Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Maria's Manhattan Christmas Cake

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Fruit cakes have a bad rap, but the fact of the matter is they got so rich and crazy back in the day that the poor were only allowed (by law) to have them at holidays. It's loaded with dried fruit, rich cake, and fed alcohol to keep indefinitely. That sounds like my kind of cake... an über snack-cake. The problem with American fruit cakes is that they load up a bland batter with cheap candied citrus and those hideous glazed cherries and then give them a little sprinkle of rum or a corn syrup glaze loaded with commercial preservatives. If you don't want to eat the components individually, why on earth would they taste good together?

Last year, I went back to its English origins, [where they're called Christmas Cake] and decided to do a version of the Manhattan -- my favorite drink -- in cake form. This has all the really good dried fruit you actually want to eat.. cherries, raisins, figs, dates, and cranberries, soaked in quality cherry liquor and folded into a rich, vermouth-scented cake with a touch of rye flour and ground pecans.... then liberally doused in rye whiskey for 6 weeks. The result was exceptional. I took one to my parents' house for Christmas and my oldest friend's husband, an Englishman, said I made it feel like Christmas for him... so I let him take the rest home.
My batter was an amalgamation of several recipes and last year I incorporated whole-wheat flour into the cake, but left the butter alone. This year I found the nutritional information for a cake with a similar base and it was a little...obscene... so I swapped half the butter for non-fat yogurt and it worked great. This isn't the sexiest looking cake in the world, but -- just like its namesake -- after a slice or two you really won't care.

Don't worry Rupert, I made one of these just for you.
Recipe: Maria’s Manhattan Christmas Cake

This is a labor of love. I usually have almost everything required in my pantry, but I know buying all of these ingredients at once can really add up... but they're also why it tastes so good, so if you go to the effort, you should really go to the expense.

6 oz dried cherries
4 oz dried raisins
4 oz dried figs
4 oz dried dates
2 oz dried cranberries
4 Tsb cherry syrup
2 Tsb sweet vermouth
1 tsp Luxardo maraschino liqueur
water to cover
1/2 cup rye flour

1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tsb sweet vermouth
1 tsp Angostura bitters

1/2 stick butter, browned and cooled
1/2 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 oz pecans, toasted
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp caraway seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 small loaf pans with greased parchment paper and set aside.

Chop dried fruit into pencil eraser-sized pieces and combine with vermouth, cherry syrup and enough water to partially cover. Microwave 5 minutes or until plump, strain and spread on paper towel to dry. Meanwhile, brown butter and refrigerate to cool. [Alternatively, omit water/nuking and steep fruit stand in liquid overnight]

Chop dates and figs and place in a large lidded container with rye flour. Shake to coat. Once cherry mixture is mostly dry (sticky but not wet) add to date mixture and shake to coat, adding more rye flour if needed.

Combine pecans and whole-wheat flour in food processor, pulse to grind fine then combine with other flours and spices. Set aside.

Combine yogurt with lemon, extract, and liquors in a small bowl and set aside to thicken. In mixing bowl, cream butters and sugar until light and fluffy ~3 minutes. Add eggs in two additions, scraping bowl between. With mixer on lowest speed, spoon in about a third of the flour, then half of the yogurt, then half remaining flour, the rest of yogurt, and the rest of flour, letting each addition combine before adding next. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Return mixer to lowest speed and add fruit a fistful (or spoonful) at a time. Fold batter a few times with rubber spatula to make sure it’s all evenly distributed then spoon into pan loaves, pressing gently into corners to fill any air pockets, and smoothing the top. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, 1 hour or until edges darken and start to pull away from the pan or paper.

Transfer pans to cooling rack and sprinkle 1Tsb rye whiskey onto each. Once cool, remove from pan and peel off parchment. Wrap in fresh parchment then place in airtight container. Check every few days and baste with whiskey when dry, at least once a week for at least one month. Slice thin and serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or yogurt cheese.

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