Friday, December 18, 2009

Fruitcake in Christmasville

Because I bake, each year around this time a few poor confuzzled souls will grab me by the upper arms, beseech me with widened eyes, and ask me to tell them, please, if there is, somewhere, somehow, some way a fruitcake recipe that doesn't suck butt.

To which I sadly reply, "No."

However, that does not mean one cannot successfully mix fruit and cake. You just have to stay away from those weirdly colored pieces of stained glass window shards masquerading as "fruit" that, when mixed with a batter of equally puzzling construction, results in something more appropriate to tossing at the heads of our New World Leaders at Climate Change Summits than actually imbibing at Christmastime with a steaming hot cup of Joe.

Non. What you want to make is THIS cake. I originally started making it a few years ago when I had a direct connection to fresh-off-the-tree Italian plums. You know, those little oval shaped, dark blue babies that look like Concord grapes on steroids and taste like all the angels in heaven disco dancing in your mouth? Mah, gawd, I loves me those plums. But my source has since dried up, so I moved on to using pineapple. Just. As. Tasty.

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
3 cups white all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup plain yogurt
Zest of one small orange
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 cups diced plums or pineapple cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Confectioners sugar for dusting tops of loaves

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter and flour two 9x5x2 loaf pans or spray with non-stick baking spray.

Wash and dry the plums and, leaving skin on, dice into 1/2 inch pieces. Alternatively, thoroughly drain a 14-ounce can of chunk pineapple and pat dry with paper towels. Place fruit in a separate bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of flour to coat. Set aside.

Sift together flour, salt, cream of tartar, and baking soda in a separate bowl and set aside.

Measure out yogurt into glass measuring cup and mix in the lemon juice and lemon and orange zest. Set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar, and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping down bowl in between additions. Alternate yogurt mixture with dry ingredients, mixing well and scraping down bowl in between each addition. Mix in orange liqueur. Then stir in fruit and nuts until evenly incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake in oven for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out completely clean. Let pans cool 10 minutes in pan before inverting onto a cooling rack. Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, slice, and serve.

Since the base of this cake is essentially a pound cake, the result is a dense but moist crumb that actually is better the second day. Will keep at room temperature, wrapped tightly, for about 3-4 days, in refrigerator for 5-7 days, and in freezer for several months.

P.S. These are Italian plums. Smaller, more oval in shape, sweeter, and to me, tastier, than regular plums.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Break Up Cookie

Seriously, Party People, was it really February that I last posted something on here? Mah, gawd, what have I been DOING all this time? I know I've been baking because, well, hardly a week or so goes by that I don't. I just haven't been posting.

Well, now, let's just break the dry spell with a cookie, shall we? I know, I know, it's a summer cookie, but I also know there are those among my readership who live in perpetual summer, and those for whom cold weather is rapidly approaching like a dog running down a rabbit, which means you're probably needing a little bit o' the islands in your life right about now.

This cookie comes straight out of Nancy Baggett's award-winning The All-American Cookie Book, which is not only a great baking book but also a great overview of the cookie's genesis in the U.S. This is one of several citrus glazed, shortbread-style cookies in the book, and it's simply melt-in-your-mouth irresistible.

A cautionary note: A couple summers ago, I put a platter of them out at happy hour, at which a good friend and her brand new beau were in attendance.

"No, no," the beau said, waving me away. "I'm not much of a sweets person."

"Oh, you'll eat these," said S.B. knowingly.

Sure enough, the beau proceeded to shovel about a dozen of these down his gullet over the course of an hour, as a result suffering one heck of a tummy ache later on that evening, no doubt putting a damper on whatever romantic plans the newly blissed-out couple had in store for each other.

Regardless. My friend eventually Dear Johned him. Most likely a good choice, because not 24 hours had passed after the break up and he called me in tears, begging me to explain what he could have possibly done wrong. I politely begged off, stating it was quite simply none of my business. But before hanging up, he said something that did endear me slightly to his plight: "And I'll never get to eat those cookies again!"


