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Passport & Plate: A Christmas tradition in the form of a cake

Passport & Plate - Nana's Christmas Fruitcake

Ireland | Tuesday, 3 March 2015 | 5 photos

For the fruitcake:
– 3 sticks butter, room temperature
– 1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
– 7 large eggs
– 4 tbsp brandy or whiskey
– 4 cups all purpose flour
– 1 cup ground almonds
– 1/2 tsp mixed spice
– 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
– 3 1/4 cups Sultanas
– 2 cups raisins
– 3/4 cup glacé cherries, dried and halved
– 3/4 cup almonds, blanched and chopped
– 3/4 cups mixed cut peel
– 2 grated lemon rinds
– 1 grated orange rind

For the almond marzipan icing:
– 2 cups ground almonds
– 1 cup castor sugar (extra fine sugar)
– 1 cup icing sugar
– 2 ½ tsp fresh lemon juice
– ½ tsp almond extract
– 2 eggs, beaten


How to prepare this recipe
Fruitcake preparation:
Preheat oven to 275°F. Line the bottom and sides of a square 8x8 inch cake pan (or 9-inch springform pan) with buttered parchment paper.

Using a wooden spoon, cream together room temperature butter with brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.

Add eggs and brandy/whiskey and stir until mixture is smooth.

In another large bowl, whisk together flour, ground almonds, and spices. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture slowly, stirring after each addition.

After combined, add Sultanas, raisins, cherries, chopped almonds, mixed cut peel and rinds.

Mix well until fruit is evenly distributed. Pour mixture into prepared pan and smooth with the back of a wet spoon.

Bake in preheated oven for 3 ½ to 4 hours, waiting until fruitcake is no longer bubbling and is browned on top.

Almond marzipan preparation:
Whisk together ground almonds, castor sugar and icing sugar.

Add lemon juice, almond extract and enough beaten egg to mix into a smooth paste that isn’t too dry or wet.

Gather together with hands. Turn your marzipan onto a table dusted with icing sugar and knead until smooth. Roll out with rolling pin (also dusted with icing sugar). If you find the marzipan is too sticky, kneed in more icing sugar until you reach a paste-like consistency.

Lay cake topside down and place on top of rolled out marzipan. Brush sides of cake with remainder of the beaten egg in order to stick the icing to the cake. Bring almond icing up around the sides of the cake using a palette knife.

Wrap in wax paper, an old cookie tin, or Tupperware container. Keeps for a month fresh, or six months frozen.


The story behind this recipe
A few weeks before Christmas every year, we would get a parcel in the mail. Wrapped lovingly in brown packing paper, there was no mistaking the handwriting scrawled along the outside of the package. The annual Christmas fruitcake had arrived.

This story starts a few decades earlier, when my dad first immigrated to Canada from Ireland. Shortly after he moved, a tradition was born. December came, and my nana sent him a fruitcake, the same one she would make when he lived at home. As a kid, it was a sign the holiday season had arrived – that boozy, dense block sitting on our kitchen table. And so it went, year after year. As sure as the snow would fall (and growing up in northern Ontario, it was sure to fall, and early), the fruitcake would arrive.

When I was in first-year university, my nana passed away. Throughout the spring and into the hot months of summer, my dad coveted what remained of that final year's fruitcake, packed away in a back corner of our freezer. Come the fall, the realization hit: this year would be the first without a homemade fruitcake. Mobilize: Good Daughter Mode. I emailed my aunt for the recipe, and she sent me two scanned pages with handwriting equally as scrawled as that of my nana's on the brown paper wrap. Slowly but surely, I converted the ingredient measurements, which, endearingly enough, were half imperial, half metric, with some other made-up quantities sprinkled in for good measure. At the bulk store, I carefully weighed each ingredient on a scale I carried in the basket of my shopping cart. I got some strange looks, but it didn't matter. I wanted this cake to be perfect.

That Christmas morning, a lump of a package was placed under the tree for my dad. It was slightly deformed, and wrapped in wax paper rather than the customary cookie tin. He knew what it was the second he saw it. There came the first bite, then the first tears. Just like that, a new tradition was born – memories of old home and new home with every bite.

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