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Archive for December, 2009

December has come and (almost) gone and I feel that I didn’t produce as many baked goods as normal.  In reality, I baked a lot.  There just wasn’t enough days in the month to make everything I wanted to.

Twenty-four mini fruitcakes were produced, and three days before Christmas, four different batches of cookies (spritz, chocolate/coconut bars, pecan pie bars, and snickerdoodles) were whipped up and fedex’d to a lucky few.  Then Christmas came knocking on my door and I still had a long list of items needing to be baked.  Alas, I had to pick and choose.

Top of the list was a traditional french Christmas cake, buche de noel.  I wanted to make this since my brother-in-law is here from France during the holidays, and I thought that a taste of home would be nice.  It’s a pretty simple sponge cake that is rolled up with frosting and then frosted on the outside to resemble a log.  I also had to make meringue mushrooms to decorate it with.  Little Miss Perfectionist had to settle for a good replica of a log, but didn’t have time to really go into a lot of detail.

I also had to make an apple pie since my family felt that one pie and one cake was not enough for 9 adults (which happened to result in a lot of leftover dessert to be consumed over the next few days).  Bless the creator of the apple corer/peeler gadget.  It saved so much time with making the pie.

That left a gingerbread house to be assembled by December 27 for the Daring Bakers Challenge at the Daring Kitchen.  I had to work December 26th and 27th, 10-hour shifts, so I didn’t see any way it was getting done.  The dough was made, but I had no time to bake and assemble.  Or so I thought . . .

I really didn’t want to miss a challenge.  And it was one I was so excited about.  In all honesty, saying that I half-assed it would be an understatement.  It was terrible.  But I got a gingerbread doghouse to stand, so I met the challenge.  Was I happy with it?  No!  But if time permits this week, I might give it another go, a sort of redemption, if you will.

Next year holds the prospect of more baking and kitchen destruction.  Cheers for 2010!  Happy baking!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

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Tis the season to be jolly.  Fa la la la la… la la, la, la.

Christmas spices are in the air, and something else.  What is that?  Oh, must be the humungous bowl of drunken, dried fruit.  Ah, brandy.

Every December, I like to fire up the oven (not literally) and bake delicious goodies for friends and coworkers.  Cookies beat a Christmas card with candy canes attached any day.  And my original idea this year was to make about 8 different cookies that symbolize Christmas around the world.  There’d be spritz from Sweden, melomakarona from Greece, shortbread from Scotland, springerle and lebkuchen from Germany, etc.

I baked cookie #1 on the list: alfajores (pronounced alpha whores, I believe) which are traditionally a South American Christmas sandwich cookie.  I doubled the recipe because past experience with sandwich cookies told me that they don’t turn out very many.  And I have about 25+ people to give these cookies to.

The poor mixer groaned with the mass of the dough, but barreled through.  What a trooper!  Once the cookies were baked, they are filled with a dulce de leche creme.

Per instructions on The Recipe Girl, I poured a couple cans of sweetened condensed milk into an 8×8 pan and set that inside a larger pan filled with water.  Put in the oven at 425F for an hour, the outcome was said to be a delicious caramel.  Hmm… mine burnt on the top, and I mixed it in rather than skimming the top off.  In my defense, I like burnt things.  I figured it’d be like a creme brulee.

I beat the cream in my trustee mixer again and spread them on half of the cookies, sandwiching the other halves on top.  They weren’t bad, but the cream wasn’t caramelly (is that a word?) enough.  My mom didn’t like them, and she loves caramel.  And upon thinking about my project more, I realized that making 8 different types of cookies, doubling or tripling every recipe, would be way too time consuming for my schedule.  Therefore, those cookies went to work for a potluck.  (Everyone there enjoyed them!  So there, Mom!)

On to plan B.  I’ve had this idea for a few years but never put it in action.  Mini Fruitcakes!  And it was perfect timing, because Martha Stewart just made mini fruitcakes on her show.  I reviewed the episode on my DVR (yes, I record Martha fairly often, especially around the holidays) and looked up the recipe.  Simple!  I should definitely have enough time to make batches and batches of mini fruitcakes.  And I want to set out to prove that fruitcake shouldn’t be dreaded and that they can actually be quite tasty.  To be honest, I’d never tasted a fruitcake before.  But I’m sure they can be good.

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to the grocery I go.  100 ounces of dried fruit, check!  6 cups of walnuts, check!  One extra large bottle of decent brandy, check!  $120 later, ouch!  This shit is expensive!

I soaked a couple cups of chopped dried fruits and nuts in the brandy overnight, like Martha said.  I decided that I definitely needed a trial run before I made 20 fruitcakes.  But since I am committed now (because what else am I gonna do with all that dried fruit?), I also chopped the remaining 18 cups of dried fruit and 5 cups of walnuts and let them macerate (my new favorite word) in the 5 1/2 cups of brandy.

I whipped up 1/3 of Martha Stewart’s recipe last night and subjected my hesitant taste-testers (fellow poker players) to try it.  It had just come out of the oven so when I cut it up to take some with me, it crumbled into a mess and resembled ground meat, or so I was told.

Like Martha did on her show, I kind of poured brandy over the cake when it came out of the oven.  It drank it right up and reminded me of watering a flower pot.  I seem to always over-water flowers because they seem so thirsty, just like this fruitcake.  And boy was the fruitcake drunk, or at least my taste-testers were after one bite.  Martha, I love ya, but damn!  I can’t give my coworkers seriously juiced up fruitcake.  I might as well just bring them red/green jello shots.

Fruitcake, Take 2!  When in doubt, trust Alton Brown.

I took Alton’s recipe and also cut it down to a third for a trial.  Unlike Martha’s recipe, Alton gets leavening from baking powder and baking soda than just the creaming method of butter and sugar.  Of course, both recipes have eggs in them which also help with leavening.

Alton’s recipe also cooks the fruit with apple juice for a bit, before making the batter.  Hopefully that will help cook off more of the brandy so it’s not as strong.  I did have to alter the recipe a bit because my fruit is already macerating in brandy, not rum.  And the nuts were mixed in with the fruit, so I couldn’t fold them in at the end.

This cake bakes at a higher temperature, and it did rise more than Martha’s, so my guess is that it’s a little less dense.  I also brushed instead of poured the brandy on it.  I’ve been typing this blog while it cools, so as not to cut into it and have it resemble ground meat again.  I think it’s cooled enough, so it’s time for the verdict . . .

Holy crap!  It’s delicious!  We have a winner.  Thank you, Alton Brown.  Wow, that’s good.

Now I must be careful with the packaging.  If I label it “Fruitcake,” it probably won’t get eaten.  Instead, I think I’ll call it “Christmas Cake” or “Plum Pudding” like the British.

Mmm… off to eat another slice, and make 24 of these yummy cakes.

Martha Stewart’s Fruitcake:  D+

Alton Brown’s Fruitcake:  A+

Alfajores:  B-

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