Dec 31, 2009

Last Cake, Next Cake

Congratulations to the small but intrepid band of bakers who worked their way through the holiday pinecone cake! Only seven of us (eight, counting me) finished the project that many of us viewed as ugsome. (I had to work that word in; it was in the crossword today, and is an Old English word meaning dreadful).

Nobody thought the finished cake was dreadful, as in terrible, but a lot of us approached it with some trepidation. In fact, Vicki said that the fondant bested her, and she "humbly la[id] down her fondant covered latex glove." There were also a lot of comments about the shape of the cake, which Mendy's wife called "gnarly," and Nicola described as a "chocolate, flour-flecked rocket."

Rachelino did not have any trouble at all with the fondant, and has a picture of her cake alongside a couple of real pinecones, so you can see that it actually does resemble one of nature's own.

The FEATURED BAKER this week is GartBlue, who was so eager to make this cake that she baked it six days early. She gets a LOT of extra credit for tackling her cake in the middle of the rainy season in Malaysia, although she decided it was too humid to try to make the fondant. It's not laziness, it's the humidity! (Or so she claims). Extra credit, too, for attempting the ganache with a baby food processor. Literally, a baby food processor: she got it to puree food for the babies, who are now teenagers. (No, that's a joke. They're really five and six years old--but they'll be teenagers before you know it). Both GartBlue and the ex-babies fell in love with the ganache, but most of it managed to make its way onto the cake. Although GartBlue's cake is the most UN-pinecone-like of the group, she loved it, and it got eaten up, and that's really what matters.

As a reward for last week's travails, this week's cake is the seriously easy and very enjoyable whipped cream cake. All you need is some version of a bundt or tube pan and alot of whipped cream, especially if you serve it with a bit (or more than a bit) of whipped cream on the side.

Lois is the first baker to join our group in 2010. She lives in Arizona, and loves to travel and to cook. She's been following the group for a few months and decided it was time to join. Welcome!

Dec 28, 2009

Holiday Pinecone Cake

Every time I looked at this recipe, I thought, "There's no way I can do this." I signed up to bring a cake to our office Christmas party, and I kept telling myself that if it didn't turn it, I'd just buy something. By the time people got to dessert, half of them would be sloshed enough that they wouldn't even notice, or so I reassured myself. (You might think that the thought of a houseful of sloshed lawyers would not be a reassuring thought, and ordinarily, you'd be right).
I put the picture first to stop the suspense. I did turn out a pine cone cake--of sorts. I did take it to the party. I did get lots of compliments, even though everyone turned out to be more or less sober, even at dessert time. But there were a few times when I almost threw in the towel and headed to the nearest bakery.
Friday night was the fondant. The frickin' fondant, as Jim and I called it affectionately. And as I called it unaffectionately as I was working with it. Perhaps I should have tried some baby fondant before trying this big hunk o' fondant, because I had no clue what it was supposed to look like, smell like, taste like, or handle like.
But I got all the ingredients together and dug in.

When I measured out the powdered sugar, I realized I didn't have quite enough, and, since I didn't have the energy to go get more, I decided I'd just add another 21 grams of cocoa to make up for the missing 21 grams of powdered sugar. I think this was a mistake because I don't believe (now, with the wisdom of hindsight) that they're interchangeable. I would have been better off just being a little short of sugar. My real problem was not adding enough liquid.

The mixture was very dry, even after I kneaded it in the bowl, and it didn't get manageable when I started kneading it on the counter.I was dubious about the state of my fondant, but I carefully wrapped it up and went to bed.

My daughter Sarah came over on Sunday, after the cake was gone, and looked at the pictures. When she saw this one, she started laughing hysterically and saying very rude things.

Then she asked me if she'd hurt my feelings. "Why no, not at all," I told her. "It's very enjoyable for me to hear my frickin' fondant compared to...."
"I'm really, really sorry, Mom," she said. But she started laughing again.

Saturday morning, I was feeling much cheerier, although I was still facing the cake that gets rolled up in a dish towel. I've heard about this technique, of course, but, seeing as how I'm only an Advanced Beginner and not yet Competent, I'd never done it.
As it turns out, it's not hard to do.
Cocoa mixed in boiling water:

A little bit of flour, sifted:

Whole eggs plus egg yolks, beaten for five minutes:

And, finally, stiffly beaten egg yolks folded into the chocolate-egg mixture:

The mixture gets poured into a half-sheet pan, and baked for about seven minutes. Hardly enough time to leave the kitchen.

