It's fruitcake-making time again! I've finally learned to put it on the calendar for mid-November so the fruitcake has plenty of time to soak and mellow. Otherwise, it's an oblong doorstop. There's nothing better than a great fruitcake and nothing worse than a bad one.
As I was making the fruitcake this year (click here for recipe), I realized that operating a bed & breakfast has changed the way we cook and the tools we use. There are some tools that are essential and which we would never be without again.
First, a kitchen scale is so useful that once you start using one, you'll wonder how you did without it. It keeps everything consistent, so we weigh our flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, etc. It may not seem like it would make that much difference, but if you're using 5 cups of flour, your cookies could vary a lot between one batch and the next if you just "eyeball" it in a measuring cup. We have a Salter electronic kitchen scale. My memory is not that good, so I have a cheatsheet taped inside my kitchen cabinet that says a cup of flour is 5 ounces, a cup of sugar is 7 ounces, etc.
We also use commercial half-sheet pans, also known as jelly-roll pans" that have sides about an inch high. Forget all the fancy cookie sheets with or without Teflon. You can buy expensive ones, of course, but you can also go to a commercial restaurant supply store and they will be much less expensive. Don't worry about the coating, because to go with these, we use parchment paper sheets, which we also buy from a supplier, and you can get them in a size to exactly fit the half-sheet pan. I never spray a baking sheet any more, just put a parchment paper sheet in it. Your cookies will not stick, and if they are a little heavy on the butter, the parchment will absorb some of it. Put parchment paper on the half-sheet pan under your pie or casserole and you will have no more spills in the bottom of the oven. You can also cut the sheets to fit loaf pans (fruitcake!), cake pans or whatever. Clean up is easy and the parchment paper peels right off.
A very large mixing bowl is essential for mixing a large batch of fruitcake batter, the fruit and nuts. Again, you can get large aluminum bowls in many sizes at a restaurant supply house. And you'll need a box of latex or nitrile gloves within easy reach in the kitchen. The best way I've found to really mix the fruitcake batter is to put on gloves, dump everything into that very large bowl, and mix it thoroughly with my fingers. It is amazingly faster and better than fighting with a wooden spoon or spatula, since fruitcake dough is very dense and sticky.
Finally, the best way to test the doneness of anything, especially cakes, muffins, chicken, etc., is to use an instant-read thermometer. No more undercooked chicken or over-done pork roast, and no baked goods that are still doughy in the center!
Now that you have the right tools, it's time to make fruitcake.
I’m having fun--come on along!