Thursday, October 01, 2015

Christmas on the First of October

December is madness in our family. Between dual holidays, Danny's Birthday (and Birthday quilt), and the ever-present threat of being snowed-in and unable to get anything done, I've learned to do things ahead. October and November aren't much better with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and all sorts of other little evnts taking up our time. If I waited for Stir-Up to make the Christmas cakes/puddings they would never get done. Today, I baked two Christmas cakes and they can spend the next couple months ripening and soaking up huge amounts of booze. If there's an afterlife, I want to come back as a Christmas cake-months of rest and drinking? Let me at it!

Last year, we skipped the cake and pudding in favour of a "Yule Log" (Buche de Noel), and leftover cake from Danny's Birthday. It was mentioned that a Christmas Cake would be appreciated this year, along with a steamed pudding, and some mincemeat tarts made with the recipe from Jenn's Grandmother (Thanks Jenn! It really is better than any other recipe we've made). If you're keeping track, that is a whole hell of a lot of dried fruit. At least no one will suffer constipation on my watch! Because many dried fruits are processed in facilities that also handle nuts, that means making my own. My multi-tiered dehydrator has paid for itself many times over. I finished-up the stem ginger and candied pineapple this week along with the mixed peels and citron. Honestly, compared to the cost of buying those tiny tubs of glaced fruit at the supermarket, it is worth the effort, and unlike the tiny tubs at the supermarket, I know these haven't been sitting on a shelf drying out for years.

I did the pineapple differently this year out of necessity. Typically, I use tinned pineapple slices in heavy syrup and then just dry them out before use. I accidentally bought pineapple in fruit juice, so I re-used the syrup from cooking the ginger and ended-up with a lovely ginger-infused batch of candied pineapple. It almost seems a shame to use them for baking as they are delicious eaten as they are. For cherries, I drain a jar of maraschino cherries, and dry them. There's enough sugar in the syrup to do the job nicely, and you can leave the cherries whole. In previous years I candied dried Bing cherries in the summer, but the results weren't worth the cost, and everyone missed the bright red and green cherries in the baked goods.

Danny's been suffering with allergy-induced asthma this week (please Mother Nature, enough with the rain-send a frost!) so he's been moping about inside looking for something interesting to do. I handed him a spoon and let him at the gigantic bowl of fruit to do the all-important stirring.

But first, we needed to make applesauce for the cakes. 

Applesauce is so easy, it is almost criminal to buy it. You don't even need a recipe, but here's a quick one:

Pare, core and chop apples. Place in a large pot. For each quart of apples add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until soft. Remove from heat, and mash (or put through a food mill). Add 1 teaspoon (or more) lemon juice depending on the tartness of your apples, and as much sugar (if any) you like. If you like ginger or cinnamon, add that as well. Return to the heat and simmer a few minutes until thickened. There, you made applesauce.

Now, let's get to the cake. Keep in mind the fruits you select don't matter so long as you keep the measurements roughly the same. Sometimes I use currants, sometimes I substitute cranberries. Personally, I don't like tropical fruit (other than pineapple) in a Christmas cake, but if dried melon, mango, or papaya speak to you, then by all means feel free to add them. Likewise, use the spices you prefer. Cinnamon always feel too much in a Christmas cake so I use nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Prefer mixed spice, or only cinnamon? Your cake-your rules! Don't let anyone dictate what you can do with your holiday baking.

You will need:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarb
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup brandy for soaking
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1 pound raisins
1 cup sultanas
1/2 cup diced citron
1 cup chopped mixed peel (I used lemon and orange)
1 cup glaceed cherries
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup diced dried apricots
1 cup chopped figs
1 cup chopped dates

Day before: Soak fruit in a large bowl with brandy tossing occasionally). When ready to bake, drain and reserve the liquid. You will need 1/4 of a cup for the recipe, so make it up with water or more brandy if the fruit was very dry and absorbed it all.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and line one large, or two smaller springform pans (or really any pan you like-Bundt, Loaf, etc.) with parchment (if possible, otherwise grease generously and flour lightly). Do this first as it can be fiddly. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift together the dry ingredients removing 3 tablespoons to toss with the fruit. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternating with the remaining 1/4 cup of brandy. Stir in the applesauce, then the fruit. Pour into prepared pans. Place pan(s) on a baking sheet. Timing will depend on pan size and whether it is a tube or not. My two springform cakes took 1 hour and thirty minutes. You'll want to start testing at about an hour. The toothpick test works well here, as does lightly toughing the centre with your fingertips. If you're feeling brave, pull the tins out of the oven, and bend in close. If the cake makes a humming noise, it is done. Try to avoid burning your ears. Personally, I use a toothpick, but I'm accident prone!

Cool cakes in pan on a rack for 30 minutes before gently removing the sides. Let it sit another ten minutes before turning out onto a rack and removing the bottom piece and the parchment. Up-right the cake again onto a rack. If it feels at all fragile, let it cool completely on the bottom-the cake will be none the worse for it.

