I have been known to say disparaging things about that most controversial of holiday baked goods: fruitcake. The fact that it is impossible to find good fruits confits in Montreal may have something to do with it (that and the disgust that comes on when I see those obnoxiously bright red and green balls called “cherries” that are the most common form of candied fruit). I had missed the boat on making my own candied fruits in time for the holidays – a New Year’s resolution if I ever saw one—so I was just planning on making do with some of the quality dried fruits stocked by my local health food store. However, I must have been complaining at school about Montreal’s lack of fruits confits, because my friend Anna, when she returned from a brief trip to Mexico, came back bearing a bag full of amazing Mexican candied fruits: pineapple, figs, cactus pear, heart of cactus… I could barely believe my eyes: they were the most beautiful candied fruits I’ve ever had the opportunity to cook with, and some of the most beautiful candied fruits I’ve ever seen.
Of course, the most beautiful candied fruits I’ve seen are the artisanal jewels made by some of the master candy makers of Europe, like Christian Constant in Paris. Anthony brought some back for me from Paris last year and I still haven’t recovered. The whole miniature pears, in particular, had an incredible flavour and texture—it would have been a sin to dice them into pieces only to envelope them in a batter and then bake them for hours.
For my Mexican Fruitcake, I adapted a tried and true recipe from The Joy of Cooking: the Dark Fruitcake. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and mace give the cake its distinctive spiciness. Brandy poured over top the cake rounds out its flavors nicely, while making the heart of the cake wonderfully moist but leaving the edges firm.
This cake can be made with any candied fruits, but the higher the quality, the better the cake. Try using unsulphured dried fruits if you want a version that’s less sweet. If money is no object, Fauchon in Paris does mail order. And if you have a friend who’s going to Mexico, make sure to place an order for their lovely candied fruit. You’ll thank them forever.
[Thank you to Anna for bringing these fruits for me. Don’t worry, a cake is waiting for you in my cupboard.]