SFC: The Only Reason Christmas Should Enter November

                I LOVE Fruitcake. I decided to make a proper recipe for it last Christmas and I’m doing it again this year because I now really LOOOOOVVVEEE Fruitcake!

                If you are unable to relate to this sentiment, then I implore you to find a way to share this excitement, because it IS possible. And the time to do it, if any, is NOW. Because, if you ask any of them, all true Fruitcake bakers (the good stuff, not… “that”) know that Fruitcake season isn’t truly around Christmas; it’s the month (or more) beforehand!

                In fact, I’ve already mixed and baked my fruitcake, it’s just that this post has been a while in the actual creation. There is a reason for this of course, but why ruin the surprise now? Here’s the recipe I’ve been using so far (maybe I’ll try a different one, or two, next year for fun):

Fruitcake a-la Alton Brown

4 Cups Dried and/or Candied Fruit

Zest One Lemon + Orange

¼-½ cup Candied Ginger (homemade be best)

1 cup Rum

1 cup Sugar

5 oz/ 1 ¼ sticks Unsalted Butter

1 cup Apple Juice/Cider

4 whole Cloves, ground or equivalent

6 Allspice berries, ground or equivalent

1 tsp ground Cinnamon

1 tsp ground Ginger

1 ¾ cup AP Flour

1 ½ tsp Salt

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

2 Eggs

¼-½ cups Toasted Nuts, broken/rough chop

Delicious Liquor, like Brandy

                One of the biggest separations between the fruitcake that makes you drool and the ones you expect to put a dent in the floor if dropped (not for that reason of course… that’s a whole other problem right there) comes in the very first step: the actual Fruit. With a recipe like this, you have 4 whole cups of stuff to play around with, whatever you want… DON’T SCREW IT UP!! And by that I mean don’t, for the love of god, get any of those bright Green and Red “Candied Cherries” that serve to only mark what not to eat on the Christmas Table. Or any other really shitty mass-market candied products of things in fake colored syrup.

SAMSUNG

                A good note is to just stick with dried fruit, it’s easy to find, can grab multiple different kinds, and always good with some of the “manipulations” we put them through next. If you can find, or make, some good quality candied fruits or other items, do so. It wouldn’t be too bad to switch out the citrus zests for candied versions of themselves either.

                With that little rant out of the way, we can move onto the first step for a brief period of time: combine all the dried fruit, zests, and candied ginger in a bowl. The latter of these ingredients is practically a necessity, and very easy to find in any Surdyk’s or Co-op… but then again, we could always make it ourselves.

                IMMEDIATE INSANE RECIPE INSERTION!

Homemade Candied Ginger (also a la Alton Brown; what can I say, he’s put up some thorough and fun recipes for a lotta shit)

1 lb Fresh Ginger

5 cups Water

Sugar – Equal weight to Ginger (after first phase)

SAMSUNG

                Much like fruitcake I love candied ginger, so I just had to make this at some point, and the holiday season seemed just right. A note: when scaling this recipe up or down, I find the amount of water for boiling doesn’t seem that important with ratios, so just round up or down as you see fit.

SAMSUNG

                Take however much Ginger you’re using (in my case, a loootttt) and peel it all; a spoon works really well at getting all the little corners while scraping very thin pieces of skin off, but the downside is it can take quite a while to get through all the ginger with just that.

SAMSUNG

                Evenly slice all of it to 1/8” thick pieces; the original recipe recommends using a mandolin, which can work well if you have the nice, “young” ginger that’s smooth through and through, and/or a really nicely sharp mandolin. However it’s not so smooth going when you have the older, fibery ginger, and with how dangerous a mandolin can be if things don’t go smoothly I’d suggest only slicing SOME of the root on there to give an idea of thickness and then carefully slice the rest yourself. Though I’d say the more important thing isn’t how thick it is but just that they’re all about even.

                Place in pot, cover with the water and lid and cook on med-high for at least half an hour, or until “tender.” I’m still not exactly sure what that means as far as ginger is concerned, but sorta at the point when it seems noticeably softer than before (not so “crunchy” when you stick with a fork).

SAMSUNG

                Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and drain the ginger. In a normal case I might implore you to save the leftover ginger-water to use in a number of flavorable applications, like syrups or stock bases, but then I tried a taste… do not, I swear do not use this for anything other than the recipe. It is just sharpness and burning and mouth pain all in a tiny spoonful; I swear I’ve had un-thinned whiskey straight from the barrel (for your reference, all liquors have water added afterward to get it to a proper alcohol content and flavor balance) that went down easier than that. Seriously.

                At this point you’ll want to carefully measure/weigh this out, figure out the exact measurement before weighing and equivalent amount of Sugar.

SAMSUNG

                Damn… that’s a lot of sugar.

SAMSUNG

                Recombine ginger with water and sugar in pot and bring to a boil. Which yes will be possible, I know it might not seem so at first but after the sugar is added and starts to dissolve you’ll end up with quite a decent amount of liquid in the pan.

