Not Your Grandmother's Fruitcake
When I was a kid, fruitcake was one of those food gifts that always made an appearance during the holidays. Wrapped in heavy-duty foil and dressed with dazzling red and green ribbons, it snuck in posing as a delectable celebrity on my mother's dessert table. It was dutifully delivered by the neighbor down the road who devotedly baked a multitude of them every year for gifts. Half of my family loved them and looked forward to them annually and the other camp (myself included) said a polite, "No thanks, pass the brownies please."
I was never impressed by the faux neon green cherries or the hard, sticky texture caused by the regular doses of a strong bourbon glaze it received as it aged, so I never gave fruitcake a second look when it appeared on the table.
Fast forward about 25 years and I was offered fruitcake again, but that time it was in Australia, the green cherries were noticeably absent and it was covered with a thin layer of marzipan (a confectionary almond paste) and then topped with a smooth fondant sugar icing. It was there that I began to expand my horizons and to develop a deep fondness for this new
version of fruitcake.
Down Under, fruitcake is favored at weddings for the traditional bride. It carries a reputation as a formidable contender in the special occasion cake category among the masses. There are variations and different styles of fruitcakes, depending on the region and the family recipe. Originally
a British specialty, the Australian version includes more tropical fruits, which gives it a different flavor profile. The tradition of eating fruitcake at celebrations dates back to the early 18th century, when wedding cakes evolved from enriched bread recipes studded with dried fruits.
If I want a tasty traditional fruitcake today, I order it online from the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, the oldest fruitcake company in the United States (www.collinstreet.com). Since 1896, they have been making fruitcakes that bear no resemblance to the doorstop texture of
those in my earlier years. But, if I want a different kind of fruitcake that's a snap to make and has the same nut and dried fruit goodness, I make a flourless version. It's not the traditional cake passed around to
relatives at holiday time, but instead, a chewy, rich cake that can also be served to my gluten-free guests.
I developed this recipe for my Australian-American sister-in-law who wanted a traditional fruitcake for her wedding, but needed it to be gluten free. Delicious and easy to put together, it's made from all-natural
fruits and nuts. Even the pickiest fruitcake eaters will love this version. This recipe was adapted from a recipe I found on Food.com,
which used traditional candied cherries. Any dried fruit will work beautifully in this recipe.
New Age Fruitcake
8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 1/2 loaves
14 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
8 ounces chopped dates
16 ounces chopped pecans or walnuts
8 ounces dried cranberries
8 ounces dried pineapple
2 (14-ounce) cans of sweetened condensed milk
Place coconut, dates, nuts and dried fruit in a large bowl, breaking the
mixture up with your hands until there are no large chunks of fruit stuck together. With your hands mix in the sweetened condensed milk until well blended. (Latex gloves work well here.) Spray loaf pans with non-stick spray.Line the pans with parchment paper by cutting the paper into strips a
few inches longer than needed, so the paper will stick up higher than
the sides of the pan. This will help you pull the loaf out of the pan
once it's baked. Press the parchment paper securely into the loaf pan and
spray it with non-stick spray. Divide ingredients evenly between the pans and press to pack it down. To keep the batter from sticking to them while you're pressing, wet your hands. Bake cake at 300°F for 1 hour, until
the top becomes brown. If needed, broil for 2 minutes to brown top.
Edges will be brown when done. Let cakes cool 10 minutes before removing
from pans. Remove paper while still warm. Store in refrigerator.
Arlene Coco Buscombe is the owner of Prairie Kitchen Specialty Foods and makes hand-made food products on the shores of Lake Superior.