Christmas has come to pass, and the New Year is here! Unfortunately, for some of us, some of our dreaded fruitcakes might be sitting in the fridge; or even lurking in a lonely and dark corner of our house. Adding on the sad fact that fruit cakes can be preserved in the long-term because of their high alcoholic content and dried fruits, it seems quite apt to consider what we shall do with the excessive food and bakes. To counter this, America has turned this futile pursuit into a surprisingly productive and successful ‘recycling’ effort. Otherwise termed as Fruitcake Toss Day, the all-around Americans repurpose throwaway fruitcakes by collectively hurling their fruit cakes into the air on the 3rd of January in Manitou Springs, Colorado. While it gives an excuse for people to throw away their undesirables, it also allows people to celebrate and display their strength and prowess in…fruitcake tossing? This sounds weird in retrospect, but can be pretty fun and exciting. I would love to abuse and swing some fruit cakes around.
That being said, this calls into question the tradition of fruit cakes, and whether they should even be made and bought. Better yet: Who says we have to force feed ourselves with fruitcake every wintry season? I’ve found some better alternatives to cakes with candied fruit, and I’d like to impart my sliver of knowledge that I’ve gleaned from the candied cake connoisseurs and fruit-based experts all around the globe.
Caribbean Black Cakes
Laced with patience and delicate foresight, the Black Cake is a cornerstone of Caribbean’s Christmas celebration that places huge demands on long-term preparation.
Made from a perfect smorgasbord of raisins, dried or glazed maraschino cherries, currants, and prunes, these fruits are painstakingly soaked in red wine or rum for months, and even years; as some people choose to swear by. Indeed, though Christmas is a one-day affair, preparation is a year-long toil. If you’re late to the game, though, soaking them for 20 minutes is also fine.
Once the fruits are removed, these can be blended and pounded into moist paste and mixed in with browning (i.e. burnt sugar). Then you bake it over a water bath and tah-dah! The final result is a far recall from the coarse denseness of conventional fruitcakes, and is said to smoothly caress the taste buds and tongue in a texture much like pudding.
Irish Barmbrack (Bairín Breac)
Frequently consumed during Halloween, the Barmbrack is like an appetiser to Christmas; and almost dichotomous to the indiscriminate use of fruits in the Black Cake, it opts to have a light smattering of raisins and sultanas throughout the Barmbrack. These are often paired with a light topping of butter.
Traditionally, the Bairín Breac was baked since it could be preserved well. In turn, this provided a readily available means of food for people to depend on during the grueling winter months when food became scarce. Another interesting fact is that unlike the previous or following mentions of cake, the Barmbrack identifies itself as a bread-cum-cake. It’s rather confusing, really. Still, does it really matter if it’s tasty?
If you’re facing difficulties in prepping long-term ingredients, or maybe—like me—just look forward to chowing down on cakes with candied fruit, there are simpler alternatives to try. Generally, Cream Cheese Pound Cake w/ Pineapples seems to be an easy way out, especially since the pineapples go ON the cake, instead of being baked INTO it.
And when cakes seem to be too much of a commitment, there are plenty of choices for non-cake bakes, like the Green Cherry White Chocolate Chip cookies, or the Panettone Babka scattered with raisins and candied citrus peels throughout.
Ultimately, fruitcakes are a polarising dessert, and if Singapore had its own Fruitcake Toss Day, I have no doubt there would be people lining up to take part. I myself would participate just for the novelty! Still, don’t give up on this humble bake yet… Try out one of the alternative candied fruit cakes mentioned in this article and I’m sure you’ll change your mind!