SAMSUNG

                Reduce heat to medium and cook for what could be 20 minutes up to an hour, stirring every now and then to start and then more frequently as it goes on. It’s hard to describe what it looks like as it gets close to the desired result, but you’ll know; the ginger’s color is different, the syrup is shinier and reduced, sorta thicker, looks and feels like it’s staying on the bottom. At this point you do NOT want to leave it at all; keep stirring, giving it a few seconds between to lay flat and let more sugar cook and evaporate before stirring some more. The moment you start seeing any signs of crystallization, do not stop the stirring.

SAMSUNG

                This is the step you’re looking for, all the water evaporating and the sugar recrystallizing around the ginger pieces. Just like watching sugar caramelize, this will happen in the span of only a few seconds, thus you’ll want to keep it stirring fast so no sugar is left liquid and no ginger is uncovered and quickly turn out onto a cooling rack set over a pan, letting the excess sugars fall through.

SAMSUNG

                Well, this is my excuse for a cooling rack; the only one we have has very wide spacing, more for actual pans then things like cookies and candied ginger. I figure I’d try out a makeshift way of turning it into a tight interlocking grid.

SAMSUNG

                And this is all the ginger turned out onto it. Suffice to say the rack didn’t survive or serve its purpose too well, but that’s okay. The ginger wasn’t harmed and I was able to still collect all that excess Ginger Sugar (which you definitely need to save, it is awesome, such as a garnish for ice cream and stuff, or rimming cocktail glasses). Separate and store ginger in an airtight container for future use, like in my Fruitcake.

SAMSUNG

                Considering how much I ended up actually making, and my adoration of its flavor, I actually ended up substituting about a cup of my dried fruit for extra candied ginger.

SAMSUNG

                Soak all your fruit and citrus in Rum, or a 1 cup mixture of Rum and any flavored liqueur you enjoy; I’m using a bit Harlequin Orange as my own little substitute for the orange zest I didn’t have. Leave at least 4-6 hours, but ideally overnight, making sure to shake the container every now and then to ensure more fruit gets in contact with the delicious alcohol.

SAMSUNG

                Move all this into a large pot and combine with butter, sugar, spices of choice, and your Apple “Juice.” Or in my case, Cider; a combination of both the alcoholic kind, for fun a deliciousness, and the non, for its inherent musty apple richness.

SAMSUNG

                Bring to a boil and stir for about 5-10 minutes. Take off heat and let cool for at LEAST minutes. And though the recipe says to add the butter in the beginning, I actually sorta prefer keeping it cold and adding it to the mix while it’s still warm, mixing it in fast to let it properly emulsify into the fruity alcoholy syrup, like making a beurre blanc.

SAMSUNG

                This can of course be done ahead of time, the important thing is that the mixture isn’t hot or even noticeably warm as you move onto the next step. One ready, turn over onto 325F and continue.

SAMSUNG

Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a strainer/sifter and sift over your fruit, stirring it every now and then as you do. This could be done by transferring the mix to a large bowl beforehand, but I just like using the cooking pot; no need to wash another pan, and this way I know EVERYTHING is still in there. After mixing add the Eggs, one at a time, to make a complete batter.

SAMSUNG

                Finish by mixing in your Knuts (traditionally, toasted Pecans) and transfer to a prepare loaf pan. Hopefully the pan is non-stick and/or you’ve been able to butter/spray it VERY well, but I had some issue with my cake from last year so I decided to line it with Parchment Paper as a just-in-case. This way I know it comes out whole.

SAMSUNG

                Bake for at least an hour until toothpick test works. Definitely an “at least,” mine usually takes another 20-30 minutes more due to how thick it ends up. Ya wanna wait until it has that nice, evenly deep chestnut brown color on top, just like that… I mean how beautiful is that?

SAMSUNG

                Then you let it cool before taking it out, slice into it, and just take a look at that kaleidoscope inside. That sight alone just calls me, and makes the next step even more difficult.

SAMSUNG

                Shove this in a Tupperware or other covered dish, stick it in the fridge, and don’t touch it for a month. That’s right, you heard me, LEAVE IT ALONE. Well, not completely alone, for every day you must take this out of the fridge, open it up, and spritz it with a fine layer of Brandy (or any other alcohol/combo of your choice. This year I’m doing Hennessee Black and Kirschwasser). Which is why I’d say this recipe alone is worth going out to get yourself a spritz bottle to reserve just for cooking purposes.

SAMSUNG

                This is why you do this a month beforehand, to give your big, rich, soft yet dense and sweet little fruit cake time to “age” and absorb each fine addition of complexly flavored alcohol, its flavor slowly evolving over the days. Not much at first, but after a week you start to see its appearance as different than what you remember, and if you were to try it halfway through… it might be too much temptation for the cake to last until Christmas.

SAMSUNG

                Though technically you’re only supposed to spritz every couple days when it looks “dry”… but who the heck wants to give it that many days without a drink? Give it a whole month’s worth of boozy additions (the spray as is only ends up as maybe a teaspoon or so); hell, last year I did this TWO months ahead of time.

SAMSUNG

                And by Christmas you’ll have something that the whole family will be craving. Now, I just have to see how much of my cake actually lasts until then. I do plan on turning some of it into a fun Street-Food-Related post afterall (it’d be unfair to my other recipe posts if I didn’t), so look for that in a week or so.

