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Christmas Fruit Cake - December 16/17, 2006

For the Simple Syrup:
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 ½  tablespoons lemon zest, cut in strips
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the Cake:
½ pound mixed dried fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries, cherries, raisins, and chopped apricots
½ pound, (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 ounces almond paste
4 large eggs
½  cup Grand Marnier, or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
½ cup pecan pieces
½ cup walnut pieces
¼ cup bourbon

Make a simple-syrup by combining the sugar and water in a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the lemon zest and juice and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 2 minutes and remove from the heat.

Combine the dried fruits in a large mixing bowl. Pour the simple-syrup over them, toss to coat and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain and reserve the syrup.

Cream the butter, sugar and almond paste together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle at low speed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat until the mixture is fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, mixing in between each addition on low speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add ¼ cup of the Grand Marnier and mix to incorporate.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium-size mixing bowl and blend well. Add this mixture ½ cup at a time to the butter mixture with the mixer on low speed, each time mixing until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. The batter will be thick.

Add the warm fruit and all of the nuts a little at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease a bundt pan with butter or non-stick baking spray. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until golden brown and the top springs back when touched, about 45 to 50 minutes (turning the pan to ensure even browning after 30 minutes.)

Cool the cake for 20 minutes in the pan, then remove and continue to cool upside-down on wire racks.

Make tiny holes with a toothpick randomly on the rounded end of the cake. Combine the remaining simple syrup with the remaining ¼ cup of Grand Marnier and the bourbon. Wrap the cake in a layer of cheesecloth and pour ¼ cup of the syrup over the top of each cake. Store in a plastic zip bag for 3 or 4 days until the cake is slightly stale. Sprinkle syrup over cakes once every 2 to 3 days until all of the syrup is used. Let the cakes age for up to 3 weeks before eating.

For the Whiskey Sauce:
3 cups heavy cream
½  cup bourbon
½  cup granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine 2 ¾ cups of the cream with the bourbon and sugar in a medium-size nonstick saucepan over medium-heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining ¼ cup cream. Add this to the cream-and-bourbon mixture and simmer stirring often, until the mixture thickens, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm with the fruitcake.

The sauce may be stored, after it has cooled, in an airtight container for 24 hours. When ready to serve, warm over low heat.

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