One of my goals is to get fruitcake to rank right up with flourless chocolate cake on the list of everyone's favorite desserts. Well, may not that high on the list, but it certainly should crack the Top Ten. I'm one of the few people in the world who actually likes fruitcake. I remember being a young girl and having it all to myself because, in our household of seven, no one else would touch it, even my German dad, who'd eat raw hamburger and onion sandwiches! Decades ago, in an effort to make fruitcake more inviting to the non-believers around me, I started tinkering with Julia Child's recipe. I found that most people objected to the way the combination of bitter-ish fruit and the taste of raw alcohol in commercial cakes. After tweaking the recipe for a few more holidays, I found a combination that my sons and their kids actually like. (It helps a lot to let the kids taste the cool neon-colored cherries as you're preparing the fruit.) I stuck the word "beginner" in the title for two reasons: it's easy enough for a non-baker to be a success, and it makes a good first impression on kids. Fruitcake connoisseurs should feel free to add grated fresh or candied or dried ginger, cloves, nutmeg, mace and/or allspice to the batter, and/or macerate the fruit in a cup of dark rum or bourbon in place of the juice. The cakes can be served as is warm from the oven, but I like them better when the flavors have mellowed somewhat a day or two after baking. I've never had a fruitcake that lasted longer than a month, so I'm not sure how much longer than that these cakes can be stored, but I bet they won't be around long enough to be used as door stops. I keep score and in 2010, I gave out 17 copies of this recipe. Not quite enough to knock flourless chocolate cake off the list, but I'm getting there. . . —betteirene
The day before you plan to bake, place the dried fruits and raisins in a colander or large strainer and rinse well under hot running tap water to remove any preservatives from the fruit. Shake off as much water as possible, and place the fruits in a very large bowl. Add the nuts, the juice and the zest to the fruit mixture. Stir until very well combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line three 8"x4" loaf pans with parchment.
Place butter in a large mixing bowl and allow it to come to room temperature. Beat in the granulated sugar, molasses (or the dark brown sugar) and vanilla until the mixture becomes fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Add it to the butter-sugar-egg mixture and stir well by hand. Remove the fruit-nut mixture from the refrigerator, add it to the batter and blend thoroughly, being careful not to overmix.
Divide batter evenly into pans. Arrange red and green cherries and/or nuts decoratively on top of batter, if desired. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 2 hours, checking for doneness after 1 hour and 30 minutes. The cakes will show cracks and will have risen slightly; a skewer inserted through a crack should come out fairly clean, with no wet dough clinging to it. Let cakes cool about 20 minutes in pans, then remove from pans and allow to cool completely before removing parchment and wrapping cakes very tightly in plastic. Store at a cool room temperature.