I am a big fan of Alton Brown, who hosts the show Good Eats on the Food Network. He's like if Bill Nye the Science Guy had a cooking show. A few years ago I saw the episode It's a Wonderful Cake and decided I had to try his fruitcake recipe, even though I had never had fruitcake before, and of course had heard all the jokes about how disgusting and inedible fruitcake is.
Fruitcake is an ancient confection, originally a way to preserve fruit and nuts over the winter. It's supposed to symbolize wealth and luck and abundance with all those rich ingredients. I wondered how anyone could not like something that's basically dried fruit and nuts glued together in a matrix of sugar, spices, and alcohol, so I went ahead and gave it a try, and it was delicious! I've made it every year since. Yule is just not the same without it.
This year my boyfriend (now fiancee) got me Alton's baking cookbook, I'm Just Here for More Food, and in it I found what he claimed to be an improved recipe for the fruitcake from the show. It has a few minor changes, like using some whole wheat flour, hard apple cider instead of apple juice, no currants, and some black pepper in the spice mixture. I decided this year I'd base my fruitcake off the book recipe instead of the show's (which you can find on the Food Network site).
However, I don't always follow the recipe exactly anyway. It's actually a very forgiving recipe, and I vary which fruits, nuts, and booze I use depending on what I have around and what I can find at the store. I just keep the same total amounts and it turns out fine.
One important thing is this cake takes a couple of days to make and is best when cured for about a month, two weeks at the very least, so you have to plan ahead. After it's baked, you let it sit in a closed container and room temperature and baste it with more booze every few days. This greatly improves its flavor, texture, and potency!
I usually make mine some time in November, but this year I was a little late and made it the first week of December. That should still give it enough time.
It also calls for the zest of one orange and one lemon, but instead I used the zest from the three Meyer lemons I harvested from my potted tree this winter. I don't get a lot of lemons from my little potted tree, but the ones I do get sure are good. Meyer lemons are a hybrid of a lemon and orange, so I figured they'd work as a substitute for orange and lemon zest.
This cake is actually pretty forgiving. I've had other "disasters" in the past, including baking it at too low a temperature (due to a faulty oven), so I had to put it back in the oven and cook it longer (after de-panning it, then noticing the bottom was still gooey, then re-panning it!), and then once I put it in my smaller loaf pan and it overflowed, but I kept the part that stayed in the pan. Each time I still ended up with a decent fruitcake after the cure, so I've concluded that it's really hard to actually ruin this recipe.
Once the cake is cooled, I usually poke holes through it with a wooden skewer to help the booze soak in better, and then baste it with either rum or brandy. Alton uses a spray bottle to spritz it on, which sounds to me like it would better than basting, if I had a spray bottle I felt was clean enough for culinary use. I keep my cake in a plastic cake holder with an airtight snapping lid and check it every three days or so to see if it can handle some more booze.
I'm really not sure why people hate fruitcake so much. Granted, this is the only fruitcake I've ever eaten, but it's become a Yule tradition for me. Maybe it's because other fruitcakes use these gross, candied fruits instead of dried fruits. Or maybe Daniel is right, and people aren't expecting the dense, heavy texture when they want "cake". You may have noticed that this cake is a lot more like a banana bread or other quickbread than the light, fluffy cake most Americans think of when they think of cake. With all the fruit and nuts, you can even tell yourself it's healthy! I've been known to eat some for breakfast during Yuletide.