Many years ago when I was at Nashoba Brook Bakery, I worked with a British pastry chef, Simon. Simon was the lone man in a sea of cackling women, a role that often weighed heavily on his narrow shoulders. The pastry kitchen at Nashoba was small, and there was no escaping the wrath so many women or our endless squawking. Fortunately for all of us, especially Simon, he was able to hang with the ladies and ended up added his own spice to the daily antics that tend to unfold in kitchen settings.
While some of my favorite memories of working with Simon are not always flattering or nice (i.e., watching him get clocked in the head with a chunk of frozen croissant dough and laughing so hard I forgot to ask if he was ok…I was really young back then and not so mature), I feel honored to have worked with him. He taught me so much, from how to make parchment cones, to the obvious superiority of British candy, to how to make a proper fruitcake for the holidays.
The entire process of making a proper fruitcake was surreal to this Jewish girl. It was truly a glimpse into a new world for me, and I loved every part of it. The cake took weeks of tender loving care – from weighing an absurd amount of dried fruit and soaking it for days in brandy, to finally mixing the batter, to brushing the cake with more brandy syrup once it was baked and eventually decorating it with thinly rolled marzipan and bright white royal icing. The end result was worth every minute – the cake was delicious.
Fruitcake is not for everyone. For reasons that remain unclear to me, I distinctly remember feeling embarrassed that I actually was from the camp of people who liked fruitcake. I pretended to not to be a fan while chiseling slivers of this treat throughout the day. Without fail, every December, I crave Simon’s fruitcake and longingly wish I had the recipe.
Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to reconnect with Simon over the past year or two and he was kind enough to share his fruitcake recipe with me. I have a friend who is British, and I wanted to make her a proper fruitcake for Christmas. Unfortunately, all I managed to do was discover what a real fruitcake I am.
I made my first proper fruitcake a few days before Christmas and brought it home with me to complete. I wanted to make sure it was as she remembered, and reached out to ask her how she wanted me to decorate and frost it. Anxious to get started, I didn’t wait to get her response. I covered it with marzipan and and fondant and was about to decorate it with royal icing when I received her response – while it’s traditionally covered with marzipan and royal icing, my daughter & I are allergic to nuts so we skip the marzipan.
Proper fruitcake #1 was a proper fruitcake failure. Angry at myself for diving in before I heard back from her, I was determined to make it again. More dried fruit, more brandy, this time, no marzipan.
I finished the cake this afternoon and wanted to post a picture on Instagram before I delivered it to her house. I was deep in hashtag land #formybritishfriend #aproperfruitcake #bakingathome etc, when I started typing #thistimenonuts . It was at that moment that my fingers froze and I realized I had managed to successfully accomplish a second proper fruitcake failure.
I was so focused on making the cake without the marzipan, I completely overlooked the fact that the cake batter contains a tiny amount of almond flour.
Damn fruitcake. You will not win.
Tail between my legs, I texted my friend to let her know that she will now be the lucky recipient of a very proper New Year’s Eve Fruitcake. For anyone who lives near me & who happens to 1. like fruitcake and 2. isn’t allergic to almonds, please let me know if you would like my second fruitcake failure.
I can drop it off at your house on my way to store to purchase more dried fruit.
Your friendly relentless baker