Fruitcakes don't always have the greatest reputation, but baker-restaurateur Karen Kahn aims to change that with her annual fruitcake bake-off, underway this month.
Kahn, owner of Eden Restaurant in Dallas, has been baking and selling fruitcakes for 30 years. She sends out an email in late October, reminding regulars that the deadline for ordering is the first week of November.
She needs to know by then how many to make because, after baking them, she douses them with brandy for six weeks. By the time you get them in December, still wrapped in cloth, they're a spirited, boozy treat.
"A fruitcake should be moist, and the fruit and nuts should remain whole," says Eden owner Karen Kahn, who douses her cakes with brandy for six weeks.
"But I do make extras because there are always people who miss the deadline and come wanting one," Kahn says.
Many people have a false impression of what a fruitcake is, based on the inferior versions they've had from large commercial manufacturers, Kahn says — just as a supermarket chocolate chip cookie is only an approximation of the real thing.
"A lot of companies chop up the fruit and nuts so they’re little bitty pieces in a dried dough," Kahn says. "A fruitcake should be moist, and the fruit and nuts should remain whole. And then there's your ratio of fruit. You want at least 50 percent fruit and nuts; otherwise you have a cake with fruit in it. My ratio is a lot of fruit and nuts with just enough batter to hold them together."
Ideally, they're soaked in some kind of alcohol. That could be brandy, rum, even red wine.
"A lot of commercial fruitcakes don't soak them in alcohol because they don't know who's going to be consuming them," Kahn says. "I like to soak them for six weeks.
"Soaking might be a misuse of terminology. I soak the towel in brandy or rum and wrap the fruitcake in it and put it in a plastic bag. When you first wrap them, they suck the moisture out of that towel. Then, once a week, I unwrap them and soak the towel again."
Kahn describes herself as an army brat who spent time in Germany when she was young, where she was exposed to holiday breads such as stollen. When she first tried an American fruitcake, she was hugely disappointed and began researching recipes.
"Recipes for fruitcakes have developed for thousands of years," she says. "They were buried in the tombs of Egypt. They felt like it was a type of sustenance that would keep long enough to make trip to the afterlife.
"Then people sent fruitcakes to servicemen in WWI and WWII because they would last. They've been around a long time, and so many countries have different versions of them."
Kahn does a dark version and a light, in small and large; the small is $15, and the large, which weighs in at about three pounds, is $30.
"This year I made 80 small ones and 30 big ones. I've made more every year," she says. "If I have extras, I'll serve them in my bread basket. Everybody's heard the jokes about fruitcake, and a lot of people are afraid to try them. But as time goes by, people go, 'Oh that's pretty good.'"