late fruitcake preparations for a quiet winter solstice
So I'm baking a fruitcake today.
I almost didn't bother. It's less than a week until Winter Solstice, so it won't really be ready to open up at the annual all-nighter Winter Solstice vigil and open house. It won't have had time to soak up enough booze. Besides, I don't even have the wherewithal to host the all-nighter this year anyway, so why bother with a fruitcake?
And then I thought, screw it. I like fruitcake. I like mailing slices to long-distance friends. And Dad's going to be in town shortly after Christmas, and he likes fruitcake. So let's do this thing.
But let's also be kind to myself about it, all right?
So when I browsed Whole Food's bulk section for dried fruits, I prioritized stuff that didn't need chopping up. I got raisins, both golden and Thompson. I got currants. I got blueberries, sour cherries, and cranberries. The only things I got that needed chopping up were the dates and the prunes. Why prunes? Prunes are tasty. Also they are easier to chop up than dried figs.
Then I forgot about "be kind to myself" long enough to pick up a Buddha's Hand Citron and make plans to candy it. Which I finally got around to doing last night.
Want to play along at home? Here's the recipe I used.
So his ingredients list includes weights for everything except the citrons themselves. Two citrons, the recipe calls for. But in the introductory blurb, the author refers to "one 8 ounce (240g) fresh citron", so I assumed the recipe called for 480 grams of chopped up citron. I also assumed from "cut them up into 1/2-inch cubes" that including the pith of the citron was OK. Thank goodness. I hadn't been looking forward to carefully peeling the zest off a fruit so inconveniently shaped for applying a peeler. I wound up with about 375 grams of citron and adjusted the other two ingredient quantities accordingly.
The bit where you're supposed to "blanch the citron pieces in barely simmering water for 30 to 40 minutes, until translucent" was a lie. Some 75% of the fruit was nicely transparent by minute 45; the remaining 25% only got part of the way there over an additional 45 minutes. This seems extreme even given how widely my citron pieces varied from the prescribed 1/2" cube. The next step took forever too. You'd think at a high altitude it would take less time to boil off sufficient water to result in 230-degree syrup, but my candy thermometer didn't reach the magic number for at least an hour. It was 1:00 am by then, so instead of leaving the citron to sit in the syrup for an hour and then straining it, I left it to soak overnight. I went to bed.
In the morning, the pot contained a block of something that was too soft to be called "citron brittle" but certainly too solid to pour. So I stuck that pot inside another pot to heat it in a water bath until it did pour. I poured it into a strainer and left it there as I went about my morning. When I came back, what remained in the strainer was more or less one solid mass again, so I rinsed it with boiling water (I'd have to rinse it for the fruitcake recipe anyway) until I had individual pieces which I could scatter on parchment paper to dry.
This was not what was meant by "being kind to myself." But I've been snacking on candied citron all morning, which is by no means a bad thing. And I'm kind of eager to do it again, knowing what I know now. For instance:
- The recipe told me to use the coarsest sugar I could find. The coarsest I had on hand was raw turbinado, which has a molasses component that I probably could have done without. This made the syrup much darker than in the recipe's photos. It also probably made it stickier.
- I'd probably skip step 4 and proceed directly from "we have reached 230 degrees" to "Strain."
- I might try doing it with just the zest. I'd hate to lose the slight bitter note from the pith which compliments the sweetness so well, but it might make blanching the fruit take a lot less time.
- The reason I did this at all was Whole Foods being out of candied ginger when I went fruitcake shopping. Maybe next year I'll candy my own ginger. I'll be able to cut fresh ginger into the long, thin shapes I prefer, rather than trying to cut up already candied ginger cubes. Fresh ginger is much easier than sticky candied ginger is to cut.
- And I'll darn well start earlier than 9:30 at night!
So now all that remains is to actually bake the fruitcake later this afternoon or evening. That's the easy part.
As for Winter Solstice itself, while I'm not going to announce to every social circle that I'm holding party space open all night long, I'm still going to hold vigil, keeping a fire lit the whole night through and waiting for the return of the sun. That part of the ritual is my own personal Pagan religious observation. I'll always do that, party or no party. And I'll probably still cook all the things I usually cook, because when else do I get to drink home-made eggnog and eat medieval midwinter pie?
And I'll probably spend a good part of the night writing like it's the first few hours of NaNoWriMo. Or the last. If any friends in the area want to join me in writing or crafting, or reading stories aloud, or reciting poetry, or other such quiet celebrations of creativity, my door will be open to you from sundown on Saturday night to sunrise on Saturday morning.
And the fruitcake won't really be ready by then, but we can give it a taste.