The fruitcake, as most of us know it, is very close to being a misnomer, which is why most of us ignore the multi-colored array of glazed and artificially colored candy-like fruits that appear on supermarket shelves in mid-autumn. We know that fruitcake is a holiday tradition, but those sticky glazed fruit rinds, pieces of green pineapple and dry crumbly nuts are basically unappealing, especially when suspended in a cake heavy enough to sink the Titanic.

We can buy a bad fruitcake ready made. Why waste time making one?

On the other hand, homemade fruitcake does not have to be like that. Elsewhere in the supermarket are bins and bags of gorgeous fresh nuts of many types, tins of shredded coconut, piles of dried figs, a selection of dried apricots and peaches and the like. Visually you can put together the makings of a fine, time-honored fruitcake that is special, creative and, best of all, different.

The fruitcakes that follow break away from the limited range and taste of tradition and are embellished with fruit stuffed with a contrasting fruit, preserved ginger (available jarred), and lots of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and cloves.

Because fruitcakes normally take time . . . lots of time . . . and are prepared long before serving, they are not thought of as mix-in-the-pan-type baking. However, these fruit-and-nut creations are really nothing more than a simple butter cake greatly enhanced with a wealth of ingredients soaked in sherry, brandy, rum or cognac. Later, before serving, they are topped with fruit glazes.

Fruit and nuts should be soaked for several hours, overnight, or up to two days, so that the spiritous liquid can plump up the fruit and flavor it. Generally, you can put aside any instincts to soak the fruit for outrageous lengths of time and, instead, let the mellowing process take over to age and refine the taste of the finished cake.

The quantity of fruits and nuts is balanced out by a cake batter gilded with a lot of butter and eggs, and a fair amount of sugar. The batter is created by the creamed method, which is traditional and should be familiar to anyone who has ever baked an ordinary layer cake.

The Luxury Mixed Fruit and Spice Cake uses glazed apricots and peaches, along with dates, golden raisins, dark raisins and walnuts as the fruit-nut combination to be soaked in two liquids, cream sherry and pineapple juice. The cake batter uses a full 1 1/4 pounds of butter and this produces a cake of great moistness and staying power. The orange marmalade, added at the end of the cake-making process, adds a gentle tartness to the batter.

The Preserved Ginger and Walnut Fruitcake combines coarsely chopped preserved ginger, raisins, apricots and walnuts in a soaking of rum. Ginger has a fine crisp and clear quality and the cake batter is reinforced with a good tablespoon of ground ginger. This is a lovely cake to serve after a meal of turkey, ham or game, because it is the most refreshing of all the fruitcakes.

The Spiced Nut Fruitcake makes lavish use of five kinds of nuts -- walnuts, pecans, almonds, macadamias and brazils -- and two cups of raisins. The nuts should be crunchy-fresh in order to give the cake its mellow, fragrant taste. The spice-laden butter batter is bolstered by two kinds of extracts, vanilla and almond, to build up the character of the nuts and raisins. Most old-time fruitcake batters, by the way, use very small quantities of extract, if at all, but I find that traditional measurements need to be modernized somewhat, and the amount of extract (as well as spices) should be increased.

For a fruit-within-a-fruit fruitcake, look to the whimsical Stuffed Date, Peach, and Walnut Fruitcake. Whole pitted dates are stuffed with little chunks of crystallized ginger, then cut in half and set to soak in brandy or cognac with raisins, peaches and walnuts. Almost any type of whole fruit can be stuffed and soaked, as long as the proper contrast between fruits is chosen. Small dried apricots, for example, may be stuffed with pieces of date, and whole dried peaches may be stuffed with disks of fig, whole dates may be stuffed with whole nuts, such as brazil nuts. Stuffing fruit with other fruits (or nuts) makes an interesting pattern in the fruitcake, appearing like a stained glass mosaic.

The Apricot, Fig and Coconut Fruitcake is a light-colored cake that boasts seven eggs and a range of dried fruit and nuts marinated in light rum. The rum and shredded coconut give the cake a tropical taste, and thin slices of it are heavenly with a coconut-flavored hard sauce: LUXURY MIXED FRUIT AND SPICE FRUITCAKE (Makes one 10-inch tube cake)

This fruitcake is amply set with fruit that has been dried and glazed: lightly glazed fruit is available at most fruit and nut shops, specialty food stores and some large supermarkets. The collection of aromatic spices enriches the taste of the fruit, and the brown sugar and orange marmalade sweeten the butter batter at the same time they color it a mahogony brown.

