From our Suspicions Confirmed Department comes a survey released last week showing that most Americans would almost be willing to forsake Christmas itself if it meant that they would never again have to look at another of those awful traditional fruitcakes.
You know, those things chock-full of strange and indescribable glazed somethings that take up space in your refrigerator until you need room for an Easter ham.
They always arrive as a gift and, like the man who came to dinner, are impossible to get rid of. Slice one and put it on a holiday buffet table and it's guaranteed that the turkey bones will disappear first. Offer a slice to someone, and he suddenly goes on a very strict diet.
We begin to wonder if, like aluminum cans, fruitcakes are not recycled, and if the one that arrived in the mail yesterday wasn't the same one our great-grandmother gave her postman during the William Howard Taft Administration.
Happily, there are alternatives.
One, which is guaranteed to leave visions of sugar plums dancing in the heads of those with whom it is shared, has long been a personal family favorite.
It is a sugar plum cake--a moist, fruity, nutty cake that will have your buffet guests starting at the dessert end of the table. It's relatively easy to make (we have a 10-year-old who bakes it as a Christmas gift for teachers and relatives) and incredibly versatile in that it can't be hurt by changes in size, shape and/or ingredients.
If you like more nuts or raisins (or less), change the recipe. Bake it in a large tube pan or break it down into 12 mini-loafs (or bake it in metal gelatin molds for a decorative touch), and you still can't threaten its success.
And, if you use those disposable aluminum loaf pans (about a buck for three at your supermarket), you can even leave them in the pan and wrap the whole affair after icing it.
We're also providing you with two different kinds of icing, or you can always just sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. Our favorite is a cream cheese frosting, such as you would use for carrot cake. To make the cake even more festive and give it a candy-cane effect, dribble some drops of red food coloring on the icing after it's been applied and work it a little with a toothpick.
Sugar plum cake not only makes a wonderful and thoughtful gift, but can provide a tasty and welcome break in the package-opening frenzy of Christmas morning.
Each week, Orange County Life will feature a man who enjoys cooking and a favorite recipe. Tell us about your candidate. Write to: Guys & Galleys, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.
HOLIDAY SUGAR PLUM CAKE
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
3 six-ounce jars plums with tapioca
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together dry ingredients, except sugar. In separate bowl, beat eggs and add sugar, oil, plums and vanilla. Slowly mix dry ingredients into egg-sugar-oil mixture. Add nuts and raisins and bake in 3 greased and floured loaf pans (or in 1 large tube pan) until toothpick comes out clean when inserted (about 45-50 minutes). Dust with powdered sugar or either of the following icings.
Cream Cheese Icing
1 eight-ounce brick cream cheese
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 pound butter
Juice of 1/2 fresh lime
1 teaspoon vanilla, rum or sherry
Preparation: Soften butter and cream cheese in microwave or by allowing to sit at room temperature several hours. Slowly mix in powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add lime juice and vanilla and beat again. After icing the cakes, dribble a few drops of red food dye and swirl with knife or handle end of spoon.
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 tablespoons sherry or lemon juice
Preparation: Mix all ingredients until smooth and apply to tops of cakes.