Monday 19 November 2018

A Simple Baking Trick: Add Moisture and Flavour to Dried Fruit

This is a photo of the 10 pounds of mixed dried and candied fruit (raisins,sultans, dates, glace cherries, mixed peel, citron, and candied pineapple) called for in my great-grandma's fruitcake recipe.  I'm not going to share the exact recipe with you - it's a family thing - but I do want to share a simple trick I use for adding moisture and flavour to the finished cake.

My great-grandma, my grandma, and my mom all baked fruitcake months in advance, then wrapped the cakes in cheesecloth soaked in either rum or brandy, and stored it in airtight tins.  They removed the cheesecloth every week and wet it again with rum or brandy, carefully rewrapping the cake, returning it to its tins, and replacing it in the pantry.  The aged cake tasted great but I'm 'way too disorgaized to plan so far in advance.  Even so, my cake tastes delicious; the result of a change in method that I adopted long ago.

In the early 80's, I worked in a small town bakery.  The baker had trained in Scotland, in a rigorous 7-year apprenticeship program that provided him a wealth of traditional knowledge.  His baked goods were brilliant and people pre-ordered his fruitcake months in advance.  The bakery didn't have the space to store booze-soaked, cheesecloth-wrapped fruitcake in tins for months at a time, but that aged flavour was still the end goal.

A good quality fruitcake is basically a whole lot of fruit held together by a bare minimum of well flavoured batter, so the baker took a short cut, infusing rum flavour into the fruit prior to adding it to the cake batter.  The fruit was weighed and mixed, divided into buckets with tight fitting lids, and soaked with a mixture of apple juice and rum extract.  Every morning for several days we opened each bucket, gave it a good stir, and replaced the lid, until all of the liquid had been soaked up by the fruit.  At that point, it was time to bake the cakes.

I use spiced rum instead of the apple juice/rum extract combo we used at the bakery, and I macerate my fruit in a stainless  steel pot with a tight fitting lid but other than that my process is just the same.  The resulting cake has a wonderful depth of flavour.

You can use this method to add flavour to any baked good that contains dried fruit, using almost any compatibly flavoured liquid.  I use raisins soaked in apple spice herbal tea in scones, dried cranberries soaked in orange juice in quick bread, and dried apples soaked in Earl Grey tea in bundt cake.  The possibities for using this simple trick are endless.  Run with it and have fun.  🙂

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