Making Mincemeat (Outta You)

Mincemeat is to the winter holidays what chocolate and beer are to the Stanley Cup Playoffs (I’m serious.  Cadbury Mini Eggs and a microbrew during the finals is to die for).  Originally a combination of dried fruits, spirits, fat, and meat, over the centuries the meat part has all but disappeared from the recipe, and now it’s more of a dessert type of thing.  It does still employ three of the age-old methods of preserving, however: fat, sugar, and alcohol. 

I have adapted Allora Andiamo’s recipe from Jamie Oliver‘s website and it is incredible.  I quadrupled some things, and other things I just chucked in the amount I had, so it’s not particularly faithful to Ms. Andiamo’s original recipe but I give her full credit.

In a very large bowl I chucked the following, by weight:

275g raisins

55g dried blueberries

475g dried cranberries

575g candied orange peel

250g blanched almond slivers

400g finely chopped marzipan

474g (1lb) shredded butter (put the butter in the freezer, then grate it, or break it into chunks and run it through the food processor until you have fine crumbs)

1kg apples, finely chopped (I left the skins on and used a variety of different kinds, whatever I had lying around)

juice and rind of 5 large oranges

juice and rind of 2 large lemons

1kg soft brown sugar

3 teaspoons almond extract

8 tablespoons rum or brandy (I used both, of course)

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons ground nutmeg

6 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

Give that a good stir, cover it, and leave it somewhere to marinate for about 24 hours.

The next day, distribute the mincemeat into casserole dishes (or, if you are clever like me and used a metal bowl, don’t bother), cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 225°F for 3 1/2 hours.

I stirred mine halfway through, just to be thorough.  And also because I don’t trust anything on its own in an oven for three and a half hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.  The liquid will thicken as it cools so make sure to stir it occasionally in order for the syrup to coat all the fruit. 

Before it completely cools, pour into sterilized jars and seal — can according to your canner’s instructions, or check out our tips to canning here.

Store in a cool dark place for about 3 weeks before using. 

German Chocolate Cake

For my dad’s birthday back in November, he requested chocolate, and we settled on German chocolate cake for the big celebration.  German chocolate cake is not German, despite the name.  Emerging out of the heart of America in the 1950s, the recipe was actually named after Samuel German, founder of the Bakers Chocolate company.  And of course I have borrowed the recipe from my favourite American in Paris, David Lebovitz.  This cake has a few more extra steps than you’re probably used to (unless you do stuff like this all the time, in which case I bow down to you), so be prepared to devote quite a bit of time to it.  Hopefully yours will turn out a bit better than mine did.

The Cake

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter two 9″ round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  I didn’t have my handy-dandy kitchen compass (it’s still in Newfoundland) so I had to wing it.

In a double boiler or in your microwave, melt together 2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, with 2 oz unsweetened chocolate, also chopped, and 6 tablespoons water.  Set that aside and let it cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 cup room temperature butter with 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar until fluffy, about five minutes.

Separate 4 eggs into two small bowls (one for the whites, one for the yolks, natch).  Beat your melted chocolate into your butter, and add your 4 egg yolks, one at a time.

In a measuring cup, sift together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Mix in half the dry ingredients into the creamed butter.

Add 1 cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

***TIPS AND TRICKS INTERRUPTION***

If you don’t have buttermilk you can make an easy substitution here: plop a tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice (I used lemon here) into a measuring cup.

Top it up with milk to equal 1 cup.

Allow it to sit for about five minutes to curdle and you’re all set.

***END INTERRUPTION ***

Add in the rest of the dry ingredients and mix.

In a separate metal or glass bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until they are at the soft peak stage. 

Beat in 1/4 cup granulated sugar and keep going until you get stiff peaks.

Fold in your egg white mixture until there’s no trace of it visible.

Divide your batter into the two prepared pans and bake for about 45 minutes, until your toothpick test comes out clean.

Place the pans on racks to cool completely.

While your cakes are cooking and cooling, you can make the coconut pecan custard filling, the rum syrup, and the chocolate icing.  Mmm!

