Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Apple Cranberry Bundt Cake

This is a riff on an old family recipe, from my Great-Grandma Susie. She raised her family in a small home in the Alabama swamps. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to spend much time down South, but from the stories that I hear, it was a rare day when you wouldn't find an apple cake waiting on her sideboard for unexpected company. Her cake recipe makes a rich, smooth cake that keeps moist for over a week (thanks to a generous helping of chopped apples and oil).

Today's version included applesauce in lieu of half of the oil (to lighten it up just a smidge), a little extra brown sugar to make things extra sticky, and a few handfuls of fresh cranberries. Topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream, this was a holiday winner! I served this cake after our formal Christmas Eve dinner with family.

Apple Cranberry Bundt Cake
Serves 12-20

3 cups flour
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp lemon juice
3-4 medium apples (cored, sliced and chopped)
2 cups fresh cranberries*

(These can be washed and thrown in whole, or chopped if you prefer your berries to have a little less bite.)

Preheat your oven to 350.

Grease and flour a large bundt cake pan and set aside. (This is an extremely sticky cake - be generous with the greasing and the flouring!)

In a large bowl, whisk together all your dry ingredients.

In a 2 cup measuring cup, measure out your applesauce, oil, eggs and vanilla. Add enough lemon juice to equal 2 cups of liquid, about 3 tbsp.

Add your wet ingredients to your dry ones and stir to combine. This batter is thick, and that is ok. Just mix it up. Fold in your fruit, making sure it is evening distributed.

Spoon your finished batter into your prepare bundt pan, and smooth out the top.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, use a spatula to loosen the sides, and carefully flip the cake out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. If you're lucky, the cake will have cleanly slid out of the pan. If you're even more lucky, there will still be a small amount of cake stuck to the inside of the pan. Scoop it out with a rubber scraper, eat the evidence, and sift a generous amount of powdered sugar onto the finished cake before serving. Nobody will ever know the difference!

Top each slice with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Sticky, Crumby Fruitcake

If you hate fruitcake, you can just go ahead and stop reading right now. Myrnie and I, co-authors on this blog, both happen to adore fruitcake with a passion. We grew up eating our grandmother's fruitcake every Christmas, the "proper" way - sliced thick and topped with a generous slab of sharp cheddar. Grandma's fruitcake was dense and tended to the dry side (since our loaf wasn't allowed to be soaked in rum), but we always thought it delicious as we didn't know any different.

Grandma, rest her soul, has been gone for over five years now. It was time for Myrnie and I to try and bring back the fruitcake tradition. We both started with bargain bin neon fruit assortments and went from there. Myrnie found a copy of what she believes is the recipe Grandma used. I went with a recipe from King Arthur Flour that was titled Fruitcake Even Fruitcake Non-Lovers Will Love. (Now THAT is a mouthful!)

The verdict? We both prefer our versions best. Figures, eh? Hers came out as dense and sliceable and yummy as we remember Grandma's being. Mine came out sticky and soft and delicious and I can't stop eating it.

(Myrnie? This is your cue to get your recipe written down here so we don't lose it!)

My fruitcake, ready to pop into the oven. 

An inside shot of my finished fruitcake. Check out those glorious day-glo fruits! That's my favorite part...

Half of a finished mini loaf. The other half was my breakfast. Just keeping it real, folks.

I give you...my new favorite fruitcake recipe. I made a few tweaks, so I'll go ahead and share my take here. The original recipe includes slightly different spices, a different assortment of fruit, and a lot of nuts. I didn't have all-spice, I prefer the neon fruit from the baking aisle, and I don't like nuts in my cake. So...there ya go.

Aunt LoLo's Sticky Fruitcake
(adapted from King Arthur Flour's recipe here)

As I prepared this, it makes 12 "mini loaves", or it could make one giant 9x5 loaf

2 pounds "fruitcake mix" (sold in plastic tubs in the baking section during the holidays - includes cherries and candied citrus peel)
8-10 (minimum) chopped dates
1/2 to 1 cup of juice (I used a cherry/grape/apple blend)
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. baking powder
4 eggs
3 cups flour
2 tbsp. cocoa
1/4 cup dark corn syrup

Glaze (I used straight agave syrup, but simple syrup is what is recommended in the original recipe) (Simple syrup is made by cooking equal parts sugar and water in a pot until the sugar dissolves.)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a half sheet pan by lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.

1. In a medium saucepan, combine your assortment of fruit, and your juice. Cook it over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally. The idea is to plump up your fruit. Mine was particularly chewy, so I added a few extra splashes. When you can easily chew a piece of the fruit, you're good to go. Set the pot aside to cool.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine your softened butter and your brown sugar. Cream those two things together until they are nice and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add your salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and baking powder.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time. Scrape the bowl well after each egg (or use a plastic paddle with rubber scrapers on it).

4. Add your flour, cocoa, and corn syrup. Mix until everything is very well combined.

5. Turn off the mixer, remove the bowl, and dump your batter into the largest mixing bowl you have (at least 6 quarts). (If your mixer has a 6 quart bowl, you're good to go. Just take the bowl off the mixer.)

6. Stir in your plumped fruit and any leftover juice. Make sure everything is combined.

7. Carefully scrape all of your fruited batter into your prepared pan. Pop your pan into the oven, and set the timer for 90 minutes. Start checking it every ten minutes after an hour. The cake is done with a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs, not a smear of dough.

8. When the cake is done, carefully remove the pan from the oven (you have nearly 3 pounds of yumminess there - it's heavy!). Immediately brush the top with your glaze of choice and then set the pan aside to cool. When the cake is completely cool, flip it out onto a cutting board and use a long, sharp knife to slice it up.  I cut mine into 12 "mini loaves". Wrap each piece up carefully and tightly in plastic wrap.