Seven minutes is almost enough time to make the chocolate-almond ganache, which, compared to the rest of the elements of the cake, is a cinch. Heat cream, add a pound of chocolate, and some toasted almonds. The recipe calls for 60% to 62% cacao. I used part 68% and part 52%, and it turned out to be perfect. This ganache is incredibly delicious, and can be transformed into truffles, or something truffle-like if you have some left over.

The next step gets tricky again. The sponge cake, which has been rolled up in a dish towel, quietly awaiting its turn, gets unrolled. Surprisingly, there were no mishaps in this process, although I kept forgetting to breathe while I was doing it. Then I spread ganache on the cake. This looks awkward because I'm doing it sideways. I don't know why.

Next tricky step: I forget whether this is #4 or #5. Cut off part of the side and transfer it to the bottom of the cake to more closely approximate the shape of a pinecone. I actually looked at a real pinecone at this stage, and realized that if I had to save my life by disguising myself as a pinecone, I would not be successful. My cake was not going to fool anyone. I decided that--if the cake ever got finished--I would fend off awkward questions by announcing, "This is a chocolate pinecone cake." Then I slathered more ganache all over the pinecone.

At this point, it looked like it had no possibility of turning into an edible, presentible dessert. The ganache was very soft, and gave every indication of turning into a sloppy mess. But I still had enough faith to put it out on the front porch, where it could, I hoped, harden enough that I could do something with it.
Unfortunately, the "something" I was planning to do involved wrapping it with the fondant that I'd been trying not to think about.
I think that Rose was a little worried about my state of mind, seeing as how I'd been using words like "dread" and "crazy" in connection with the fondant. She sent me an encouraging email telling me that working with the fondant would be like working with soft Italian leather. I had to tell her that my fondant was more like industrial grade leather.
At first, it cracked and crumbled when I tried to roll it out. With the combination of the messy ganache-covered cake and the cracking fondant, I was pretty sure this project was doomed. As advised, I stuck the fondant in the microwave for a few seconds. This had no effect. In desperation, I put my hands under the faucet, shook them off, and started kneading the fondant. I couldn't believe it, but the drops of water were gradually absorbed into the fondant to make it more or less workable--workable enough that I ended up with the right-sized rectangle.

Not only that, but when I checked on the cake, the ganache had hardened enough that I thought I could handle it. In a second, I moved from despair to hope.

I draped the fondant over the cake, which, truth be told, looked more like a bullet than a pinecone, but why would I bring a chocolate bullet to a holiday party? Besides, the rows of pine scales, or whatever they are, would make it look more pine-conish and less bullet-like. At least I hoped so.
But I read the directions and looked at the pictures, and couldn't figure out how to make the lumpish thing I was working on resemble the adorable pinecone in the picture. Jim was apparently getting worried about my state of mind too, because he volunteered to take over making the V-shaped cuts. After a few rows, he tried to get me to take the knife back. "This is tedious," he complained. "Too bad," I said unsympathetically. "You're stuck with it." Then I started to cheer him on. "Good work, Jim! You're doing a great job!" I could tell he was having fun.

I added some pine needles, which I'd dipped in beaten egg white and dusted with powdered sugar. Not my idea, of course--it's in the book. However, I rejected out of hand the notion of making cute little red marzipan berries, and used perfectly good plastic ones instead.

Finally, I took the advice of my neighbor, Barb, a professional cookbook author, who reminded me that powdered sugar hides a multitude of sins, and I dusted the whole shebang with powdered sugar. Thanks, Barb--great idea!

When I walked into the party carrying the pinecone cake, people were very impressed that I'd made it myself. (Well, there was one smartass who asked me why I'd brought a porcupine). I didn't need a tasting panel, because when dessert time came around, I heard people saying things like, "Oh my god, you have to try this chocolate cake."
The taste is the part that Rose omitted from her description of the cake. With all the instructions about how to put everything together, and how to roll the fondant, she neglected to mention that this cake is not only a show-stopper (even when made by a fondant tyro), but it is, in my opinion, an even better example of pure chocolate deliciousness than the Chocolate Oblivion. Even the fondant, which Woody described as tasting kind of like a dark chocolate Tootsie Roll, and which I thought was the weak link in the chocolate chain, gave a perfect bit of texture to the cake and ganache combination.
The next morning, when Jim was reading the Sunday comics, he burst out in laughter. I looked up, and he showed me this Arlo and Janis cartoon:

I know just how Janis feels.