The Filling

If the oven is free, or if you had the foresight to do this ahead of time, spread 1 cup finely chopped pecans on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and toast, turning halfway through, for 10 minutes in your oven at about 400°F.  Do the same with 1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut.  Allow them to cool.

In a medium saucepan, mix together 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream), 1 cup granulated sugar, and 3 large egg yolks.

Cut 3 oz room temperature butter (that’s 6 tablespoons) into small pieces and place them in a bowl with the cooled coconut and pecans.  Okay, so my pieces aren’t that small.  Sue me.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the custard thickens and coats the back of your spoon.

Pour the hot custard immediately into the coconut and pecan mixture and stir until the butter is melted.  Cool to room temperature.

The Syrup

In a small saucepan heat together 1 cup water and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until the sugar has completely melted and the liquid is clear.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in 2 tablespoons dark rum.  I of course used Screech.

The Icing

Chop up 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and plop it in a bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and 3 tablespoons butter. [Ali’s note: I found that using corn syrup in this particular ganache made my icing runny and hard to apply.  I would probably not use it next time.]

In a small saucepan heat 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) until it just begins to boil.  Pour that sucker over the chocolate and let it stand for a minute.

Stir until totally smooth and let sit until it’s room temperature.

Cake Construction

Ease your cooled cakes out of the pans and peel off the parchment paper.  Using a serrated knife (like a bread knife) cut both cake layers in half horizontally. 

I also cut off the tops of my cakes to make them more level.  Lots of bubbles in this here cake.

Set the first cake layer on a cake plate.  Brush well with your rum syrup.  Don’t be shy — there’s plenty.

Spread 3/4 cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges.

Plop another cake layer on top, and then repeat the syrup and filling process, even on the top.

Use your chocolate icing all up the sides of the cake.  This will seal in all the moisture.  I tried to do the decorative piping of icing around the edges of the top, but as I said, my icing was too runny, so I ended up just dribbling it everywhere.  Make sure you use all of it, no matter what happens to its consistency.

I chilled the cake to set the icing.  If your icing is normal, then you won’t need to worry.

Serve and enjoy!

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Dear David Lebovitz,

You are awesome.  I think we should be best friends.  We should hang out and stuff.

Sincerely,

Ali

p.s. My husband loves your ice cream.

Have I mentioned recently that I am in love with David Lebovitz and the magic he makes in his tiny Paris kitchen?  If you haven’t been reading his blog, you probably should.  It was from him that I got that amazing Devil’s Food Cake recipe with the coffee in it.  Mmmm …

The Pie came to visit me for Thanksgiving, so I wanted to make sure to make all of his favourite things for when he was here.  Because one of our family friends always brings  her amazing pumpkin pie to our Thanksgiving dinner, I figured what better complement to the dessert than a home-made ice cream?  And vanilla is the Pie’s favourite.  I’ve never made a “cooked” ice cream before but I have recently learned that all the things that used to intimidate me about cooking are not as hard as I once thought them to be.  So here we go.

This recipe, of course, is adapted from David Lebovitz.  You should read his post about it for all the interesting information about vanilla and where it comes from and how you can store your used beans. 

Start with 1 cup whole milk.  I used half whipping cream and half 1% milk, because that’s what I had.

Grab yourself as well 3/4 cup sugar.

Heat the milk and sugar in a saucepan.

Split a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the milk and add the pod as well.  My vanilla bean was dried out so it kind of disintegrated on me, but that’s okay.

Remove the milk from the heat, cover it, and allow it to infuse for about an hour.

Set up an ice bath

Place a smaller bowl (at least 2L) in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water.  Set a strainer over top of the smaller bowl.

Pour 2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream) through the strainer.

Separate eight eggs and reserve the yolks (I used the whites to make chocolate meringues).

Stir the yolks together.

Re-warm your infused milk and gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly.

Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly (and I mean constantly) and scraping the bottom of the saucepan with a spatula, until the custard (because that’s what it is) thickens enough to coat the spatula.  It won’t take long so keep an eye out.

Strain the custard into the heavy cream and stir over the ice in the bath until it’s cool. 

