Fruitcake was not among our family favorite holiday desserts until recently. Year after year, I tasted commercial and artisanal fruitcakes looking for the best to my taste — less dough, more high quality dry fruits and nuts, moist texture, and complex flavors. Nothing really impressed me. Yet, I didn’t dare to make a fruitcake myself. Every time I saw a promising recipe, there was the longest list of ingredients, and it felt intimidating. In addition to that, a good fruitcake requires weeks for flavor building and maturing, which is not my thing. I can handle hours and days, but not weeks.
A year ago, when I was still working on my “Boring British Food” project, I searched for traditional Christmas recipes. I’ve realized I have to master this cake. I’ve read many respectful historical sources in Russian and English about different regional versions of British Christmas cake, and how they’ve been changing from century to century. They inspired me. I didn’t need to test many recipes, because I knew what I am looking for and how to get there.
My first batch was made at the beginning of December. I managed to save two fruitcakes from that batch till Christmas for special occasions. The rest was gone pretty soon as gifts, or shared with guests. My last batch was baked at the beginning of January, because I couldn’t stop. I don’t know the exact number of small cakes I’ve made, but I know I used pounds and pounds of dry fruits and nuts, and a big bottle of rum. Boy, they were good! They smelled like holidays and tasted like old magic. That’s why I named them “medieval”.
Make a mix of dry fruit: apricots, prunes, golden and black raisins, Turkish golden figs, black Mission figs, tart cherries, candied citrus zest. Cut figs, apricots, and prunes to raisin-size pieces. Put them into an airtight nonreactive container (I used mason jars) and add 3-4oz of good rum or brandy. Keep them soaking for at least 3 days, or until all rum is absorbed. Shake the jar 1-2 times a day to make sure all fruit pieces are soaked equally.
for baking, 3 weeks in advance
Preheat your oven to 135⁰C (275⁰F).
Prepare baking pans. For nonstick pans, it is enough to line the bottom with parchment paper. Otherwise, the whole pan should be lined.
Make the dough. Sift and mix two flours and almond meal. Whip softened butter with brown sugar (1) and spices. (Taste it! It’s incredible! It is a product by itself. If molded and frozen, it can be used as any other compound butter: on slices of freshly baked warm ginger bread, on spiced cookies and muffins, added to porridges and vegetable purees. ) Whip eggs and brown sugar (2). Fold egg foam into butter foam, small portions of egg foam at a time, adding a little bit of flour mix with each portion. Reserve ¼ of the dough. Mix the rest of the dough with dry fruit mix.
Fill the pans with dough and fruit mix. Start working in corners. Pack them carefully first, than fill ¾ of the pan leaving some space for the cake to rise in the oven. Top it with some reserved dough and decorated it with nuts.
Cover the molds with foil and bake for 3 to 3 ½ hours. When done, turn the heat off and let them cool in their pans covered, overnight.
Wrap them in foil and keep in an airtight container. Sprinkle them with “feeding” mix every 2 or 3 days, turning. Smaller cakes might need to be fed only once or twice.