Sunday, November 13, 2011

Grandma Parton’s Christmas Cake

This exceptionally good fruit cake recipe is at least 125 years old. My late mother-in-law passed it along to me more than 40 years ago, after getting the recipe from her mother. Each generation adds its own twist: To prepare this recipe, I briefly used the microwave oven for one step, as well as using aluminum foil as a secondary pan liner. Otherwise, the recipe is exactly as I received it. 
This recipe makes a huge amount of fruit cake, but the quantity is easily halved or quartered. Smaller quantities of this cake can easily be baked in mini-loaf pans, with the baking time adjusted accordingly. 
In my books, this rich, dark, heavily fruited holiday cake rates five stars! It’s certainly not too early in the season to prepare it: The recipe requires aging, to allow the flavors to mellow. Stored in air-tight containers, these fruit cakes will last many months past the holidays, especially with the considerable amount of alcohol each contains. In days gone by, people stored unwrapped fruit cakes together with a chunk of apple in an air-tight cake tin. I wrap my cake for the month or so it needs to age, and later unwrap it to store it. Freeze the cakes if you like, but it’s not necessary. Should you choose to do that, wrap each well, so it won’t dry out in the freezer.
I once talked about this very special holiday fruit cake on television. More than 2,500 viewers wrote to request the recipe! Now that most of us have Internet access, I hope you’ll share this wonderful recipe with your family and friends, making it part of your holiday tradition.
This recipe requires many seasonal ingredients. I’ve always found that the least expensive place to buy the necessary nuts and fruits it needs is in a bulk-bin store. Read the instructions and method very carefully before you start, and have all your ingredients at room temperature for easier and better mixing. 
I first began making this cake (I should say these cakes, because the recipe makes several!) when I was in my mid-20s. Even then, I found it difficult to prepare this recipe in a single day. Pace yourself. Don’t try to do it all at once. This year, on Day One, I bought all the ingredients. On Day Two, I lined the pans, cracked and refrigerated the eggs, and ground some of the fruit. On Day Three, I softened the butter, prepared the flour and spices, and assembled and baked the cakes. It’s a massive operation, so go slowly and don’t exhaust yourselves, pets. 
You’ll need some basics, the first being plenty of cake pans. Although I inherited a set of very old removable-rimmed cake tins from my mother-in-law, and have always used those in memory of her, this year I treated myself to a couple of high-sided spring-form pans, to supplement what I had. 
You can bake this recipe in any old pans, but Grandma Parton made it in three circular pans of different sizes, so that’s what I always do. The spring-form pans I use are six inches, eight inches, and 10 inches in diameter, with a height of nearly three inches. The mathematicians among you can do the volume conversions to determine what other pan sizes (a series of loaf pans, for example) will do. 
The next thing you’ll need to make this cake is a food grinder. Don’t shake your head - beg, borrow or buy one (I would have written “steal” one, but I’d hate to have you in the slammer over the holidays). Happily, my electric mixer has a grinder attachment that makes the difficult job of grinding virtually effortless. Also happily, Ron did half the work and all the washing-up, making life that much easier for me. If anyone offers to help you with this project, don’t turn them down! 
If you make these cakes in the quantity given, you’ll need some very large bowls or roasting pans. You’ll also need some cheese cloth and some heavy-duty paper bags trimmed to fit the sides and bottom of your pans. You’ll need aluminum foil, and some all-vegetable shortening. Strictly speaking, the shortening isn’t part of the recipe, so that’s why I’ve mentioned it here.
Topping this cake with Almond Paste (Marzipan) and a layer of Royal Icing is mandatory at my house. You simply can’t argue with tradition! You’ll find posts for those recipes adjacent to this one.
Our family celebrates Christmas during the holidays, but this beautiful cake will do you proud for any festive occasion and celebration. As the season progresses, I’ll give you a couple of other holiday cakes that are simpler and need little or no aging: They can be popped into the freezer until you need them. If you’re like me, you’ll want to do your baking well ahead for the holidays, leaving you relaxed and ready to enjoy yourself! Because of this recipe’s complexity, I’ve presented the method as a series of easy-to-follow steps.
Grandma Parton’s Christmas Cake:
1 lb. dates
2 lb. seeded raisins
2 lb. seedless raisins
1 lb. currants
½ lb. (2-3/4 c.) slivered, blanched almonds
½ lb. (1-3/4 c.) walnut bits or chopped walnuts
1 lb. mixed candied peel
1 lb. mixed candied fruit
½ lb. glacé (glazed) cherries
9 oz. (255 g) bottle maraschino cherries without stems (reserve juice) 
3-½ to 4 c. all-purpose flour (just enough to hold the fruit together)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. mace
1 tbsp. nutmeg
1 tbsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1 lb. softened butter (no substitutes)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
1 dozen large eggs
1 c. dark rum
1 c. brandy
4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Step 1: Prepare baking pans. Trim heavy-duty brown paper bags to fit bottom and sides of spring-form pans or old-style pans with removable rims. Melt approximately ½ c. shortening in microwave oven, generously brushing two thicknesses and both sides of cut paper before lining rims and pan bottoms. Lightly grease both sides of a length of foil, molding against paper. Set aside. (Because these cakes require a long baking time, I don’t use parchment paper to line the pans)

