As the holidays rolled around this year, I was very excited about getting the mixer gift out in the hopes of wowing my dad. My mom and I have always joked about how he compliments someone’s cooking. He has always said, “It’s fair,” when tasting someone’s food. It had to be spectacular food to get a “pretty good” or even a “good”. Considering this, I use the word “wowing” loosely. I was really only hoping for something just beyond “fair”.
I started scouring online recipes in late October. My dad had already requested the prune and pecan cookies from last year, so I knew those were in stone. However, I wanted something that he wouldn’t imagine me baking – something that he loved but would never assume I would or could try. Fruitcake! Now, I’m not talking about your traditional, candied-fruit, super-sweet, rock-hard, use-as-a-weapon fruitcake. I wanted a fruit cake that was moist and had real fruit in it. I wanted a fruitcake that looked and tasted so delicious that even the most critical fruitcake scoffers would try it.
Then I found it – the recipe that spoke to me! It was Free Range Fruitcake by Alton Brown from Food Network. My husband is a huge fan, and we love the show Good Eats. Alton Brown approaches cooking like a scientist – research, test, research, test. If he posts a recipe, then it’s because he’s perfected it. I knew in my heart that this had to be a good fruitcake.
I read the very long list of ingredients and decided to omit the over-powering spices. My family and I are not fans of what I like to call “fall spices” – allspice, clove, nutmeg, ginger. We use cinnamon, and that’s the extent of it. I made my grocery list and hoped I could find all of the dried fruit at one store – golden raisins, currants, dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, and dried apricots. I couldn’t find currants or dried blueberries. Therefore, I added more of the other dried ingredients and also added prunes. I had them and knew my dad obviously liked them (e.g. – prune and pecan cookies).
I followed the recipe as closely as I could since I decided to omit certain ingredients. Due to time constraints, I chose to macerate my fruit in the microwave per his instructions instead of overnight. Everything mixed up well, and the batter looked really good.
The instructions didn’t say to line my pan with wax paper, but I was using a 10-inch stoneware pan and didn’t want to chance it not sticking to the bottom. I cooked it for the required 60 minutes, but the cake was still gooey in the middle when I tested it. I ended up cooking it an additional 27 minutes – or until my tester came out clean. I was terrified it would be dry; however, it turned out to be a very pretty cake.
My dad was pleasantly surprised by the fruitcake. He hadn’t eaten fruitcake in a very long time, and he’d never eaten one without candied fruit. I was excited and extremely nervous for him to try it. I knew he would smell it first. He smells everything before he eats it if it’s something new. He said, “Smells good.” Then he took a bite and looked at me and asked, “Have you tried it yet?” (I laughed a little. He had just watched me slice it for the first time in front of him.) “Well, no,” I said. He said, “Here,” as he broke off a corner of his piece and handed it too me. He said, “It’s pretty good.” I was elated! After a few more bites, he said, “It’s actually really good.” My mom was standing nearby and said, “Wow! I’ve been married to him for 34 years and don’t think I’ve ever gotten a ‘really good.'” I’m sure she was just trying to make me feel good because she’s actually an excellent cook and the person who stirred my love for food and cooking. It didn’t matter though. I knew how rarely he offered “really good” compliments, so I was already basking in his praise.
My cookies were also a success. My mom and dad played dominos at their friends’ home and took the cookies with them. I’m not sure he took the fruitcake though. I think it stayed at the house for him to eat. It’s pretty cool that my parents are handing out my baked goods like business cards. “Denise made these cookies. Try one.” I have three degrees, and I doubt my parents could tell anyone what they are in or what I do for a living; but I can bake according them. And to think that it all started with that mixer gift from my dad last year.