January 1, 2011

Happy New Year*

 

Roll on 2011.  I like the look of ‘2011’.  A very nice collection of numbers nicely arranged.   May it be a Year of Multifaceted Wonderfulness.**

            I think we need a sticky celebratory pudding.  A little late for tonight, but it’ll be excellent tomorrow too.  If you’re not too the-day-after-the-night-before-ish for getting your eyes to focus on a recipe.

Spicy cranberry gingerbread pudding 

The original recipe wants you to make eight individual puddings.  You must be frelling joking.  You’re already going to have to make the sauce as well as the pudding.  Life is way too short to spend that much time buttering pudding basins, not to mention cleaning the suckers afterward, since in my experience putting them through the dishwasher is pretty futile.  I don’t know, are there Miniature Pudding Basin Liners like there are paper muffin cups? The latter entirely revolutionised my baking half a million years ago when I discovered them, or someone started making them, which I think is what happened—some muffin-eating industrialist’s wife told him that paper muffin cup liners would not only mean he could have fresh muffins every day but that they would thereby be made wealthy***.

            Anyway.  In the absence of miniature pudding basin liners, you can make it in an 8” square pan, although a 6-cup Bundt is ideal because it looks pretty without being nearly so much work.† 

1 ¾ c all-purpose flour

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp (ground) ginger

¼ tsp allspice

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

2 medium/large eggs, room temp

5 T soft butter

¼ c blackstrap molasses

¼ c dark brown sugar.  If you’re a wimp you can use white sugar

1 heaped teaspoon freshly grated ginger root

4 oz preserved ginger in syrup, finely chopped, with its syrup

about 1 c water

Sift the dry stuff together.  Squash the butter and sugar together thoroughly, then add molasses, then eggs.  Beat well.  Then start adding flour alternately with water, and mixing each time, starting with flour:  half the flour, then half the water, then half the flour . . . then stop.  At this point add the two gingers (the ground went in with the spices in the dry), so you can judge how much water you’re going to need to make a good batter.  I have found I need slightly less than the full 1c.  Beat well again.  If you are an electric-mixer person, use it.  The batter should get very homogenous and very slightly paler.

            Pour in your chosen WELL BUTTERED pan, and bake about half an hour at 350°F/moderate.  It should look done like a cake looks done.  Use a toothpick if you’re nervous.  If it’s a Bundt, you’ll want to let it cool a bit and then turn it out;  if it’s in a boring old brownie pan, you can just serve it from there.

Sweet Cranberry-Cider Sauce 

1 lb cranberries

16 fluid oz British cider.  Which is to say, alcoholic.  If you can get British/hard cider, use whatever kind you like to drink, which is to say this is not the time to go cheap.  If you can’t get hard cider, use about 1 ½ c ordinary cider and ½ c port, Madeira, sherry, or whatever of that kind of thing you have around.  You ought to have something of this sort because it’s great for enlivening dull food.  You could certainly use Calvados or some such but I think that’s getting on for apple overkill myself.

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp (ground) cloves

¼ tsp nutmeg

about ¼ c, somewhat depending on how dry your cider/etc is and how sweet you like your sauce, dark brown sugar

2 oz preserved ginger in syrup, finely chopped, with its syrup 

Put the cider in a pan with everything else except the preserved ginger.  Bring to boil, boil gently till cranberries pop.  Take off the heat, add the ginger.  Let cool.  Reheat just to warm to serve.  You can warm the pudding too.  I generally don’t, but you don’t want it cold from the refrigerator.

It’s five minutes to midnight as I write this.  Tick . . . tick . . . tick. . . . †† 

* * *

* We had ringing practise tonight.  How sad is that?  New Year’s Eve and we’re all in the bell tower making horrible crashing noises.^  There were even enough of us tonight to make a wide variety of horrible crashing noises.  But I think possibly some of us had got a head start on celebrating.^^ 

^ Niall did suggest that if anyone wanted to ring in the New Year it could probably be arranged . . . but not by him. 

^^ Which is to say that my Cambridge was perhaps more accurate than some others of those present. 

** In the immediate future however . . . I have had a long detailed email from a professional photo geek, who says in essence:

(a)    Yes, the Canons are too slow.

(b)   Yes, the Panasonics’ jpeg handling isn’t good enough. 

At present my choices seem to be:

(a)    Learn photo editing after all and shoot in RAW mode.

(b)   Give up on the compact idea and go for a full DSLR.

(c)    Learn to draw.

