If you are disgusted by the mere mention of fruitcake, you obviously have no idea what fruitcake is actually supposed to be. At my first catering job, one of my first tasks was to make the holiday fruitcake. This befuddled me because not only did I wonder who was actually eating something that’s the butt of just about every Christmas joke, but also because I was asked to make it in October. My chef taught me to make it the old-fashioned way, the way it was made for hundreds of years before it became an industrialized mess filled with glacéed technicolor cherries and various colored “fruits” of unknown origin.
They called it the Three Wise Men Cake. First, we went to a Middle Eastern import store and bought bags of the best dried figs, dates, currants, cherries, apricots, and raisins money could buy. We chopped them up with plenty of roasted nuts, folded them into cake batter, baked them into loaves, and wrapped them in cheesecloth. Then we put them in the closet where they would be aged for three months with the “three wise men”: Johnny Walker, Jack Daniels, and Jim Beam. Each week until Christmas, the cakes would get a healthy dousing of each. By the time they were ready to be served, those six loaf cakes had collectively absorbed a fifth of each. The only way to serve the cake without rendering someone unconscious was in a 1 x 1-inch cube, and even then that person would have to sit down after eating one. Matt and I have done our best to try to show people what fruitcake is really supposed to taste like, but it’s by far our hardest sell. Once people finally taste it, they’re hooked. We cook our alcohol off, but feel free to go full strength if you’re hoping to throw a Christmas party that involves nudity. (As adapted from Robicelli's a Love Story.)
3 cups assorted high-quality dried fruits, finely chopped
Matt says: You can use whatever dried fruits you’re particularly fond of. Because we make this cake in huge batches and own a bakery with a plentiful inventory, we’ll add several different types ourselves—figs, dates, cherries, cranberries, currants, apricots, plums, golden raisins, blueberries. There’s no need for you to go all out and buy a tablespoon of each type—just make a blend of a few different types that you like. Same goes for booze—this is up to your personal preference. Some like dark rum, some like Scotch, some like bourbon—we’re traditionalists and like brandy. Use one or a mix of a few—entirely up to you.
1 cup brandy
1 cup dark rum
2 cups hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts
One recipe French Buttercream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
7 dried figs, rehydrated and quartered (or dried fruit of your choice)
¼ cup walnuts, roasted and chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with 24 baking cups. Place the dried fruits, brandy, ½ cup of the rum, and the hot water in a bowl and let sit for 24 hours. Drain and toss with 1 cup of the flour. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl and cream for a few seconds more. Add the eggs and molasses and mix on medium for 30 seconds. Sift together the remaining 1 cup flour and the baking powder. With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and milk. Fold in the fruit mixture and chopped walnuts. Scoop the batter into the prepared baking cups, filling them three quarters of the way. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. The cupcakes are done when the centers spring back when you touch them. Remove the cupcakes from the oven. While the cupcakes are still hot, brush the tops with some of the remaining ½ cup rum. Set aside to cool. Brush with rum one more time before frosting.
¾ cup whole kumquats
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
Cut the kumquats in half and remove as many seeds as possible. The seeds are edible, so don’t worry if you miss a few. Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the kumquats, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the kumquats from the syrup and set aside. Increase the heat to high and reduce the syrup until thick, about 4 minutes. Pour the syrup over the kumquats, mix, and set aside to cool.
Prepare the recipe for French buttercream
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a fluted tip with the vanilla buttercream and pipe onto each fruitcake cupcake. Decorate the tops with candied kumquats, pomegranate seeds, dried fruits, and walnuts.