Marion Cunningham's Italian Fruitcake w/ Thyme & Figs

It's time to bake my annual holiday cake.

Last year it was this delicious ricotta orange cranberry cake, which everyone loved, but this year it's going to be some kind of dried fruit cake.

I don't care if you hate fruitcake.
I don't want to hear your problems.

I LOVE fruitcake.

You know I love dried fruits, and I love cake, so what's the issue?

I am sure you have your aunt's horrible holiday fruit cake story to share with us, so go ahead, we are listening.

This gorgeous recipe might change your mind, but hey, I love a mincemeat pie made with beef suet too.

Just a note before we bake:
to the anonymous commenter who is a fan of my mother's cooking, and thinks I am too harsh on Elayne, this story should make you happy.

One of the very few things my mother made well was a fruitcake.

She spent about $60, back in the day, on good dried fruits and booze, and wrapped this treasure in cheesecloth and tended to it better than she tended to her cats (whose photos she carried in her wallet, btw).

She would go into the dining room (where children were not allowed) every few days and add cognac to the package, and for 6 weeks she talked about how good this would be.

The anticipation was killing us.

Finally, we peasants were allowed a tiny sliver one holiday, and I fell in love with this so called "fruitcake".

OK, enough feel good stories about my childhood, let's make this beautiful cake.

I have been making this recipe since the '80's and forgot all about it.

This is Marion Cunningham's recipe, you know, the author of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, not Richie Cunningham's mother from Happy Days.

It is not a traditional fruitcake, but instead, made w/ polenta and thyme, soaked in Madeira.......and my beloved figs.....need I say more?

There is no soaking in liquor; tending to it for weeks; or a dried out brick.
This cake yields a not too sweet, moist interior with luscious Madeira soaked figs.

It freezes beautifully and is perfect for mailing, if you are the type of person who sends a fruitcake as a gift.
(I may become one).

The original recipe calls for pine nuts, but I use pistachios. Either or.
And if you don't have Madeira, then you can substitute a good port or dry Spanish sherry.

Happy baking.

Marion Cunningham's Italian Fruitcake w/ Thyme & Figs:

1 cup Calimyrna figs, chopped
1/2 cup of Madeira (a fortified wine from Madeira) or sherry
1 tsp dried or fresh thyme
1/2 cup of water
1 1/4 cups of cake flour (I used all purpose flour)
1/4 cup of yellow cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1/2 cup pine nuts or pistachios
confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease and flour a 9" springform pan.

Combine the water, Madeira, figs and thyme and simmer in a small saucepan for 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and strain, reserving 1/2 of the stewing liquid.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, corn meal and baking soda in a large bowl and sift together.

In another bowl, cream the butter, sugar and eggs and beat for a full minute until nice and fluffy.

Add in the dry ingredients in 2 parts alternately with the reserved fig liquid. Stir in the wet figs and nuts.

Spread into the prepared pan and bake 40-50 minutes.

Let the cake rest 5 minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

When fully cooled, dust with powdered sugar.
Gets better each day.

Aren't you excited about fruitcake now??????


Anonymous said…
I am still a little wary about fruitcake, but the idea of using cognac or Madeira thusly sounds fun, romantic! I love all the process - it's a kind of cooking that seems from another era. When I was in Italy, I ate a lot of cakes that were soaked in rum. I learned to love it.
Charlene said…
You are too funny Stacy! I love your stories about your family.

This cake looks so good, more like a fig cake! I will try it this weekend.

Thank you!
Bebe said…
My late Mother and Dad loved fruitcake. My aunt sent her homemade one from Wisconsin every year. The one Christmas treat that never had to be hidden from us kids to prevent its being devoured.

But a few years ago a fruitcake in the Southern Junior League Cookbook caught my eye and I was hooked on it. It has a more limited array of fruits than most traditional cakes. And it is unbelievably good.

I can't believe I just found it on the internet, but everything is on the internet:

Now I'll have to give your interesting cake a try.

Stacey Snacks said…

Thank you! Will have to try this Junior League recipe (so many good ones!).

xo Stacey
Anonymous said…
Absolutely NO surprise your mom can make something good.

After all, she made you!


Great story.
Anonymous said…
Stacey, I love fruitcake and so did my mother; any kind, even the kind that comes in gift baskets or on shelves in the supermarket. Because it's so rich and heavy, it forces you to take little bites, and pairs deliciously with a good cup of tea. I have been searching for a special recipe for months....and, finally, here it is. I will definitely make this cake and report the reactions of family and friends who are usually loathe to try my baking attempts. Thanks Angela Muller
Bebe said…
About that Southern fruit cake, I wrapped it in bourbon-soaked cheesecloth, then in foil, and then a plastic bread bag, and kept replenishing the bourbon on the cheesecloth. Absolutely delectable!

I do remember that the advice that it might have to be mixed in a roasting pan was very good. This batter is big and heavy and sticky. I used my clean hands to mix in the fruits and nuts. Messy but worth it.

Thin slices. Some wonderful tea. Or coffee. Or sherry. Or..... (also not bad while standing over the sink early in the AM or late at night - just checking to be sure it's still OK. Right? :) )
Ciao Chow Linda said…
I don't know what happened to my first comment, but here's hoping this one goes. I think your fruitcake should not even be in the same breath as those hardened, artificially-colored cherry-laden things that are sold each year. Who buys them? Or more importantly, who eats those things? Your concoction sounds wonderful, and very similar to one I make from an Italian cookbook I have, using dried figs, raisins and apricots. The madeira idea is terrific. By the way, how does your mom feel about these stories you tell of her?
Portia825 said…
I would love to make this. I often made the more traditional fruitcakes as gifts. (Perhaps they are still stopping doors in Pennsylvania.). But now I need dairy-free cakes. Could this be made with olive oil? If so, in what amount? Or would I need a healthful margarine like Earth Balance? Thanks.
Stacey Snacks said…
I am sure olive oil would work here, however, I am not sure about the amount. I would guess 1/2 cup is good, which is usually what I use for most of my o.o. cakes.

Give it a try and let me know!
Anonymous said…
Yes, I was thinking that this year I should definitely give fruit cake a go...your recipe is inspiring. :)
Annie the Cook said…
Hi Stacey
So didn't the children even get to EAT in the dining room? Sounds very upper class English!!
Stacey Snacks said…
Annie. The kids got to eat in the dining room on holidays only. It was very formal!
Anonymous said…
Looks so good. Making it right now, but you don't list the amount of sugar. I think I'll use 1/2 cup. Everything else is ready to go.

I love all your recipes!
Stacey Snacks said…
Anon! I am so sorry! 3/4 cup sugar (1/2 cup will be fine). Just added to ingredients list. I'm a bad recipe writer!