Trim heavy-duty paper bags to fit pan sides and bottoms

Grease both sides of two thicknesses of paper 

Line pans with foil

Set prepared pans aside

Step 2: In a very large bowl or roasting pan, combine dates, both types of raisins, and currants until very well-mixed. Put half of this mixture through the food grinder, leaving the rest whole. Combine ground dried fruit with whole dried fruit. Add almonds, walnuts, mixed candied peel, mixed candied fruit, and both types of cherries (with juice drained and reserved), mixing very thoroughly. Set aside.

Weigh fruit at home
or in store
Grind half of dried fruit. Mix
well with whole fruits

Step 3: In another large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt, mixing well. Sift about a cup of the flour mixture over the fruit, mixing with hands to separate and stop pieces of fruit from clumping together. Repeat with a second cup of spiced flour, mixing and separating fruit as well as possible (Flouring the fruit will intersperse it throughout the cakes, preventing fruit from dropping to the bottom of the pan).
Combine fruits and nuts very thoroughly. Flour as recipe
directs to prevent fruit from sinking during baking

Step 4: Using an electric mixer, cream softened butter. Gradually add granulated sugar and light brown sugar, beating at least 5 min. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until mixture is pale yellow, very creamy, and smooth. 

Step 5: In a separate bowl, combine reserved maraschino cherry juice, rum, brandy, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Starting and ending with remaining flour mixture, alternate adding flour and combined liquids, beating well after each addition. 
Step 6: Pour creamed butter mixture over fruit, mixing to combine just until some batter coats each piece of fruit - don’t over-mix. While I’d prefer to use a spoon, clean hands work best for this step!

Alternate additions of flour mixture and liquids

Rum, brandy, vanilla, lemon juice, reserved cherry juice

Combine butter, sugars, eggs, balance of flour ...   This  
batch is extra-large: I doubled the recipe!

Pour cake batter over fruit

Mix battered fruit thoroughly with hands

Mix some more ... big job!  
Step 7: With rack positioned in center of oven, preheat oven to 275 deg. F. Spoon fruited batter into prepared pans. Smooth tops of cakes with a spatula or with the back of a spoon. Once again, the pans I use are six inches, eight inches, and 10 inches in diameter, with a height of nearly three inches. I bake the largest cake 3 to 4 hr., the medium-sized cake approximately 2-¼ hr., and the smallest cake approximately 1-½ to 1-¾ hr. Test the doneness of each cake with a skewer 10 min. before removing the cake from the oven. Different-sized pans require different baking times.

Smooth batter in pans

Step 8: Cool cakes 30 min. on rack. Place rack over top of cake, flipping over and out of pan onto rack. Paper will fall away. Gently peel away foil, being careful not to break hot cake. Poke holes into each cake with a wooden or thin metal skewer. Slowly pour additional rum into hot cakes. Cool completely, preferably overnight. 

Poke holes into hot cake
with thin skewer
Pour in additional rum

Step 9: Wrap cakes in several layers of rum-soaked cheese cloth before storing in a cool place in air-tight containers. About a week before serving, top with a layer of Almond Paste (Marzipan) and Royal Icing. For convenience, I usually buy Almond Paste, but it’s expensive and making it is easy. This recipe makes about 15 lb. of fruit cake, in assorted sizes.

1 comment:

  1. I've loved cakes like this my entire life...This is the best Christmas (Fruit) Cake I have ever tasted!!!!! Bar None! You must taste this and you will agree!


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