Fruitcake is perhaps the most infamous of the holiday culinary traditions, and yet somehow the fruitcake tradition carries on. And that, my friends, is because not all fruitcake is bad; there is in fact good fruitcake out there. Fruitcake that’s moist and tender and, well, fruity. Take this Friendship Fruitcake for instance. You might remember it from years ago; its heyday was closer to the times of bell bottoms and bright daisy prints than cell phones and skinny jeans. You might know it as Brandied Friendship Fruit or Fermented Friendship Fruit and chances are your mom (or maybe just a younger you) once had a jar of the starter going on your kitchen counter.
You see, this fruitcake is a little bit of a project. It takes seven weeks from start to finish – three weeks for the brandied starter and four more for the candied fruit – but we can promise it’s well worth it. It takes some forethought, but never more than a minute or two of effort on any given day, and the end result is fruit that’s still juicy and sweet and leagues above that crystally, dried-out stuff you might find in the grocery store.
And it’s all about friendship. Reminiscent of a chain letter (kind of like the very popular Amish Friendship Bread), the process leaves you with three pints of brandied starter: two that you can pass on to friends, and one that you use to start the process all over again. In turn, your friends can then pass more starter on to their friends and the more people that make it, the more love and friendship gets passed on down the line. It’s a tradition of giving and sharing, which is perfect for the holiday season.
Here’s how it’s done:
You take canned pineapple, peaches, apricots, and maraschino cherries, and mix them together with some brandy and sugar in a big jar or bowl. You leave that vessel out on the counter – loosely covered, you don’t want to encounter a brandied fruit explosion – and give it a stir every two to three days.
After three weeks, you drain the fruit and eat it over pound cake or ice cream or whatever tickles your fancy, and you’re left with a pint of sweet, syrupy liquid that you’ll use to candy your fruit in a slow but easy process that results in candied fruit that is a far cry from the dried bits you might think of when you think of fruitcake.
That leftover liquid is your brandied starter, and you combine it with some peaches and sugar and give it a stir every day for ten days. On day ten, you add in some pineapple and more sugar, and again stir it once a day for ten days. On day twenty, you add cherries and even more sugar, and – you guessed it – stir it every day for ten days. On day thirty, you have candied fruit as you’ve never quite had it before, and you’re ready to bake.
You drain the fruit from the liquid, and you’ll end up with three pints of sweet and syrupy liquid that you can pass on to friends along with the fruitcake recipe or that you can use to start the process all over again. The starter needs to be used with three days of receiving it, or you can always freeze it for later use.
The batter is comprised of two boxes of yellow cake mix and two boxes of vanilla pudding, along with the usual cake suspects of sugar, oil, eggs and the like. The pudding mix keeps the cake moist and adds some substance and vanilla flavor.
You then mix in the reserved candied fruit, some raisins, coconut, and chopped walnuts…
And end up with a mountain of very thick batter that’s studded with jeweled-candy fruit, crunchy nuts, and sweet coconut.
Please continue to Next Page (>) for the full list of ingredients and complete cooking instructions.