How’s progress on cloning coming?  I need two of me, whatever I decide.  I need hours for photo editing and I need hours to write more books to pay for my renovated, upgraded and expanded camera habit.  Or I need hours with my sketchbook.   Hours and hours and hours and HOURS AND HOURS.  And possibly a gene-splice from JMW Turner or James Whistler or  John Everett Millais or Edward Burne-Jones. 

*** And she could hire someone to make muffins while she got on with writing her great novel.  He probably wanted a bigger car or a string of polo ponies or a castle in Spain.  Men.^

^ Although I’ve always wanted my castle in Scotland which is manifestly insane.  Winter?  Darkness?  Rising damp?  Cold?  I think the top ten most uncomfortable places on earth must include at least one paradigmatic Scottish castle.

† Although they don’t go too effectively through the dishwasher either.  Butter it really well.  

†† And I’m listening to Handel’s MESSIAH.  Well, it’s festive.  They’ve got the last night of the Proms running on Radio Three and I cannot take the blurky self-congratulation.  It’s stickier than the above pudding, which is not appropriate on the radio.  Get a grip, guys.

Pumpkin, winter, etc

 

This weather is starting to make me CLAUSTROPHOBIC.   It rained last night, and walking home as a result was unspeakably delightful and I spent most of it murmuring paeans to the gallant yaktrax, or possibly begging them not to self destruct at this moment as I waded through ice-bottomed brooks.*   Today has been a degree or two above freezing so the wet stuff falling from the sky is almost but not quite sleet.  And it’s supposed to snow hard tonight which on top of today’s antics by tomorrow should be . . . whatever the next stage after unspeakably delightful is.

            So to cheer myself up I thought I’d respond to some of the forum comments which I have been neglecting shamefully.**   And of course the comments I’m the most drawn to concern food.

Tinned pumpkin varies, like so many things in this world.  In years when I couldn’t face the whole roasting and scooping/peeling thing—to my mind the worst part of dealing with fresh pumpkin is the seeds:  they don’t come loose when they’re raw, they still don’t come loose even after they’re cooked, and while they come looser, since the pumpkin itself is now all squishy it doesn’t give you any purchase—there is or used to be a French tinned, or rather jarred, pumpkin that was excellent.  Not to mention seedless.  I preferred dealing with a single too-large pumpkin, because the equivalent amount of seed-grappling produced a much higher yield of usable pumpkin than piffling around with the correct number of small pumpkins with their individual minefields of seeds.  I could afford this attitude because at the old house we had a monster chest freezer and I could freeze the surplus pulp—in premeasured glomps.  I always made pies from fresh, but frozen pulp works just fine for bread, cookies and muffins.

And you always, always, always have to look at what’s in your mixing bowl and make executive decisions about texture and runniness.  

When I was laying on Thanksgiving, or some other megaspread, for more people than I had space for, I used to put a tablecloth on the piano.  This habit pursued me through several house moves but reached a kind of apotheosis in Maine.  That was where I had a baby grand piano in a sitting room that was . . . approximately the size of a baby grand piano.  Have I told you this story?  When I had overnight guests—for example, for Thanksgiving—and put them on my Beautiful Blue Velvet Fold Out Double-Sized Sofabed, which had been my first real piece of grown-up furniture and which I therefore adored irrationally***—their feet went under the piano.  The sofa itself was wedged under the window.  You had to take kind of a flying leap from the door:  a bit like my bedroom now, although my bed is complicated by the fact that it’s an old four-poster and if you miss and hit a post. . . .

Grah.  I keep meaning to look for my old apple butter recipe, and keep forgetting.  However.  You don’t really need a recipe:  Take your apples.  Core, peel and chop them—and you don’t have to chop them fine, just chop them—put them in a large, heavy, wide-bottomed pan with as little water as you can get away with—or better yet, apple juice—and boil, gently, till they go mushy.  At this point use a potato masher on them.  I personally find this a lot less effort than all that chopping-small stuff.  Depending on the tartness of your apples and how sweet you want your butter you’ll need somewhere around ¼ to ½ c sugar (brown or white:  I like brown) per cup of apple pulp, and if you mix it in with a whisk you’ll get the last of the lumps out.  Again, depending on how spicy you like your butter, you’ll want anywhere from about ¼ to 1 tsp of cinnamon per cup, and about half that of allspice   Then turn the heat down to low and let it cook forever.  If you want to stand there and stir it you can have the heat a little higher, and it’ll take a little less time but . . . not enough less.  Stirring is one of the most boring occupations on the planet.†  You should be in the same house with it, however, your large, heavy, wide-bottomed pot with your future apple butter in it, because you need to stir it occasionally and make sure it’s not sticking.  It will eventually congeal into . . . apple butter.  I don’t remember how long it takes, but it’s one of these put it together before lunch and it’ll be done by dinner things, and then you’ll have fresh apple butter for breakfast tomorrow.  As you’d expect with something that slow-cooks and is full of spices, it improves with a little age. 

