Monday, December 9, 2013

Fruitcake and Other Delights

Dark. Rich. Sumptuous. Nothing says Festivus to me more than a fruitcake- a real fruitcake, not one of those pathetic things from the grocery store. Make ahead, pour on the brandy to cure it, and wait...definitely worth it. Serve it in little chunks with strong coffee. Food of the Gods. Enjoy!
fruitcake recipe

"...Visions of sugarplums danced in their heads..." Have you ever wondered exactly what a sugarplum actually  was? Maybe a plum rolled in sugar? Sugarplum is a term originating from the 1600s that described any decorated dried fruit-dates, apricots, prunes, figs, apples- a confection/candy made from a ground mixture of fruits, nuts and spice usually rolled in sugar to coat it, then sliced into pieces. They are also known as sweetmeats and were considered a luxury to be indulged in only on special occasions. In modern terms, sugarplums are a type of thick confit-diced fruit cooked in syrup or water until nearly dry, dropped by spoonfuls or rolled into logs and coated with chopped nuts, powdered sugar, or colored sugar. They can also be wrapped in thin dough and baked as a type of cookie or tart. A whole date stuffed with slivered almonds is a simple way to make sugarplums.

Mincemeat was a mystery to me until I actually made it myself- and it's delicious! The original recipe contained ground (mince-ed) beef, venison or rabbit, with beef suet, ground up fruit, nuts and spices, combined with whiskey, brandy or rum. Most mincemeat recipes nowadays omit the meats and/or suet and use vegetable shortening. It is available commercially- but it's pricey, and I think it tastes a bit 'off' or sour as it comes from the jar, so I 'doctor' it with a bit of brown sugar and brandy. The mixture can be used in pies ( I have a terrific recipe for pumpkin custard pie that calls for a layer of mincemeat under the pumpkin filling; the top of the pie is either left plain or covered with chopped nuts and crumb topping like that used on French Apple Pie. Usually mincemeat pie is baked with a double or lattice crust, but I have also made it in tartlets, folded tarts. A particularly wonderful way to use mincemeat is to spoon it between layers of buttered phyllo; it just melts in your mouth! I have also included a cup of mincemeat in fruitcake: it makes the cake extra spicy and moist.

If you'd like to try your hand at making mincemeat the traditional way, I've provided a link to a recipe by Alton Brown. There are numerous recipes for making mincemeat online, but this particular one is close to the one I've used before.!

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