Hazelnut Holiday Cakes With Figs and Ginger

2 cups dried figs, quartered
1 1/2 cups chopped, roasted and skinned hazelnuts
3/4 cup (about 4 ounces) coarsely chopped crystallized ginger (available in well-stocked bulk-food sections and Asian markets)
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup bourbon or rum
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature

In a large bowl, combine the figs, hazelnuts, crystallized ginger, raisins, currants, bourbon or rum, orange peel and lemon peel. Let stand for at least 2 hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Position a baking rack in center of oven and preheat to 275 F. Generously butter four (5 1/2-by-3-by-2-inch) loaf pans. Line bottoms with waxed paper. Butter papers, then dust with flour, tapping out excess.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice and cloves into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in dry ingredients, then fruit and nuts with soaking liquid.

Divide batter among prepared pans; smooth tops. Set pans on a baking sheet and bake until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes then unmold and cool completely on racks. Wrap tightly in plastic, then in foil. Let mellow for 5 days before serving (or giving). Will improve and mellow over time, keeping up to 2 weeks if tightly wrapped and stored at cool room temperature. Or freeze for several months.

Makes 4 small loaves.


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