On the Twelfth Day of Christmas
I undertook to bake . . .
twelve pecan tassies
eleven mincemeat pinwheels
ten cardamom buttons
nine molasses crinkles
eight oatmeal chewies
seven gingerbread trees
six cranberry loaves
five butter stars
four gingerbread houses
three dozen spritz
a double batch of sugar cookies
and a whole lot of Texas fruitcake!
The first day of Christmas doesn't actually start until the 25th,
but when it comes to Christmas baking, I'm pretty much done by that day.
I might manage one more batch of mince pies, and maybe another batch of English toffee for my mother-in-law, but all of my baking efforts come in the run-up to the Christmas season.
For weeks now, my kitchen has resembled an amateur bakery . . . and feel free to call me crazy, because all of my friends (and my husband) do.
I suppose we all have our favourite Christmas traditions -- the ones that make us feel cosy, and put us into the seasonal spirit -- and for me, it is all about a warm kitchen and the alchemy of flour and sugar. I'm sure it goes back to my childhood, when I spent many happy hours decorating sugar cookies and cutting out gingerbread men with my mother. These days, some of my best moments come when I'm in the company of my own children and we are chatting and laughing and listening to Christmas music -- whilst absorbed in our culinary tasks. I know that I will treasure the memory of the snowy day when my teenaged daughter's social plans were ruined and so we spent a long afternoon making candy: peanut brittle, English toffee, and a family favorite called "Oklahoma Brown" candy.
It's not that we don't sample the treats, but when it comes to Christmas baking, I definitely prefer to give . . . rather than to keep it all in the family. I make cookies platters for friends and teachers, and no one can enter my house without me breaking out the fruitcake and making little gift bags to take home.
This year will go down as the "Fruitcake Christmas." I dug up an old recipe that my grandparents used to love: they called it Fort Worth fruitcake, and my mom told me that the recipe was an annual request in the Fort Worth, Texas newspaper. I've made a few changes in the original recipe . . . you know that saying that necessity is the mother of invention? . . . and so I've called it Texas Fruitcake. Unlike the English versions of fruitcake, it doesn't have raisins, currants or mixed peel. Instead you get lots of moist dates and apricots, and plenty of pecans -- which are a major crop in Texas. I've tested this recipe on ALL sorts of people this Christmas, and everyone seems to love it. I've become a victim of my own success, though -- and I keep on having to make more of the stuff because I will insist on giving it away. I've made at least 20 loaves of it, maybe more; I lost track a long time ago.
1 pound of stoned and chopped dates
1/2 pound candied cherries
1/2 pound chopped apricots
1 pound of pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
This recipe will make either one large angel food tube pan, two medium loaves, or four small loaves. The cooking times are more or less the same for all of them -- two hours, taking away about ten minutes if you use the small loaf pans. Prepare all of the pans by using a bit of butter or shortening and then lining with parchment paper.
Cut fruit and nuts into small pieces and put into a large bowl. Note: If you cut them by hand you will have more quality control, but you may also use the food processor -- except for the cherries which really need to be cut up by hand. Be careful with the dates, too -- as they can easily turn to mush.
Sift the dry ingredients together and mix with the fruit and nuts -- using a wooden spoon.
Beat the eggs and vanilla together and pour the liquid mixture over the fruit/four mix.
Mix very well -- with a wooden spoon, or even with your hands.
Pack the mixture into the prepared pans.
Bake at a very low oven -- 250 F/125 C for approximately two hours.
Cool the cake in the pan, and then remove and wrap well in cling film.
Some commentary: When it is fresh out of the oven, this cake is absolutely delicious. You may treat it like a traditional fruitcake though, and "feed" it with brandy (sherry, rum, whatever) for several months or weeks before eating. It will get darker with age, and the flavour and texture will change -- but both versions are great. Yesterday, we had friends over for mince pies and mulled wine and I cut into a loaf that I've been "steeping" for almost two months now. (Sadly, there isn't a trace of it left now.)
If forced to choose, though, I would probably opt for the non-alcoholic version -- which is great for afternoon tea or even breakfast-on-the-run. At the beginning of the week, I had to catch an early train to London and I brought along several slices to share with a friend for our commuter breakfast. She was begging me for the recipe . . . really, it's that good.
Although it may seem like it's a bit late for fruitcake season, you might as well treat yourself because we still have wintry January and February to get through.
This is really such an easy-peasy recipe, and did you notice? No butter or other fat in it.
Perfect for Christmas -- or the upcoming season of austerity.
Happy Christmas baking!