Dec 23, 2009

Last Cake, Next Cake

These weeks when we bake from the Quick and Easy list are so nice. Everyone's happy and (most) everyone's successful. SugarMother baked hers in star-shaped forms as well as in a square pan; she doesn't think the stars look like stars, but when I clicked on her blog, I said to myself, "Oh, those stars are so cute!" Saira made hers in cupcakes, and loved them (despite not much liking gingerbread!). Rose's recipes can be pretty miraculous this way--people like her fruitcake despite not liking fruitcake; her gingerbread despite not liking gingerbread; her coconut cake despite not liking coconut. I also have to send you to Nicola's blog, if you haven't visited it yet. She starts out with a story about the New Zealand All Blacks and segues smoothly into her experience with the gingerbread cake, which she ended up liking (spread with butter) despite the fact that it erupted in her oven.
this week has got to be Patricia from Butter Yum, who managed to turn this simple, homey cake into ... homes! Mini-gingerbread houses, in fact. The thing I find most amazing about her description of making this little gingerbread cakes is that she says making and playing with royal icing is a "great way to relax during the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle." I have made royal icing a few times--the few times I attempted gingerbread houses, and I can assure you that I was not relaxed. But chacun a son gout, as they say, and thank goodness there are people like Patricia, who can show people like me what can be done with patience and a loving attitude.
Also props to Patricia for taking a black and white photo that made it to the finals in a photo contest on popular blogger, Pioneerwoman.

We're face-to-face with our most challenging cake yet: the dreaded yet awesome Holiday Pinecone Cake. Places, everyone. Do you have your half-sheet pan? Your Spectrum shortening? Your gelatin? Your glycerin? Do you have your courage? If so, get ready to bake!

And, whatever holidays you celebrate, and whether you're snowed in or basking in the sun, please enjoy these days and reflect on how lucky we all are.

Dec 21, 2009

English Gingerbread Cake

People kept asking me why this was an English gingerbread cake: "What makes it English?" they kept wanting to know. I just answered, "It's a traditional English recipe," which actually gave no further information, but seemed to satisfy people. Other than Rose's description of how she was told that her new cookbook should contain a recipe for English gingerbread cake, I had no idea why it was English. But I found a blog, Wildschein, that cited to a description in Larousse Gastronomique:

“British gingerbread is a cake flavoured with ginger and treacle. The French equivalent (pain d’epice), whose name means literally ’spice bread’, is a cake with a basis of flour, honey and spices (it need not contain ginger) … Gingerbread was formerly regarded primarily as a fairground delicacy … Although it is mainly eaten at teatime or at festivals (particularly in Belgium and Germany), gingerbread also has some uses in cookery, for thickening sauces, ragouts, and carbonades, especially when beer is used in the recipe. Gingerbread (French or English varieties) can easily be made at home. The best results for pain d’epice are achieved with a strong-flavoured honey, such as buck-wheat or heather honey. Wheat flour is generally used (sometimes mixed with rye flour); flavourings can include orangeflower water, ginger, orange or lemon zest, star anise or cinnamon, or a mixture of spices. For both kinds, orange or apricot marmalade may also be added to the mixture. After baking, the top of the cake may be decorated with pieces of angelica, green walnuts, or candied orange peel.”

If you say to an American that it's a cake typically flavo(u)red with ginger and treacle, said American will probably not nod knowingly. If you say it's made with a mixture of spices and Lyle's Golden Syrup, that won't help much either, so you might as well just say that it's a traditional English recipe, and hope that keeps your inquisitor quiet. You need not add that it's frosted with whipped cream in the event that you mess up the top of the cake, although that's what happened to me.

Another Official Quick-and-Easy cake, there are really only 3 steps to this cake.

