I Still Prefer Chocolate

Fruitcake (for fruitcake haters)

Fruitcake (for fruitcake haters)

During the Christmas season it seems as though jokes about fruitcake are as inevitable as youngsters bursting into tears at the sight of Santa Claus. Hey, it happens. Pity the parents who waited in line for an hour at Macy’s for a photo of little Chelsea on Santa’s lap, only to have her experience the dreaded Christmas meltdown. Oh well, c’est xmas.

The thing is, fruitcake is an easy target. I don’t know anyone who likes it. The hunk of fruitcake I saw for sale at Duane Reade had a wrapper that looked like a joke (“…made from an old Southern recipe”). Perhaps this has more to do with America’s collective palate: I think we are a sugar cookie folk. The British seem to be more into the dark, spicy, and pungent. They love a good steamed pudding with hard sauce. (I read somewhere that Martha Stewart likes to give those away as holiday gifts. Martha, when you read this please note my preference for chocolate, and Happy Holidays to you too, doll.)

We all know the fruitcake jokes: that there’s only one piece of fruitcake, it gets passed around and around. Or everyone really uses fruitcake as a doorstop. (I didn’t say they were funny, I just said they were inevitable.) Mrs. Claus makes it out of reindeer droppings. (Love that one. Classy.)

So, why fruitcake on Christmas? Short answer: when people discovered that sugar made a good preservative for fruit, there was an excess of candied fruit available, so putting it in cake and giving it as a gift was a natural progression. Here’s my problem: the fruitcakes they sell now have candied fruit that I do not recognize, and the cake itself seems to be flavored with some kind of spirits that make it smell…er, funky (for lack of a better word.) Rum is one of the traditional fruitcake spirits. I’m not sure what the heck I smell in the fruitcake they sell in Duane Reade.

I don’t hate the concept of fruitcake, I hate the execution. It’s like a beautiful house with musty old furniture and peeling wallpaper. Clearly Fruitcake is a remnant of another age and is ready to be brought up to date. I think this is also an opportunity to highlight all the great seasonal flavors that we expect during the holidays.

One note: fruitcake will never be pretty. It is brown and lumpy. All I ask is that it tastes good. (And does not smell bad.) I will also admit that I know absolutely nothing about making traditional fruitcake. That may be an asset; I’m coming at this problem from a completely selfish place, answering the question, “What do I like?”

I like cinnamon. I like walnuts. Hmmm. It’s fruitcake, and I haven’t mentioned any fruit. Alright, I like figs, and candied pineapple, too. I also wanted to make something that would be relatively easy and fast because—let’s face it, during the holidays we’re all a little oversubscribed.

My cheat, er, shortcut, was that I was really looking at this as a bar cookie. Bar cookies have the advantage of a crust that gives each piece structure: it won’t fall apart in your hand and you don’t need a fork.

I vaguely remembered a blueberry bar I tasted somewhere. I don’t have the recipe, but what I have never been able to get the crust out of my mind. It was a shortbread made with dark brown sugar. It was, hard, had some crunch, and that toasty / sugary taste that dark brown sugar can lend food. If I could just figure that out then I knew the rest would take care of itself.

I kept it simple. Just a bit of flour, brown sugar, Earth Balance (which I use instead of butter), and cinnamon.  I made a mixture like wet sand and pressed it into the bottom of a brownie pan. Right on the money.

To bind my choice of fillings together I used a mixture that is not unlike what you use in Pecan Pie, but skipped the corn syrup in favor of just letting the natural molasses in the dark brown sugar do what it does best: make everything sweet and wet. This also makes the end result a bit less cloying. The walnuts melt into the other ingredients and bring to mind old-fashioned mincemeat. Not a bad traditional reference.

One of the things that used to drive me crazy about fruitcake was that I could never pick the candied fruit out (yeah I know: why bother having fruitcake if you’re just gonna…?) So, keeping that in mind, I reserved my candied pineapple to use only as garnish, and even added a few strips of sliced candied papaya for color. No mystery fruits allowed, and if people don’t want the candied fruit, it’s right there where they can pluck it out.

I nervously presented my new Fruitcake at a cookie swap. Folks were very enthusiastic.

Hello Fruitcake. Welcome to the Twenty-first century.


Here’s the recipe for Christmas Fruitcake (for fruitcake haters).

For your holiday baking you may also like my  Gluten-free Chocolate Crinkles, and Gingerdoodles, both perfect for your holiday table.


Here’s the link to the Butter Flour Eggs Holiday Cookie Baking Primer 101. It also includes a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies and some technique and equipment suggestions. Don’t start your holiday baking without it!


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I’m dreaming of a tweet Christmas…

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