            I never bottled it the way you’re supposed to.  A couple of big jars of apple butter in the back of the fridge didn’t last long enough to be a nuisance.  And the way I make it—without stirring—if you made it in a big batch it would take FOREVER to cook down to sludge.  My way it’s simple enough that doing it again is not a big deal.

            One more warning:  you lose a lot of pectin—the stuff that stiffens the applesauce it into something you can spread—by peeling and coring.  The first time I made it I’d automatically peeled and cored, because that’s what you do before you cook apples, and then I reread the recipe and thought, oh, frell . . . and besides, sieving the muck to get the peels and cores out is again to me way too much like work, like endless stirring.  So I did it my way and it still came out butter, and has always come out butter†† every other time I’ve made it my way.  I don’t know if I’ve been extremely lucky in my apples, or what.  So you might want to follow a proper recipe. 

            . . . I’m interested by the crock-pot version of apple butter that a couple of people mention.  That certainly solves the stirring problem.   And apple butter is a good way to use up all those windfalls or cheap from the farmers’ market damaged apples—I have used any and all apples.  You just adjust the sugar and the spices.  If the apples are old and losing their flavour you can also add a little sherry or Madeira.

The chief thing I remember about making crustless pie with your standard pie filling is be sure you butter the baking dish.            

I love squash and sweet potatoes, in or out of pies.  Although I tend to think that pumpkin makes the best pies—stronger flavour—but I’m sure you could fool me if you tried.  You could just say that you used more/less something-or-other than I’m used to:  all these pies are very spicy, and if you’re using molasses or maple syrup or cream cheese or cranberry sauce (or apple butter) or all of the above, the base orange vegetable could be almost anything.†††   There are dedicated squash (or sweet potato) pie recipes, although I think the ones I know are regional.  What I think of as yams, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got my taxonomy wrong, tend to be sweet without a lot of other flavour;  they don’t interest me much, although generally speaking sweet = good in my hierarchy.‡  But sweet potatoes don’t have to be treated as sweet—somebody mentions sweet potatoes and bacon;  I also love them roasted, either whole or sliced up in coins or wands, drizzled in olive oil (possibly in company with parsnips, carrots and beets treated the same way) and put in the oven on medium-high till they start to dry out and brown a little.  You might want a little salt and a few herbs.  (You should turn them over once, if you can stand it.  Boring.)  They’re also excellent in a stir-fry.  

I’ve just finished supper.  Why am I hungry?

 * * *

* http://www.yaktrax.co.uk/ has restocked so I’ve ordered a spare pair.  I cannot face the thought of more of this weather, the ineluctable facts of hellhound responsibility, and a single pair of exploded, fled, or eaten by wolverines yaktrax.  I’ve been trying to remember what I did in Maine about walking in winter.  Chiefly we had infrastructure.  I was complaining to Peter that the mews, the barns and the Big Pink Blot are all a coop, they pay maintenance for stuff like the grounds and the driveway, where is the bloke with the snow plough hung on the front end of his pick up truck (with the bags of sand in the back to keep the rear wheels on the ground) to clear said driveway so we don’t all slew sideways and run slowly but irresistibly into the frelling wall coming in or going out?  Peter looked at me as if I’d gone mad and explained loudly and clearly as to someone with suspected brain damage that we don’t have blokes with detachable snow ploughs around here.  There’s no call for it.  Huh.  I predict that by next winter the local Scats^ will be selling bolt-on personal snow ploughs.  Meanwhile the twelve miles^^ of frelling driveway is what you’d expect of four inches of unshifted snow being ground into titanium by passing cars and a few hellhounds and yaktrax. 

            In Maine there were tiny sidewalk/pavement-sized snow ploughs too, and after the plough went through somebody else laid sand.  I was also younger.  I didn’t worry about falling down as much.

 ^http://www.first4farming.com/scats/pages/homepage.jhtml

 ^^ Snow makes it longer.  It’s part of the same physics that causes the toast to fall butter-and-marmalade side down. 

