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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Christmas Cake


Christmas Cherry Nut Cake

I will always think of this as Mormon fruitcake. One of my mother's friends when I was in high school kind of adopted and looked out for us. I remember her bringing us food for Thanksgiving and Christmas, taking us on trips to the coast, bringing me a thoughtful graduation gift, welcoming us into her life, and in all ways truly loving us as a friend. She married again and moved away, and over the years I have lost contact with her. Carmen Nyberg, if you are out there, please get in touch with me! If you know a woman whose name was Carmen Nyberg (it's probably different now) who went to the LDS church in the River Road or Santa Clara area of Eugene, OR in the early to mid 90s, please see if you can bring us together again. I was always grateful for her friendship and kindness to us at a time when we had little and she brought us a bit of sunshine.

One Christmas, she brought us this version of fruitcake as a gift. It wasn't a proper, soaked in liquor, fruitcake, as she was a Mormon and didn't imbibe, and so it wouldn't store well, but it, too was sweet and rich and delicious. I know it's fashionable to hate fruitcake, but I really enjoy it. Carmen generously shared the recipe with me, and I have played with it over the years, so I thought I'd finally share the recipe here. Like all worthwhile fruitcakes, it must be thinly sliced to be properly enjoyed. Otherwise it will be cloyingly sweet and too rich to eat.

Carmen's recipe used candied fruits, and I have switched them to dried fruits. This means that they do need a little soaking, but in the spirit of her original, I have not used alcohol for that. Since I don't like us to consume the corn syrup, dyes and bleaches in most commercial maraschino cherries, I do specifically seek out the organic, all natural, not dyed version when I make this. This is a fruit cake, not a cake with fruit. There is just enough batter to bind the fruit and nuts together and not a bit more. You will want to bake this slowly and cool it completely before even attempting to slice it. I wouldn't even recommend cutting into it until at least the next day, actually, when the flavors have a chance to mingle well.

This recipe isn't written in a standard format. I instruct you to use three bowls, with the largest being added to from the other other two, so I will group the ingredients here to reflect that.

In a large bowl, mix together:

3 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 pound chopped, pitted dates (if you can't find them already chopped, you can whir pitted dates in your food processor or chop by hand)
2 cups marachino cherries, juice reserved
1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Mix all fruit thoroughly with the nuts and stir in about 1/2 cup of the reserved maraschino cherry juice. Cover and let soak several hours, or overnight.

When you are ready to make the cake, preheat oven to 300 F and generously butter six jumbo muffin tin cups. You can use mini loaf pans, as well.

In a small bowl, mix together:

3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Set aside.

In another small bowl, whisk together:

3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Set aside.

Give the fruit and nuts a stir and stir in the flour mixture. Add the egg mixture and combine completely. Portion into each of the cups equally and press down a little. This will not rise much at all, so fill the cups to overflowing just a little.

Bake between 50 and 60 minutes until completely cooked through the center. Allow to cool in pan on a rack for about 10 - 15 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool on the rack completely. If you wish to make two normal sized loaves, increase the baking time to about 1 1/2 hours.

Store in an airtight container up to a week.

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