‘Tis the beginning of the season for holiday baking. Years ago I gave the much-maligned fruitcake a makeover, dressing it up with plumped-up sour cherries, an overload of chocolate, and a boozy bath of liquor added at the end.
You may remember my fruitcake disaster, so I’m not about to give anyone advice on preservation techniques. And you’ll notice my cake dipped a bit in the middle since I was playing around with French flour, which is softer than its American counterpart. But in looking at it afresh, I like the graceful little dip, which I find rather appealing.
Feel free to swap out any other dried fruits that you like. I’m a big, big fan of dried sour cherries, which I find especially appealing with chocolate, but dried pears, cranberries, candied ginger or apricots would be wonderful. Or use a combination of whatever you’d like, although I do recommend it with cherries if you can find them—I make everyone heading this way lug for me as many little packets as they’re willing to from the states, although right now, I can’t shut my kitchen cabinet door (honestly) since the bags keep sliding out.
You can also use another favorite liquor in place of what I recommend. And if you wish to omit the liquor altogether, soak the cherries in boiling water or hibiscus tea until plump. If taking the water route, squeeze any excess eau from the cherries before using them.
And for those of us in Europe where chocolate chips can be difficult to find, chopped bittersweet chocolate works really well in lieu of those elusive little buggers. (In Paris, G. Detou sells them by the kilo.) But do be sure to grease the pan very well, especially in the corners. The cherries can make the finished cake sticky and if you tear the ends off in the pan, you’ll be forced to eat them.
Makes 2 loaf pan-sized cakes
1 1/2 cups (210g) dried cherries, well-chopped, sweet or sour
1/4 cup (60ml) plus 6 tablespoons (90ml) rum, whiskey, or amaretto
1 1/4 cup (170g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder, Dutch-process or natural
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons (140g) butter, at room temperature, salted or unsalted
2 cups (400g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup (180g) buttermilk or plain yogurt, regular or low-fat
1 cup (135g) walnuts, pecans, or almonds, toasted and finely-chopped
3/4 cup (120g) chocolate chips
1. A day or so before you make the cake, toss the cherries in ¼ cup of liquor. Cover and let macerate.
2. To bake the cakes, grease two 9-inch (23 cm) loaf pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper or dust with cocoa powder. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Stir together the eggs and yolk with the vanilla, then dribble them in while beating.
5. Mix in one-third of the flour/cocoa mixture, then half of the yogurt or buttermilk. Then mix in another third of the dry ingredients, then the rest of the yogurt. Finally add the remaining dry ingredients, and gently stir in the nuts, chocolate chips and cherries. (Which should have absorbed all the liquid. If not, add that as well.)
6. Divide and smooth the batter into the two prepared loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let stand on the counter top for about 15 minutes.
7. With a skewer, poke 50 holes in the cake and spoon 3 tablespoons of liquor over each cake. Let cool.
Storage: These cakes will last, well-wrapped, for about a week. If you want a really boozy cake, you can brush with additional liquor every few days before serving.
They can also be frozen, although if you choose that route, don’t add liquor to them. You can rewarm them once they’re thawed and add it later.
Related Links and Recipes
For tips on adapting recipes to European ingredients, read my post American Baking in Paris.
Pumpkin Ice Cream
Why you should use aluminum-free baking powder
Cocoa Powder FAQs