Fruitcake isn’t for everyone, even if you like all the individual components that go into a batch of the dense, spicy holiday cake. It’s heavy and filling – something that you don’t want after a big holiday meal. My solution to the problem is a batch of fruitcake friands. These are definitely not your typical fruit cakes. While they do have dried fruit and a bit of brandy in them, they are soft and tender, with a warm nutty flavor to them. They’re also bite-sized, baked in mini muffin tins, so they aren’t heavy and you can simply pop one or two into your mouth to get a taste of something sweet after even the biggest meal.
Friands are similar to financiers, small cakes made with quite a bit of ground almonds for flavor and texture. Ground almonds, as well as some flour, make up the moist, rich base of these cakes. They usually have some form of fruit in them, and the fruit nut combination makes the ideal starting point for a riff on fruitcake. I left out the spices that you might find in a more traditional fruitcake so that you could easily taste the nuttiness of the almonds in the finished friands. You can also taste the brandied fruits very well this way.
To infuse brandy into the dried cherries, cranberries and raisins, combine the dried fruits in a microwave-safe bowl with brandy. Microwave on high for about a minute, then let the mixture sit as it comes to room temperature. The dried fruits soak up the brandy and become plump and even more flavorful. Cranberry juice or apple juice could be used as a non-alcoholic substitute. For a traditional touch, splash the cakes with a bit of extra brandy as they come out of the oven to really emphasize the brandy flavor and give them some of that extra moistness (from brandy or other liquor) that is typical of other fruitcakes.
Who knows – these might just become a new holiday staple in some households. And I mean that they’ll become a staple on the dessert tray, not that they’ll replace a heavy, old fashioned fruitcake as a keepsake (or a doorstop).
Brandied Fruitcake Friands
1 1/4 cups dried fruit, equal mix of cranberries, raisins and cherries
1/4 cup brandy
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup almond meal (ground almonds)
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
4 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped pecans
extra brandy, for finishing (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Line mini muffin tins with paper liners.
In a small, microwave-safe bowl, combine dried fruit (equal parts cranberries, raisin and cherries) with brandy. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on high for 1 minute. Let stand, covered, until mixture comes to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar, flour and almond meal. Add in melted butter, egg whites and vanilla. Mix until well-combined. Stir in brandy and fruit mixture, as well as chopped pecans.
Divide evenly into prepared mini muffin cups. Batter will make about 30 mini muffins. It can stand in the bowl while one batch bakes if you don’t have enough mini muffin tins to bake the whole batch at once.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until cakes spring back when lightly pressed.
Let cool on a wire rack.
Optional: Pour about 2 tsp brandy on top of each friand when it comes out of the oven, then let cakes cool on a wire rack.
Makes 2 1/2 dozen mini fruitcakes.
Note: This recipe can be baked in a regular muffin pan. Each friand will need about 20 minutes in the oven in a full-sized muffin tin. The yield is 12 muffin-sized friands.