Chuck the vanilla bean pod back into the mix.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

I also added here 3 tablespoons Screech rum.  Lebovitz says that adding a little bit of alcohol to your ice cream will make it softer after it’s made.

When you are ready to freeze your ice cream, take out the vanilla bean pod and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Store in an airtight container in your freezer until thoroughly frozen.

Serve.  So very creamy …

Vanilla Cake

For his birthday (which was on the 21st), the Pie requested a vanilla cake.  Conveniently for me this is also the type of cake requested by Chel and Invis for their wedding cake, which I will be making next May.  No time like the present to begin perfecting a recipe.

Vanilla cake is also traditionally known as “white cake”, which forms the base for millions of different kinds of cakes.  This one, however, I wanted to make sure that vanilla was what you got out of the whole thing, not just some bland cake designed to set off a fancy frosting.

You may not know this, but vanilla extract is made by soaking cut vanilla beans (which come from orchids) in a strong dark spirit, such as rum or bourbon.  I figured, what the hey, might as well try it myself.  I got two vanilla beans from Belbin’s and poured about a tablespoon of Screech into the little tube.  You’re supposed to leave it for a few months, but I only had a week.  So that’s what I did.

I was also careful to scrape out all the vanilla bean seeds to enhance the flavour.

The batter for this cake was inspired by the Whiteout Cake in Lewis and Poliafito’s Baked.  When I go to Manhattan to visit my brother, I want to see their bakery.  Anyway, I changed the icing, added jam, and of course used extra vanilla, both my own special Screech blend and regular pure extract.

THE CAKE

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter three 8″ round cake pans, line them with parchment circles (which I make using my personal kitchen compass), and then butter the parchment as well.

Dust the pans with flour and knock out the excess.  I definitely did something wrong in this step, because my cakes STUCK.  But I’ll get to that later.

Separate three eggs and bring the whites to room temperature.  I set mine in the sun for a few minutes.  Use the yolks the next day in a tasty omelette.  We did.

Sift together in a bowl 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda.  Set this aside for a spell.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening on medium speed until they’re creamy.

This will take about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add in 1 3/4 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract.

Beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Scrape down the bowl and add one whole egg, then beat until just combined.

Turn the mixer to low and add your flour mixture as well as 1 1/2 cups ice water.  Add the flour in three separate additions, alternating with the water, and starting and ending with the flour.  Scrape down the bowl and mix on low speed for another minute or so.

In a separate bowl, whisk together your 3 egg whites with 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar until you reach the soft peak stage.

Gently fold the egg whites into the rest of your batter.

Distribute the batter amongst the three pans and smooth the tops.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating halfway through, until you can insert a toothpick in the middle of the cake and it comes out clean.

Invert onto racks and let cool completely before frosting (you can remove the parchment when they’re cool).  You will notice how I lost a few of my cake edges.  But I guess that’s what icing is for — to fill the gaps.

THE FROSTING

In a bowl, plop in 2 250g packages of cream cheese, preferably at room temperature.  Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, as well as 3/4 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) and 3/4 cup icing sugar

Beat with a hand mixer until mostly smooth.

In a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl set above a pot of barely simmering water, melt 12 oz white chocolate.

Add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture and beat the crap out of it until it’s smooth.

THE CRUMB COAT

Set the first layer of your cake on your serving plate and slather the top with a generous layer of icing (don’t worry, you’re not going to run out).  Add several dollops of jam.

We love our Auntie Crae’s.

Plop on the second layer and repeat the above steps.  Plop on the third layer, and now you can begin your crumb coat. 

We do a crumb coat so that you can get all the messiness out of the way beforehand.  Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of icing.  Don’t worry if crumbs or jam gets into the icing.  This is your priming coat in any case.

Pop it into the fridge for at least fifteen minutes for the icing to set.

Bring it out and slather it with more icing.  You see how that sealant coat keeps the cake’s interior from interfering with the exterior.

Decorate to your whimsy and serve. I used dragées and white sprinkles for this effect.

Keep leftovers covered in the refrigerator.  It has a slight lean because I didn’t bother to level the layers before attaching them, but the Pie liked it well enough.