When cool, use a skewer to poke holes all over the top of the cake. Lightly brush the cake with more brandy. Wrap the cake tightly in cheesecloth and again, brush the cheesecloth generously with brandy. Wrap in grease proof paper, then tightly in foil. Place in an airtight tin, and let rest at least a month in a cool, dry place, I like to turn the cake in the tin once a week, but that's just me being my mother! I have no idea if it matters, but that's how I've always done it.

If you plant to store the cake for a long time, it might need additional brandy, so check it monthly.
Finally, I'll leave you with this sourdough boule that I probably couldn't reproduce in a million years. It is only starter, strong flour, wholegrain flour, salt, and honey. I'm not sure what magic happened in the oven, but I had little if anything to do with it.


Bibi said...

That sourdough boule looks scrummy!
Mmm, being from the SF Bay area I'd love to have that with some Genovese salami & Sonoma Jack, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc while listening to a jazz concert at Dillon Beach again would be nice too.
Your Xmas cake recipe has me wondering about making an Xmas cake using fruits & spices from my husband's native Kashmir.
Kashmir is famous for it's apples, cherries, plums, apricots, golden sultanas, honey, saffron, walnuts, almonds, & peaches. Miriam dates from Iran are quite popular as treats also.
I wonder if instead of soaking the cake in liquor one could make a syrup of boiled apple juice with saffron to perfuse it with?
Kashmir's honey is so famous for it's floral flavor & superior quality it's a specialty at Fortnum & Mason's.
Now that might be interesting- a syrup of Kashmir honey, apple juice & saffron.
A little Himalayan celebrity gossip- The Dalai Lama's summer residence is in Leh, Ladakh (just north of the valley of Kashmir) & one of His Holiness' favorite treats is Dundee fruit cake.

Mim said...

Interesting - I've never seen apple sauce used in a cake, but I bet it makes it lovely and moist. American fruit cakes seem to use a lot more fruit than the ones we get over here. I tend to use mixed spice in mine; there's a blend on sale here as it's usually used in fruit cakes and I believe it's a lot like American 'pumpkin spice'.

Pete's mum always made the Christmas puddings - she made the best ones ever - and showed us her recipe only last Christmas. When we were clearing out her house we found the recipe, and the last pudding she'd made. I've been brandying it regularly for months, but eating it is going to be a tear-jerking moment this Christmas.

Sue said...

OMG you are baking stuff for christmas now!!! I get my tree out and up on the first of December and that is me. So farkin jolly about the season am I. Can I come to your place?

Goody said...


I have made the cake without booze for an alcoholic , and I just used apple juice in the baking and simple syrup for the brushing. Boiled cider ought to work, but plain old apple juice and simple syrup for brushing might start to ferment if you aged it too long. I keep thinking a version with candied lemon peels and rosewater would be delicious, but I think the boys would revolt if I tried it. You should see the look I got suggesting we try a chocolate and cherry version.

Dundee cake, eh?

I bake quite a bit with applesauce as it lets you use less butter, and is much less expensive. I've been doing my own mixed spice because none of the mixes here have mace. That seems like a terrible thing to omit. Nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, allspice, coriander, and if I'm feeling adventurous-ginger.

After my mother died I went to go stock the freezer at home for my dad and found she'd cooked months worth of meals and frozen them. I think she knew her time was running out. I have no idea if he ever ate any of it, but it was emotional finding all that stuff. I hope he did, obviously she was thinking of him enough to go to the bother. It will be sad, but what a lovely way to remember your mother-in-law at Christmas. The holidays are always difficult after you lose someone, but you'll share memories too which is always comforting.

You absolutely may come to our place. Better yet, Christmas is cold around here...we'll come to you! If I thought I could get a five + pound Christmas cake through customs to you, I would send you the second one. Somehow, I suspect they would tear it apart looking for some sort of contraband, or just confiscate it and eat it. Dense foil-wrapped objects reeking of alcohol might raise some red flags!

Connie said...

That's really funny. A Christmas fruit cake does have it good!! It's the same around here, multiple holidays, multiple December birthdays. I'm can feel my usual pre-holiday anxiety coming on. You are waaaay ahead of me. I love fruitcake. The boozier the better. And you made that boule? It is perfection. I just bought Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook. Since I was born into a Christmas cookie family I'm trying to up my Jewish cooking game. Wish me luck.

Goody said...

I have that Joan Nathan book and it is a very good, reliable cookbook. I think she sometimes over-complicates things, but if you bake a lot you get the sense for what you can skip. If you can find a copy, the Jennie Grossinger Jewish cookbook (as in the resort in the Cayskills) is excellent. I have an old Signet paperback copy from the early 60's that's falling apart, but I love it. I'll wish you luck, but you don't need it, I'm sure. Don't try making kichels without a stand mixer (learn from my mistakes).

Connie said...

Luckily my Jewish Mother-in-Law was a terrible cook. Yes. There is such a thing. So anything I make is a bonus as far as my husband is concerned. Poor boy had never had a cookie that didn't come out of a box until he met me. Kichels coming up!