** You’re glad really.  It’s all PEG II time.  I wish it were this simple, of course:  if giving up the blog meant I would begin producing two novels a year—which is approximately the right word count, I regret to acknowledge—I’d do it so fast I’d break the world land speed record.  Unfortunately I’ve not had a visit from the Really Good Bargains Fairy. 

*** Yes.  It’s in the sitting room at the cottage, which is even smaller than a baby grand piano.  And was smaller even before the bookshelves went up.    

† Note:  why I almost never make risotto.  All that stirring?  Life’s too short.  

†† It’s nothing like butter.  It’s a kind of thick jammy gloop. 

††† Heavens.  I’d almost forgotten carrot pie.  

‡ I used to make a fabulous brown sugar and orange juice and sweet potato thing for Thanksgiving.  It destroyed lesser mortals.

Morning After Pumpkin Pie

 

Meanwhile . . . it’s still cold.  And you’ll be hustling along after your hellhounds trying to warm up enough to stop your teeth chattering and your fingers burning*, so you’re also breathing shallowly because that air in your nice warm lungs is cold, and sooner or later the imbalance between output and input catches up with you and you are forced to take a long, deep, painful breath and . . . it smells like snow.  AAAAUGH.  According to the forecast we’re going to have flurries for the next several days, culminating in proper snow which will then turn to sleet this weekend.**  So charming.  Whoever pissed the weather gods off, can we please stake them outside the village walls for the tigers, Skadi, Boreas, Beira, or whoever, and get on with our lives?  I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas, okay?  I’m dreaming of hurtling hellhounds without getting knotted up in Chaos’ dranglefabbing slightly-too-small coat*** which will not stay where it’s put, but moseys around like a housefly on a wall.

            This disagreeable weather continues to rouse memories of holidays past in regions where snow for Thanksgiving was not unheard-of and snow for Christmas planned for.†   And I had a long conversation with Hannah this afternoon including comparative Thanksgiving dinners, and hers wins, since she was catering for the multitudes, and for the American multitudes at that, who have expectations.††  And specifically what I found myself remembering was one or two unsatisfactory Thanksgivings from the dim and distant past, and coming home afterward to a cold house without even any of the right leftovers in the refrigerator because I’d had dinner somewhere else, and feeling out of sorts because however admirable the dinner and enlivening the company, certain specific Thanksgiving cravings had not been slaked.  Take pumpkin.  I love pumpkin.  I realise this is not a universal philosophy.  There are people who positively dislike pumpkin.  These unnatural creatures have even been known to host Thanksgiving dinner . . . and fail to produce pumpkin pie. 

            On one of these occasions I came home late Sunday night, tired, cranky, and jonesing like a koala bereft of eucalyptus.  Monday morning I went out in a purposeful manner, got a bargain on tinned pumpkin and made the following:

 Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie 

1 9” unbaked pie crust

1 c mashed cooked or tinned pumpkin (DON’T use so-called ‘pumpkin pie filling’)

1 c apple butter:  herewith begins the lecture.  It all depends on your apple butter.  You want something as thick as possible, and preferably not too sweet, but use what you like

¼ to ½ c dark brown sugar, depending on your apple butter

Again, the amount of spices you use will depend on the spiciness of your apple butter.  So, approximately ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp ginger.  I like sweet spices and would expect to use 1 tsp cinnamon, but if I’m using apple butter that I also made, this may be overkill

3 eggs

½ c evaporated milk

Probably a tablespoon or two of ordinary milk

Combine pumpkin, apple butter, brown sugar, spices.  (Mush up the brown sugar in a little of the pumpkin first, so it’ll beat in smoothly.)  Beat eggs together vigorously, then lightly into the pumpkin.  Stir in about half the evaporated milk and look at what you’ve got.  It should look gloppy but not runny.  (It helps if you’re used to what ordinary pumpkin pie filling looks like raw.  This will be darker and have more texture because of the apple butter, but it should be about the same consistency.)  If it’s already runny, stop now.  If it still looks kind of La Brea Tar Pitsy, stir in the rest of the evaporated milk.  Now look at it again.  If it’ll actually keep its shape in a spoon, that’s too gloppy:  add a little milk.  If it slowly oozes over the edge of the spoon—perfect. 

            Pour in the unbaked pie shell.  I cover the edges with tin foil so they don’t burn.  400°F for about 10 minutes, then lower to 350° and start checking after about 20 more minutes.  You want it set but not shrivelled, and you want to take the tin foil off the edges of the crust about 15 minutes before you take the pie out.  I usually figure 45-50 minutes total.

