Friday, 30 December 2011

Poppy's Fruitcake

I didn't like fruitcake when I was a kid. I think it was mostly because all the ones I tried weren't moist enough and were too stuffed full of candied fruit. Which, I suppose, is pretty traditional. It wasn't until I tried the Jamaican Rum Cake my aunt made one Christmas that I really started to appreciate fruitcake. Granted, this fruitcake was dense, dark and rich with rum. It was so moist it was almost a pudding. I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing.

The next year, I wanted to try to make a fruitcake myself. However, to make a traditional Jamaican rum cake, you have to start soaking the fruit the year before. I wasn't ready for that sort of commitment. But, as fate would have it, in the November of my first year at university, my laptop decided to crash. This meant that, for the three days it would take to fix it, I had nothing to do but read. I ended up going to my campus convenience store and buying the Christmas edition of Canadian Living. To my delight, the magazine had a whole section devoted to fruitcakes. The last cake recipe was a Caribbean version, chock full of dried fruit and rum. I had to try it.

It was amazing. Everything I loved about fruitcake. Since then, I've been tweaking it a bit every year. The one I made this Christmas probably barely resembles the first one I made, but that's what I love about cooking; each time you make something it becomes more personalized, until it's not a recipe from a magazine anymore, but more like a family tradition.

Poppy's Fruitcake
inspired by Rheanna's Gramma's Guyanese Guild Cake from Canadian Living

There is a lot of rum in this recipe. Honestly, I usually need a 26 of rum plus a mickey when I make this, but it's really up to you how often and how much you soak the cake.

1 3/4 cup each raisins and currants
1 1/2 cup pitted dried prunes
3-4 cups rum (approx. I suggest getting a 26oz bottle. Best would be Appleton)
1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped almonds or walnuts
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon and cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt

1. Chop up raisins, currants and prunes as small as possible. If you have one powerful enough, use a food processor and pulse until it becomes paste-like.

2. Transfer the mix to a large bowl and stir in 2 cups of rum. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place for at least 3 days, or up to 3 months (I find 1 week works well). Stir every other day, adding more rum if needed to keep the fruit moist.

3. Once ready to bake, melt 1/2 cup of the brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Boil, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Pour immediately into the fruit mixture, stirring to break up any sugar that solidifies (don't worry if it doesn't go in smoothly. Just make sure there aren't any large chunks).

4. In a large bowl or KitchenAid, beat the butter and the rest of the sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated. Stir in almond extract.

5. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, almonds and salt. Add it to the butter mixture in 2 additions. Stir in the fruit mixture until you get a batter.

6. Pour into a 9" loaf pan, lined with a brown paper bag (or a double thickness parchment paper, but the brown bag works best).

7. Bake at 300F for 1.5-2 hours, or until the cake comes away from the sides, but still is moist in the middle. The less time it spends in the oven, the more moist it'll be.

8. With a toothpick, poke holes in the cake. Pour about 1/3 cup of rum over the cake. Let cool in the pan for 24 hours. Once cool, wrap it in 3 layers:

1st: J-cloth soaked in rum.
2nd: Aluminum foil, a large enough piece that you only need one to cover the whole thing.
3rd: Place in a large plastic bag and tie it tightly with all the air removed.

This may seem excessive, but trust me, it'll keep the cake very moist for up to 2 months. It also freezes very well for up to 6 months.

Store in a cool place, soaking with rum once a week.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Magic Bars

I figured it would be fitting that my first post to my blog would be of these Magic Bars. I don't remember what Christmas my mother began to make them, all I really know is that from that year forward they were a must have over the holidays.

Seriously. These bars are something else. Not only are they almost ridiculously easy to make, they're just as easy to eat. Ask my brother. One year he ate off a whole batch in a day.

The recipe is also easy to tweak. You could add different kinds of chocolate, or even dried fruits, and it would still come out amazing. The sweetened condensed milk is what makes it, I think. I mean, where could you go wrong with that?

To me, if you're in the kitchen and you find yourself with a bowl full of chocolate, skor, nuts and sweetened condensed milk, you're about to create something epic.

Magic Bars
adapted from Robin Hood's Quick and Easy Baking, 2003

1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup flaked coconut (unsweetened)
3/4 cup Skor chips
1/4 cup white chocolate
1/2 cup sliced almonds (or pecans, or peanuts- any nut would work)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 13"x9" pan with butter.
2. Combine both kinds of chocolate chips, coconut, Skor and almonds in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Mix together the flour and sugar. Cut in the butter until the mix becomes crumbly. Press into the greased pan and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is light golden.
4. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the crust. Top with the chocolate chip mixture and press down firmly.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool and cut into bars.

Makes about 24-30 bars, depending on the size you cut it.