Fruit cake: you either love it or loathe it. This quintessentially American Christmas tradition has its detractors, so we sought to develop a moist, flavorful version that relies on premium dried fruits rather than the luridly colored glacéed (candied) fruit that appears in supermarkets everywhere come November.
In our version, dried plums, figs or apricots could be substituted for the fruits we've suggested, and crystallized ginger is also a nice addition. Although we've included pecans, nuts are strictly optional. Mellowing the fruit cake in brandy or bourbon after baking adds a richness and intensity to the cake, but this is optional as well.
Combine the raisins and dried fruits in a medium-size bowl. Add the brandy and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the fruits macerate overnight at room temperature; they will absorb all of the liquor.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees F. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a 10x5-inch loaf pan. Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit the bottom of the pan and line the pan with the paper.
Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of a mixer. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on moderate speed till incorporated.
On slow speed, add the flour and spices, mixing to blend. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the dried fruits and pecans, if using. Stir with a wooden spoon to blend.
Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is set and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 45 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cake out of the pan to finish cooling.
Liberally sprinkle the cake with some of the brandy, if using. Wrap the cake in several layers of cheesecloth, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature, dousing with more brandy every few days. The cake tastes best if it mellows for a few days. Wrapped tightly, it will keep at room temperature for several weeks. The cake also can be frozen for up to 2 months.