             As I recall it took me four days to get through it.  It was gone by the weekend—I did have a friend round once for a cup of tea and a slice of pie.  That was back in the days when I had a metabolism however . . . and also I lived alone, so if I wanted to have a glass of cranberry juice and a quarter of a pie for supper, it was my business.

* * *

* although the woolly liners in the All Stars are a great success in preventing the “ . . .Oh, oh! My feet of fire! My burning feet of fire . . . !” thing, although a lack of wendigoes in southern England is also helpful.

** Penelope and Niall are being punished for leaving the Deputy Ringing Master in feeble and desperate charge for something so mere and frivolous as a holiday.

*** He is also dreaming of this

† Things I have never once been nostalgic for include the set of chains that lived in the boot of your car.  Yes, I keep telling you, I am that old. 

†† Someone on the forum wanted to know how you go about having Thanksgiving in England.  Basically you just roast your fowl of choice, slap a few platters of this and that on the table, line up the pies on the sideboard and shout, Yo!  Dinner!   The one standard I did officially allow to slip, back when we were at the (large) old house and had things like dinner parties cough cough cough COUGH which is to say feedable people in the vicinity, was to have the Thanksgiving blow-out on the following Saturday, since British employers don’t give you the Thursday and Friday off.

SUNSHINE contest II winners

 

Ajlr writes: 

After a truly amazing outpouring of culinary talent and ideas over this last week, the winners – yes, two winners* –  of a signed copy of the new and beautiful golden edition of SUNSHINE is cgbookcat1 for Chocolate Basilisk Balls with Kiss of Life sauce and  DrRo for Berry Crumble Butter Cake.  I can imagine happily eating the products from any cafe run by either of these forum members.**

If the winner(s) will PM me on the forum – soon*** – with the details of where their copy should be posted to, then all will be arranged. Many congratulations to both of them.

Now, where’s my mixing bowl…

Meanwhile . . . I was just explaining in a footnote† that one winner wasn’t enough.  Well, clearly two isn’t either.   So just as this contest is an addendum to the previous one, we are going to have an Addendum to the Addendum, to wit, a third winner of a signed shiny gold SUNSHINE is going to be chosen by popular vote, out of the recipes already posted for this contest.

            I, of course, who can just about call up a new game of Fingerzilla††, have no idea how to run a vote on the blog.  But ajlr seems to think it can be done.  Since I kind of sprang the idea on her about twenty minutes ago she and her fellow mods haven’t quite worked out the details yet.  But they will.  And then I’ll post them here.  So to get yourselves in the mood, here are our first two winners’ recipes.  Then you can go cruise the Playing With Your Food SUNSHINE contest thread and think hard about who you will vote for.  It will not be an easy choice.  And when you go to bed tonight visions of sugar-plums (and chocolate) will dance in your head.  Mmmmmm.

cgbookcat1 

For the previous contest I said I would make “Chocolate Basilisk Balls with Kiss of Life sauce,” so I figured I’d better invent the recipe. These were inspired by the Indian dessert Gulab Jamun, although they are really nothing alike except that both feature spheres in sauces. The Basilisk Balls (basilisk eyes) are dark chocolate truffles, and the Kiss of Life sauce is a Cardamom Creme Anglaise. The truffle recipe is modified from Cooking for Engineers, and the sauce is modified from Epicurious.

The goal is to petrify the guests at the first bite, and slowly bring them back to life with murmurs of intense appreciation.

for the Basilisk Balls,

ingredients:
1 pound dark chocolate, cut into small pieces (not unsweetened — Ghirardelli dark chips are good)
1 cup heavy cream
about 3 Tbsp of a really good cognac (I used Hennessy)
unsweetened cocoa powder to coat

directions:
Heat cream in a saucepan until just boiling. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and cognac until your ganache mixture is shiny and smooth. Refrigerate until stiff.

Scoop truffles into small balls using a melon baller or tablespoon measure, and roll until smooth with your hands (this is a messy process). Place in refrigerator to harden for a few minutes. When solid, lightly coat with cocoa powder.* Eat a truffle to check quality control at this point.†††

for the Kiss of Life Sauce,

ingredients:
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided into halves
scrapings from 1/2 vanilla bean
1 tsp crushed cardamom seeds

directions:
Lightly whisk egg yolks and half of the sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, vanilla, cardamom, and the rest of the sugar and heat on medium until almost boiling. You should stir almost constantly (and scrape the bottom of the saucepan) for the duration of the heating process. When the cream mixture is hot, reduce heat dramatically and slowly pour the egg mixture into the cream, stirring as you do so. Increase heat again to medium and stir until the mixture becomes a custard. You will know this has occurred when you can run your finger across the back of the spoon and the track will remain. The mixture will also look very slightly grainy. Remove from heat, cool, and put through a fine strainer to remove unwanted bits of egg.

