This cake, a lighter-in-color version of classic fruitcake, makes a great alternative to cookies for holiday gifts. I like to cut a couple of loaves into 2-inch slices, wrap them in parchment, and tie them with ribbon for small hostess gifts; it’s very useful to have a few of these cakes on hand during the holidays. Note that the dried fruits and nuts must macerate overnight.
Prepare the fruit and nuts: Combine the dried fruits, almonds and brandy in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and macerate for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Make the cake: Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda into a medium bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the sugar and butter 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 and beat on low just until the batter is smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand.
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 brandy.)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Generously coat the bottom and sides of a 9 ½-by-5 ½-inch loaf pan with nonstick baking spray.
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 50 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown 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.
Remove the cake from the pan and cool completely on the rack, about 2 hours.
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 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the paste comes together into a very lightly-sticky ball.
Remove the almond paste from the processor, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Makes 1 ½ cups.
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