Do not tarry – get your festive fruitcake ripe and ready

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SINCE receiving – and feeding – my first festive fruitcake from chef Mynhardt Joubert, it’s become an annual family tradition. They really are the best. Here is Mynhardt’s personal message, his tips, and The Recipe.

“The act of giving is in my DNA, making Christmas my favourite time of the year. It makes sharing the story behind my Free State fruitcake extra special.

“It’s the fifth year that this festive cake has been at the heart of my mission to give back to my community. Looking through the lens of Covid-19 has sharpened my focus on children and older people, the most vulnerable in our society. The two charities to benefit from the sale of the 1 200 homemade fruitcakes are:

* Butterfly House is an independent NGO with a community resource centre, bringing hope to children in the Drakenstein District. It offers a safe haven in a community devastated by unemployment and hunger, worsened by Covid-19. A feeding scheme offering nourishing meals for breakfast and lunch is one of many programmes making a difference.

* Huis Uitvlucht is an NGO in Montagu, a small town in the Little Karoo, providing a caring home for 81 frail elderly, many whose only income is the small monthly Sassa grant. The lives of the residents are enriched by theme days, outings and programmes such as the Granny Project, delivering toiletries and healthy snacks on a weekly basis.

“The project is supported by KWV, Sasko, Moir’s and Montagu Snacks, all much loved South African brands.

“As a child Christmas was never associated with expensive gifts. My parents made it special in other ways, like the time my dad piled us all in his old blue VW Kombi for a trip to the mountains to pick a tree. I still remember the scent of eucalyptus and pine leaves. My passion for this traditional bake was rekindled when my sister Marné sent me one in a beautiful old cake tin, all the way from Bethlehem in the Free State. I took inspiration from a friend’s heirloom recipe, adjusting it to reflect my love for good brandy, brown sugar, dates and abundance.

“We started baking our fruitcakes in early October already, the festive aromas of butter and cinnamon reaching every nook and cranny of my KWV Cathedral Cellar Kitchen in Paarl. It’s a team effort with Vytjie (Corleen) McGee fully in command, measuring, mixing and lining her pans. Her husband Dawid Opperman lends a hand as Vytjie is too short to reach everything. Marita Pieterse takes care of the wrapping and prettifying, while Frikkie Janse van Rensburg and Cedrick Moubima handle the logistics. Jasmine Fransman, lovingly known as Sponsie, does the quality control and keeps things going at my Station Street Kitchen.

“The packaging of the fruitcake reflects the return to the handmade and the beauty of simplicity. Theresa De Vries, my friend from a farm in Namaqualand, crocheted the sand-coloured stars all by hand, adding a homemade touch. The recyclable gift packaging is rounded off with natural rope and a cinnamon quill.”

Chef Mynhardt

The Free State fruitcake sells at R395 (excluding delivery/courier), and weighs in at a hefty 1,8 kg. It comes in beautiful packaging, and can be ordered online, email [email protected], or Whatsapp 078 800 5155. It’s also sold at the Freedom Weekend Market in Paarl and the Simondium Ideas Market.

This year, Chef Mynhardt is launching Eating From The Krismisboks, a full-on Christmas menu for the festive table which can be ordered in advance from his Station Street Kitchen, for home delivery in the Cape, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.

RECIPE

Bake the fruitcake at least a month in advance for the flavours to develop. It makes 1 x 25 cm cake.

Ingredients

250 ml water

310 ml soft brown sugar

1 kg Montagu fruit cake mix (dried fruit and nuts)

250 g Montagu dates, chopped

250 g golden sultanas, chopped

250 g Montagu cashew and macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

7 ml Moir’s baking soda

250 g butter

100 g Moir’s whole red glacé cherries

100 g Moir’s whole green glacé cherries

5 eggs beaten

20 ml vanilla extract

125 ml KWV Brandy, plus extra for sprinkling

625 ml Sasko self-raising flour

5 ml salt

5 ml ground cinnamon

Method

Preheat the oven to 120 °C with oven rack in the middle. Butter a deep 25 cm cake pan.

Line the pan with 3 layers of baking paper and butter the inside again.

Add the first 8 ingredients to a large saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool.

Add the red and green glacé cherries.

In a separate bowl combine the eggs, vanilla and brandy, then add it to the cooled fruit mixture. Add the flour, salt and cinnamon, mix well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for 2 hours. It’s done if a test skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean (it can be moist, but not doughy).

Let the cake cool in the pan and turn it out on a cooling rack. Sprinkle the cake with brandy and place in an airtight container. Store in a cool, dry place.

Brush the cake liberally with brandy once a week to keep it moist and deepen the flavours.

Only the best brandy for the best fruitcake

Mynhardt’s fruitcake tips:

* Keep the cherries whole. It’s a lovely sensation when you bite on it and it pops. It’s also a nestling place for the brandy.

* Go slow with the spices as it can easily overpower the other ingredients. Stick to warm, welcoming cinnamon.

* Take your time with the baking; ovens differ, so don’t rush it. With the fruit’s higher sugar content, the oven temperature shouldn’t exceed 120 °C. A bowl of water on the oven floor will protect the cake from burning or drying out.

* Should a testing skewer still come out doughy, bake for a further 10 minutes and test again.

* If it browns too quickly, lightly cover with baking paper or tin foil.

* Make the recipe your own; add your favourite nuts or green fig preserve. A beautifully wrapped fruitcake makes for the best gift ever, the homemade touches make people feel special.

Ripening and storing fruitcake:

* As with wine, aging adds extra magic. Fruitcake ripens over time, improving the taste and texture; you don’t have to faff about it, as long as it’s well-wrapped and dosed with brandy or dessert wine now and then.

* If you don’t get round to baking it in advance, it’s perfectly okay to do so a day or two before and serve it fresh.

* To keep it moist, wrap in baking paper, then in clingwrap and place in air-tight container in a dry place, away from direct light. It will last and last.

* Rather not wrap it directly in foil as the fruit acids can react with it.

* Fruitcake freezes very well. Keep in mind that the flavours won’t develop when frozen, so rather ripen beforehand.

NEW WAYS TO ENJOY TRADITIONAL FRUITCAKE

* Create a colourful canvas with small bites of fruitcake, surrounded by bowls of flavoured cream, vanilla custard, extra nuts, preserved ginger and fresh berries. Your guests can mix and match to their taste, and by keeping the portions small, they can come back for more.

* Cover fruitcake in a layer of Italian meringue to create a feeling of snow.

* Combine the cheese course with dessert: cut the fruitcake in dainty slices and serve alongside matured gorgonzola, dark chocolate, slivers of ‘makataan-konfyt’ (preserved water melon rind) and blueberries.

WHAT TO DRINK WITH FRUITCAKE

* The occasion calls for a festive espresso martini or chilled sweet wine on crushed ice and jazzy Christmas sounds from the 1950s. Also very good with pot still brandy.

* Save some fruitcake for winter to enjoy with strongly brewed rooibos in front of the fireplace.

WHEN THERE’S SOME LEFT OVER

* Fruitcake makes the best cassata. Simply add leftover crumbs to ice cream with some extra nuts and cherries. Serve with the classic brandy and butter caramel sauce.

* Form the leftovers into fruitcake truffles or cake pops.

WHAT TO LISTEN TO

* I cook to the jazzy Christmas tunes from the American cocktail-era of the 1950s.

* My playlist also features music from The Nutcracker Suite. It transports me back to St Petersburg where I attended the ballet performance. The Russian snowscape outside the theatre and Christmas lights were dreamlike.

For more information, click here.

Follow Mynhardt on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram: @mynhardtj #mynhardtchristmas

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