Monday, 7 November 2016

Soaking fruits for Christmas Cake or Pudding.

The most wonderful time of the year will be upon us before we know it and to welcome that time a little before hand prep work is necessary, what say?

In my humble opinion there ain't no Christmas without cake and if there need be some cake, there need to be some pre-soaked fruits.

Traditionally dried fruits are soaked three months to six weeks before Christmas. The longer you soak the fruits the better. The cake is baked a week or two before Christmas and fed/basted with alcohol. These two weeks help the fruits mellow and mingle with alcohol, flavors mature and the cake ripens.

Large chains of hotels the world over even hold a soaking day around the second week of October, where the entire kitchen staff partakes in soaking truck loads of fruits and nuts in gallons of alcohol.

Lets see what all is added to a Rich Fruit Cake,

1) Plums (dried)/ Prunes – These mildly sweet dried plums pack the cake with exceptional moistness and juiciness that lingers in your mouth even after you scoffed off that slice of fruit cake. I use pitted prunes. Just quarter the prunes for soaking.

2) Dried grapes- like Raisins, Currants and Sultanas make a major portion of the soaked fruits. Chop these roughly. Do not mince finely. These fruits give texture to your cakes. Fine minces will weigh down the cake making it dense.

3) Figs – Dried figs give crunch to the cakes. These dried fruits add a honey like flavor and mild sweetness to the fruit cake. Nip the stem and chop into small pieces.

4) GlacĂ© cherries – These are candied red cherries. Fresh cherries are steeped in thick sugar syrup and dried to be preserved. While steeped in syrup, color is added to make it red or green or any color of choice. These are chewy in texture. Chop these roughly.

* Whatever dried fruit is sold as cherries in India is made from a local fruit called Karonda (Hindi).

5) Dried Cranberries – These add a sweet-tart flavor to the fruit cakes.

6) Dried Apricots – These orange colored plump, moist, chewy dried fruit has a musky flavor with faint tartness.

7) Candied Citrus Peel – You can use a mix of orange, grape fruit, lemon, citron and lime.

8) Candied Ginger – Ginger adds spicy heat and a wonderful fragrance to fruit cakes.

9) Dates- These are used to add a chewy texture to the final cake, use by roughly chopping them.

10) Nut mix – I use a mix of walnuts, cashews and almonds - all roughly chopped.

11) Spice mix 

Spices used are cloves, cinnamon, all spice berries, nutmeg, mace, star anise.

1 Tbs ground allspice (looks like black peppers)
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
1 Tbs ground nutmeg
2 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 Star Anise

Blend these spices and store in the refrigerator. Do not make large quantities as the flavors dissipate and cinnamon takes over the flavor profile.

11) Alcohol for soaking – The soaking liquid (liquor) is your choice entirely. Alcohol dictates the fruit cake flavors as well as acts as a preservative. Usually brandy, dark rum or red wine is used. You can also use a mix of these alcohols to make your own concoction. A balanced mix of liquors and liqueurs dictate the flavor profile of the fruit cake. I’ve also observed that, the basting liquor or liqueur is what pronounces the fruit cake flavors rather than the soaking liquid. Use enough alcohol to cover the dried fruits. Keep shuffling the mix every other day for two weeks. Later, weekly shuffling works just fine. Excess alcohol must be drained and used for feeding the fruit cake. The whole ordeal is done at room temperature. Refrigeration is not required.

After a good soak, the dried fruits will plump up absorbing the liquid. Remember the process called osmosis we studied in school. Same thing happens here. Dried fruits soaked in liquor/ liqueurs do not require refrigeration. Alcohol acts as a preservative as well as a flavor enhancer. Use a glass jar for storing the soaked dried fruits.

Try not to use metal containers as the alcohol reacts with metal. Strictly no aluminium containers. Stainless steel seems alright for a few days or weeks, but not recommended for long term storage. If the steel is not good quality, the interiors of the utensil may rust and you may not even notice it because it’s opaque. Eventually, the flavor of the fruit mix is affected, worse may be wasted.

Non – alcoholic substitute – Grape juice, orange and apple juice are good for light colored fruit cakes. If you choose to make an alcohol free fruit cake, soak the dried fruits overnight in a glass bowl. Let the dried fruits plump up. If you intend to use the dried fruit mix the next morning, drain and use. If not, store it in a bottle and refrigerate till needed. This drained juice can be used for basting.

Rum extract and Rum essence – Rum extract is concentrated rum flavor which is deep and complex. This contains low or no alcohol content. Rum essence is the imitation version made with artificial ingredients. If you avoid alcohol due to allergies or religious reasons, check the flavoring source before use. Depending on the brand and make, these flavoring agents may or may not contain alcohol. If you use alcohol for baking the fruit cakes, you do not need any flavoring agents. If not, a dash of flavor helps amp up the flavor profile of your fruit cake.

I hope I've covered all possible ingredients that go into the making of a drool worthy Christmas Cake.

I also hope you will give making one this year a try, here's my tried, tested and devoured Christmas Cake recipe to help you along.

Toodles Chicas, Happy Soaking ;-)

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