gaah, where has the time gone? recipes in a bit (maybe after xmas if you'll forgive me--'tis that time of year after all)!
yeah, well, there's really no hiding it. i can't even claim it's not like a traditional cake made with all fresh or dried fruit, or some sort of pierre herme creation. it's not lightweight, it's not soaked in tequila--it's a number-one-bona-fide-brick of butter, sugar, eggs, and fruit. i adapted a recipe from jeffrey steingarten--the other one who ate everything--that was adapted by annie over at bon appegeek; she is a hardcore fruitcake fanatic, so if she liked the recipe, and if jeffrey steingarten liked the recipe, there's a pretty good chance that i...might not. hey! like i said, i'm not a big fruitcake fan. i don't know why i wanted to make it, maybe it's some sort of sick manifestation of holiday spirit or something. (you know what? it probably is. i mean, i've been watching straight-to-basic-cable holiday movies all week--diva whose ghost of present is the bass player for duran duran? seen it. sabrina the teenage witch kidnapping the cha cha king for a family dinner? seen it. also, who's been scanning the FM dial for a chance to hear mariah carey for the fifteenth time? that day? nyahh. say what you want, it's teh awesomeest.)
so anyway. i've never read steingarten's book, don't really know the exact mods that annie did to his cake, and there's talk of some sort of "fatal flaw" in the crust. i wasn't worried too much about it, though, because the ingredients list reads like a french pound cake recipe with the addition of a lot of stuff--i can do that. the french pound cake--quatre quarts, literally "four fourths"--is made with equal amounts of four ingredients: flour, eggs, butter, and sugar; only a little variation on that, and some advice taken from one of the dozens of googled fruitcake recipes i've looked at for weeks: the addition of 3.5 pounds of fruit. yeeeeeeahboyyyy. can't mistake that for anything else then. i used a mix of dried and candied fruits, chopped them up to 1/4-inch anonymity to protect the innocent, which made the cake more like a jammy poundcake than dough studded with sugary unidentifiable lumps. walnuts added some needed texture, and like annie and jeffrey, i didn't bother to liquor it up. didn't need it. also didn't get the hard crustiness as described by both, but i baked them in smaller loaves, so the cooking time was reduced significantly; what i got was a beautifully golden, sugary-coated shell that made the cake irresistible directly out of the oven. of course, all that fruit and sugar makes it molten-hot, so perhaps you'd like to wait for it to cool completely, or even refrigerate it for easier slicing.
3 1/2 lbs of any combination of dried fruit and candied fruit you like--i highly suggest using a lot of citrus peel in the mix (i used 8 oz each of candied orange peel, lemon peel, and pineapple, golden raisins, chopped dates, 4 oz of finely diced candied ginger in syrup, and made up the rest with a dried fruit blend, then chopped down to 1/8"-1/4" pieces)
1 lb of nuts, your choice (i used roughly chopped walnuts)
1 lb of flour, sifted
1 lb of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 lb of white sugar
2 teaspoonfuls of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoonful of salt
preheat oven to 325˚F.
in a large bowl, combine all fruit and nuts, mixing well. set aside. cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. add vanilla and salt. fold in flour until completely incorporated. mix fruit/nut mix into batter. transfer batter into well greased pans. bake until golden, and toothpick inserted in center comes out relatively clean (roughly 35 minutes for small muffins, 1 hour for small loaves, and 2 hours for large ones).
i am at the tail end of a cookie baking marathon--mexican wedding cookies, an odd hazelnut chocolate cookie with which i was experimenting, and chocolate chippies. new to this year's lineup: bill clinton's oatmeal cookies, from chef sherry yard's "desserts by the yard." i make a lot of oatmeal cookies, and even though they don't look like much (when do oatmeal cookies ever do?), they might be some of my favourite--possibly the only favourite anything i share with the former president. they are crispy on the outside, but chewy with oats, brown sugar, and wine-soaked golden raisins (i added some dried cranberries as well) on the inside. you can futz about with the temperature and time if you want a softer, chewier cookie, but imho, they don't turn out quite so well. stick to the plan, stan, and enjoy.
it's (eeeep!) only tweeks away from the 25th, and i'm still trying to decide what my christmas cake gift will be. truth be told, i'm not entirely sure anyone around here appreciates gingerbread, spice cakes, or fruitcake, but i so want to do one. or all. or, in the case of this ludo recipe, a spice and fruitcake rolled into one.
pain d'épices--"bread of spices"--is a specialty of the bourgogne/burgundy region of france, possibly adapted from a chinese honey cake in the middle ages to satisfy marguerite de france's penchant for honey cake, depending on what you read. a combination of ideal geography and shrewd calculations gave the burgundian dukes control of the spice trade through europe, which accounts for the exotic, redolent spices found in pain d'epices: anise, cloves, cinnamon, sometimes ginger. since chef lefebvre is from burgundy, i thought, what better source is there? (of course it has nothing to do with the fact that the cookbook is at my bedside, no not at all.)
it is a simple recipe, despite the 20 item ingredient list; the majority of those are spices, and only in small quantities. rather surprising to me, though, is that ginger is not one of those ingredients, but with fresh orange and lemon peel, star anise and cloves among them, who needs it? also unnecessary are eggs and fat--this is a dairy-free dessert. unlike many of the other pain d'epices receipts i have found, this one has candied fruit in it, making it very much a fruitcake. i substituted traditional glacé fruits with a dried fruit blend to great effect--the candied texture is still there, but with much less sweetness. there is also a bounty of pistachios, hazelnuts, and almonds within. once all the ingredients have been assembled--dry items in one bowl, wet in another, nuts and bolts to the side--it really comes down to just mixing them all and baking, in the easiest possible way. whoo!
