My mother had a pecan tree on the grounds of her childhood home in Houston. Long after she married and moved to Chicago to raise me and my sibs, Mom’s family sent a big box of pecans each year for the holidays. How Mom beamed when she opened that box! Then, she pulled out a battered baking tin and set to work making a dark, rich, fruit, and nut spice cake. This recipe is an easy-to-make homage to that—baked in a buttered 8 x 13-inch pan with loads of toasted pecans, plus brandysoaked dried cranberries, Montmorency cherries, Thompson raisins, a smattering of plump prunes, and some candied orange bits. Buttery and chewy at the edges, and oh-so-tender in the middle, it is my favorite holiday baked treat. It’s very good with a hot cup of tea (and even better with whiskey!)
FOR THE BRANDIED FRUIT
• 1/2 cup brandy
• 1/2 cup port
• 1-1/2 cups dried Montmorency tart cherries, roughly chopped
• 1-1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
• 1 cup plump seedless prunes, chopped small
• 1 cup Thompson seedless raisins
• 1/4 cup sweetened dried orange slices, chopped fine (can be found at Trader Joe’s) OR substitute good quality candied orange peel
FOR THE BATTER
• 1-⅛ cups (2-. sticks) unsalted butter, softened. You will use . stick to generously butter the pan and parchment; 2 sticks in the batter
• 8 ounces (2 cups) raw pecan halves
• 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
• 1 tsp ground Saigon cinnamon
• ⅛ tsp ground cloves
• 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg OR finely grate the tip of a whole nutmeg
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 cups light brown sugar, packed
• 3 large eggs
• 8 ounces raw pecan halves
PREPARE PAN AND NUTS: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter bottom and sides of baking pan. Line pan lengthwise with parchment paper, (the butter will help it stick to the bottom of the pan) leaving 2-inch parchment overhang on both ends of the pan. Line pan widthwise with more parchment paper. Copiously butter the parchment paper, sides and bottom. Set aside.
Spread pecan halves on a cookie sheet and toast at 350 degrees for just under 15 minutes until nuts are fragrant and browned. Roughly chop toasted nuts and set aside.
MAKE BRANDIED FRUIT: Combine all chopped dried fruit in a medium-sized microwaveable bowl. Pour brandy and port over all. Stir. Cover bowl with plate or plastic wrap; microwave for 1 minute. Set fruit aside to soak and cool.
MAKE BATTER: Sift flour, spices, and salt into a bowl. Set aside. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar together at medium speed until fluffy, scraping bottom and sides of mixer bowl as needed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. With mixer on low, beat in the spiced flour just until no streaks remain. Fold in the fruit mixture. Fold in the toasted chopped pecans. Scoop and evenly spread batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake until nicely browned 50 to 55 minutes. Cool pan on wire rack for 1 to 2 hours. Using the overhanging parchment, lift cake from pan and completely cool. Slice into bars with a sharp knife.