The ‘zing’ of fruit cake is one of a very sparkling kind. It isn’t anything sophisticated or elegant or gourmet in identity, and therefore not the ones you would associate with celebrations like birthdays or weddings or anniversaries in which the cake occupies centerstage. And yet, despite its non decorative essence of not entertaining icing and glazing and sprinkles and the like, the fruitcake still is one of the most celebratory ‘symbols’ there ever can be. Encompassing the entire realm of the Christmas festivities in all globalness is the fruitcake that is resplendent indeed in all the riches of what makes it a prerequisite in embodying the yuletide spirit across all of its cultural, social and religious considerations.
Essentially a cake enriched with dried fruits of any and every type, these ‘nutritious’ fixes for the sweet cravings stem from a long history. The story of their bake however has been considerably tweaked and measured and modified over the times for them to attain their present status. Ironically though, fruitcakes does not seem to get the kind of appreciation they deserve, even in their definite distinction occurring in all spread of the cheer.
Celebratory, Christmassy and the culinary
Christmas though isn’t the only time of the year one can finally get to indulge in their secretly held preference for the specific taste and texture of a dense and moist character. Many cultures over the world have their own recipe and interpretation of this bake of richness, that validates once again the notion that fruitcakes need not be strictly and exclusively Christmastime goodies. They in fact are more special slices of sumptuousness than what the world will like to ‘concede’ even when they believe indeed as much in this fact of tasting, since fruit cakes often carry also an aggravated assertion of their feel upon the tongue due to their nature that manifests by and large also in considerable soaks and pours of the liquors.
Fruitcakes are often called also as plum cakes, even when dried plums do not assert as one of the elements of fruitiness. This is only one of the many curious counts in which fruitcakes have found customary representation. Indeed for a cake that involved at some point of time also meat as one of its ingredients, fruitcakes have to be one of the quirkier varieties of cakey bakes around. Existing in some form since times as early as that of the ancient Romans, and residing also in a taste palette unique in its essential non creaminess even when maintaining still a certain softness of what you would generally associate with breads, fruitcakes are too exotic a delight to be dismissed as blah.
Fruitcakes of flavored cheers
Boasting as well benefits of a greater shelf life, with also the ‘age like fine wine’ attribute occurring to them in their almost certain dashes of the alcohol, fruitcakes indeed swear by their necessary manifestation of a dried fruit character. This character of their defining though can assume quite some few identities, due to the many types and kinds of their residing in different culinary spaces and zones. Beginning with the Roman satura that had pomegranate seeds, raisins, pine nuts, and barley mash baked as a ring-shaped confection to the Middle Aged fare cooked up in honey, spices, and candied fruit and followed by a yeast leavened, rum infused batter prepared for baking, the fruitcake has some definite layers of history curating its flavor.
The purpose and premise of this bake has evolved as well- from the ancient requirement in ‘packing’ them along with the departed as afterlife indulgences to their special presence within celebrations of many a harvest festivals and their occurring also at some point of time as wedding cakes particularly pertinent in being the traditional type of cake at the royal wedding to their now synonymous association with Christmastime, fruitcakes have found relevance in their summing up of many an intensely rich flavor.
One of the worthier version of the fruitcake, the Simnel cake is native to the United Kingdom and is as ‘Christian’ as possible. Christmas however is not the time of the year earmarked for this bake existing since at least the medieval times. Rather it would be the more religious period of Lent and Easter in which this visually unique assertion finds particular prominence.
A lighter fruitcake, and one that is essentially spiced as well, the cake is topped off with 11 marzipan balls with each one representing each of Jesus’s apostles. Even more individualistic in representation would be the Simnel Cake in accounting for the identity of the Simnel Sunday or Mothering Sunday. Equally steeped in the essence- and therefore the taste of marzipan is this Easter classic with two layers of the confection imbuing the cake with that characteristic almondy, nutty flavor. A definite indulgence in digging into the soul of symbolic significance is what makes the Simnel Cake standout as a special case of the sweet fruitcake.
This Italian specialty might be as Christmassy a bake as the classic fruitcake but it still is a specific composition in that might. As a term though, Genoa cake is an identity asserting as such from the country of the UK where it expresses also as an English pound cake incorporating prominent chunks and pieces of dried fruits.
A pound each of sugar and butter and flour makes the batter for the cake in which is introduced sultanas, currants or raisins, glacé cherries, almonds and candied orange peel or imbued instead with that essence to deliver a prominent citrusy flavor. Heavy and dense like all fruitcakes are and crumbly as well in its quantum of the fruits, the Genoa cake is rendered visually distinct as well. Almonds or walnuts and cherries are used to top off the mixed fruit bake even as a specific cherry variant exists as well. Even in its connotation though as one of those Christmas specials, the Genoa cake is more of an everyday cake, available also as individually wrapped slices in local stores and bakeries. Fruitcakes indeed are celebratory of pretty much every moment of life.
From the country of Germany, the Christmas cheer is dissipated in all good vibes through decadent slices of a bread like cake of definite fruity undertones. Raisins rule the roost though with more than evident etches upon the entire body of the cake, making the Bremer Klaben unique even beyond its loaf shaped baking. Rum is another essential ingredient finding expression in prepping for the recipe, making the final product taste even better when it has sat a couple of weeks out of the oven. A late 16th century creation, the Bremer Klaben is in fact a type of the more general Christmas bake called stollen. Either way though, the Christmas feels are more than evidently flowing through this festive assertion of the rich flavors.
Pan de Pascua
A Chilean holiday specialty, the Pan de Pascua translates as Easter Bread but is also as characteristic of the Christmas celebrations there. Similarly, despite its assuming of the bread identity, it is actually very much a cake and as much a fruitcake indeed. Filled with dried fruits and nuts, the cake also smacks of a definite spiced flavor and aroma. The characteristics prevails in terms of richness and density and sweetness even when it is somewhat spongy as well. It is customary a way of celebration that unfolds in the American nation in which a sufficiently ‘robust’ slice of the Pan de Pascua is accompanied with as essentially holidaying a spirit of the Cola de Mono. Strong and sweet in both these avenues of celebration, this is indeed a combination not to be missed out on especially if you are a fruitcake type of person.
The least fruitcake like in appearance, the mysterious sounding Black Bun is also the most distinctive of the lot. Scottish in origin and ‘deceptive’ in its cakey character concealed in pastry is this sweet serving of more Hogmanayish rather than Christmas traditionality. A recipe to usher in the New Year’s is this rich and dense identity that occurs also in much obviousness as the Scotch bun.
Essentially a fruitcake enclosed in pastry, the Black Bun is even more specific in its use in the ritual of first-footing at Hogmanay. Even more original would be its consumption on the Twelfth Night, though this occasion of indulgence does not hold today as one currently celebratory. The ‘dark’ name itself is only a late 19th century arising and does only much to pique curiosity about the unordinary looking ‘cuboid’ of fruitcake.
The distinction of the Allahabadi cake as a Christmas exclusive preparation might only be derived out of the more general recipe of a traditional fruitcake. But the additional ingredients that find their way in baking up this very Indian serving what is a fusion food indeed has the dessert transcend the boundaries of traditional taste. While rum soaked dried fruits and nuts are the basic elements indeed in this desi deciphering of the fruitcake flavor, the quirk is lent by incorporation of spices like fennel and ginger. That’s not even all the uniqueness of the Allahabadi cake either- with the Indian touch rendered veritably through the indigenous fruity sweet called petha. Locally produced marmalade and ghee of course would be the other curious elements that dawns upon this fruitcake an identity of special singularity.