1. Melt the butter with the golden syrup (or light corn syrup, if you couldn't find Lyle's), brown sugar, and marmalade.

2. Mix the dry ingredients, which, oddly, I think, contain both cake flour and whole wheat flour. I guess this must be to give the cake the earthy taste of whole wheat flour without making it heavy.
3. Mix in the butter mixture, to which you've added milk and eggs, with the flour mixture. The flour mixture has only one teaspoon of ginger, so if you want a more pronounced ginger flavor, you'd have to add more ginger. I never mess with Rose's recipes, at least on the first go-round, because she works so hard to come up with perfectly balanced flavors.

I loved the way it looked when it came out of the oven. So golden and inviting-looking.
While it's cooling in the pan, you can make the simple lemon butter syrup: not surprisingly, this is made up of lemon, butter, and sugar, which cooks briefly on top of the stove.

While the cake is still in the pan, brush about half the syrup on top of the cake. Then, invert the cake on a wire rack that has been coated with non-stick spray. If you don't do this, you will leave the top layer of the cake on the wire rack.

Sad, because things had been going so smoothly up until now. I was planning to serve the cake in slices, with a dollop of whipped cream alongside; perhaps I'd sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on the dollop. This cake was for my political group, which has been very lazy since we don't have Bush and Cheney to kick around any more, and I knew they'd appreciate this cake because they all appreciate food. But the slices were not going to be gorgeous since the layer had been shorn of most of its shining glory.
So I decided to skip the dollop and frost the cake with whipped cream instead.

When I was getting the cream from the refrigerator, I noticed that I still had a few glaceed cherries left, and thought they'd look rather pretty on the cake. The whipped cream and cherry addition probably made the recipe no longer authentic, but, really, who was going to call me out if I made a claim for authenticity?
I loved this cake, which was very moist and robust. It had a hint of spice, but tasted more strongly of citrus, with the lemon glaze and orange marmalade in the batter. The whole wheat flour is a nice addition; although the cake tastes wheatier than most cakes, it doesn't have the leaden heaviness that usually makes me run away from any dessert made with whole wheat. I think a little British tot would find this cake very comforting, but an American child would probably be suspicious of everything except the whipped cream. (I didn't try serving it to children of either country; that's just a guess). I made it in a round cake pan because I think that wedges look prettier than squares, but that's just me. There's a variation called Halloween Gingerbread Squares, that calls for a homemade pumpkin template. You could probably use a fir tree template or a turkey template, as well, if you're into template making. I'm not, but I'd make this cake again, and will definitely keep it in my repertoire in case Charles and Camilla ever drop by for tea.

Merry Christmas!


Pat: "It's moist and smooth, with subtle flavors."
Linda: "There's depth to it. I really like the whipped cream too."
Karen: "I love the texture."
Sandra: "It's very good. I like the way the citrus runs into the other flavors."
Betty: "I like it the way it is, but I'd like it with a little more ginger, too."

- - - - -
P.S. You may have noticed that I've made a change in the cake rotation. I had a request for the chocolate apricot roll sometime in January, so I put it in as the cake following the pinecone cake. But then I realized that both of those cakes were jellyroll-type cakes that require rolling in a dish towel and unrolling and filling. I didn't think I could handle that two weeks in a row, so I substituted whipped cream cake. The chocolate-apricot cake will be in February. If you want to make it now, or if you've already made it, feel free to substitute it for the whipped cream cake. But I've heard great things about this very simple whipped cream cake.

Dec 16, 2009

Last Cake, Next Cake

The carrot cake was a huge hit. Both at my house and at my office, everyone who tried it loved it. The other blogs also reported successes, as well. For Vicki, it's the "new favorite in her house." Sherrie described the cake as "dusky and mildly spicy," a description I like, and said she'd definitely be making both cake and frosting again. Raymond tells a good story about his first taste of carrot cake and its association with Three Dog Night. I'm not kidding. He says this "definitely heavenly" version still makes him want to go listen to Three Dog Night. Carrot cake is Raymond's version of Proust's madeleines.

The FEATURED BAKER this week is lanier. This is her sixth cake in the Bake-Along, and she says she decided to keep this one simple, because she didn't have to take it anywhere. She halved the recipe and baked it in a 9 x 9" Pyrex pan, so it was simplicity itself. No worries about getting the layers out of the pan or lining them up or frosting the sides (which, to me anyway, is the hardest part). I'm in awe of the bakers who make the recipes more difficult, so I really relate to those who decide to keep things easy. And with good reason--although this is only the second carrot cake lanier has ever made, her first one--an Easter cake--was decorated by a hand-made (husband-made) stencil of a bunny, filled in with sprinkled cinnamon. So if you go to lanier's blog, you can not only see her current carrot cake but also link to her first one. Nice job on both cakes! Lanier describes Rose's version as "a moist, homey cake with a lovely balance of spice and sweetness." I agree.