For the cookie dough:
2-1/2 cups all purpose white flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature and slightly softened
1/4 cup flavorless vegetable oil
1 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest (colored part only)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (colored part only)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (Key limes preferred)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (or 1 teaspoon lemon juice)

For the glaze:
1-1/3 cups powdered sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest (colored part only)
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 tiny drop of green liquid food coloring
1 tiny drop of yellow liquid food coloring

(Note about lemons and limes: I have discovered that all total, you'll need one lemon and 3-4 regular sized limes or 5-6 key limes for the recipe.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer, beat together butter, oil, and powdered sugar until well blended, about a minute. Scrape down bowl, increase speed to high, and beat until very well blended, about another minute. Add the egg, lime and lemon zests, lime juice, vanilla, and lemon extract (or juice) and beat until very light and smooth. Turn mixer to low and beat in flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours or until firm enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease several baking sheets or line with Silpat mats.

Shape portions of the dough into 1-inch diameter balls. Place on baking sheets about 1-1/2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time in upper third of the oven for about 15 minutes or until lightly tinged with brown at the edges. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Once cookies are thoroughly cooled, stir together all the ingredients for the glaze, including the food coloring, until mixture is completely smooth and satiny. Adjust texture as necessary with drops of water or small bits of powdered sugar to produce a fluid glaze that isn't runny.

Set wire racks with cookies over sheets of plastic wrap or newspaper to catch drips. Gently dip the tops of each cookies into the glaze, swirl briefly to coat and set back down on rack to set completely, at least one hour. Or, drip glaze over each cookie with a small spoon, being careful to coat completely.

These will keep their freshest for about a week and freeze nicely for up to two months.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Love in My Tummy

Valentine's Day can either be a day of romantic anticipation or a day of romantic disappointment. For me, it's a day to bake. Food is love, folks. Food is love. Unless it's a big ol' chubby ass diamond something-or-other, in which case, stick the bling inside the cake and just tell me to be careful.

This year I decided to follow the heart-felt theme and make red velvet cupcakes. Actually, I made them two weeks ago for a party with my wine group and as an homage to Elvis's birthday, but I did stow a half dozen in the freezer for this weekend. Since I'm too lazy at this point to pull them out and frost for a true blue photo, I copped this one off the Web instead. So, shoot me. But then believe me when I tell you, they look EXACTLY the same.

The thing about Red Velvet Cupcakes is, they're fun. Okay, despite the slightly freakish color, they can actually taste good – there's enough cocoa in them to give them a chocolaty kick (which comes in handy in case your Valentine's Day starts heading towards the Kleenex), and who in their right mind doesn't love a luscious cream cheese icing? But most importantly, they look cool and you can decorate them with all kinds of fun chocolate or candy heart thingees or little plastic bow and arrows. Or, if your mood is swinging the other way, little plastic devil horns.

And, of course, the absolute BEST thing about cupcakes is they're already pre-portion controlled, clocking in at about, oh, I dunno, 300 calories each, frosting and all. Unless you decide to have two, in which case I can't help you there. But I do understand.

The cake portion of this recipe comes straight out of an interesting little book by Linda West Eckhardt called Cakes from Scratch in Half the Time. I've made a lot of things out of here, and mostly the recipes – and the advice to bake at 400 degrees for half the normal time – come out great.  

So come on, put a little love in your heart:

For 24 cupcakes or two 9-inch round regular cakes:

2-1/4 cups of cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 one-ounce bottle of red food coloring (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 400º F and line two twelve-cupcake cupcake pans with cupcake liners. 

Sift together flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Set aside. In mixing bowl, cream sugar and vegetable shortening at high speed for 3-4 minutes, scraping bowl at least once. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping bowl after each addition. 

Stir together the vanilla, buttermilk, and food coloring in a glass measuring cup. Add to the batter in thirds, alternating with the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder mixture, scraping down bowl after each addition. Turn off mixer. Stir together the vinegar and the baking soda – it will foam – in a glass bowl and fold into the batter using a spatula or wooden spoon.

Quickly fill each cupcake tin 2/3 full and bake in the middle of the oven for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into middle of a cupcake comes out clean. You can start checking at 8 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove. Cool completely and frost with the following:

Yummy Cream Cheese Icing:
1 pound (16 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar

Cream sugar, butter, and vanilla together until smooth, scraping down bowl at least once. Sift the confectioner's sugar into the mix and beat until incorporated. Turn mixer on high and beat until very light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes.