Sunday, December 9, 2012

Minnie's Holiday Fruitcake Recipes

"In making cakes, always use the best ingredients. Flour must be sifted before measuring. Pastry flour is preferred. [. . . ] Add fruit at the last moment. If the fruit sinks to the bottom of the cake, the batter is too thin."

This is some of the advice on cake making from Grandma Minnie's 1915 Larkin Cookbook. I searched this book, as well as Minnie's handwritten notebook of recipes, looking for a traditional recipe for a holiday fruitcake.

Minnie's handwritten book includes two recipes for white fruitcake, one of which she collected from her cousin Gladys on the farm outside of town. Neither recipe tells you how to prepare and mix the ingredients, or at what temperature and how long to bake the cake. As a neophyte fruitcake maker, I needed more details.

Gladys's recipe calls for a pound each of raisins, dates, and figs. Of dates and figs I had none in my cupboard, so I kept on looking for a recipe that I could whip up quickly.

The Larkin cookbook includes a recipe for Christmas or Wedding Cake that calls for one pound of butter, one pound brown sugar, ten eggs, six cups of flour, one tablespoon each cloves and nutmeg, two tablespoons cinnamon, a pound each of figs and dates, not one but three pounds of raisins . . . and on and on to two pounds of almonds, a pint of molasses, one cup of brandy "if you use it . . ."

"This cake fills a pan ten inches in diameter and five inches deep. It should be baked six or seven hours in a very moderate oven."

This certainly sounds like a splendid cake, as described in the book, but it is more than a bit beyond my baking skills, so once again I looked further for something simpler.

I found the ideal recipe on the page following the one with the Christmas cake recipe. It is called Pennsylvania Fruit Cake, and was contributed to the Larkin Housewives' Cook Book by a woman in Kingsley, Pennsylvania:

This recipe seemed doable to me; not only that, but by a stroke of luck I found that I had all the ingredients right at home in my cupboard:

Fruitcake ingredients

The one concession I made to the hundred-year-old recipe was that I used a low-fat baking stick in place of the lard or butter the recipe called for. I estimated that the "very moderate oven" described in the instructions would be equivalent to 325 F. I baked it for 50 minutes, which made it just a bit dry; next time I won't leave it in the oven for more than 45 minutes.

Pennsylvania Fruit Cake

According to the cookbook, "The cake is better if kept five weeks before cutting." It certainly won't last that long in my household without someone taking a bite out of it! Looks like someone has already cut herself a piece.

I'm planning on saving the second loaf as a holiday treat, perhaps a dessert for Christmas dinner.

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