Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmas Fruitcake Bars: Even fruitcake sceptics like them

I developed this recipe on very short notice over 25 years ago when my wife suddenly needed a dessert that morning for the choir's Christmas rehearsal brunch at her former church, whose name I won't mention. Without a recipe, I had to throw together something with what loose ends I could find in the pantry. I thought it amusing, if devilish, to slip some bourbon into the fruit, since it was one of those churches (unlike her current Episcopal church or my Catholic community) where many conservative members did not approve of alcohol.

Whatever happened, the bars worked out extremely well. The following year, I made the same cakes, but this time for us. Now I wrapped them in liquor-soaked towels and aged them, as fruitcakes were traditionally prepared. We have made the fruitcake bars ever since.

There are several beauties to the recipe. One is the pan does not need lining with brown paper, a tedious part of normal fruitcake making. The cakes bake fairly quickly, unlike traditional fruitcakes. And finally, the cut bars cure quickly in the liquor fumes from the towels.

These bars are more elegant than standard fruitcakes. But best of all, people love them who say they don't like fruitcake.

Fruitcake Bars

Heat together to fluff the raisins:
1-1/2 cups golden raisins
1/2 cup black raisins (Monuka are good)
1/2 cup bourbon

Cream together:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar

Beat in:
2 eggs

Add and mix well:
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Add and mix in well with wooden spoon:
1-1/2 cups pecans, broken
1/2 cup candied cherries
1/2 cup candied pineapple
1/2 cup candied citron
1/2 cup candied orange peel
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dates
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup coarsely chopped prunes
The prepared raisins and any liquid with them

Press into greased 9 by 11-inch pan or into two 8-inch square pans. Bang pan(s) on hard surface several times to remove bubbles.

Bake at 325 degrees (315 in convection oven), with pan containing boiling water on lower shelf. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until test toothpick comes out clean.

Cool in pan(s) overnight, covered with towel.

With sharp knife, cut cake into 1/2-inch by 1-1/2-inch bars. Lift carefully out of pan with spatula, especially if cake is soft.

Store in tightly covered tin with plastic wrap lining the bottom. Place paper towel on this, and sprinkle with brandy, rum, or bourbon. Arrange cut bars on this, with a little space between them. Add a layer of liquor-soaked paper towel, and arrange another layer of fruitcake bars. Continue filling the tin, placing liquor-soaked towels between and on top of the remaining layers of bars.

After a few days, sprinkle with several tablespoons liquor. Do this several more times, until towels remains moist.

These keep well, almost indefinately. Their flavor improves over the first several weeks of storage.