Q. Do you have a recipe for a good fruitcake? I would like to make some as gifts for my aunts and grandparents, but only if they're good and don't inspire any jokes. Many thanks.

- Marie R.

A. Is good fruitcake an oxymoron? I've heard of jumbo shrimp, fresh-dried fruit, peacekeeper missile, non-working mother, young Republican, thieves' honor, but good fruitcake?

Somewhere along the line, fruitcake must have been a delicious item, because it dates to the Middle Ages. There is an original copy of an old Roman recipe that lists raisins, preserved fruits, pine nuts, honey, and spices that were all mixed into a barley mash loaf. This was the precursor to any modern-day fruitcake, and the same loaf was probably passed from toga party to toga party.

Through the years the confection gained in popularity. When cheap sugar from the colonies started to arrive in Europe in the 16th century, some individual discovered that fruit can be preserved by saturating it in large concentrations of the sweetener. Much of this sugar-laced fruit was then shipped to the New World, where an abundant supply of cultivated fresh fruit was not yet available. The colonists could either nibble on it or make fruitcake!

The confection caught on and it was in early America that commercial fruitcake bakeries were born. The first ones were in Texas and Georgia. Both states are big nut producers, and that's why nuts became such a predominant fruitcake ingredient, giving rise to the ultimate holiday put-down: "You're nuttier than a fruitcake!"

Somewhere along the line, fruitcake became the butt of all jokes. Diehard fruitcake defenders (and, believe it or not, there is a Fruitcake Society) point the finger at Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show." His most famous joke about fruitcake made the claim that there is really only one fruitcake in the entire world and people keep sending it to each other. Here are a few more jokes about the venerated holiday treat.

1. Use slices of fruitcake to balance that wobbly kitchen table.

2. Use them instead of sandbags during El Nino.

3. Send them to U.S. Air Force, let troops drop them on strategic targets.

4. Use them for railroad ties.

5. Tie them on instead of cement shoes.

6. Collect 10 of them and use as bowling pins.

7. It makes a handy pincushion.

Seriously, fruitcake can be a delicious holiday dessert - especially if you follow these tips. If you are making a fruitcake loaf, glass or ceramic works better than a metal pan to prevent your fruitcake from overbrowning. If you don't have glass or ceramic, you can use a water bath to prevent overbrowning around the edges. To create a water bath, place the fruitcake pan inside a larger pan of equal height. Fill the outer pan halfway with water, and proceed with baking.

Be sure to generously grease any pan that you use. No matter what size fruitcake you are making, allow the cake to cool down inside the pan before removing onto a rack to cool completely. If you are going to freeze a fruitcake, dust it generously with powdered sugar and wrap it in parchment paper, then foil, then plastic wrap.

Marie, here are two recipes that will help you along with your fruitcake baking and will inspire holiday cheer instead of jeers. With any luck, you won't get them back next year.

FRUITCAKE MUFFINS

1/2 cup chopped raisins

1/2 cup chopped candied pineapple

1/2 cup chopped candied cherries

3/4 cup chopped candied orange and/or lemon peel

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

3 tablespoons honey

4 large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup good brandy

or Grand Marnier

Light corn syrup and candied fruit for garnish

Combine all the candied fruits, fruit peel and the chopped nuts. Mix well. Cream the butter and the brown sugar in a mixing bowl until light and airy. Add the honey, mixing well, and add the eggs. Beat well after each addition. Take the remaining dry ingredients and sift them together. Add to the butter mixture, beating until well blended. Mix in the brandy and blend in the fruits and nuts until well combined.

Place into a very well-greased and floured muffin tin. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for approximately 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. If the muffin tops begin to brown too quickly, you may cover them with a piece of buttered parchment paper.

When you pull the muffins out of the oven, heat up the corn syrup and glaze the muffins with a pastry brush. Sprinkle with a little candied fruit for garnish. Makes a dozen muffins.

TRADITIONAL FRUITCAKE

1 1/3 cup raisins

1 cup dried currants

4 ounces chopped dried dates

1/2 cup drained and chopped candied cherries

1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup chopped pecans

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 cup red currant jelly

4 eggs

1/2 cup orange juice

For the glaze:

1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

In a mixing bowl, mix together all the dried fruits, orange peel and nuts. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Using a mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until very light and fluffy, about five minutes. Mix in the corn syrup and the red currant jelly. Continue beating and add the eggs one at a time until very well combined. Turn the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients along with the orange juice, alternating until all are used and well combined. Mix in the dried fruit mixture and pour into a very well greased loaf pan.

Bake in a 275-degree oven for approximately 2 to 2 1/4 hours or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for the first 10 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Combine the glaze ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil, stirring constantly until well combined. While the fruitcake is cooling, brush the fruitcake with the glaze, allowing it to absorb fully.

Chef Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and hosts two nationally syndicated shows: "A Chef's Table," noon Saturdays on WHYY (91-FM); and "Flavors of America," 1 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 12, and 4:30 p.m. weekdays on CN8. He and his wife, writer Candace Hagan, will answer questions.