Braille Monitor December 2007
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In the December 2005 issue of the Braille Monitor we published an article that discussed holiday baking and included several of my favorite recipes. Periodically someone asks me to write a similar article passing along some of the recipes that I only mentioned in the first one. So, in response to popular demand, here is part two of Holiday Hints and Helps:
I try hard to contain
the holiday season so that it begins the day after Thanksgiving and ends on
Twelfth Night, January 6. No matter which of the major American religious
and cultural holidays your family celebrates, this five weeks or so includes
them. The one exception I often make to this self-imposed limitation is to
bake my fruit cakes as early in November as I can manage. If you do not have
a constitutional bias against all fruit cake, you might try making this moist
White Fruit Cake
1 pound candied fruit
1 pound red or green candied cherries
1 pound raisins
1 pound walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks butter or margarine
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour, divided
1 scant cup orange juice
Method: Day ahead, in a large bowl or pot with a tight-fitting lid, combine fruits and nuts and pour about one cup of brandy over them. Stir to coat all the fruit and nuts. Cover and allow to stand for about twenty-four hours. Stir several times. Before assembling the cake, sprinkle a cup of flour over the fruit and stir it in well. Set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer combine sugar and butter and cream well for several minutes, until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Then beat in the lemon and vanilla extracts, baking powder, and salt. Alternately add the remaining two cups of flour and the orange juice. When batter is combined, fold in the fruit and nuts and be sure that all the flour and brandy are well mixed in.
Preheat the oven to 250
degrees. Prepare a 10-inch tube pan or three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans by greasing
the pans and then lining them with foil paper. Then grease and flour the foil.
If using loaf pans, divide the batter evenly among the pans. Arrange pans
in a larger pan and pour an inch of water into the outer pan. Bake cakes on
the center rack of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted
in the center of the cake. Halfway through baking, remove the cake or cakes
from the hot-water bath and finish baking them dry. Cakes usually take from
three to six hours to bake, depending on the size of the cake. Remove baked
cakes to a cooling rack. Allow to stand for about ten minutes before loosening
cake edges by running a thin knife blade around the perimeter of each pan.
If you are using a tube pan to bake one large cake, remember to loosen the
cake from the center tube as well. Invert cake on a plate. Remove foil from
bottom and sides and replace cake, right-side up, on the rack to cool completely.
When cakes are room temperature, wrap them in fresh foil or slide them into
plastic zip-lock bags and pour more brandy over them before tightly closing
the packaging. Store in a cool place. You may sprinkle on additional brandy
each week before slicing the cake during the holidays. You don’t want it to
get soggy, but brandy will keep it from drying out. I double this recipe and
use the cakes as Christmas gifts for special friends who appreciate fruit
If the December holidays mean any single, universal thing, it is probably entertaining. We plan parties and spontaneously invite others over to visit. Families get together, and friends drop in bearing gifts. It is always a great idea to have refreshments on hand to offer guests. Some years ago David Andrews, who faithfully keeps NFB-net and many of our listservs up and running, gave me the following delicious nonalcoholic recipe that is actually comforting to the sore throats of cold sufferers. It can be served hot or cold and keeps in the refrigerator for a month. It is tasty with both sweets and savories.
1 pound fresh cranberries
10 whole cloves
2 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup red hot candies
Juice of three lemons
Juice of three oranges
Method: In a covered saucepan bring cranberries and cloves to a boil in one quart of water. Reduce heat and simmer long enough for the berries to pop and the water to be well colored. Pour the water through a sieve to remove cloves and berry seeds and skins. In another bowl combine red hots and sugar and pour a quart of boiling water over them. Stir to dissolve. Combine cinnamon sugar water and cranberry water and add the lemon and orange juices. This is the tea concentrate. Store it in the refrigerator. To serve, add two more quarts of water and heat or serve cold. I dilute the concentrate by guess and by golly by just adding a bit less than an equal amount of water to the concentrate I need for my guests.
During this past year we have published a number of recipes in the Monitor that would make wonderful holiday gifts for friends and neighbors. Here is a spectacular bar cookie suitable for serving to your own guests or giving to neighbors as part of a platter of homemade treats.
