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.

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                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)

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                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.

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                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.

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                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).

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                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.

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                Damn… that’s a lot of sugar.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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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.

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                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.

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                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?

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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.

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                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: Special Krispies

                So, the friend who sent me the Cacao Beans wants me to make her fudge; Maple-Walnut, to be exact. Since I always prefer my special shipments to contain a variety of homemade goodies, and I had an abundance of walnuts leftover, my favorite Rice Krispies seemed a good option. Not to mention all the marshmallow goodness I’ll have to myself after shipping half of it….

                As those who’ve read my review of SCRATCH, one of my favorite Toe Rings in the city is their Ginger Rice Krispies. They’re that perfect balance of childhood nostalgia, mixed with that little ingredient to heighten the enjoyment even more. And like them, I have my OWN special ingredient for heightening my Krispy, along with other confections.

                That is, a very simple, and very delicious method for Candying Nuts. Very much like the style of those cinnamon-roasted varieties one sees at the Farmer’s Market, this is a recipe that one can use for almost any kind of nut. I’ve used it for Pecans, Almonds, Peanuts, and now Walnuts; on a side note, I would probably avoid trying with Macadamia or Brazil, just not the right texture to match with the coating. Hazelnuts are debatable.

                So, before even going near the marshmallows, we start making our little candies (can do a couple hours before, a day is good… though make sure you have enough to last through the highly occasional snacking. This is not a temptation you can resist).

                Separate a couple egg whites, add a drop of Vanilla, and whisk until Foamy (can do this by hand easily), stopping after there’s no more “loose whites” but before getting even close to “soft peak.” In a separate bowl, mix White and Brown sugar (more white than brown), a little Salt, a pinch of Baking Powder (or more if doing a lot), and any seasonings. I just did Cinnamon for this, but I’ve also done cayenne, chilli powder, ginger, etc.

                As you can see, this is a very non-specific recipe, much how I like it. All one needs to know is having enough of both whipped whites and sugar that it can completely cover all the nuts one uses.

               Fold Walnuts into whipped whites until covered; if there’s a decent amount leftover in bowl, carefully scoop onto the mixed sugar. Otherwise, just dump; lots of people like mixing these in a plastic bag together, whatever your fancy. Fold and mix completely until the egg and sugar mix into this sticky, light brown paste; if more sugar is needed, one can easily add.

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              Best picture of the look I could get, forgot to use camera until after already getting into the pan.

              Bake at a LOW temperature, 300-325F, on a parchment-lined Baking sheet. Now, the trick here is stirring every 8-10 minutes or so; I like to think of it similar to making a really fluffy scrambled egg, still moving it around to mix and distribute now and then but mostly leaving it alone to build that nice, thick, fluffy (or in this case crunchy) layer.

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             As it cooks, you’ll notice the slow change from liquid to a dragging, textured scramble of sugar. Keep doing what you’re doing, stirring a little more often as one gets closer, until the crust is brown and noticeably hard while stirring. To test, take a nut out (since the crust is hard, one doesn’t have to worry about sugar-burn), let it cool for a few minutes, and bite in half; a good test of what texture will be after letting it cool, plus you can see if the nut is toasted where you want.

               Since the oven is so low, one has little worry about overcooking if needing to leave in a little longer.

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             Out of the oven and cooled, we can finally get to the Krispies! With each batch I do, I try to find a couple new things I can do with it, and this was certainly no exception. Along with the Walnuts, I figured I’d Toast the Marshmallows beforehand and add some Bourbon; I also had some figs in the cupboard.

            So, we start with the Bourbon (get the cheap stuff, you’re cooking), cooking it down with those Figs. Following up, we add a whole stick of butter; one of the secrets from my Mom when she made her Rice Krispies. She’d do the traditional recipe all exact, except for doubling the butter; really makes it tasty.

            Now, one of my first big secrets to my recipe; when I first made, I had a lot of leftover pre-made caramel in the fridge, so I add a few spoonfuls. This particular batch, I sadly didn’t have any, so I just used brown sugar instead, mixed with some salt of course.

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            If you can get them at the same or lesser price, Mini Marshmallows are preferred for toasting; more surface area. As for the Krispies and Nuts, I usually prefer about 6 cup Rice and 1 or more extras.

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            My second secret comes not with the addition, but with packaging. Instead of pushing into the traditional brownie/baking sheet, I free-form onto a sheet of wax paper. This leaves the final product gooey and loose, stretching slowly as you pick it up. One can do one giant mound or, if wanting to portion, individual mounds.

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            At the end… this actually didn’t turn out like how I wanted. Still tasty, but apparently when one toasts marshmallows their “volume” decreases; not if it’s all the stuff left in the baking pan or just an air thing, but it leaves krispies that aren’t completely enveloped. It’s still very tasty, but more in a buttery-burnt sugar way, and has a nice crunch to it, but missing the real gooeyness it deserves. Not to mention a nice saltiness to contrast.

               Which is why I saved the recipe for the end of my post despite already typing way more than I should be. So, without anymore ado:

 

(Revised) Toasted Marshmallow-Bourbon Rice Krispies

½ Cup + ¼ Cup Bourbon

1 Stick (1/2 Cup) Butter

1½ Bags (15oz) Mini Marshmallows

¼ Cup Caramel or Brown Sugar

1 Tb Salt (Increase 2-3 times if wanting that Salted-Caramel flavor)

6 cups Rice Krispies

1-2 cups Candied Nuts/Extra

  1. Heat over 400-425F
  2. Add ½ Cup Bourbon plus and Dried Fruit to Large Pot, reduce on Medium to 50% or more.
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  4. Pour rest of Bourbon over ice and consume to your leisure.
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  6. Pour Marshmallows on Parchment-lined Sheet, pop into oven, WATCH CAREFULLY
  7. Add Butter, Caramel, and Salt to pan, melt
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  9. Once browned, quickly move marshmallows to pan, scraping off as much as possible.
  10. Stir until completely “melted” and incorporated.
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  12. Add Krispies and any other Extras, mix thoroughly until marshmallow mix “spiderwebs” evenly.
  13. Pour onto Waxed or Parchment Paper, let cool, and move to storage (don’t fridge)        

What’s your favorite Rice Krispies add-ins? Any favorite childhood memories with them?