We had our Christmas party tonight – something we generally do the Saturday before Christmas – and tried to keep it smallish so that it wasn’t a revolving door of people that at the end of the night I didn’t really even get to talk to. We kept it simple with a ham (easy to cook, keeps well on the buffet and tastes just as good cold) and biscuits, antipasto, chips and dip, mini lamb burgers in mini pita halves with tzatziki, and a savoury pear and squash crumble.
And because I wasn’t fully satisfied by my Fanny Farmer Fruitcake experience, and I couldn’t rightly have a Christmas party without fruitcake, I made the real thing, the dark fruitcake from Joy I know and love. You know how some foods just aren’t the same when they aren’t made with the exact right recipe? So I made one, and instead of dividing the cake into several small and oddly shaped cake tins from the basement (including little square ones with removable bottoms), I scraped it all into one well-sprayed Bundt pan.
It didn’t survive re-entry. (As J put it when he saw it.)
I could tell it was holding on, but stubbornly tried to shake it out. I’m used to having a chunk stay in the pan, which is easy enough to stick back without anyone noticing, but not half the cake - upon further inspection the cake was pretty overdone – something I’ve not done in recent memory, so I blame my own inattention to the cake in the oven while I got ready for the party and we took Lou to the dog park to try to get his yayas out. The recipe does warn that it will look like it is darkening quickly and will look done before it actually is, and to please ignore this – this time I shouldn’t have. I preemptively put a sheet of foil overtop because I knew it would darken too quickly.. I think this fruitcake died of neglect. Also, using a regular, straight-sided tube pan would have allowed me to slide a thin knife around the edges and along the bottom to coax it out.
So I’m making fruitcake trifle for Christmas dinner. I don’t want to waste all those fruits and nuts! And really, I adore trifle and always want to make it for Christmas dinner, but fruit, custard and whipped cream seems too far removed from plum pudding. Maybe this is the answer, the overbaked fruitcake mess a serendipidous accident – I’m thinking layers of crumbled dark fruitcake with custard, sauteed apples and pears, and cream? In fact, the crumbled chunks might make a brilliant bread pudding for Christmas breakfast too – all fruitcake would be too heavy, but perhaps interspersed with torn raisin bread?
(Sorry, I still haven’t made the light fruitcake - the first was in the oven for 3 1/2 hours, and I couldn’t afford another 3 1/2 for the light coconut version. I will make it soon!)
And it was R’s birthday, too. This mess would not make an adequately celebratory vehicle for candles. But I did not freak out. I went and had a lie-down. And as I lay there trying to catch a half hour of sleep (and of course not), I remembered a recipe stuck to my bullitin board that I’ve been dying to try – Laurie Colwin’s Happy Winter Fudge Cake from More Home Cooking. I didn’t get around to it last winter, and now it’s winter again, and what could be better for a birthday cake than happy winter fudge? And it called for plain yogurt, which I had a ton of to use up.
I was a little late with my photo. It looked exactly like a chocolate Bundt cake, which I sprinkled with icing sugar so it looked sort of snowy and I didn’t need to bother with icing.
Laurie Colwin’s Happy Winter Fudge Cake
adapted from More Home Cooking – I rearranged the method a bit and increased the cocoa – I’m sure Laurie wouldn’t mind.
3 oz. semisweet chocolate (or about 2/3 cup chocolate chips)
1/4 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350F and spray a Bundt pan well with nonstick spray. In a small pan, melt the chocolate and butter. In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, yogurt and vanilla. Cool the chocolate mixture slightly and stir into the yogurt mixture.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda; stir into the wet ingredients, then stir in the chocolate chips (nuts would be good too). Scrape into the Bundt pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the top is cracked and springy to the touch. Let cool for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack (do this while it’s still warm – it will come out easier) to cool.
Mike made Stroopwafels filled with Nutella – a new holiday tradition he gets right into. I also made Hello Dollies – besides my Mom’s Nut Balls these are the absolute holiday must-have, from the Uncommon Cookbook put out by the Art Gallery of Windsor at least 20 years ago. (They are also known in some circles as Magic Bars – a recipe put out by the sweetened condensed milk people wherein you layer graham crumbs, coconut, chocolate and pecans, topped with a can of S.C. milk.)
Did I really never post a recipe for my Mom’s Nut Balls?? How could that be? OK, two cookies for today:
Mom’s Nut Balls
1 cup butter
1/3 cup icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup finely chopped or ground pecans, hazelnuts, or a combination
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
extra icing sugar for rolling
Preheat oven to 325F. Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer for a few minutes, until pale and creamy. Beat in the nuts and flour. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place an inch or so apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until pale golden on the bottoms. Meanwhile, put some icing sugar into a shallow dish; when the cookies come out of the oven, roll them in icing sugar to coat while still warm. (The icing sugar mingles with the butter in the cookie, coating them with a sort of buttery, nutty icing.) Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
(This photo was taken just after my sister stopped by, and we dug into them while they were still warm – quality control is important – they cut much more cleanly when completely cool.)
1 cup graham crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Preheat oven to 325F. Mix the crumbs and butter and press into the bottom of an 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ baking pan that has been sprayed with nontstick spray. Sprinkle the coconut evenly overtop, then the chocolate chips and pecans, and pour a can of sweetened condensed milk overtop. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and bubbly around the edges. Cool competely before cutting. Makes 16 (or more) bars.