The Christmas season has sped by. There’s been snow, Bach, thin crust pizza, tapas, pear tarts, Jimmy Stewart, butter cookies and the annual office holiday party at mega decibels. And, now Christmas Eve, and lots to prepare.
This Christmas Cake is indeed “the dreaded” fruitcake. I’m taking quite a gamble serving this for dessert for Christmas Eve dinner, given the sullied reputation of fruitcake, but it is a “Martha” cake, so as my pal Puck puts it, “How bad can it be, really?” It is indeed the very model of a modern Christmas Fruitcake, with dried pears, dried apples, candied ginger, pineapple and lemon zest, soaked in Armagnac.
The English enjoy a grand tradition of Christmas Cake that came to pass in the late 19th century – iced fruitcakes that are decorated with holly or snow scenes. Some cakes are started months in advance and fed with brandy. Mine’s a tad younger, but hopefully not too callow.
This “Snowcapped Fruitcake” is robed in fondant, and Puck says she’s afraid of fondant. Well, fondant is my friend, but Royal Icing is a royal pain. I ended up skipping the final piping on the snowflakes – the icing was stiff and my piping form is not up to snuff.
Still it was the addition of Armagnac – a brandy made from wine in the region of Gascony – to the dried fruits that intrigued me. I’d never tasted it, and I figured if Martha called for Armagnac, there must have been a good reason. So, short on time as usual, I drop into the liquor store in Penn Station at 8 a.m. and ask for a bottle of Armagnac. The proprietor says, “This is a very nice bottle.”
I say, “I’m baking with it. It doesn’t have to be that nice.” But, it’s the only one he has, so I take it, pay the hefty price tag and head on to work.
Later I learn that Armagnac is matured in oak, and there are various labels indicating the age. XXX means three years old, VO means from 5 to 10 years, and VSOP means up to 15 years. I decide to check my label (after I’ve used 1 and 1/3 cups for the cake). The label says, “Hors d’Age” which means that the brandy has aged at least 25 years!
This better be one magical cake, Martha! Ah, well, Armagnac is also good for sipping while one is blogging …
For now, the entire family is gathered, from the oldest (80 years old) to the youngest (8 months old). The stockings are filled, the champagne is on ice and the lasagna will shortly go into a piping hot oven.
As that Jolly Old Elf adorned in red is known to say, “Happy Christmas To All, and To All a Good Night!”
©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved
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