Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Nine: Black with Fruit

My husband has an uncle who insists that fruitcake is a very civilized pleasure and the best way to go about eating it is in the evening along with a glass of sherry.  He’s probably right about that. (He tends to be right about everything else.)  I expect most of us could get through fruitcake with a good sherry, although I’m not sayin’ how much sherry it might take to get it down.

Are there a lot of good fruitcake recipes out there?  Do people really eat it?  I used to wonder as a child because half the ladies of my father’s parish would try their hands at fruitcake and as children, we always felt that the essential business of prizing the green cherries and candied orange peal out, left a sad, barely adequate scaffolding of cake behind, certainly not enough to satisfy us, although the ladies had poured a lot of expensive ingredients in there.

I’ve never come across the smell of fruitcake since. It’s not like I’m looking for it either, but there is something about all that fruitiness, and all that butter and all that sugar and all that rum or whatever it is that goes into fruitcake, that makes for a pleasantly crowded cake pan of a scent. It’s dense, it’s rich, it’s full of half tasted flavors…the closest equivalent I can come up with is By Killian’s Back to Black.

Now I know that I’m not supposed to have this association at all.  Instead I’m supposed to think of  Amy Winehouse, and her song “Back to Black”, but I’d submit that if you have a taste for anything which is just a little perverse, just a little acquired, you’ll have a taste for fruitcake as well as Amy Winehouse.

Looking at the notes I certainly see why it reminded me of fruitcake.  It’s similarly full of ingredients: cherries and raspberries, saffron, cardamom, honey, vanilla, tobacco, labdanum, amber, geranium, bergamot, coriander and a touch of nutmeg and gingerbread.  This stuff is foody, alright. You have to like sophisticated density and sweetness. There are a lot of passing impressions you get as you smell this, sort of like the same passing impressions you get when eating fruitcake: that was the honey, that was the ginger and nutmeg, there’s a preserved cherry in there, and some citrus, and surely  vanilla that just floated past in close association with cardamom? If you like that sort of mélange, a crowded house of flavors, you will like Back to Black.

Now for the Christmassy aspect – Yes, well, not everyone cottons to ho! ho! ho!-ery at this time of year.  If you’d really rather maintain  some sangfroid at Christmas parties, but still tip a hat to the sumptuousness of the season, then this is your choice, I’m thinking.  Back to Black also has a sense both of sensuality and of itself.  You don’t want to mess too much with the wearer of this elegant gourmand. If they don’t want to play charades, leave them alone, they’ll brood, no doubt chicly, all evening, over a glass of whiskey and that slice of fruitcake.

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18 Responses to Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Nine: Black with Fruit

  1. bloody frida says:

    I need to try BtB now as I love love love fruitcake!

    Since I have absolutely zero holiday rah-rah-rah going on at the moment, perhaps I should try to make some fruitcake so I can get this party going.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Well firstly I didn’t think I would like Back to Black at all but have worn it more than practically anything else this season, except for Bellodgia, and secondly, being a lazy sod myself, I didn’t make fruitcake, only fruitcake cookies (recipe here). Which I am about to box up and send to the aforementioned fruitcake eating uncle.

      • bloody frida says:

        If you have any of those cookies leftover, I’ll send you my address! ;) Actually you have inspired me to either make those cookies or make a fruitcake because I’m in dire need of some holiday spirit.

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          Um, well I wouldsend you the leftovers if I hadn’t piggishly stuffed my face. However, I can recommend the recipe, especially after all that aforementioned stuffing!

  2. mals86 says:

    I love fruitcake. The best ones are made without the candied fruit, I think, just dried fruit like currants and golden raisins and cherries. I prefer the dark ones made with molasses to the golden ones. And I like a little hit of rum even though it makes my mother worry for my eternal soul, but I tend to like fruitcake whatever its origins.

    My Fruitcake Fragrance is Mauboussin, which smells like fruitcake with a smear of cream cheese on top – rich, fruity, not-quite-boozy.

    I didn’t like Back to Black much, but I can’t remember why. Too busy? too boozy?

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Definitely go for the molasses myself in the fruit cake department-or at any rate in the cookies-think it’s delicious.
      Mauboussin I have not smelled so will try to track it down. But did think Back to Black was about the best of the BKs. They were really nice in NYC and I left with something like eight or nine samples from that one maker, so got a pretty good sense of the line. So far, I’d say this is the stand out. But it is very tobacco-y and very fruity, smells like old cherry pipe tobacco to me.

