Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Yes Virginia, You Can Improve On A Family Favorite

I was a week late in making these, and frankly almost didn't make them at all this year. But you know what? If I didn't make them, it would plague me all year. I may not feel it until next December, but it would be there in the back of my noggin, naggin' at me all subconscious-like the whole time. And who needs that? Not me. Been there, done that, didn't like it one bit. Traditions can anchor you. But in a good way. It doesn't mean that there isn't room for new traditions*, just don't throw out the old favorites while you're doing it. Another way to mix things up is to update an old family fav. Tweak with tradition just a bit. See where it takes you.

After last year's bake-a-thon, I stood up and said no to the the green dye** and stated that I would never make our favorite gaudy, gooey fruited, artificial color-laden fruitcake cookies the same way ever again. Only about three people really care about these cookies enough to have expressed any concern over my statement so it's not like I was risking the wrath of thousands or anything. But still, these cookies have been made the same way in my family for as long as I can remember. We never changed a thing. Not ever. Well, aside from the type of booze to use, or whether to replace a pound of the candied pineapple with a pound of the candied citron or not.
This year I went out on a major limb (family tradition-wise) by turning my back on those vibrant sticky fruits and opting for... wait for it... dried fruits instead. I know. You need a minute to recover. Me too. It's a big step for a girl from a change-resistant family. But I realized not too very long ago that I actually don't hate change. I relish it. I crave it. Don't get me wrong, I don't want it 24/7 or anything, but in general... yeah, bring it on. Change means there's the possibility of better. Like Bill Murray said in the movie Groundhog Day after living the same day over and over and over, "Anything different is good...". To not change means stagnation. And nothing good ever comes from that.

So for better or not... I did it. I stepped off the green cherry carousel and am offering up to those few fruitcake-loving family members...

The ALL NEW Fruitcake Cookies
adapted from my family's favorite recipe (originally by a nice lady named Virginia)

1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1 stick butter
4 eggs
3 Tblsp milk
1 cup bourbon
4 cups flour, divided
3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg & cloves
1 lb dried cherries
1 lb dried apricots, roughly cut up
1 lb dried pineapple
1 lb dark raisins
1 lb golden raisins
6 cups broken pecans

Beat together the brown sugar, eggs, milk and butter until very creamy, then stir in the bourbon. Sift together 3 cups of the flour, spices and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix until combined. In your largest bowl, thoroughly coat the fruits and nuts with the remaining 1-cup of flour. Pour batter over fruits and mix until fruits are well covered (can be difficult, enlist help if needed). Drop by teaspoonful on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 275° for about 20 minutes, or until nice medium golden brown. Cookies will be very soft at first. Let them cool on the pan for 15 minutes or so before moving them to racks to finish cooling.

Notes: For best flavor, these need to be made as early as possible. I always shoot for the weekend after Thanksgiving but as long as I get them done by Dec. 1st, I'm pretty happy. Makes approximately 8 dozen cookies (yes, you read that right... almost 100 cookies). With the glacéed fruit I could count on 10 dozen or more. I chalk the difference up to the plumpness of the glacé cherries and pineapple. Maybe next year I'll try re-hydrating the dried fruit first. For uniform sized cookies, bake in greased mini-muffin tins. A small cookie scoop works great for keeping them the same size regardless of which pan you go with. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.

Notes From My Mom: If giving as gifts or for a nicer presentation, line the mini-muffin tins with festive paper cups before baking. 

*Have you ever read the original newspaper editorial from 1897 that's come to be known by one of it's famous lines: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause? It's a wonderful piece of writing that reminds us to hold things like faith and wonder close to our heart no matter what our age. Reading it each December has become a part of many people's Christmas traditions, including my own. 

**Some use a green dye but some blend blue dye with yellow dye to attain that brilliant festive green. Here is a typical list of ingredients for the green glacéed globs: Cherries, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavor, FD&C Blue #1, FD&C Yellow #5. Preserved with Potassium Sorbate, Benzoate of Soda, Sulphur Dioxide.
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  1. Well, I guess I know what I'm getting for Christmas now!

    I used to think I didn't like change, but I must since I can't or won't follow a recipe and have to change it before ever making it for the 1st time. "TRADITION" cough cough...gotta love it...still.

  2. Yep, Merry Christmas... You're just gonna have to act surprised! :)


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