"Oh Buddy, I think it’s fruitcake weather," goes the opening line to one of the best short stories ever written (and certainly a sentimental Southern favorite), "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. Capote based the story on his own memories with his elderly cousin Sook, his eccentric best friend, who baked fruitcakes each Christmas and sent them to acquaintances and people they admired, including Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House.
These days, the idea of fruitcake is as stale a joke as some of the cakes that remain on the bottom shelf of the Frigidaire from last Christmas. The main appeal of fruitcake for me is the candied cherries, the red and green chewy bits of sugary former fruit. Although a candied cherry is as similar to a real cherry as plastic-encased American cheese is to aged Manchego, they still hold a visual and sentimental appeal.
Fruitcake is not a tradition in my home, although my mom makes stellar "fruitcake cookies." (That recipe is hers and I hope to share it soon). I do buy candied cherries, to top Mom’s sandy, crispy, buttery shortbread. Shortbread is the easiest, most elemental cookie: butter, confectioner’s sugar, flour, salt and vanilla. When I wake up in early December and say, "It’s cookie baking time," I always put a tray of shortbread in the oven first. Like Sook and Buddy's fruitcake, it’s a tradition, and it’s simple; I already have butter, sugar and flour out and the oven’s preheating.
Scotch shortbread with candied fruit
- 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
- ½ cup powdered sugar (10X)
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- candied cherries or pecan halves for garnish, if desired
- Preheat oven to 325°. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar, then gradually add flour. Add salt and vanilla.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out the dough to ¼-inch thick, in a rough rectangle. Using a sharp knife, cut into 1-inch square pieces. Press cherry or pecan halves onto each square.
- Bake at 325° for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. The cuts will have melded back together, but quick work with a sharp knife will take care of that. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.