Can’t believe it was June that I last posted. Obviously life has been too exciting and busy to find time to sit down and type any of my thoughts up. Who knew? I’ll try and make up for it in the coming weeks.
Today, I want to talk about . . .
Yeah, see that pic above. THAT is the quintessential item I am talking about, and I am totally baffled by the current bad press it has received. When I went to the USA in 1996 I was stunned to discover this worthy item was not regarded with the esteem it has received for years in my part of the world. I still don’t get it. Any connoisseur of edible items would place this among a number of tasty treats, because if a proper fruit cake does essential things well, they are 1) richness 2) moistness 3) complexity 4) aroma 5) flavour. What’s not to like?
There you see, clasped in my hand, is a square of such delectable dense flavours and textures, that only a cup of Earl Grey tea sipped alongside it is worthy. On top of the varied fruity contribution inside the dark body of the cake, is a layer of almond marzipan and a topping of royal icing. The cake itself is redolent of brandy, which has been generously added before baking. The whole sensation of a bite of this gourmand delight, is that of a festival. A rejoicing of flavours. A waltz of wonder.
And yet. And yet, I hear it is scorned by a whole body of people. It is repellant to an entire nation. It is an INSULT to give it. I think back to my trips to the supermarket in Georgia, where I went to purchase a proper fruit cake and instead, aisle upon aisle of something called ‘butter cake’ but not made with butter. Cakes resembling polystyrene sugar mounds covered in frosting, so sweet and so lacking in flavour and texture, and leaving an oily aftertaste clinging to the insides of my mouth long after the sugar went down. All the same except for the colour and artificial flavour. If they had cream in between the layers, it was that dreadful ‘non-cream’ called Dairy Whip. (Let me hasten to add, I knew a few excellent American cooks who would have made their own cakes with alacrity. I’m talking about what I found in the bakery aisle.)
Maybe it is something to do with familiarity and what you grew used to growing up. We always baked from scratch at home, and for birthdays, still do. That means getting that rich yellow butter and softening it, and whipping it with some sugar, until creamed. Then adding gradually eggs and flour and the other ingredients, and then a long process of cooking, and then icing it. (Making up the icing from icing sugar, butter, and flavouring). Somehow the effort that goes in comes out in the eating. Birthday cakes used to be fruit cakes too, but gradually have come to embrace a wide range of delectable possibilities from cheese cakes to carrot cake. BUT Christmas cake has always been a fruit cake, and best of all, is one made by oneself, in ones own oven, drenched in brandy or rum, full of soaked dried fruit, and made a few weeks/months before Christmas, to ‘mature’.
For as long as I live, I shall endeavour to keep the legend of the dense, rich, dark fruit cake alive and enjoyed. And just to boost its ratings, I am adding some pics here, for my own pleasure, if not yours.