The Great Debate: Is the Fruitcake Worth Eating, or Is It Nothing But a Doorstop?
Ah, fruitcakes. You either love them or you hate them. There are very few in-betweens when it comes to this sweet bread filled with nuts and candied fruit.
Photo by Matthew Bietz It's the fruitcake time of year, like it or not.
Though gifting fruitcakes around the holidays is not as popular as it used to be, the baked good has been a part of people's diets since as early as the Roman Empire. Back then, fruitcakes were made with pomegranate seeds, raisins and nuts mixed into a barley mash and formed into a ring for dessert. Because it had such a long shelf life, Roman soldiers would carry fruitcakes with them onto the battlefields for sustenance. By the Middle Ages, the recipe had evolved to contain preserved fruit, honey and spices, and it was popular among traveling crusaders.
When Europe began aggressively colonizing, in the 16th century, the sugar acquired from tropical colonies and fruits from the Middle East found their way into the mixture. More nuts were also added, and during the Victorian Era bakers started using alcohol in their fruitcakes as well.
In the early 1700s, European leaders considered fruitcake so decadent that it was outlawed for being "sinfully rich." Eventually the English brought it back into fashion as an important part of tea service. Fruitcakes remained popular in Europe and the U.S. through the first half of the 20th century, though it's unclear how they became a holiday staple.
People aren't as enamored with fruitcakes as they once were, but the polarizing holiday treat continues to spark debate this time of year. Where do you stand on the fruitcake spectrum?
Pro-fruitcake by Molly Dunn
Photo by Molly Dunn A fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery is a wonderful gift during the holidays.
I'll admit it -- I never liked fruitcake when I was a kid. But that's only because I never ate any "cake" unless it was chocolate. Replacing the word "chocolate" with "fruit" was a big turn-off to me as an adolescent. However, I am also the same child who never came close to eating sour cream, spicy food, salads or guacamole -- all of which I absolutely love today.
Now my palate is more refined and I am proud to say, "I love fruitcake."
Every year for Christmas my mom buys my grandmother a fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery. While the bakery has a variety of fruitcake flavors, she always sticks with the classic -- pieces of pineapple, papaya and cherries, raisins and pecans mixed in a thick cake made with honey, flour and eggs. There's nothing "light" about a fruitcake, which is what I discovered when I decided to give the Christmas treat another try.
Each bite of the thick, sweet and sticky cake is jam-packed with fresh pecans, chewy raisins and intensely sweet candied fruit. For those who don't know, the candy jewels on top of the cake are candied red and green cherries, as well as whole pecans -- it's a super-sweet topping.
What I love most about fruitcake, though, is the fact that the fruit and nuts play such an important role in the overall flavor and structure of the cake. Most of the cake is formed from the pecan and fruit pieces; all of it is bound together by flour, butter, honey and eggs. In fact, Collin Street's fruitcake is 27 percent pecans. It's chewy, sticky and sweet, and gets you in the spirit of the Christmas season.
But if that's not enough for you, enhance the whole fruitcake by soaking it (as well as the fruit and nuts before baking) in alcohol, such as brandy, rum or whiskey. Kid-friendly versions can be soaked in apple juice, pineapple juice or orange juice. Some people enjoy soaking their fruitcake in alcohol for a long period of time by coating it with liquor, then wrapping it with a liquor-soaked cheesecloth, followed by parchment paper. They then place the fruitcake in the refrigerator for as long as four months. More liquor can be added during that waiting period. The result is an outstanding sticky-sweet-moist liquor-soaked fruitcake.
Photo by Molly Dunn Make French toast out of a slice of fruitcake for a scrumptious breakfast twist on the classic Christmas cake.
If liquor-soaked fruitcake isn't your thing (which it should be), then try my idea of making fruitcake French toast. It's absolutely sweet and delightful.
Fruitcake deserves more love and appreciation than it gets around this time of year. Give the classic holiday dessert a chance -- I can guarantee you'll have a change of heart. There's a reason fruitcake has been around since the 1600s.