To serve, place two basilisk balls on a small plate and cover with sauce to taste. The sauce also makes an excellent ice cream if there is any left over.

* The cocoa powder will make the sauce run down the sides of the truffle without properly sticking. This can be solved in two ways — leave off the coating and use just the ganache, or keep adding sauce until it looks right. I prefer the second method, because you get to eat more chocolate that way.

DrRo 

Ok, I admit I just joined so that I could enter the competition‡‡… plus Robin said something about needing more forum members who bake [smiley omitted because WordPress turns them into squiggles] ‡‡‡  Plus I’m rereading Sunshine, AGAIN… and it always makes me want to bake things.

This is an entirely original recipe in that the cake base probably originated from a golden Wattle cook book sometime in the 195/60s… my mum baked a lot of cakes (6 kids can eat a cake like locusts on a pea plant – gone in seconds) so I learnt it from her – using wooden spoon measurements – as in, 2 spoonfuls of butter! I’m trying to convert back to real weights. The rest came from one of those happy accidents of wanting to use something up and not knowing what to do.

Berry Crumble Butter Cake

Heat oven to 180 deg (C)

185g butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups self raising flour
~1/4 cup of milk

Berry mixture
Any combination of ~ 3cups of stewed berries. It works really well with stewed apricots or apples as well. The key to this is that the majority of the liquid is removed. Do this by sitting in a fine-ish sieve for several hours, or by sitting a heavy ladle in the mixture, and spooning out the fluid as it fills. The final mixture should be almost thick enough hold its shape when a spoon is drawn through the middle.

Crumble mix

2 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 cups dessicated coconut

Method:

Cream eggs and sugar, beat in eggs, then flour and finally mix in milk. Should be a nice smooth creamy batter consistency. Put mixture into a buttered and papered 23cm round tin (or about a 20 cm square one). Top with berry mixture.

Mix together crumble ingredients and strew over cake.

Bake for 1 to 1.5 hrs, until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If the topping starts to over-brown, cover with alfoil

Yum! 

* * *

* Yes.  Well.  There were so many amazing recipes, one winner hardly seemed enough.  Is clearly not enough.  And then Ajlr had the bright idea that since the Basilisk Balls do not, in fact, involve any baking^, maybe there should be a second drawing for something that involves baking.  I’m not sure what we would have done if the second recipe didn’t have any baking in it either.  Kept drawing possibly.  Fortunately the second one did include some actual oven time.

            But, speaking of extra winners . . . well, keep reading.

 ^ Although they are clearly something Sunshine would be all for.  Maybe in the Sequel That Does Not Exist Paulie starts making truffles as a manifestation of his individuality.  In which case he would certainly make not only these but also Magpie’s Cloud 9 white chocolate truffles. 

** Okay, guys, I want to hear that you’re together at the negotiating table having a meaningful dialogue.  Or the start-up counter at the bank.^ 

^ Don’t bother me with geography.  Geography is boring.+ 

+ Except on Google Earth. 

*** Let me put it this way:  Fiona^ comes on Tuesday.  If the books don’t go out Tuesday . . . gods know when they’ll go out. 

               PS:  When you PM ajlr, be sure to include if you want them signed to anyone, or just my generic scrawl.

 ^ Fiona, who is not afraid of the post office and, furthermore, has not desired to murder any of our local postpersons this week.+ 

+ I say nothing about her attitude toward her own local postpersons. 

† You do read the footnotes as they happen, right?  You don’t just read them all in a lump at the end of the post and then have no idea what they refer to? 

†† I have just bought an upgrade.  Yes, to Fingerzilla.  Six more levels.  More stuff to blow up.  Stay tuned. 

††† Absolutely.  Eat it slowly and thoughtfully, right?  I can do this.

‡  Good attitude.  Excellent attitude.   An attitude that manifests the true spirit of this blog. 

‡‡ Yaay!

‡‡‡ Yaaaaay! 

