WATCH THIS BEING MADE ON HEY! I’M SNACKING HERE!
I am a lifelong fruitcake devotee. I even dig the store bought bricks with the weird fluorescent jelly candied fruit. Cherie – on the other hand – is decidedly anti-fruitcake. She specifically cites those bright candied fruits as a core reason for rejection. As we were planning a Snacking With Santa episode for HEY! I’M SNACKING HERE!, I decided it would be an ideal opportunity to perhaps change Cherie’s opinion of fruitcake by making an actual great from-scratch recipe.
I believe many anti-fruitcakers begin their skepticism because this cake has a long shelf life. At its core, a fruitcake is a baked concoction of mostly nuts and preserved fruits. This makes it very shelf stable and resistant to spoilage. Adding alcohol to the mix extends the cake’s shelf life. This is not to say a fruitcake WON’T spoil – just that it will take quite a bit longer than your standard holiday baked good. In addition to being spoilage resistant, a properly made fruitcake is a great source of protein and energy. This makes it a preferred snack for long distance trail hikers or travellers with no access to cold storage.
With this CBS Sunday Morning clip in mind, I decided to skip the usual fruitcake loaf and make mine as bars. Not only would they be more snackable, but my hope was the sort of “energy bar” style and size would help Cherie forget she was eating the dreaded fruitcake.
Except for a handful of dry ingredients and a couple of eggs, this recipe is about nuts and preserved fruit. Take the time to seek out quality fruits and nuts. Look at your local food co-ops or spice stores. Skimping on fruit and nut quality will quickly have you heading into holiday brick territory.
For nuts, I chose to go with walnuts and pecans because I like that combo and they are readily accessible in my neighborhood. You could also consider hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, or almonds. Just make sure to toast them before using and do not chop them too finely. While nuts are the foundation for this cake and this recipe calls for two cups, you just as easily could use a cup and a half if you are not nuts about nuts.
Next it’s time to consider what fruit is going to make up your fruitcake. This is really a “you do you” choice as long as you follow one simple rule: NO FAKE STUFF! There is a massive array of preserved and candied fruits in basically every supermarket – many actually organic. For me, any fruitcake worth that name needs a few basic fruits: dates, raisins, and apricots. From there, it’s really up to what you prefer and can find in your local store. I stick with dried or candied fruit to keep the liquid content low – though you could use a bit of fresh fruit. I substitute dried cranberries for the raisins as I like the added tartness. Candied ginger adds a nice boost to the ground spice mix. The pineapple and apple boost the sweetness without heading into cloying territory.
Once you’ve made your fruit and nut choices and gathered the remaining ingredients, this recipe goes together exceedingly quickly. Chop the nuts and fruit – toss with flour to keep everything separated during baking – mix in remaining ingredients – into pan and bake – let cook – cut into bars. Seriously nothing could be easier or tastier.
As for the results of Cherie’s Taste Test? Yes – I found a fruitcake she likes. Turns out when you take a poorly made commercial brick and turn it into from scratch made with quality ingredients bars, it actually tastes good!
6 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
6 tablespoons packed, light or dark brown sugar
2 cups nuts, toasted and coarsely ground (half walnuts, half pecans)
1 1/4 cups dates, pitted and cut into eighths
1/2 cup craisins or raisins
1 cup dried apricot halves, cut into sixths
1/4 cup candied pineapple, coarsely chopped (about 2 slices)
1/4 cup dried apple slices, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fine chopped candied ginger
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Line an 8-inch square pan across the bottom and up the sides with two sheets of aluminum foil, making a big criss-cross with the sides overhanging.
Preheat the oven to 325°F and position the rack in the center of the oven.
In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the brown sugar, nuts, and fruit. Use your fingers to mix the fruit, separate any pieces sticking together.
Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl, then mix it with the fruit and nut mixture until everything’s coated with the batter. Spread the mixture in the baking pan and press gently to even it out.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top of the bars are golden brown and has pulled away just-slightly from the sides of the pan. Cool the bars in the pan, then lift out. Portion into snack size bars.