December 9, 2004
too late for Christmas, maybe?
Tuesday, December 7
I was being late baking fruit cakes for Christmas this year. It is not that I bake fruit cakes for every single Christmas or that I do so well ahead of time every single time. Nor that I always make fruit cake in several weeks advance of the planned day to eat it, either. It is only the case with Christmas fruit cake, for which I have special feelings, maybe because I have made this my personal tradition to bake fruit cakes for Christmas since I was a teenager.
And last year I was well on the track, starting in October with making mince meat, and baked the cakes in late November to let them age for at least a month before Christmas.
It is now already middle of December and I don't have much time left... so I skipped a few steps and didn't make mince meat. Actually, I didn't have to - because I had a jar of one-year old home-made mincemeat from last year.
I'm not going in detail about the definition of "mincemeat" here, but it basically refers to a mixture of dried fruits with or without nuts cooked/soaked in spirit(s) with spice, sugar, and fat, traditionally suet. Last year I made one based very vaguely on Delia Smith's recipe, using raisins, currants, cherries, home-made candied lemon and orange peels, and an apple and a pear. I had two jars of this, and used one of them in fruit cakes for Christmas last year, while the other one sat in the fridge for a little more than one year.
Occasionally boozed up with some fresh doses of rum and brandy, my mincemeat or soaked fruits or whatever you call has aged and become nice and mellow.
Once you have the fruits ready, making fruit cake is half done. The rest is fairly straightforward; making the cake.
I have become aware that, over here in the US, fruit cakes may sometime be seen more of doorstops than holiday-time favorites. I don't know exactly why, as I have never had heavy, rock-hard, inedible fruit cake before (fortunately). I like dense but soft fruit cakes, specially ones that have ground almonds and caramel in the batter. So that is what I usually make. Last I spent a lot of time searching for a right recipe and ended up putting a few recipes together to adjust to my taste. Although I made a fresh search over again, I settled down pretty much the same sort of recipe that I made last year.
First I ground some Spanish marcona almonds in a blender and made caramel sauce in a pan. While I used cane sugar in these, the main sugar content in my cakes this year were light muscovado and dark molasses sugars which I happened to have at hand. Generally speaking, I prefer brown to white sugars in dense, rich fruit cake like this.
I also made the cakes pretty small, using mini-loaf pans, partly because I can keep more cakes fresh after having a slice from one of the cakes this way, but primarily because I don't own regular-sized loaf pans. Anyways, I had three mini loaves to be tightly covered and kept in in the fridge for the next couple of weeks, plus one small one which might probably be eaten in a week or so for "tasting". In any case I haven't had tasted the cake yet, so tasting report should be expected at around Christmas day.
In the meantime, I baked another batch of cakes. While I really do appreciate the desired "aging" process of cakes, all the same I want to eat what I have made in no time. So when I make something that is to be sit for more than a couple of days, I'd typically make something else alongside so that I can immediately reward myself for my labor put in cooking.
Today I made chocolate cakes. Not a regular chocolate, but a supposedly special kind.
If you thought you didn't see anything so special about this cake, you were right; this cake totally looks like a plain chocolate cake, but it really is chocolate-pistachio cake.
This is the second recipe that I have tried from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking (2001, Hyperion) following the fresh green pistachio macarons , and this happens to use pistachios, as well. I thought that a chocolate cake made using ground pistachio nuts would be rare, and that it sounds so special.
This actually turned out not to be so special, to my great disappointment. It was, plainly, plain dark chocolate cake. We didn't taste a faintest trace of pistachio, other than seeing a tiny small bits of the nuts that had not been ground all the way. The cake was delicious on its own account, but there didn't seem to be any good reason or necessity to use pistachio here; other nuts, such as almonds or hazelnuts would probably do.
I don't know whether the chocolate I used was too bitter and too strong to be paired with nuts with delicate and subtle flavor like pistachos, or it was just the way it was supposed to be - at any rate, one thing I know for sure is that I will use my supply of raw pistachio nuts in other cakes/desserts in which I can definitely taste the precious nuts.
posted by chika at: 12/09/2004 08:29:00 PM