesome prune cake and how I'd wanted to try it again with a few modifications, and that got me thinking that the prune cake was not entirely unlike a black cake, though with fewer fruits and a much shorter maceration period. And I would be remiss here if I didn't mention that my original prune cake was based on a prune cake by redfox, to whom I cannot link because her blog has now gone underground, most likely because she did something to piss off Big Prune.

Anyway, I made this cake twice to try to get it just the way I wanted it. It was very good the first time, but I decided that I wanted more prunes, more chocolate, more nuts, and more spices. I also further lowered the baking temperature, to make sure that I didn't get any burning. Unfortunately, I used up all of my black walnuts (they'd been in my freezer for almost two years, but they were still delicious) in the first batch. The recipe would almost certainly be even better with black walnuts, but they're expensive and hard to find, and it's very good with good old English walnuts. If you have black walnuts lying around though (and you don't want to just send them all to me, even though I swear I'll give them a good home), you could use half as many of those.

I'll admit that part of the reason for increasing some of the ingredients was to get the recipe to the right size for three smaller (8.5x4.5) loaf pans. The first time I made it, I prepared three pans, but when two were filled, I only had enough batter left to make the two small crescent-moon-shaped cakes you see in one of the pictures.

This is a very dense, rich cake, and perhaps it's not for everyone, just because it's so dense and rich and flavorful (though not overly sweet). Of course, some people have a terrible aversion to prunes, but you can get around that by failing to mention the prunes. I think it's an awesome cake, but it takes a bite or two before you can properly appreciate all the delicious subtleties. I have a few of these wrapped in cloth and soaking in port, and if I remember, I'll report back on how they age.

It occurs to me that the addition of some dried cherries to the fruit mixture would be a good thing, but I forgot to add any. Next time, perhaps.

The Prune Is Not Unlike a Cake Fruitcake

24 oz. prunes
4 oz. candied orange peel
1 oz. candied ginger
1 cup port
2 cups walnuts
8 oz. (2 cups) all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 t. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 nutmeg, grated
8 oz. (1 cup) sugar
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate

Cut each prune in six or eight pieces. Finely chop the candied ginger. Put the prunes, candied ginger, and candied orange peel in a container and add the port. Close the container and macerate overnight. Invert occasionally to make sure all the fruit has a chance to soak up the port.

At some point before you begin the final batter preparation, toast the walnuts at 300 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes, being careful not to burn them.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare your pans.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a bowl. Mix well and reserve. Finely chop the chocolate and reserve.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter thoroughly. (See my most recent post for a discussion about butter creaming, etc.) Slowly add the sugar, and continue mixing until well creamed and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs one at a time with the mixer running. Stop to scrape down the bowl, as necessary. Add the vanilla.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients. When well incorporated, add the nuts and continue mixing. Add the macerated fruit, then add the chocolate. Scrape down the bowl, make sure the batter is well mixed, and fill the loaf pans. Smooth the top, then put in the oven.

Bake for about an hour at 300, or until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Let cool in the pans for at least half an hour, then remove from the pans and let cool completely. If desired, soak some cotton fabric in additional port, then use it to wrap the cooled fruitcakes. Put in a large plastic bag and close tightly.


Blogger Paige said...

Oh, good heavens, I LOVE your blog. I have it in my bookmarks, but haven't been reading much of anything lately (too much bloody work--oh, and CHILDREN) but went searching for your old posts about Laurie Colwin and black cake (fruit soaking as I type this, since, oh, Sept. or so) and just got sucked right back in. Searching hasn't given me the answer, so I just thought I'd ask you: did you ever try the marzipan version of the black cake? I am so tempted, marzipan whore that I am..though inclusion of it pretty much guarantees that I'll eat the whole damn cake, which is not a good plan! Thanks for your fab, funny, wonderful blog.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Bee said...

LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!!! (says new addict)

I am amazed that a man who has to visit Kmart to look for springform pans would just happen to have crescent moon pans in his possession! (Says the woman who owns at least 70 cookie cutters . . . but also springform pans in various sizes.)

A friend directed me to your Black Cake posts - which I have just enjoyed immensely. (Don't you think that "immensely" is the correct adverb for anything to do with Black Cake?) I am glad to know that I am not the only nut to macerate fruit this Xmas. I think that I will make this cake next -- it sounds rather more to my taste, actually.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are you - damn I miss you. I was a long time, but silent, guest at your blog. If I would have known you were leaving I would have made some noise. Most of all, I pray everything is ok with your family.

My best - Aaron

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Amy @ Chef Basket said...

I love the moon shapes. These look so delicious and not a bad idea to make my hubby when he gets hoem tomorrow. He loves anything with prunes.

9:33 PM  

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