Fruitcakes don't have to be a cliche. They can -- get this -- actually be good.
That's Signe Gardo's take on it. The Hilton Head Island owner of Signe's Heaven Bound Bakery and Cafe got back into the fruitcake business this Christmas. Her quest: to put her twist on the holiday staple. (But you'll have to be patient to try Signe's delicacies. The bakery is closed until Tuesday.)
Signe discusses how a fruitcake can become a holiday surprise.
Question. So this is the first time in a while you've tried to make a fruitcake?
Answer. It's the first time in 10 years. We used to make a whole bunch of them.
Q. Why get rid of them?
A. We, number one, made way too many of them. We had this ballast for ships. We had a chocolate raspberry one, a Grand Marnier one, one with Maker's Mark bourbon. At that point I had access to sample booze. They weren't the same kind of cakes the Claxton Fruit Cakes (from Georgia) are. They were cake batter with a lot of fruit, but not like the candied fruit. We used dried fruit. The fruit was soaked in the booze.
People since then have changed their perception of fruitcake. Just recently we had someone ask for a English fruitcake for a wedding. I said, "I'll make some, but I'll make it so it isn't scary." Well, I wrote a little cookbook from about the time I was 8 to 12. I would write recipes. And I had a fruitcake recipe. I did a lot of research (for the new fruitcake), but I went back to my old recipe.
This year what I decided to do is make a little one and bake it in a basket so it's all ready to go. We called it "Tootsie Frootsie The Not So Fruity Fruit Cake." It's got figs, apricots, pineapples and pistachios and a tiny bit of chocolate. It's in a rich cream cheese poundcake base. So you can give it as a joke, but the person who gets it will be surprised because it's good.
Q. Do fruitcakes get a bad name?
A. The ones that are in the square bar in the grocery store piled high, those don't look like anything special. I see a lot that have coconut and condensed milk, and I try to make mine cakier.
I saw a movie where they put it in a catapult (laughs). Fruitcake does not have to be a weapon. But some fruitcakes can be dangerous.
Q. Did you have fun putting together the recipe?
A. Yeah. That's fun that you can use something that you started as a kid and it still works.
Q. A fruitcake that's years in the making.
A. Fruitcake is like gumbo -- it's very personal. Fruitcake can be ominous when you first start to think about it. And it depends on where you come from. I come from the north, so I had never heard of Claxton. You got the English fruitcake, and it cost a bit, but it was good.