Holiday Frootcake

Fruitcake is usually a love or hate affair.  I love it and don’t consider a winter season complete without one.  They do require time and therefore aren’t eligible for last-minute baking, since for a really good cake there needs to be at least a couple of weeks – preferably more – of aging and feeding (spritzing with alcohol).  During the aging process, my Mother keeps her cake in the freezer or fridge since it’s quite humid in her area.  If it’s pretty dry, then countertop can work if the cake isn’t overly moist.  Generally, I do half-and-half with a couple of weeks out on the counter followed by a move to the fridge or freezer for more long-term preservation.

This particular iteration of the frootcake is fueled by my obsessions with root vegetables, herbalism and fermentation.  It’s (very) loosely based on Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake.  Don’t expect this cake to taste like his.  It doesn’t.  The blog isn’t called Crunchy Cooking for nothing.  Instead expect a beautiful, dense and moist sourdough cake with complex flavor (no sour – the baking soda takes care of that!) and tons of texture.

Final note; while the ingredient list may look imposing, keep in mind that lots of the roots and herbs are actually optional, and the result will be just fine without.

What you need:

  • 1 cup dark, spiced or golden rum
  • 1 small ginseng root (optional)
  • 9 allspice berries
  • 1 stick of cinnamon, broken up
  • 1/4 teaspoon cubeb berries (optional; black peppercorns or grains of paradise can be substituted for a similar flavour)
  • 1 tablespoon sarsaparilla root (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried orange peel (or dried lemon peel)
  • 3 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup dried goldenberries
  • 1 cup dried cranberries (apple juice sweetened preferred)
  • 3 cups flour (I used a half-and-half combo of whole wheat and whole spelt, but pretty much anything goes) + extra for the pan
  • 1 cup granulated cane sugar (if you like a sweet cake, increase the sugar to 1-1/2 or 2 cups total – or see the water substitution below)
  • 1 cup puréed, cooked, red beet
  • 1 cup water (if you like a sweet cake, you can substitute the water for apple juice)
  • 4 tablespoons ground chia seed
  • 2 tablespoons ground burdock root (optional)
  • 1 cup fine-grated carrot
  • 1 cup fine-grated parsnip (or more carrot)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 2 teaspoons ginger powder
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped pecans

What you do:

  1. Place the allspice berries, cinnamon stick, orange peel, cardamom pods, ginseng root (if using) and cubeb berries (if using) in a small piece of cheesecloth.  Tie it with some string to make a ”baggie” of herbs.  DSCN0605.JPG
  2. Place the herb-bag in the bottom of a measuring cup and add the rum.  Let it steep overnight with just the herbs for a very strong herbal taste and then add the raisins, goldenberries and dried cranberries, steeping for another 12 hours until the fruit is rehydrated.  Alternatively, the raisins, goldenberries and dried cranberries can be added to the rum and herb-sachet immediately  for a more subtle taste.  If desired, the rehydration of the fruit can be sped up by gently heating it, covered, in a non-reactive (stainless steel) pot until just below a simmer and then turning the heat off and letting it all sit for an hour.
  3. 10 to 16 hours before cooking, pretty much when you start steeping the fruit if you go the long-soak way; in a glass or ceramic bowl (don’t use steel – the sourdough is acidic and doesn’t play well with metal) mix together the flour, sugar, powdered spices, grated root vegetables, puréed beet, ground chia, ground burdock root (if using), water and starter.  You should get a pretty wet dough.DSCN0611.JPG
  4. Cover the bowl with a wet cloth and leave in a warm place to ferment for 10-12 hours.
  5. Once the dough is done fermenting, preheat the oven to 375F.  Grease and flour a bundt pan.
  6. In a small (4 cup) bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Make sure there aren’t any lumpy bits of baking soda  or baking powder hanging out anywhere.
  7. Go back to the soaking dried fruit now.  Take out the herb-sachet and squeeze every last bit of rum you can out of it, and back into the fruit.  Compost the sachet.  Pour the rum and fruit into the bowl with the coconut oil and mix quickly and well.  Everything will start bubbling as the soda reaction begins so work fast from now on.
  8. Fold/mix (it’ll be half-way between the two techniques) the contents of the small bowl and the chopped pecans into the fermented dough of the larger bowl until you have a uniform batter.  Be careful not to over-mix but you do need to get the fruit and nuts evenly distributed throughout.
  9. Pour it all into the bundt pan and pop it in the oven ASAP (it will be rising as you work).
  10. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick comes out pretty much clean.
  11. Cool the cake in the pan, removing any burnt dried fruit that may be hanging about the top of the cake.  Spritz or brush it immediately with whisky, brandy, bourbon or rum depending on what you prefer.DSCN0614.JPG
  12. Once the pan is cool, turn it out onto a wire rack.  Seal in an air-tight food container.  Every few days, check the cake, and ”feed” it with more whisky, brandy, bourbon or rum by spritzing or brushing if it’s dry.
  13. Slice and serve when you feel the cake is ready – but try and wait at least a week.

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