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How To Make A Truly Delicious Fruit Cake That Doesn't Suck

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Photo courtesy of Peden+ Munk
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Valerie Gordon's sweets shops have been some of our favorites in L.A. since she first launched her Silver Lake business, and we couldn't be happier that she's expanded to have to more locations in Echo Park and Grand Central Market Downtown. Her confections at Valerie are always elegant, refined and totally delicious. So it should come as no surprise that she could singlehandedly make fruit cake sexy.

Yes, you heard that right. Sexy. She's crafted her own take on Alice Medrich’s Pure Desserts' straightforward recipe that turns this holiday staple from a punchline to an absolute essential.

By macerating the fruit and nuts overnight in port wine, they become loaded with flavor, taking this fruit cake to the next level. It may look intimidating because of the length of the recipe, but rest assured that making the spice mixture, macerating fruit, and making your own marzipan almond paste are really simple steps and can be done ahead of time if you want to break things up.

Like the fruit cake you know, it can be stored, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or parchment, at room temperature for up to 6 weeks. But that's about all it has in common with the brick you may know. Trust us, it's a keeper.

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Here's how it's done:

Fruitcake Noir, adapted from Sweet by Valerie Gordon (Artisan Books)
Makes one 91/2-inch loaf; serves 10 to 12

For the fruit and nuts

3/4 cup (4.5 ounces) dark raisins
1 cup (4.75 ounces) dried black mission figs, julienned
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) dried plums, pitted and julienned
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) prunes, pitted and julienned
1/4 cup (2.75 ounces) dried cherries, julienned
21/2 tablespoons chopped candied orange peel
2 cups (9 ounces) unblanched whole raw almonds
1/2 cup (4 ounces) port

Spice Mix
Makes about 1 cup

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4 whole star anise
12 whole cloves
2 teaspoons whole white peppercorns
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1. Combine the star anise, cloves, and white peppercorns in a coffee or spice grinder and pulse to a fine powder, about 3 minutes. Pour the spices into a small bowl, add the ground cinnamon, ginger, mace, and nutmeg, and combine with a small whisk or a fork.

2. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. You can also use this for seasoning pies and other holiday treats.

Almond Paste
Makes about 3 cups

4 cups (14 ounces) raw almond flour
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 to 6 tablespoons water

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1. Pour the almond flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until combined. Continue pulsing 
as you add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the paste comes together into a ball.

2. Remove the almond paste from the processor, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

For the cake

2/3 cup (3.33 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Spice Mix (recipe above)
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (3 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup (8.25 ounces) almond paste, homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

To prepare the fruit and nuts

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1. Combine the dried fruits, almonds, and port in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and macerate for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

To Make the Cake

1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, spice mix, and cocoa powder into a medium bowl. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the almond paste, mixing until thoroughly combined. Increase the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla paste and mix for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then add the dry ingredients, beating just until the batter is smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand.

3. Pour the macerated fruits and nuts, with their liquid, into the bowl and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed. Set the bowl aside for 30 minutes. (This resting time allows the batter to absorb the port.)

4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Generously coat the bottom and sides of a 91/2-by-51/2-inch loaf pan with nonstick baking spray.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for an additional 40 to 45 minutes, until the top of the cake is browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Put the loaf pan on a cooling rack and let the cake cool for 1 hour.

6. Remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on the rack, about 2 hours.