One of my favorite childhood memories is actually a smell—the sweet, alcohol laced fragrance of this incredible fruitcake made by Shashi Aunty who lived next door to my family in New Delhi. Every November she’d begin soaking dried and candied fruits in rum or brandy to make kilos and kilos of fruitcakes that would fill her house as the weeks progressed, all to be given away to friends and neighbors as Christmas gifts. When I moved to New York City, as soon as the temperatures dropped and the leaves began to fall, I developed an insatiable craving for Shashi Aunty’s fruitcake. I got her recipe and started baking them to give away to my friends and colleagues in my new home.
This years fruit cake has been made more divine still since I switched the cognac for Dom B & B, with the DOM standing for Deo Optimo Maximo (To God, most good, most great). Can this incredible fruitcake really get better? I guess...
Two of my closest friends, Nitin and Mamta, ate it with such gusto that I decided to always have some on-hand to offer them as a treat when they visited. Wrapped in cognac-soaked muslin, dusted with superfine sugar, wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and stored in a snug airtight plastic container, the cake would last up to a year so long as I replenished the cognac, sugar, and coverings every time I removed a slice or two. The longer it aged, the higher proof it became, making our visits evermore spirited as the year progressed! Now that we live in the country, Shashi Aunty’s fruitcake has become even more of a staple. Charlie and I start soaking the fruits in the fall so that come holiday time, we can make delightfully decadent high-spirited fruitcakes to eat, give, and serve throughout the season. While we always use good cognac in our fruitcake, you can feel free to substitute less expensive brandy or rum if you prefer.
Makes 1 loaf
1 pound/500 grams mixed dried and/or fruits (like apricots, candied citron, candied lemon peel, candied orange peel, candied or dried cherries, craisins, currants, dates, figs, and raisins)
8 ounces/200 grams mixed toasted nuts (like almonds, cashews, macadamia, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts)
3/4 cup/180 milliliters cognac
1 1/4 pounds/515 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
5 2/3 cups/700 grams all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting pan
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 large eggs
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon dark or black-strap molasses
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon orange flower water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups/250 grams light or dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups/250 grams granulated sugar
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
Place the dried fruits, nuts, and 1/2 cup/120 ml of 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 their alcohol brine).
Heat the oven to 350°F/177°C (Gas Mark 4). Grease a 9-inch/23 cm by 5-inch/14 cm loaf pan with 1 tablespoon/15 g of butter. Add 2 tablespoons/8 g of flour and shake to coat the bottom and sides. Set aside.
Whisk the flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk the eggs with the orange juice and zest, molasses, marmalade, and almond, orange, and vanilla extracts and set aside.
Beat the remaining butter with the sugars 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 1/2 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 pan.
Place the pan in the oven and bake the cake for 1 hour. Rotate the cake, reduce the heat to 300°F/149°C (Gas Mark 2), and continue to bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the center of the cake resists light pressure, about 1 1/2 hours longer. Check the cake occasionally—if it looks like it is browning too quickly, loosely tent it with aluminum foil. Remove the cake from the oven and cool the cake completely in the pan.
Place a large piece of muslin (large enough to completely wrap around the cake; you can also use several layers of cheesecloth in place of muslin) in a bowl and pour the remaining 1/4 cup/60 ml of cognac over it. Run a paring knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake out onto a plate. Wrap the cognac-soaked muslin around the cake so all surfaces, edges, and sides are covered. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the 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). Before serving, let the cake sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes before slicing. Every time you remove a slice, re-soak the muslin in 1/4 cup/60 ml of fresh cognac, sprinkle with another 3 tablespoons/12.5 g 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.