Tending my Christmas fruitcake brings a quiet, slow decadence this winter - Laura Waddell

It’s two months, more or less, ’til Christmas Day, and I am embarking on a project that shall last for the duration. My first fruitcake.

So much pleasure is in the anticipation, whether food, or any other desire. What could be a more decadent way to while away the wait for a cake’s first bite than by saturating it with brandy once per week?

I choose a recipe from Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz, a modern baking book that has never failed me. She has Americanised a traditional British recipe: “dark brown sugar for muscovado, molasses for black treacle, fresh citrus zest instead of candied peel.” I un-Americanise it back half-way, putting my foot down about the treacle, but am glad to update from chewy rind.At this point in my life, re-establishing solid footing after pandemic-era upheaval and change, I am conscious of building traditions, that what I do new these days might stick. I am reaffirming my likes and dislikes. I resist the temptation to sub in more familiar walnuts, which I’ve always seen as the king of nuts, the delicate prize of any mixed selection. But I shall give Saffitz’s cheery cranberries and snowball white macadamias a go.

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After a WhatsApp consultation with a friend who knows boozy desserts, Rachel McCormack, handily, a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet and author of whisky book Chasing the Dram, I fine tune my plans. She tells me, “The thing about the soaked fruit is it’s so heavy, it sinks. What you do is strain it and let it dry a bit, add the liquid to the mix then cover the fruit in flour, sieve and you’ll have fruit throughout the cake.” Equipped with this top tip, I am ready to go.

The baking is easy. Low and slow, the syrupy smell of dried fruit escapes from my unreliable rented oven and winds its sweet tendrils around the house, while outside it drizzles and I light tealight candles on the windowsill to prevent the October gloom crossing the threshold.

Coaxed out of its tin, the dark, soft, surprisingly heavy puck of a cake is then wrapped in parchment paper, foil, and finally shut in a tightly closed tin. It shall spend its resting time in a low cupboard, waiting for its weekly libation. From this cool, dry storage place I shall hear the evocation ‘feed me’ and uncork, with a heady pop, the bottle of brandy. On colder nights, I anticipate a ratio of one for the fruitcake, and one for me. One toast to its personal development; another its inner fortitude.

There is comfort in knowing that, once a week for the next eight weeks, no matter what disruption happens outside, I will have a quiet routine feeding this little cherry, currant, apricot, ginger and sultana stuffed beast. I have gifted myself the meditative ritual of popping open the tin, unwrapping layers of brown paper, the woozy waft of fruit and brandy greeting my nose. The harmony of retracing my movements, rewrapping, waiting a little longer. The satisfying equation of getting out of it what I put in, which isn’t how much of life feels these days. At the end, something to look forward to.

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