Wednesday, December 5, 2012

(Peated) Whisk(e)y Nut Fruitcake

Three months ago, the most I knew about whisky was, basically, Bourbon.  Back in the early noughty's, a friend introduced me to Maker's and Sprite.  It quickly became my go-to mixed drink.  Although, when I think back, my grandpa has always drinken (drank? drunk?) Seven & Seven's... and really... isn't that basically the same thing?  Of course, Seagram's Seven is not Bourbon, it is simply whisky.

Uuuuhhh...  Soooo...  Yeah.  That was about the extent of my whisky knowledge.

And then I took my very first ride in an airplane.  Ever.  It was over the Atlantic.  I'm pretty much the luckiest girl ever because: #1. Aer Lingus Business Class is the bomb.  And I am ruined for Coach from here on out (...several days later, I did take a short coach flight from Glasgow to Dublin.  Ruined, ruined I tell you.).  #2.  Looking out over the patchwork quilt of green in every shade imaginable (that would be Ireland, arriving at Dublin) is one of the most beautiful sites in the universe.

I was about to embark on a journey of whiskey.  And also of whisky.  Because, while I was starting my Whiskey Distillery tour in Ireland, I was continuing it in Scotland.  The Irish spell it "whiskey".  The Scottish spell it "whisky".  See there?  I'd already added to my whisky repertoire, and my tour hadn't even officially begun.
Fast forward to my second full day in Ireland.  Even though I was only on my third distillery, I felt like I'd tried hundreds of different types of whiskey.  In reality, it was probably more like ten.  But when you start at ten in the morning, things multiply.  Anyway.  Aside from the hundreds I'd tried at the first two distillery stops, I'd tried at least half that at the third.

But then, something happened.  Something unexpected.  As I raised another tasting glass of gold liquid to my lips, I smelled something.  Other than the sweet notes of whiskey.  It smelled smoky.  It smelled like Christmas.  And then I took a sip.  It was Connemara, and it was my first experience with peated whisk(e)y.  At first, I wasn't really sure what to think of it.  I kept touching it to my lips... tracing my tongue slowly over the slick of smoky sweetness that it left.  I knew immediately that I would be using this in a recipe.  Or five.

I said as much to one of the girls on the trip with me.  She whispered that it would be great in fruitcake.  Fruitcake!  Genius.

Little did I realize, that peated whiskies aren't the norm in Ireland.  Peating is actually more  characteristic of Scotch whiskies, as I would discover a couple of days later when I settled in to the island of Islay in Scotland.  An island where the smell of peat smoke magically clings to every nook and cranny.  Now, in short, peat is basically decayed vegetation.  In it lies the Scottish equivalent of "terroir".  In Scotland, there is moss, heather, grass, shrubs, and all other sorts of local vegetation that makes its way into this partially carbonized substance that is formed in marshes and bogs, as it forms in cold, wet, acidic areas.

The four distilleries that I toured while on Islay all had heavily peated whisky.  The way they get that peat smoke to permeate the liquid is by spreading out the germinating barley on a large, perforated floor set over a kiln that is burning peat.  They close the door on the room, and the smoke comes up through the floor and winds its way up, around, and through those grains of barley.  The peated barley is then allowed to dry before moving on to the milling, mashing, fermenting, and distilling.
Now, this is just a tiny glimpse into what I learned about whiskey.  And about whisky.  Being on an island where so much peating is going on just puts you in the mood for drinks around a peat fire.  And yes, fruitcake.  At least it put me in the mood.  There was no getting it out of my head after that first mention.   And thank goodness!  Because, while I never fell onto either side of the love vs. hate in the fruicake wars, I know fall firmly on the love-side.  But only if said fruitcake is made with peated whisk(e)y.  I mean, first of all, the fruit is soaked in it overnight.  Smoky addition number one.  And then, peated whisk(e)y is brushed onto the cake and left to seep down into its golden goodness... once a week, for a month.

The result?  A golden cake that is studded with bits of nuts and fruit with a moist, sticky layer of booze-soaked cake on the outside.  A hint of peaty smoke infuses each glorious bite. Sigh.  If I close my eyes, I'm back in Scotland.  And maybe even Ireland (since that is where peat smoke and I were first introduced).

Whisk(e)y Nut Fruitcake

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 15 minutes + up to 4 weeks (basically unattended)
Cook Time: 60 minutes - 1 hour 30 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert alcohol nuts whisk(e)y dried fruit Christmas cake winter

Ingredients (varies - see notes)
  • ~6 c. mixed, dried fruit & candied citrus peel (golden raisins, purple raisins, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, apricots, pineapple, mango, lemon peel, orange peel, citron, etc.), larger pieces diced
  • ¾ c. Peated Whisk(e)y + more for brushing
  • 1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature + more for greasing pans
  • 1¾ c. granulated sugar
  • ¼ c. light corn syrup or golden syrup
  • ⅛ tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ⅛ tsp. rose water
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3¾ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. roughly chopped (or whole, if smallish) nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, pinenuts, hazelnuts, etc.)
Instructions
Combine all of the fruits and candied citrus peels in a bowl and sprinkle the peated whisk(e)y over them. Toss a few times. Cover and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Lightly grease your loaf pans and set them on a baking tray. Stir together the flour, baking powder, sea salt, and nutmeg; set aside.

Place butter, sugar, corn syrup, rose water, and vanilla in a large bowl and beat well. Beat in the eggs one at time. Beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.

Fold in the reserved fruit with all the liquid and the nuts.
Spoon batter into prepared pans, filling them about three quarters of the way full.

Slide entire tray into preheated oven (or larger pans without the tray, if you wish) and bake until the cakes are just tinged with golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the cakes come out clean.

Approximate baking times (since ovens and pan-types vary, please start checking doneness for the larger loaves early, especially if they are starting to smell done): Start checking after ~60 minutes, but depending on size of your pans, could take up to 1½ hours.

Once removed from oven, sprinkle or brush each cake with a little more of the peated whisk(e)y while they are still warm. Set on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
Tip the cakes out of their pans (or leave in if using paper pans for gift giving) and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Set on a tray and refrigerate for 4 weeks, unwrapping and sprinkling or brushing with a bit more of the peated whisk(e)y once each week. After the four weeks have passed, they are ready to eat or give as gifts.

Re-wrap in clean plastic wrap, parchment, or wax paper. If you like, wrap individual loaves in colored cello paper before giving away.

notes:
Generally, when I think of peated whiskies, I think of the type I grew so fond of while visiting the island of Islay in Scotland where peat smoke clung to the air itself (Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bowmore). The hint of rose water in this recipe is reminiscent of the purplish-pink heather that you could see coloring the landscape in Islay, which compliments the smoky, peated whisky so perfectly. That being said, there are also some nice, peated Irish Whiskies that you could use, like Connemara (which I used in these loaves).

Yields for Different Sizes of Pans:
10 (4"x2"x2") mini loaves / 5 (5 3/4"x 3 1/4"x2") small loaves / 2 standard loaves / 1 large (10") round cake pan
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Welcome to day #3 of Christmas Week, a multi-blogger event co-hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Jen of Juanita’s Cocina. Today’s theme for Christmas Week is “Christmas Cakes and Cupcakes”. Make sure you visit all the participating bloggers today to see what special dish they whipped up for you.