My gift to you during this busy season is two cakes in a row that are on the Quick-and-Easy list. Next week is the English Gingerbread Cake. There are no special ingredients for this cake, although Muscovado sugar is listed as "preferable" to plain old dark brown sugar, but you can use any dark brown sugar from any grocery store. You can also use either Lyle's Golden Syrup or light corn syrup. I highly recommend using the golden syrup if you can find it--it has a much deeper and more interesting taste. I made this cake for a party, and I won't say anything more about it except to warn you to be sure to follow the instructions to spray the wire racks before you flip the cake over. I am quite religious about doing that, but I forgot this time and the top of the cake stayed with the wire rack. It wasn't a disaster, just annoying.

In contrast, you might as well start looking at the recipe for the following cake, the pinecone cake, right now. And then read it over every day until it's time to bake it because the directions are complicated. I talked to Woody about this cake and he gave these hints: be sure to get glycerin ahead of time--it's not easy to find--and be sure to use latex or vinyl gloves when you make the fondant. I found glycerin at The Kitchen Window. While I was there, I noticed a tub of readymade dark chocolate fondant. "Look, Jim, I said--if I buy this fondant, I won't have to make it. And no one will ever know." He said, "Wouldn't that be cheating?" "Yes, I guess it would be," I said sorrowfully, and I passed it by. Also recommended for the fondant is Spectrum white vegetable shortening. If you go to the Spectrum web site and type in your zip code, you'll get the stores closest to you that carry this shortening.

Dec 14, 2009

Classic Carrot Cake

This should be in everyone's baking repertoire. The cake is quick and easy; the frosting is quick and easy; and both are outstandingly delicious. It was a treat to go back to something on the quick-and-easy list after a group of more time-consuming projects. I counted up today, and so far I've blogged about 31 cakes, not counting this one. At Cake #31, and counting, I feel that I can no longer call myself a complete novice, and must move myself up to Advanced Beginner from Novice, using the Dreyfus system of rating.

Really, the hardest thing about this cake is grating the carrots.

Once you have grated several pounds of carrots, all that's left to do is sift the dry ingredients together,

mix the eggs, oil, and sugars,

and add the carrots.

Carrot cake is not traditional on Chanukah, but it is appropriate--at least I hope it is--because it's made with oil, and because the story of Chanukah is that of the miracle of the oil. My friend Karen told me that fried jelly doughnuts are actually more traditional, but what can I say? There are no recipes for fried jelly doughnuts in Rose's Heavenly Cakes, so any attempt to make them will have to wait until Chanukah 2011.
I don't know whether it's more authentic to write "Chanukah" or "Hanukkah" or some other version, but I like to write it with a "ch" because it reminds me that it's one of those words that I read long before I heard it pronounced, and when I first heard it pronounced, I thought it was a completely different word: like hors d'oeuvre.
The batter is poured into prepared pans, and baked for about a half-hour.

What makes this carrot cake different from others? I checked a recipe from Betty Crocker to compare. Rose's has more flour, a mixture of brown and white sugar instead of just white (a significant difference), an additional egg, a bit of cocoa (which I haven't seen in other recipes), baking powder as well as baking soda, and optional raisins, which I did not include. Both have two teaspoons of cinnamon and three cups of carrots.
It's the frosting that's really different from the ordinary cream cheese frosting. Ordinary--cream cheese, butter or margarine (my house is a margarine-free zone), and powdered sugar. Rose's--cream cheese, butter, white chocolate, and a little creme fraiche or sour cream. It's the ordinary lifted to the sublime, and the sublimity is reached simply by dumping the ingredients in a food processor, after first having melted the white chocolate, and whirring them together.

I've made this frosting, the "Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting," before, but I've never liked it as much as I like it on this cake. When I made it for the banana cake, I put too much almond extract in it, but this was perfect.
By the way, I really like my new thermometer. Now that I've got an instant-read that works, I have, perhaps predictably, become somewhat obsessive about taking the temperature of various things.

