Monday, 1 December 2014

Christmas Fruitcake -- Or Else!

Christmas, it is said, comes but once a year. What's that, you say? Once a year? Why not more often? Because, my tinies, we would have to make more fruitcake!

Once a year, also, Chef Ann Aller joins the brigade at Monarch Park and helps us make her fabulous fruitcake. (She is Chef Aller-Stead's Mother-In-Law.) It is her recipe we use, and Chef Aller enjoys helping and guiding us all to make perfect, traditional fruitcake for our home enjoyment and for sales to the lucky staff who are connoisseurs of such delightful comestibles.

So ... to start with, here is the recipe Take a careful look at it ... there is a large amount of detail in here, both for the shopping as well as for the technique. Remember, as you read, you need to remember that the BEST fruitcake is old fruitcake. (OK, not as old as Chef, but at least 1 month old ... 3 months if you get organized sufficiently.) You will need to spend quite a bit of time doing the shopping to support this fruitcake-making, including getting some brandy and rum (speak to your parents).

Follow the recipe carefully and slowly. Here are a few shots of how we did it in class. We make TEN TIMES this recipe!

First, we mixed all the fruit, raisins and nuts together in our largest bowls.

Here is Chef Aller with Ciara and Rebecca, all hands into the gooey mess of fruit, pineapple juice and a bottle of brandy.

This was followed by making the dough ... here is Jack preparing butter for the largest stand-mixer, to be blended with butter to make a smooth beginning.
We 'encourage' this by using Chef's blowtorch. Doesn't every home kitchen have a blowtorch? No? OK, students, Christmas is coming, and they're $25 at Nella! Now Jack is getting the torch onto the bowl of the stand mixer to ensure the butter and sugars blend quickly and smoothly.
(Notice that no one looks nervous. We have done this before and know how ... Chef is a safety freak!)

Jack is very careful to have just the correct portion of the flame touch the bowl ... we are not welding, neither are we just lighting a candle. It is important to get this just right, and Jack knows how to be a perfectionist in this area. The heat will help the butter smooth out with the sugar. We remove the torch when the sugar does not feel granulated at all, and the mixture is silky-smooth. Then the eggs go in one at a time, then the extract. This will be followed by the huge amounts of dry ingredients (remember, we are making ten times the original recipe) and finally we have made a lovely, warm, light-brown almond batter. The batter is worked into the huge pans of marinated fruit and nuts by hand. Using our hands is very important, as our fingers will not cut up any fruit or damage any part of the filling we are so carefully preparing. It is very hard work, though, and takes a lot of patience.
We have produced about 90 pounds of fruitcake batter, all ready for the prepared pans. Pans are made ready with two layers each of parchment paper, with Crisco shortening thinly smeared on every surface.
Liia and Leshaunda took on the boring task of making the pan-liners for 30 fruitcake pans ... here they are making stripes of paper for the sides of the springforms, and the bottoms were covered with two circles of parchment.

After the springforms were prepared, we filled them up to within about 2 cm of the top of each. Prior to baking, the tops were decorated. Here is one being beautifully worked on by Glenn.

At this point all the cake needs is a top of parchment paper to gently rest on top of the batter (so the top of the cake does not form much of a crust or brown a lot).

We readied our ovens with steam, then baked for between 2.5 and 4.5 hours (depending on the thickness and diameter).

After the cakes came out of the ovens, we let them cool on the counters overnight on racks, then we doused them with a goodly shot of rum or brandy before tightly wrapping them up in two layers of waxed paper with an outside shell of tinfoil.

These are tightly closed, and the cakes are kept at cool room temperature for a fortnight. Next week we will bring them out and give them a second dose with brandy, then deliver them.

Interesting side-note to our cakes ... the evening they were cooling on the counter, Monarch Park held an open-house event for parents of prospective grade 9 students next September. Many, many parents came through the kitchen, drawn (no doubt) by the delicious smells and proud display of Chef's photos of his students all over the outside walls (and ceilings) of the Culinary Arts area. Several parents asked for the fruitcake recipe, and one offered to buy a small $20 cake on the spot (Chef sold it immediately).

Chef Aller came in one more time the next day, to ensure that the topping-off of the cakes (their first dousing) and wrapping was done according to her high standard.
Now the cakes are nestled in their wrappings, swaddled against undue evaporation or drying, and after the next dousing will rest for another fortnight, then will be ready for proud display and delicious snacking over the Christmas holiday.

Thank you, Chef Aller, for all your time, patience and care! We couldn't do it as well without you. See you next year!

And that's a wrap.

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