                Now if you’ll excuse me, my cake needs some more Brandy.

SFC: Stale Victories

SAMSUNG

                We all know this guy; simple, square, flat, wrapped in 10+ layers of plastic like it’s a Dexter victim. That boring, generic chocolate brownie one finds in crowds of coffee shops, catering parties, and, sadly, many a food truck wanting to offer “dessert” but too lazy to make anything more complicated than a cookie (not that there aren’t some pretty damn good cookies out there…). So at one point or another we end up buying one or getting it for free (maybe from a dis-interested friend), put it in a purse or a shelf/cupboard and forget the thing for a week or so, now giving us a stale, hard brick of chocolate and flour. Completely inedible.

                Or is it!!?? (Dramatic music, flashing lights, and other cheesy stereotypical occurrences)

                After my mother took out her own little square of tooth-breaking baked goods, I sought to think up a couple ways to transform this disappointing phenomena into an edible delight! And I think the obvious answer involves the one good quality that dried and stale goods bring to the table: Absorbency.

SAMSUNG

                Yes, we now have a product that can soak up any delicious liquid we desire without immediately turning into mush like a “fresh” brownie would. Like here, you could put it in a bowl and cover with a little RUM! Or any other liquor/liqueur you desire; I even found a Brownie-flavored Cream Liqueur at a store the other day. Now we have a delicious, booze-soaked chocolate wonderfulness perfect for eating as-is, crumbling on top of another dessert, or warming up and serving with traditional Ice Cream and Nuts (you’re gonna love my nuts… okay I’ve officially watched too many of those shamwow and slapchop commercials).

SAMSUNG

                Then again, we could take this soaking property up another notch and apply it to that warm, comforting home classic, Bread Pudding. It’s always made best with stale bread for the custard to soak in anyways, why not use some stale brownies as well?

SAMSUNG

                We start off by, of course, dicing our brownie into good-sized chunks.

                After this, we find other things to fill out our bread pudding; sorry, as much as I’d like to make one purely from brownies, we need some other, lighter things to make a complete pudding. That doesn’t mean all bread though; I only used two slices of that. I also added some leftover cinnamon-caramel-topped cake that was made from a box (yes, you can use cake in bread pudding! And French toast!). Put it to some actual good use.

SAMSUNG

                Pop those into a bowl off to the side and get started on your custard. Since I’m doing this off-the-kilt, and not following a specific person’s pudding recipe, I had to figure out what kind of base I wanted myself. You can use practically any ratio of the basic ingredients you want, I’ve seen ones where, for the same amount of milk, one person used 6 eggs and another only 2. Same thing with sugar.

SAMSUNG

                All we need is milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt for seasoning, maybe some other dairy (cream, half n half, sour cream, etc), and in this case some of that tasty rum. I started out with 3 eggs, as I had enough richness from the cakes and cream I was using up, so didn’t need much eggyness.

SAMSUNG

                Mix that with the sugar, ½ cup for me, pretty low compared to other recipes, and any booze you’ve got. Most of these pudding recipes don’t require the whole whisking of eggs before adding milk thing, you can easily just whisk everything together in one go, but I still enjoy the little bit of preparation beforehand.

SAMSUNG

                I myself used up all the leftover cream we had (1 ½ cups, damn) and finished things with some milk for 2 cups of liquid to add to the eggs.

SAMSUNG

                Once finished, we can pour over our cubed bread and cakes, making sure to give a few stirs to make sure it gets in everywhere. I’m not too sure of specifics, but I would guess Ideally you want the liquid to come at least ¾’s of the way up? Maybe just a bit underneath the top, like this…

SAMSUNG

                But of course I decided to just add all of it, so it looked like THIS instead. Probably a bit too much… though the end result was quite fantastic, so I guess it didn’t matter, haha.

SAMSUNG

                Let this soak on its own for at least 10 minutes, I myself like leaving it for a couple hours in the fridge. While this is going, you can get your pan (whatever kind will hold the amount of bread pudding you have) VERY well buttered, or lined with parchment paper if you want, and turn the oven on; considering how much custard I had, I wanted to ensure I baked this low and slow so there wasn’t any chance of curdling/overcooking, so I left mine at 300F. 325-350F should be a good temperature range as well for others.

SAMSUNG

                Pour it into the pan, making sure to spread things about even (I had some brownies that just congregated in the middle) and bake it as long as needed, checking every so often to ensure the middle is cooked through. Check with a toothpick, not to see if it comes out clean but that what DOES come out isn’t still batter; some moist pieces of bread may still stick on if cooked well.

SAMSUNG

                And there we have it; a thick, rich, dense yet very moist and creamy bread pudding studded with rum-soaked brownie pieces and just filled with goodness. Great to spoon on top of some ice cream, maybe with caramel sauce, or just enjoying as-is too! It actually sorta reminded me of a chocolate chip cookie but in pudding form. Though now I realize I’m probably gonna need to make a post about what to do with stale cookies… alright, off to figure that out now (sigh)…

SAMSUNG

                As always, Good Luck and Good Eating.