It's my attitude toward frosting the cake that made me decide to promote myself to Advanced Beginner. I actually was looking forward to it instead of dreading it. Granted, it was easy to make and went on smoothly. Granted, there was no slicing, dyeing or, caramelizing involved. But, still, I felt that I could do it.

The cake was so moist that, when I cut into it I wondered whether I'd undercooked it, even though I'd tested it. But it wasn't underdone--just moist. Like the pumpkin cake, this one has so much flavor that you don't at all miss the presence of butter. As with other of Rose's cakes, the flavors are perfectly balanced, so that eating it nuances of flavor in every bite. And, also as with other of her cakes, it's not cloyingly sweet. I know that some of the bakers already have a favorite carrot cake recipe, so I'll be interested to hear how Rose's version compares. As for me, I didn't have a favorite recipe before, but now I do.


Karen: "It's gorgeous and delicious. A very sophisticated version of carrot cake."
Jim: "Very moist. It's pretty the way the nuts are arranged. The best carrot cake I'ver ever eaten."
Laurel: "Very good. Less than the usual overwhelming spices."
Jan: "Moist, creamy, carroty."

Dec 7, 2009

Last Cake, Next Cake

The fruitcake bakers were a small but loyal group, and I think we all ended up being very fond of this great fruit-and-nut cake, even those of us for whom the word "fruitcake" conjures up very unpleasant connotations.
I've already had Faithy as Featured Baker, so it's not her turn to receive that dubious honor, but I do have to give her a special shout-out for her rendition of the fruitcake, which she baked in pyrex bowls, covered with marzipan, and decorated with intricate fondant Christmas trees and snowflakes. The "cake" part of her fruitcake is lighter in color than most because she forgot to get brown sugar. I'm glad she includes details like this--otherwise, I'd accuse her of not being an "amateur" baker at all.
Nicola gets to be the FEATURED BAKER this week--a reward for making the most astonishing leap of faith. It's not that Nicola doesn't like fruitcake--far from it. She loves "moist, fruity, slightly boozy" cakes. What she doesn't like is nuts. Folks, this recipe calls for 6 cups--almost a pound and a half--of nuts: a mixture of pecans and walnuts. Plunging ahead with a nut-laden cake when you're a nut-hating person is investing a great deal of faith in Rose, I think, a faith that was justified when Nicola decided that, despite the nuts, it tasted "grand." "Divine" was her final verdict.
Nicola's blog is also worth looking at to see how she made her own batch of candied citrus peel. Maybe it's because I've never done it, but this seems like a big deal to me, even though Nicola swears it's not difficult, and she gives a link to instructions on how to do it. If it's not really hard, making your own peel would probably be a wonderful alternative to buying the pricey French ones. She added grapefruit peel to the specified orange and lemon, and used a mixture of three raisins: golden, ruby, and flame. (I'm not familiar with ruby and flame raisins, but they sound beautiful). As usual, I'm struck by the imagination that you Bakers use when you bake your versions of the recipe of the week, as I'm a read-the-recipe-three times and DON'T DEVIATE kind of person.

We are smack in the middle of holiday baking now, with the fruitcake last week, the Chanukah cake this week, and the holiday pinecone cake coming up. Jana requested the English gingerbread cake sometime in December, and that also seems appropriately holiday-ish in spirit. Note that the gingerbread cake should be made 24 hours ahead of time, so you can save time by making it the night before a party and having dessert taken care of well ahead of the time that the doorbell rings.
Any questions about any of the upcoming cakes? The Heavenly Bakers have been great at coming to the rescue with answers.

We have two new bakers this week. Saira calls herself a novice baker and has just started her blog, but she's taking a cake decorating class and is very enthusiastic about teaching herself more about baking. Saira, you've come to the right place.
Louise is also a new blogger, but not a new baker. After every recipe, she asks herself whether the recipe is MIA ("make it again"), and that's the question she'll be asking of every Heavenly Cake that she tries.
I have removed a few people from the list of Heavenly Bakers because they haven't baked and I haven't heard from them. Several people have let me know when they think they may not be able to bake for a while--computer issues, vacations, illness, etc. I don't want to take people off the list if they have a continuing interest in the project, so you may want to just drop me a line if you know you're coming up to a dry period for one reason or another.