  3. Olfacta says:

    oor fruitcake. It’s gotten such a bad rep. I’ve made it with an old Englishy-Southern recipe, featuring lots of dried fruit like raisins and dates, nuts and spices, prepared up to six months ahead of time and marinated in whiskey. Bears no resemblance at all to the green cherry/candied citron mashup that is called “fruitcake” now — usually stale, too. A lot of trouble but it can be worth it.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Glad to see you back! Yes, well by now I realize that the fruitcakes of my past were a lot tamer, and much less interesting than the ones that people make from scratch now. And your scratch sounds pretty up to scratch.
      I’m still mulling over the possibility of soaking the whiskey cake in whiskey. The Hub is all for it (not very surprisingly). Ours were never rum marinated and I wonder if it wasn’t bowdlerized fruitcake for parson consumption?

  4. Michael says:

    Perhaps it is because I live in England, where fruitcake as as common and acceptable as drizzle, talk of the weather and a cup of tea, that to me fruitcake is lovely, delicious and very agreeable. I agree that fruitcake could do without the crazy-colour extreme glace cherries, etc and to my mind the best fruitcakes are actually those that used to be known as spiced plum cakes. I have a lovely recipe for a spiced plum cake that we make every year around this time. The primary ingredients are lots of dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants) plus prunes (hence the plum connection). This is enriched with butter of course, plus black treacle. The fruit is macerated in dark rum for a few days prior to baking and once the cake is baked, it is ‘feed’ with a bit of rum each day, to give it a moist and boozy feeling. The recipe also calls for marzipan and icing, but I don’t generally like either, so leave both out. Of course, I know many people who do love marzipan. I do love Back to Black by the way – the best in the Kilian line in my opinion, although I do quite like the challenging Oud as well.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      The fruitcakes of my childhood were evidently a lot less nice than yours, and the plum cake does sound delicious. In fact it sounds to me like a cross-the-pond cousin of the Whiskey Cake I keep on trying to perfect. One recipe had 1/4 whiskey (seriously underwhelming) and another upped the dosage to one cup (better results) but I suspect that nothing will really do but hm… “feeding” the cake. This I may try, and we will see how the Hub takes to that!

      Back to Black is I think the best of the By Killians, though I have not tried the Oud, but I did like that Mona di Orio Oud, which was pretty strong. Back though is such a grown up gourmand, and so perfectly opulent. I’d be wearing it today if I had not suddenly decided to wear Guerlain Vetiver for some odd reason, probably the having to do a great deal of administrative nonsense today. Vetiver smells like it is in charge!

      • Michael says:

        Feeding the cake is a very good idea, trust me! I think the plum cake needs to be left for some time to mature though, and let the flavours develop. After about a month (we’re usually too impatient, eating it within a couple of weeks usually) the rum mellows and while a little boozy, is not overpowering.

        I don’t think the By Kilian is anything like Di Orio Oud, as much as I love that one. The By Kilian is challenging and a bit rough at times, to say the least. That was my impression at the time – its been a while since I last tried it to be honest.

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          Okay, done deal, I will be doing some Whiskey tipping onto my cake!

          • Meg says:

            (The Whiskey Cake is stunningly delicious. But if you fed it, I imagine it would be twice the stunner that it already is…. and this comment would look more like “pcxyubka *(^&(*)^ oiuHKJ$&#%”.

          • Blacknall Allen says:

            Well we took Michael’s advice and fed what little we had left some whiskey, and it was much better! I wouldn’t have known my own cake!

  5. Undina says:

    I tried my first fruitcake when I was around thirty and I remember thinking that you have to grow up eating that to enjoy it. Nothing has changed since then though I’m sure I’ve tried several really good representatives of that type of sweets.

    I tried B2B only once and I remember that I thought it smelled nice but I wasn’t sure I wanted to ever actually wear it. Since I still have a sample or two of it, I will try it again eventually (though I’m not sure if the fruitcake association will be helpful ;) ).

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Maybe fruitcake is an acquired taste. I certainly didn’t like it as a child and have yet to come across a wonderful version of it, though I do like my Whiskey cake, especially now that I poured whiskey on top of it!
      Back to Black is a definite gourmand, normally a good deal more than I would want to wear, because I veer towards green fragrances and citrus ones really, but I did end up wearing B to B three days straight-which is unusual for me now.

  6. Meg says:

    I have loved a good, dirty, dark fruitcake since childhood– NEVER the pale, dry poundcake with red-and-green glacee cherries and hunks of anemic candied pineapple so beloved of my relatives. And the more I eat of your delightful Whiskey Cake (for which merci beaucoup!) and partake in the bewitching Back to Black, the more I am reunited with my love of the darkness of this solstice season, a paradoxical counterpoint to its showy lights and color. SO many thanks.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Any time, and if you’re wise, you’ll take Michael’s advice and feed it some whiskey! And isn’t Back to Black good?

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