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Coated with sweet marzipan and stuffed with dried fruit instead of candied, this fruitcake will make you proud.
Pass It On
This is fruitcake you'll eat — really

"You only have to make it once," they say. "Then it just gets handed down from generation to generation." Or, "If you don't like it, you can always use it as a door stop."

But there is one fruitcake so good that no one jokes about it. When it's discussed at all, it's whispered about in hushed tones that border on reverence. And I have become known, in my own small circle, as the guy who makes the fruitcake.

As if they were discussing some illicit drug, my friends want to know, "Did you bring any this year? We've come to depend on it, you know."

This cake is not only edible, but remarkably so. It's too small and too good-looking to be used as a doorstop. And while the cake itself will definitely not be passed down from generation to generation, the recipe probably will be.

It's an adaptation of "Oxford Fruitcake" from renowned baking instructor Nick Malgieri. Malgieri, whose new book "Perfect Cakes" (Harper Collins, 2002) contains an entire chapter on fruitcake, directs the baking program at The Institute of Culinary Education, formerly known as Peter Kump's Cooking School in New York. He procured the recipe from one Daphne Giles, the British sister-in-law of a childhood friend named Noel, who used to make it every year for Noel's Christmas birthday. I took one look at the picture in Malgieri's book "How to Bake" (Harper Collins, 1995) and decided then and there that it would become a tradition in my family. So far, I haven't missed a Christmas.

Part of what makes it good is a plethora of real dried fruit and a corresponding dearth of candied fruit — those bits of emerald-green citron and stoplight-red cherries — that even in the garish light of Christmas can be disconcerting. Nick kept them to a minimum, using raisins, currants, dates and dried figs in their place. And even though Nick wailed "Oh no!" when I told him so, I replaced the remaining bit of candied fruit with Washington-grown dried cherries and my own candied orange peel. In a fit of allegiance to my West Coast sensibilities, I also slipped in a few macadamia nuts.

But the most appealing aspect of this cake is the way it looks, which hasn't really changed a bit with my slight variations. Sandwiched between sheets of marzipan and individually wrapped in two-inch squares, the cake is nothing like the weird stuff your Great Aunt Alice passed around after Christmas dinner in the 1970s. It looks, in fact, nothing like it, and if anyone you know has been too traumatized by fruitcakes past to even try the stuff, don't tell them it's fruitcake at all. Just call it candy.

Greg Atkinson is chef at IslandWood. He is also author of "The Northwest Essentials Cookbook" (Sasquatch Books, 1999). Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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