the cake is dark, dense, moist, intensely aromatic and flavoured; a thin slice is better than a thick one to savour all the flavours going on within it. i find it exotic and appealing, very we-three-kings frankincensey and jewellike. however, the gingerbread jury thought otherwise: "omg, is that a fruitcake?! bleurgh" or "blarrgh! wtf? is there cumin in this?!" pfftpfftpfft. why, ho ho ho, yes, there is cumin in there--a mere fraction of a teaspoonful--but apparently enough to make staunch cuminyfruitycake-haters fuel up on haterade (who knew there would be so many). *sigh* i could leave out the cumin. or, get new friends. but do i really want to do either?
back to the books.
about a year ago, i bought a little fig tree cutting from a local growers' market. i was surprised to see it there, because i didn't think figs grew in tropical places, mainly because i never saw fresh figs in the market, nor any recipes utilizing them. the grower really didn't know anything about it, except that he had always had trees on his family's land; however, he had never actually tried the fruit, and wasn't sure if it was the same as any of the varieties sold in mainland markets or if it was some sort of asian variation.
so, i took it to my parents' house and my dad planted it in the backyard. i didn't hold much hope for it, but it grew steadily, and even managed to produce a couple of fruit sporadically over the next couple of months. i didn't really think about it much, but lately i've realized that in the past year, the tree is now over ten feet tall, and is finally yielding enough fruit to actually use in a recipe. whee! i figured it was time to actually look up what kind of fig tree it is.
i still don't know, but found another surprise: fig trees--Ficus carica--are believed to be native to western asia, distantly related to breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis Fosb.); jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.); and chinese mulberry (Cudrania tricuspidata). it is a deciduous tree that is typically ten to 30 feet in height, but can grow up to 50 feet. the branches are soft, twisty and vine-like, spreading wide rather than tall. the leaves are bright green, fuzzy, have an easily recognizable shape and grow out to nearly a foot in length. the fruit has a thin peel of varying colours (from green to dark purple), with and interior white rind holding in a mass of gelatinous seeds. they must be left to ripen on the tree, but once picked they only last for a few days.
perhaps this fragility, along with the fact that there aren't many birds on island to spread the seed are the reason why i haven't seen them before, but i'm still surprised i haven't seen it as an ingredient in asian recipes. perhaps a little more research is in order.....
upon some reflection, i've realized i don't really like meringues all that much, but i do like aspects of them a lot--fat freedom and texture mainly; that they are overly sweet and not particularly flavoured with anything, not so much. also, i wasn't very good at making them. however, with a little patience, a vat of egg whites, and some help from baking 911, i've learned some tricks for success in a humid, tropical kitchen. the main thing, of course, is to try to keep the humidity at bay, but making a swiss meringue--which cooks the egg whites and sugar before beating--allows for the sugar to melt thoroughly (no graininess or weeping--on the meringue's nor cook's part), and stabilizes the mix more for a lighter, fluffier texture. also, in more humid climates, longer oven times are necessary, but at a lower temperature--lower, slower. whoo. barry white meringues!
still working on flavour. vanilla is nice, but want more variety. for these i simply whirred some freeze-dried strawberries in a food processor to make a ruby red dust for decoration and a bit of tartness. holiday gorgeous, certainly, but if anyone has any other flavouring suggestions, please let me know!
big baked meringues, humid weather formula (aka barry whites)
2 egg whites (from large eggs)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoonful vanilla extract
pinch of salt
preheat oven to 300˚F. over a pot of simmering water, stir the egg whites and sugar together until the sugar melts and the mixture feels quite warm (but not hot!). add vanilla and salt. take the mixture off the heat, and whisk (or use a mixer) until thick, glossy and doubled in volume. plop big blobs of the stuff onto a parchment lined baking sheet, then bake in oven for 1-1 1/2 hours. drop the temperature to 250˚F, bake for another 1-2 hours, then turn off oven. leave the meringues in oven overnight to continue drying.
makes 4 to 6 big bazonking meringues.
During Hanukkah, Jewish people celebrate the miracle of the tiny bit of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. This miracle is remembered by lighting a menorah for eight days and eating fare cooked in oil or laden with cheese.um, i think there might be more to it than that. but hey, food is important in religious holidays--that a celebration should include deep fried dough and dairy goodness can only be a good thing, right?
this isn't fried in oil, but it is definitely laden with cheese: a dark chocolate chocolate chip cheesecake from the whimsical bakehouse by kaye and liv hansen. the recipe was adapted from this mocha chocolate chip cheesecake--just omit the espresso. also, all the fiddly decorative bits and chocolate glaze are nice but unnecessary--this cake is good enough on its own. it is creamy, not too sweet, rich, but not too heavy. a lovely addition to any holiday feasting.
if you don't have the powdered milk, you can leave it out. if you don't have an ice cream maker, just pour the mix into a zippered freezer bag, then place in the freezer; squish it about every half hour or so until it has a soft-serve like consistency. to make the chocolate rice crispies, melt a bar of milk chocolate (i find leaving it on my car dashboard to be the most effective method--if that's not in your plans, try one of these methods), add approximately one cup of puffed rice cereal to the slightly cooled chocolate, mixing gently until coated well. spread out onto wax paper or silpat sheet to cool, then fold into the prepared ice cream.