Chocolate Highlander Bars
1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectionery sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups chocolate chips, melted
1/3 cup confectionery sugar
Method: Using a food processor fitted with its knife blade or two knives scissor-fashion, combine first four ingredients to make a crumbly dough and pat into the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile beat four eggs well and add sugar, melted butter, baking powder, salt, and flour with mixer on low. Stir in melted chocolate chips. Pour batter over crust and bake at 350 degrees for twenty-five minutes. When cookies are done, sprinkle with 1/3 cup confectionery sugar and cut into small bars before chilling. If you like chocolate, these are unforgettable.
Lots of blind people feel insecure about decorating for the holidays. You can make your decorating dollars go further if you gather pine cones in your yard or the woods. To get them to open wide, line a cookie sheet with foil and arrange the cones in a single layer. Then dry them in a very slow oven, perhaps 200 degrees, for several hours. The pine cones will gradually open and stay open. You can pile them in a pretty glass bowl or large hurricane shade and add a bright loop of ribbon and large bow, and there you have an instant arrangement for coffee table or buffet. You can also work a six-inch length of twenty-eight-gauge green or brown wire around the base of the pine cone and twist one end around the shank of the wire, leaving a tail that you can use to fasten the cone to a pine wreath or a branch of real or artificial greenery. Add berries or glass balls to the arrangement and perhaps some little bells or silk flowers, and you are well on your way to creating a memorable table or door decoration. You can also wind gold, silver, or sparkly garland or strings of tiny lights into a wreath or length of pine roping, real or artificial, for use on your door or to festoon your staircase.
By the time I have made it to Christmas Eve each year, for better or worse I figure that I have made it through much of the stress of holiday preparation: the cards are in the mail, the house is decorated, the packages for out-of-town friends and family are on their way, and almost all the rest are wrapped and under the tree. Holiday meal preparation is my one mountain left to climb. Since the children were small I have been baking Stolen (German Christmas bread) for Christmas and New Year’s morning breakfasts. I usually double the recipe to make four loaves so that I can give some away to special friends and still have enough to enjoy fresh before we open gifts on Christmas morning and still have a loaf to freeze for a week as well.
2/3 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/3 cup raisins
1 cup candied cherries
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Confectionery sugar icing
Method: Heat milk and butter just until butter melts and mixture is comfortably warm to the touch—about 110 degrees. Stir in the sugar. Dissolve yeast in water and stir into the milk mixture. Be sure that it is not too warm. Cover the pan and allow to rest in a warm place for about ten minutes. If the yeast is lively, the mixture will be bubbly. In a large bowl measure two cups of flour. When yeast mixture is bubbling well, carefully pour all of it into the flour. Begin beating the flour mixture with an electric mixer. You can do this with a wooden spoon if you enjoy exercise. Add the three eggs, beating well after each. Add salt and a half cup of flour. This will make a thick batter.
Gradually work in the remainder of the flour. Eventually you will have to turn the dough out onto a floured board to knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Clean and butter the bowl and return dough to it, turning once to butter the top side. Cover the dough with a clean damp towel and place bowl in a warm (eighty-five degrees), draft-free place to rise till dough doubles in bulk.
Punch it down and release all the air from the dough. Work in raisins, cherries, and slivered almonds. You can then divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each into a 12-by-7-inch oval. Fold each lengthwise and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover loaves with a damp towel. Allow to rise in a warm place till again doubled in bulk.
Those are the instructions from my original recipe, but I now divide the dough in half and divide each half into three equal pieces. I then shape ropes and braid them, three strands in each, to make two loaves that will fit into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Again, brush the tops with melted butter and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until double in bulk. Bake loaves at 350 degrees for twenty-five to thirty-five minutes, till loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Serve warm or reheat to serve. Before serving, combine confectionery sugar and a teaspoon or so of rum extract. Then slowly stir in just enough milk to achieve spreading consistency for the icing. If you add too much milk, add more sugar. Quickly spread icing over top and down sides of loaf. Slice and serve with butter.
Every year, when we have finally packed away the holiday decorations, entered the changed addresses from the cards we have received, and settled down to shed the extra pounds that holiday feasting has saddled us with, I marvel anew at just how much all of us accomplish during these shortest days of the year. May your holiday season this year be filled with laughter and good cheer, and may the year ahead bring challenge and opportunity to you and yours, wherever you live.