Fruitcake Wreath

Well, I have to admit that, as fruitcakes go, this one was far superior to any other I have eaten. To illustrate the point, Jim not only ate the one piece he was required to eat by virtue of his position as Spouse of Baker (SOB), but he voluntarily took a second slice: the first time in his life he has ever taken seconds on fruitcake. And that was with the minimally rummy version. That is, I soaked the fruit in rum, but neither brushed on additional rum when the cake was done nor soaked it in even more rum for storage of up to a year (!).

I'm just as glad that I ended up liking it because it's not cheap to make. Woody was going to order Rose's fancy glaceed orange and lemon rind, and we were planning to share the expense, but we chickened out when he saw that the price had gone up, and that one of us was going to have to take out a second mortgage to get the real thing. I was able to get pretty good candied rinds from Kowalski's, but I wish I'd gone ahead and ordered the French stuff. Even the Kowalski's fruit wasn't cheap, and, with the crazy amounts of pecans and walnuts, as well as the rum and butter, this is not something you'd want to bake if you were on a strict food budget.

Although this is not on the "Quick and Easy" list (I guess it fails in the "quick" category because the fruit needs to start soaking in rum a week ahead of time, and it's not ready to eat for 12 hours - or longer - after baking), it's plenty easy. Once you mix up the glaceed fruit and golden raisins with rum, the rest takes little skill. Also, it was entertaining during the week to watch the fruit soak up the rum, although I'll admit to being rather easily entertained. I kept picturing the little pieces of fruit becoming steadily more soused until I almost expected to hear hiccups coming from their plastic nest. (I didn't have a glass canning jar, so I used a plastic storage container with a tight-fitting lid, and kept turning it upside-down and back).

Unless I missed a sentence somewhere, you don't even have to chop the nuts. All you have to do is give them their customary seven-minute toast in the oven. The only quibble I have with the recipe is the rather mysterious (to me, anyway) directions about heating the butter just until it comes to a "creamy consistency." I got it soft but not melted--just right, I thought, but then I read the next sentence, which instructs you to mix the "melted butter" with the brown sugar. This confused me a bit, but I honestly don't think it could matter much if the butter was melted or only creamily soft, because quite a few other ingredients get mixed in before it's done.

Three eggs are added, one at a time; then flour, baking powder and soda, and salt. The tipsy fruit gets absorbed, and, finally, the mountain of nuts.

The directions say that the batter will come almost to the top of the pan, and indeed it does.

Then it bakes for a full hour, which is long enough to clean up the pans and get some work done. Good thing I took a timer up to my computer room because 60 minutes later I'd already forgotten that I had a project going. When I heard the timer, I couldn't figure out what was going on, but I ran down to the kitchen before the cake burned.

I am quite proud of myself for using my new thermometer, which works much better than any of the others I've tried, and it was particularly helpful with this cake. When I first checked, the outside edges were getting pretty brown, but the thermometer told me it had another 8 degrees to go. Five minutes later, it hit 190 degrees Fahrenheit right on the nose, so I hurried it out of the oven.

Ten minutes to cool in the pan, and then the moment of truth--when a molded pan gets inverted and you see whether anything is left sticking to the pan. I was lucky this time.

After it cooled, I moved it to a glass serving plate. I realized I couldn't write about it without tasting it, so I cut into it despite the warning to wait for at least 12 hours to be able to cut it. After about 3 hours, I sliced into it. It wasn't perfect, but good enough to provide sample pieces for Jim and me.

I'm happy that I decided to get the wreath pan. It was an extravagance, but this isn't the only cake that I can bake in it--in fact, I'm thinking that maybe every Christmas calls for a wreath cake, and every year it should be different.

Last year for Christmas, I made an eggnog pound cake, and it would have tasted as good but been even cuter in this pan. I'm a little surprised that Rose didn't have us fancy up this cake by outlining the wreath ribbon in red buttercream, but I'm also grateful. I'm still worried about the crazy pine cone fondant cake that's coming up in just a few weeks.


Rachel: "I normally don’t love fruitcakes, but this was pretty good. I think I was so focused on the nuts that I didn’t get overwhelmed by the fruit, which is usually my objection to fruitcakes."
Jodie: "The fruitcake is delicious. I like the spices--what are they?" [She recognized the flavor when I told her it was rum].
Cyndi: "Good fruitcake. The nuts really make it--there's usually too much fruit in a fruitcake, but this has good balance."