Guest post (mostly) by Jeanne Marie

 

My First Fruitcakes 

B-Twin’s post on her luscious wedding fruitcakes, and some of the subsequent forum remarks on wedding cakes* in particular and fruitcakes in general, took me back to my first year living in Memphis, Tennessee.  It was my first year living on my own post-college, and I was big into fancy experimental cooking.  In that vein, I decided around August that I wanted to make some fancy brandied fruitcakes for the coming Christmas.** 

I looked up a few recipes for fruitcakes, and found several options.  I particularly wanted one that needed to soak in liquor and “age,” and at last decided on one that I thought would be a good choice.  But, I was not a fan of lots of candied fruits, so I decided to sub out ALL the candied fruits the recipe included for simple dried fruits.  I made twelve mini-loaf cakes, which baked up like little bricks.  I wasn’t worried, though, the recipe had warned that they’d bake up very hard, but would moisten up over a few months with some brandy.  I followed the recipe specifications, wrapping them in cloth and then pouring on “some” brandy (I think the recipe called for a few tablespoons, but I was feeling generous), and left them in the bottom of my fridge in ziploc bags.  I checked them periodically, and usually when I checked them, I’d add more brandy.  Over the months between August baking and Christmas, I added an entire fifth of brandy to those twelve mini-loaves!*** 

Finally, the first of many Christmas parties arrived – the faculty afternoon luncheon party for the elementary school where I was working as the music teacher!  I took two of the loaves with me.  At the time, I noticed that they were rather redolent of brandy, but mentally shrugged, and figured that they were supposed to be that way.  When the time for the Christmas luncheon arrived, I ate a smallish piece of my fruitcake and was OVERWHLEMED by just how potent my little fruitcakes were!  YIKES, I started worrying about breathing too close to the festive candles on the table!  I myself was only able to handle a very small piece – I’m a bit of a light-weight in terms of liquor capacity – but, two other teachers in particular, a second grade teacher and a fifth grade teacher, were VERY happy that I had brought the “brandycakes”… and, they were even happier after dividing the cakes between them!!  Both were decidedly flushed and wobbly when they headed back to their respective classrooms!! 

I’ve wondered – if I had stuck with the candied fruit, would the cakes have been quite so potent?  Did the dried fruit simply suck up way more brandy than candied fruit would have?  Or, did I just overkill on adding way more brandy than any poor fruitcake needed?  I’ve never tried to experiment with fruitcakes again, but at least those two teachers remember me fondly…if they remember that luncheon at all, that is!! 

* * *

 *HOLY CATS, I’m gonna NEED one of those!! gulp ^

^ Yes you are

 **::cue ominous music:: 

***you see it coming, don’t you… 

* * *

The hellgoddess continues: 

Since Jeanne Marie has been so CARELESS as to lose this legendary fruitcake recipe and since of course reading about fruitcakes, with this audience, is going to lead to a lot of jonesing for fruitcakes†, I thought I’d offer one of mine.  I seem to have quite a few.  We had this conversation on the forum—most of us don’t like the candied-fruit-stuck-together-with-superglue style of fruitcake, but quite a few of us like the dried-fruit, brown-sugar-and-spices kind.  I will spare you the defense of good candied fruit—the problem with maraschino cherries isn’t the maraschino, it’s the red food dye—and go (almost) straight to a dried-fruits-with booze recipe.  I may post some of the others at a later date.††  The only way I like bourbon is in a pecan cake, for example.†††

            And with reference to the conversation on the forum about fruitcakes for weddings, with several Americans saying they’ve never heard of such a thing and me saying er um, I’d have said at least half the American weddings I’ve attended had fruitcake under the white enamel and the plastic figures . . . my FANNY FARMER (copyright 1965) contains a ‘wedding fruitcake’ which is described as ‘the traditional dark rich fruit cake’, and even the alternative sponge cake (‘Bride’s cake’) is assumed to have a fruitcake top layer.  Furthermore in my eternal quest to waste more time dorking around on the internet, I discover that good old bartleby.com has the 1918 FF on line and their ‘cake’ section is loaded with fruitcakes including not one but two ‘wedding cakes’ which are in fact fruitcakes.  http://www.bartleby.com/87/0031.html (the wedding cakes are almost last, and don’t bother with the ‘search’, which is a baleful fraud and will keep trying to dump you in amazon).

            Meanwhile. 

