In Season: In defence of fruitcake

“We have 19 students in the baking program this year and not one had tasted fruitcake.”

Alan Dumonceaux is the chair of Nait’s Culinary Arts Baking program. “There’s an urban myth that fruitcake tastes terrible.”

Chef Dumonceaux thinks this is due to the number of poor quality, foul-tasting fruitcakes on the market.

“A $1.99 festive cake? That’s not fruitcake. There’s no fruit in commercial bun mix which is what most of these are made with. It’s candied rutabaga.

“A really good fruitcake has a high fruit concentration and balance of ingredients. It’s made with good quality fruit; lemon and orange peel, candied green and red cherries, pineapple, melon balls, raisins and currants. Our fruitcake is 65 per cent fruit.

“People now want something sweeter, less curranty,” Alan says. “Though a cool take-off on fruitcake is an all tropical cake, made with dried pineapple and mango.”

The traditional Canadian fruitcake is a British tradition, yet holiday breads and cakes made with dried fruit and nuts have a rich history in several European cultures. Think saffron-scented raisin Santa Lucia buns, Tuscany’s chewy pan forte or the sublime hazelnut cake from Piedmont. Or panetonne, the now fashionable sweet bread from Milan. Traditional panetonne starts with a soured dough and rises for over 20 hours. It’s studded with citrus peel, dry raisins and sometimes chocolate.

Fruit cake/fruit bread? “If it’s yeasted, it’s a bread but they are so rich and moist we think of them as cake, like a kugelhupf.”

Alan is a big fan of kugelhupf, which is of German, Austrian or Alsatian heritage, depending on who you talk to.

What makes a good kugelhupf? “It’s a rich, soft dough with a high butter content, which means not a lot of stability. You have to handle carefully and use a Bundt pan. I like to line the pan with softened butter and sliced almonds.”

Along with beating the drum for excellence in fruitcake, Alan teaches sugar art, pastry, chocolate making and artisan baking — the art of good bread.

“What is good bread? the crust will have hints of a rich mahogany hue, there will be an open cell structure to the inside, and a long lasting aroma and flavour. Good bread is not just a holder for sandwich meat.”

Why are baking recipes always in weights?

“With bakers percentage means everything. When I create something new, it’s all about the relationship the ingredients have with each other. It’s a formula. That’s what we need to achieve consistent results.

“It’s easier to create a metric weight from a percentage. Weight is always more accurate, as a cup of flour will weigh differently every time you scoop. Buy a digital scale in one-gram increments that goes up to at least 2000 grams, 5000 is even better. I paid $19 for mine 20 years ago and I think I’ve replaced the battery once. Some even count calories for you.”

Both the Bon Ton and Upper Crust make a fine, fruit-rich fruitcake. Find panetonne in festive holiday boxes at the Italian Centre Shops. Learn more baking secrets at NAIT Continuing Ed.

Note: Recipes courtesy of NAIT School of Hospitality. In order to illustrate the teaching method, we did not convert to TOMATO house style.

Kugelhuph (type: pre-ferment/sponge and dough)

  • 145g bread flour
  • 132g water at 27ºC
  • 35g fresh yeast or 14 g active dry or instant direct yeast

Mix flour, water at 27ºC and yeast by hand until incorporated. Let stand for 20 minutes.

  • 87g butter
  • 87g fine sugar
  • 130g thawed whole egg (2½ whole fresh eggs)
  • 7g fine salt
  • 13g buttermilk powder
  • 203g bread flour
  • 25g fresh yeast
  • 101g sultana raisins
  • 35g mixed peel

After 20 minutes mix the sponge and all other ingredients together except raisins and mixed peel for 5 minutes on low speed then mix another 5 minutes on medium speed.

Add raisins and peel, mix on low speed just until they are evenly incorporated.

Rest the dough for 30 minutes on the counter covered with saran wrap to prevent a skin from forming.

Divide the dough into 3 equal loaves. Round and rest for another 20 minutes.

While the dough is resting, soften some butter and grease the inside of a Bundt pan with butter, then coat with thin-sliced almonds.

Make a hole in the center of the rounded dough piece, then place into Bundt pan. Allow the dough to rise so it fills 2/3 to ¾ of the Bundt pan.

Bake at 370ºF oven for 25 minutes or until a rich golden brown color is achieved.

Removing from oven and tip onto a cooling rack. Brush with simple syrup. You can also then drizzle with a water icing.

Makes 3 kugelhupf.

Light fruit cake (type: sugar batter)

  • 118g green cherry glace
  • 118g red cherry glace
  • 78g pineapple glace
  • 78g mixed peel
  • 235g sultana raisins
  • 78g fine sugar
  • 78g butter
  • 39g bread flour
  • 5g fine salt
  • 78g thawed whole egg (1½ fresh eggs)
  • 20g white corn syrup
  • 59g bread flour
  • 14g 2 per cent milk
  • 1g vanilla or lemon extract

Condition fruit: wash and drain overnight

Cream sugar, shortening, flour and salt for 3 minutes on low. Add eggs and corn syrup slowly, mixing on low speed for 3 minutes scraping down after each addition. Add flour alternatively with milk. Mix until smooth. Add fruit by hand. Fill either an aluminum foil pound cake container or metal pound cake container until full. Wet hand and smooth the top of the fruit cake. Bake at 350ºF until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and there will be a slight golden color on top, approx 2 hours. Makes one 1 kg fruit cake.