The Daley Question

That old fruitcake magic

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Fruitcake has a bit of a bad reputation. If you really want to make an edible version of this holiday treat, try experimenting with your recipes. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

A recipe from Suvir Saran's "Masala Farm." Make this fruitcake now for serving or gift giving during the holidays.

1 pound mixed dried and/or candied fruits (like apricots, candied citron, candied lemon peel, candied orange peel, candied or dried cherries, craisins, currants, dates, figs, and raisins)

8 ounces mixed toasted nuts (like almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts)

1 3/4 cup cognac, plus more as needed

1 1/4 pounds (5 sticks) unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons at room temperature

5 2/3 cups flour plus extra for dusting pans

1/4 teaspoon each: ground cinnamon; ground cloves; ground ginger; ground nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 eggs

1 orange, zested and juiced

1 tablespoon dark or black-strap molasses

1 tablespoon orange marmalade

1/4 teaspoon each: almond extract, orange flower water, vanilla

1 1/4 cups light or dark brown sugar

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

3 tablespoons superfine sugar

1.Place the dried fruits, nuts, and 1 cup cognac in a bowl or gallon-sized resealable plastic bag. Set aside at room temperature for at least 1 week, or up to several months ahead (continue to top off the amount of cognac so the fruits continue to sweeten in the alcohol).

2.Grease three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with 1 tablespoon butter each. Add 2 tablespoons flour to each pan and shake to coat the bottom and sides. Set aside.

3.Whisk the flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk the eggs with the orange juice and zest, molasses, marmalade, almond extract, orange flower water, vanilla; set aside.

4.Beat the remaining butter with the brown sugar and granulate sugar in a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by half of the egg mixture. Repeat, ending with the last 1/3 of the flour mixture, scraping the bowl between additions as necessary. Mix in the cognac-soaked fruit and nuts (leave any excess liquid behind) and then scrape the batter into the prepared pans.

5.Place the pans in a 350-degree oven and bake the cake for 1 hour. Rotate the pans, reduce the heat to 300 degrees; continue to bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean and the center of the cake resists light pressure, about 30 minutes longer. Check occasionally – if the cakes look like they are browning too quickly, loosely tent with aluminum foil. Remove the cakes from the oven; cool completely in the pans.

6.Place three large pieces of muslin (large enough to completely wrap around each cake; you can also use several layers of cheesecloth in place of muslin) in a bowl and pour the remaining 3/4 cup of cognac over it. Run a paring knife around the edges of each pan to loosen the cakes. Turn each cake out onto a plate. Wrap the cognac-soaked muslin around the cakes so all surfaces, edges, and sides are covered. Sprinkle the top of the cakes with superfine sugar and then wrap tightly in plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Let the cake cure in the refrigerator for 1 week (or up to 1 year).

7.Before serving, let the cake sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing.

8.Every time you remove a slice, re-soak the muslin in 1/4 cup of fresh cognac, sprinkle with another 3 tablespoons of sugar, and re-wrap in fresh sheets of plastic wrap and aluminum foil. If storing more than 1 week, be sure to soak and replace the muslin on a weekly basis.

Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.

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