Joy of baking

Brandied raisin-nut cake

(Karoline Boehm Goodnick for The Boston Globe)
December 2, 2009

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Makes one 10-inch cake

At the holidays when I was a child, a large tin in the dining room held a fruit-laden cake that fascinated me. I really wanted to try some right after my family made it at the beginning of December, but the cake was soaking in brandy. This isn’t one of those red-and-green-studded cakes everyone has strong (mostly negative) opinions about. Our family’s is made with select dried fruits (I prefer figs, dates, apricots, currants, and raisins), soaked overnight with walnuts in brandy. (Tip: When you chop the fruits, coat your knife with pan spray to prevent them from sticking.) Make the batter in an electric mixer or in an oversize bowl with a hand-held mixer. Wrap the outside and inside of a 10-inch tube pan with foil so the batter does not leak. After baking, wrap the cake in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and several layers of foil. Aging for at least two weeks mellows the flavors and softens the fruit, but keep the cheesecloth moist to prevent the cake from drying out. On Christmas morning, I always ripped open Santa’s packages and made a beeline to the kitchen to devour a piece of fruit cake. Brandy and all. Maybe that’s why I have such fond memories.

8 cups chopped dried fruit (such as figs, dates, apricots, currants, apples, peaches)
1 cup raisins
2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups brandy
Butter (for the pan)
3cups flour
1teaspoon baking soda
1teaspoon ground nutmeg
1teaspoon ground cinnamon
1teaspoon ground ginger
1/4teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
Extra brandy (for soaking)

1. In a large bowl, mix the dried fruits, raisins, walnuts, and brandy. Cover with plastic wrap; soak overnight.

2. Set the oven at 275 degrees. Butter a 10-inch tube pan. Wrap the outside in heavy duty foil. Line the inside walls with a large strip of foil. Butter the foil.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom to blend them.

4. In an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft and fluffy. Beat in the brown sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a large metal spoon, fold in the flour mixture. Then stir in the soaked fruits, nuts, and brandy. Spoon the batter into the pan, and smooth the top with the spatula. Cover the pan with foil, crimping the edges to seal them.

6. Bake the cake for 4 hours, rotating the pan from front to back after 2 hours. Raise the oven temperature to 325 degrees, remove the foil, and continue baking for 30 minutes. (Total baking time is 4 1/2 hours.) The cake will be very dark.

7. Cool the cake in the pan. Turn it out onto a large deep plate. Peel off the foil. Soak several layers of cheesecloth large enough to cover the top of the cake in brandy. Place the cheesecloth on top of the cake. Re-wrap the entire cake in foil. Set in an airtight tin or cover with plastic wrap. Set on a large plate.

8. Store in a cool, dry place for at least 2 weeks, resoaking the cheesecloth after 1 week.

Karoline Boehm Goodnick