FOR THE FRUIT AND SOAKING MIXTURE:

1 1/2 cups glazed apricots, diced

1 1/4 cups glazed peaches, diced

1 cup pitted dates, diced

1/2 cup dark raisins

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts, preferable english walnuts

1 cup cream sherry

1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

FOR THE CAKE BATTER:

2 1/4 cups unsifted cake flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 1/2 cups (5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed

4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup orange marmalade

In a large bowl, preferably of glazed earthenware or glass, combine the apricots, peaches, dates, raisins and walnuts; pour over the sherry and pineapple juice, and combine everything with your hands, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 2 days. From time to time, stir up the ingredients.

On baking day, grease the inside of a 10-inch tube pan with melted shortening; line the bottom of the pan with a circle of heavy brown paper and set aside.

Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and baking powder; set aside. In the largest bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on moderately high speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the dark brown sugar in 2 additions, beating it in until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to keep the mixture even.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending thoroughly. On low speed, beat in the marmalade, and continue beating for 1 minute longer. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the sifted mixture over the marinated dried fruit and stir it in with a wooden spoon.

On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions, beating until the flour particles have been absorbed before adding the next portion. By hand, stir in the dried fruit and any liquid. Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan.

Bake the cake on the lower-third level rack of a 250-degree oven for 30 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 275 degrees and continue baking for 2 hours and 15 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the cake emerges clean.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Gently loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a thin palette knife, then carefully invert onto another rack. Invert again, to cool rightside up.

Wrap up the cooled cake in a double length of fine-meshed cheesecloth lightly sprinkled with cream sherry. Store the cake in an airtight container in a cool place.

Several hours before serving, glaze the cake with the red currant glaze, if you wish, and decorate the top with additional whole fruits and nuts. RED CURRANT GLAZE (Makes about 1 1/4 cups)

This is a lustrous glaze that looks quite pretty when painted over the top of a fruitcake. It makes a lovely foundation on which to set whole pieces of dried fruit or patterns of nuts, or both.

1 1/4 cups red currant jelly

2 tablespoons lemon juice, strained

Heat the jelly in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until it dissolves. Stir in the lemon juice and bring just to the boil. Remove the glaze from the heat and, while hot, apply over the surface of the cake with a wide paint brush.

While the glaze is still warm and has not yet begun to set, firmly set pieces of dried fruit and/or nuts on the top of the fruitcake for decoration. PRESERVED GINGER AND WALNUT FRUITCAKE (Makes one 10-inch cake)

This fruitcake is jazzed up with ginger that has been preserved in a heavy syrup; it is available bottled at most supermarkets. The ginger adds a special spicy essence to the cake.

FOR THE FRUIT AND SOAKING MIXTURE:

1 cup coarsely chopped drained ginger, preserved in syrup

1 1/2 cups dark seeded raisins

1 cup glazed apricots, coarsely chopped

4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup dark rum

FOR THE CAKE BATTER:

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda blended with 1/4 teaspoon baking pwder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

2 cups sugar

6 jumbo eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup whipping cream, at room temperature

In a large bowl, preferably of glazed earthenware or glass, combine the ginger, raisins, apricots, walnuts, and dark rum; mix well and set aside, loosely covered for 4 hours, or overnight.

On baking day: lightly grease the inside of a 10-inch tube pan with melted shortening; line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and set aside.

Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking soda-baking powder blend, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg; set aside.

In the largest bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until light on moderately high speed, about 3 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, beating until light. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently. Blend in the vanilla and cream.

Blend 1/2 cup of the sifted mixture over the fruit and nut mixture. On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions, beating just until the flour particles have been absorbed. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until firm but not stiff and briskly stir 1/2 cup into the cake batter. By hand, stir in the fruit/nut combination, and fold through the remaining whites until no large patches of white appear. The batter should be well incorporated and look light, without clumps of egg white showing through.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan and shake the pan lightly from side to side to level the top. Bake the cake on the lower-third level rack of a 275-degree oven for about 2 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the cake emerges clean but still has a slightly sticky residue. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Gently loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a thin palette knife, then carefully invert onto another rack. Invert again to cool rightside up.

