It’s that time of year when no matter where you go you’re likely to have someone offer you a slice of fruitcake; and there are two kinds of people – those that love fruitcake and those that loathe it. But Cheesecake Heaven proprietor Jameel Lighbourn is on a mission to change the train of thought for the non-lovers with his fruitcake, which he believes will put an end to the bad rap that the ubiquitous Christmas dessert has gotten over the years.
Despite the bruised reputation fruitcake has gotten at Cheesecake Heaven, Lightbourn said at his bakery café they’re churning out a Christmas fruitcake that even he has to force himself to stop eating, because he says it’s that good.
“It’s actually my favorite dessert and the one thing I have to stop myself from eating, and even more so if it’s my own fruitcake,” he said.
Lightbourn said the difference with their offering is their focus on the cake’s crumb texture which he believes sets them apart.
“The process that we use to make our cake causes the crumb texture to be different, and that sets our cake apart. The process also helps the cake to hold the moisture longer,” said Lightbourn. “I ‘stick my foot’ in it.”
I profess to being one of those non-fruitcake eaters and haven’t touched the stuff since my childhood years. To be honest, I couldn’t get past the big chunks of dried fruit that made up the dessert and was omnipresent in every bite. That, for me, was a turn-off. On a recent visit to Cheesecake Heaven, Lightbourn was putting out tins and slices of fruit cake for sale, as again it is the season – and he offered me a slice; I politely declined and explained my aversion to the cake. He encouraged me to give his cake a chance, so I did.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of dried fruits interspersed throughout the cake and that they were chopped quite small and nestled quite nicely at the bottom of the cake. I didn’t have to taste one at all if I didn’t want to. Then, I noticed his cake’s crumb texture which held together nicely, akin to the crumb texture of a pound cake, so I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. It had a rich, deep, dark, molasses flavor and it all came through, including the brandy that Lightbourn used to steep his cake. I went a step further and took a bite of a piece of cake with the fruit in it, and found that because they were so finely chopped, I didn’t find the cake half bad. I finished the slice and even found myself taking home a cake.
“Our fruitcake is from an heirloom family recipe, and we only use quality ingredients and quality brandy, in our cakes. We use smaller fruits because the actual cake is the selling point of our fruitcake. The cake itself is what we’re focusing on and we want our customers to take the flavor. We also don’t bake and sell our cakes right away; we allow our fruitcakes to steep at least four days before we sell it,” he said.
Fruitcake is one of those things that you’ve grown up hearing people say they can keep for years and months. According to Lightbourn, his customers have told him they’re still eating his fruitcake sometimes up to six months later. He says the best way to ensure you preserve your fruitcake is after cutting a slice, to ensure that you re-wrap your cake, and occasionally soak it in brandy like they do at Cheesecake Heaven, or the rum of your choice.
Lightbourn also discourages people experimenting with baking a fruitcake at this time of year; he believes it’s experimentation by people over the years that have given this dessert a bad rap, considering it’s a cake that requires special handling and baking to obtain successful results.
The oldest reference that can be found regarding a fruitcake dates back to Roman times, and is said to have included pomegranate seeds with honey, spices and preserved fruits added during the Middle Ages. In the 1400s, the British love affair with the dessert began with the addition of dried fruits from the Mediterranean. And in the 1700s in Europe, a ceremonial type of fruitcake was baked at the end of the nut harvest and saved and eaten the next year to celebrate the beginning of the next harvest. After the harvest, nuts were mixed and made into a fruitcake that was saved until the following year.