In Rome the shops and markets are full of fruit cakes, as well as nuts and dried fruits for making fruit cakes: pangiallo, panpepato, panforte (the latter is from Siena). There are towers of pandoro and panettone in the supermarkets, along with bastardized panettone versions with limoncello cream or chocolate filling. I already bought a couple classic panettone, as they are really nice for making bread and butter pudding, which my husband does very well. However, what my husband really does not like is dried fruit. His mother still makes the traditional English Christmas cake each year, fed for weeks with brandy and decorated right before Christmas with marzipan and royal icing. I quite enjoy it, in small slices, and it lasts for ages. Fruitcake is however not something I ever make. But this year, with no traveling, there is lots of time to bake, and my mother kindly sent her recipe. A little more austere, and not covered, but very good. This cake is an adaptation of that. Start the day before baking by soaking the fruit.
Italian version of my mother’s fruitcake (approximately – makes two loaves
Fruit: 1 kilo of dried fruit of your choice. I used dried figs, prunes, dried apricots, dates, raisins and dried cranberries. To soak: 300 ml whisky and orange juice, 50/50. Or just orange juice, if you prefer.
350 g butter
250 g brown sugar
110 g white sugar
200 g orange marmalade
400g white wheat flour (I used 00)
2 tsp baking powder
150 g hazelnuts
2 tsp pain d’epices (mixed spices: allspice, ginger, cinnamon)
Day before: Chop fruit, removing any stones or pits, and soak overnight in liquids. I used orange juice and some mystery homemade pear liqueur, which is probably spiced pear vodka from this Diana Henry recipe, Make sure all ingredients for next day are at room temperature.
Next day: Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in rest of ingredients. Line base of loaf tins with baking parchment, butter sides. Divide between loaf tins. Bake at 175C for 70 minutes. Maybe a little longer needed. Cool well before slicing.
.I was quite pleased with this! It should make two long loaves, I made two medium and two small ones, not very tall. A little crumbly, and not quite the pristine thin fruit-crusted cake of my mother, but after a night in the fridge they are easier to slice and they taste right. I suppose I could poke some holes and spoon over more pear liqueur, but this is nice as it is. They will keep for ages in the fridge, wrapped in foil. I am also handing out some small pieces to friends, Time to decorate our tiny plastic tree and enjoy some advent spirit.
Speaking of Christmas spirit, I was out for a quick walk the other night to get some air. After lockdown this spring, that is a luxury not to take for granted. The piazza up the road was heaving with excited teenagers, which usually means I go the other way. (They are perfectly civil here, just often in groups and possibly contagious.) Two small red AS Roma trucks were parked there, and assorted young men were putting on Santa hats. It was a charity event, the Roma footballers seem to be supporting the Comunità di Sant’Egidio in handing out masks and food to the elderly. Not I would recognize any of the players, but the starstruck teenagers were thrilled.