Wrap up the cooled cake in a double thickness of fine-meshed cheesecloth sprinkled with extra dark rum. Store the cake in an airtight container in a cool place.

Several hours before serving, glaze the cake with apple jelly glaze, if desired, and decorate the top of the cake with additional whole fruits and nuts. APPLE JELLY GLAZE (Makes about 1 1/4 cups)

The flavor of apple in a glaze brings out the fruity taste of apricots, raisins, and peaches, and combines well with ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

1 1/4 cups apple jelly

2 tablespoons lemon juice, strained

Heat the jelly in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until it dissolves. Stir in the lemon juice and bring to the boil. Remove the glaze from the heat, and while hot, apply over the surface of the fruitcake with a wide paint brush.

While the glaze is still warm and has not yet begun to set, firmly place pieces of dried fruit or nuts on the cake for decoration. SPICED NUT FRUITCAKE (Makes one 10-inch tube cake)

Whenever friends bestow a generous gift basket of mixed nuts, remember this fruitcake, which makes use of them in an attractive way. The taste of the nuts is deepened by the spices and the dark rum.

FOR THE FRUIT AND SOAKING MIXTURE:

1 1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups blanched almonds, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped unsalted macadamia nuts

1/2 cup coarsely chopped brazil nuts

2 cups seeded dark raisins

1/2 cup dark rum, preferably Barbados rum

FOR THE CAKE BATTER:

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon allspice

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups ( 3/4 pound) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

5 jumbo eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

In a large bowl, preferably of glazed earthenware or glass, combine the walnuts, pecans, almonds, macadamias, brazils and raisins. Pour over the rum and toss well. Loosely cover the bowl and let stand for 6 hours or overnight.

On baking day: grease the inside of a 10-inch tube pan with melted shortening; line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper and set aside.

Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and salt; set aside. In the largest bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on moderately high speed, for 3 minutes, or until light. Beat in the granulated sugar in 2 additions, beating well after each portion is added; beat in the brown sugar. Beat in the eggs on moderate speed, one at a time, beating well after each egg is added. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently to keep the mixture light and even. Blend in the extracts.

Stir 1/2 cup of the sifted flour mixture into the nut and raisin mixture. Add the remaining sifted mixture to the butter-sugar-egg mixture in 3 additions on low speed, beating just until the particles of flour have been absorbed. By hand, stir in the nuts and raisins, with any liquid left in the bowl.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan; shake the pan gently from side to side to level the top. Bake the cake on the lower-third level rack of a 350-degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a wooden pick inserted in the cake emerges clean.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Gently loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a thin palette knife, then carefully invert onto another rack. Invert again to cool rightside up.

Wrap up the cooled cake in a double layer of fine-meshed cheesecloth sprinkled with extra dark rum. Store the cake in an airtight container in a cool place.

Several hours before serving, glaze the cake with red currant or apricot glaze, if desired, and decorate the top with additional whole fruits and nuts. STUFFED DATE, PEACH AND WALNUT FRUITCAKE (Makes one 10-inch tube cake)

Dates stuffed with pieces of crystallized ginger, dried peaches, and walnuts wind their way through a cinnamon scented brown sugar cake batter.

FOR THE FRUIT AND SOAKING MIXTURE:

1 cup crystallized ginger pieces, approximately

3 cups pitted dates, preferably small dates

3 cups golden raisins

3 cups dried peaches, diced

3 cups walnuts, preferably english walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup brandy or cognac

FOR THE CAKE BATTER:

2 1/2 cups unsifted all purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1/4 cup whipping cream blended with 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, at room temperature

Stuff the ginger pieces into the pitted dates, firmly pushing them in, then cut each stuffed date in half on the diagonal. Combine the stuffed date halves, raisins, peaches, and walnuts in a large earthenware or glass bowl. Pour over the brandy (or cognac) and fold it through the fruit with your hands. Loosely cover the fruit and let it stand in a cool place (but not in the refrigerator) for 2 days, stirring up the mixture carefully from time to time.

