Sunday, December 7, 2008

Brandied Fruitcake Drops

I love fruitcake. I never understood the gags about people passing around fruitcake year after year, because, well, my grandma made good fruitcake. And I love the dried fruits. I love the spices. I love the whiff of booziness past. I love the colors! It's like all of Christmas in a dense, sweet, crumbly cake. Oh, yes.

Some people say they hate fruitcake. To them, Rick Rodgers says, "these moist and chewy cookies have been gobbled by many an unsuspecting professed fruitcake hater." So, let's get to the conversion (it's nigh on religious) to fruitcake love, via Christmas 101:
Brandied Fruitcake Drops
Makes 3 dozen.

Make Ahead: The cookies can be baked up to 1 week ahead, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup brandy or bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped candied fruit for fruitcakes (a combination of candied orange and lemon peels, candied cherries, pineapple and citron) or any dried or candied fruit you prefer
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

34 walnut halves, for decoration

1. Position the racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

2. In a medium bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter and brown sugar until light in color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg. Add the buttermilk, brandy, and vanilla, and beat until the mixture is fluffy, about 1 minute. Using a wooden spoon, add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and mix to make a soft dough. Stir in the chopped candied fruit and walnuts.

3. Using about 1 tablespoon for each cookie, drop the mixture about 1 inch apart onto nonstick baking sheets. Press a walnut half into the center of each cookie. Bake, switching the positions of the cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking time, until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire cake rack and cool completely. (The cookies can be baked up to 1 week ahead, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.)
Ever feel like a recipe is repeating itself? The Make Ahead slug at the top of ever recipe is repeated at the end, in a quieter, gentler parenthetical aside. No italics. No special fonts. Just a reassurance.

If you like fruitcake, but have never made your own, start with this. It's not that fruitcake is hard to make, it just takes quite a while. There's the soaking, the straining, the brushing, the whole rigamarole.

And, yes, you can put together your own blend of dried and candied fruits to make this (or to make full-on fruitcake). Do not just buy a tub of "fruitcake blend" at the grocers... it's going to be cloying and strange. If you don't want to assemble your own, then order fruitcake fruits pre-blended from King Arthur's Flour. When I make fruitcake, that's what I get. I also tend to get the wee small disposable baking pans from King Arthur's; they work, they work well, they make for nice gift giving.

It may be time to thaw another fruitcake, come to think of it. I've three from the last baking round stashed away, well wrapped and waiting to convert another person to the church of fruitcake love.

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