            I had been experimenting with mini fruitcakes for years before Judy Rosenberg’s Rosie’s Chocolate Packed Jam Filled Butter Rich No Holds Barred Cookie Book came out‡.  I’ve got two sets of mini bread pans, half size and quarter size, and two or three little loaves of different varieties, wrapped up with different coloured ribbons around each of them, makes a very nice present for a whole lot less effort than making millions of frelling cookies.‡‡  Rosie took it a step farther and made her mini fruitcakes in muffin tins, which is also pretty brilliant, and that hadn’t occurred to me.

            It was even more annoying when her recipe turned out to be a lot like mine—it amazes me how many drunken fruitcake recipes don’t tell you to soak your fruit in the booze first for example.  She however dilutes hers with water.  Bleh—and she likes pecans and almonds.  The following recipe is enough like her mini fruitcakes you might think I started there but I didn’t.  Great minds think alike in this case.

 2 c assorted dried fruit (black and golden raisins, cranberries, blueberries, apricots, cherries, dates, whatever).  The big stuff you want to chop to be about raisin/berry sized.

1 c chopped nuts:  almonds, pecans and/or hazelnuts

1 c rum or brandy

1 c white all-purpose flour

½ c wholemeal/wholewheat/spelt flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp allspice

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp mace

12 T (1 ½ c) lightly salted soft butter

1 c dark brown sugar

1 tsp (GOOD QUALITY) vanilla extract or ½ tsp orange essence (NOT ‘flavouring’)

1 T grated lemon or orange zest (if you’re using orange essence, I usually use more zest too)

2 large eggs at room temperature

 

Put the dried fruit in a shallow bowl and pour the rum or brandy over them. Put a plate over the bowl and leave for at least 48 hours and up to about a week.  If your bowl isn’t shallow enough that all the fruit is in contact with the booze, stir occasionally.  

Preheat oven to 350°F, and grease well your two-loaves-of-bread equivalent pans:  so four half-sized loaf tins, eight quarter-sized loaf tins, or approximately 24 muffin cups.  (If you’re using muffin cups . . . use paper liners.  Life is short.) 

Sift the dry stuff together. 

Cream butter and sugar thoroughly.  Add zest and vanilla or essence, and cream again.  Add eggs.  BEAT THOROUGHLY.  Drain the fruit and add any liquid (not the fruit yet!), if there is any, to the batter.  Mix.  

Add the flour mixture.  Stir in well.  Now add the fruit and nuts.  Stir again.  This is the moment you may have to use your judgement.  Flour varies, as does how much liquid there is left after the fruit has been soaking in it.  You may need to add a little liquid–orange juice, apple juice or water–or a little flour.   

Pour into your pans:  depending on the size of the pan your baking time is anywhere from about 20-25 minutes (muffin tins) to about an hour and a quarter (9 x 5 inch normal bread pans).   When the middles puff up and start looking solid, stick a toothpick in.  When the toothpick comes out dry, etc. 

Let cool in the pans half an hour or so.  An hour won’t hurt.  But don’t try to get them out too soon, they’ll be too fragile.  (They would be less fragile if you used less butter.  But . . . why would you want to use less butter?) 

These don’t need to ripen, although you can turn them into little leglessness bombs if you want to (in theory the baking will have removed all the alcohol) by wrapping them in cheesecloth and dripping a little further rum on them—in which case keep them wrapped up in plastic or tin foil in your refrigerator, like Jeanne Marie did with hers, till wanted.  I did this once and . . . wheeeeee.  Don’t use an entire fifth, okay?  (They’ll probably fall apart if you do, and then you’ll have leglessness bomb pudding.)

And I feel that, when it’s time to eat it, the true perfect drunken fruitcake should also have frosting.  Frosting that goes something like:  1 c confectioner’s/icing sugar, 2T butter, cream together till smooth, and then add enough rum/brandy (2-3 T) to make it spreadable.  Go for it. 

* * *

 † B_twin has promised a fruitcake recipe, but at the moment she’s deep in the Australian bush somewhere—with no internet connection—becoming further educated in some arcane Australian-bush skill, so she cannot be applied to in this extremity. 

†† I keep meaning to post more recipes like I keep meaning to post some favourite poems (other people’s poems) and I was going to start posting book reports/reviews again this year and it’s the middle of February already and . . . 

††† If I’m going to get seriously wasted in some manner that does not involve champagne, it’s going to be single malt Scotch, probably Laphroaig.  

‡ Which is the follow up to Rosie’s All Butter Fresh Cream Sugar Packed No Holds Barred Baking Book.  If there’s a third one, I don’t want to know.  

‡‡ She says feelingly.  But I’ve made millions and millions of frelling cookies too.  Home made food is the answer when you have too many friends and no money.

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