On baking day: grease the inside of a 10-inch tube pan with melted shortening; line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper and set aside.

Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; set aside. In the largest bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on moderately high speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and continue creaming for an additional 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently to keep the mixture even. Beat in the brown sugar and continue beating for 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. On moderate speed, beat in the cream-extract mixture.

By hand, stir the fruit and soaking mixture into the cake batter. Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Gently shake the pan from side to side to level the top of the batter.

Bake the cake on the lower-third level rack of a 275-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours; increase the oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue to bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes longer, or until a wooden pick inserted in the cake emerges clean, but still slightly sticky.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Gently loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a thin palette knife. Invert again to cool rightside-up.

Wrap up the cooled cake in a double length of fine-meshed cheesecloth and lightly sprinkle with extra brandy (or cognac). Store the cake in an airtight container in a cool place.

Several hours before serving, glaze the cake with apricot glaze, if you like, and decorate the top with whole fruits and nuts. APRICOT GLAZE (Makes about 1 1/4 cups)

This smooth and shiny glaze is delicious on most fruit and nut-based cakes. Use a good-quality apricot jam, which needn't include too many pieces of fruit, as the fruit gets strained out.

1 1/4 cups apricot jam

2 tablespoons lemon juice, strained

Heat the jam in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until it dissolves. Stir in the lemon juice and bring to the boil, slowly, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and let the jam simmer for 2 minutes. Strain the glaze to remove any pieces of apricot flesh.

While the glaze is still hot, apply it all over the surface of the cake with a wide paint brush.

While the glaze is still warm, firmly set pieces of fruit and/or nuts over the top of the fruitcake for decoration, if you wish. APRICOT, FIG AND COCONUT FRUITCAKE (Makes one 10-inch tube cake)

The coconut and granulated sugar keep the batter of this cake "white," as contrasted to the other brown sugar-laden batters. It's good plain, but better with a little cloud of coconut hard sauce -- butter beaten with confectioners' sugar, vanilla, coconut extract and shredded coconut.

FOR THE FRUIT AND SOAKING MIXTURE

3 cups glazed apricots, diced

2 cups golden raisins

2 cups dried figs, stemmed and diced

2 cups walnuts, preferably english walnuts, coarsely chopped

2 cups blanched almonds, coarsely chopped

2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup light rum

FOR THE CAKE BATTER:

2 1/2 cups unsifted cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

7 extra-large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 cup light cream blended with 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons pure coconut extract, and 1 teaspoon pure almond extract, at room temperature

In a large bowl, preferably of glazed earthenware or glass, combine the apricots, raisins, figs, walnuts, almonds, pecans and coconut. Pour over the light rum, toss with the fruit and nuts, cover loosely, and let stand at room temperature overnight or up to 2 days.

On baking day: grease the inside of a 10-inch tube pan with melted shortening; line the bottom and sides with parchment paper and brush the inside of the paper with melted shortening.

Onto a large sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the largest bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until light on moderately high speed, about 2 minutes. Beat in the sugar in 3 additions, beating well to incorporate one portion before the next is added. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, blending well; scrape down the sides of the bowl often to keep the mixture even. Fold 1/2 cup of the sifted mixture into the fruit and nut mixture.

On low speed, add the sifted mixture in 2 additions, and the cream in 1 addition, beginning and ending with the sifted mixture. Stir in the fruit and nut mixture.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until firm but not stiff. Briskly stir 1 cup of the beaten whites into the fruitcake batter to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites until no large patches of white appear.

Carefully pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan and lightly shake the pan from side to side to level out the batter. Bake the cake on the lower level rack of a 275-degree oven for 2 hours 20 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes, or until a wooden pick emerges clean but still slightly sticky.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Gently loosen the cake from the sides of the pan with a thin palette knife. Invert again to cool rightside up; remove the brown paper that encircles the sides of the cake.

Wrap up the cooled cake in a double length of fine-meshed cheesecloth lightly sprinkled with light rum. Store the cake in an airtight container in a cool place.

Several hours before serving, glaze the cake with apricot glaze, if you like, and decorate the top with additional whole fruits and nuts.