Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Cake

Christmas 2011 wasn't exactly the Christmas that never happened, but it was definitely the Christmas that happened late. I bought a too-small wreath from the junior high school greens sale the first week of December and then did nothing more either at home or at school until the 21st. The last day of school, I injected a little Christmas into the classroom routine by reading a book by Tomi de Paola entitled Tony's Bread, which was the story of Italian pannetone and then yanking a box of it out of my locker and serving it.
This brought on some astonished questions as to whether Tony was real. I didn't feel like getting into the issue of a legend with first graders, so I said, well, it's called pannetone so, it was probably made by a man named Tony.
On the 22nd, I got down to business, and trimmed the tree my son and daughter in law and I had bought in Mount Airy the Saturday before. Son and I dragged the ornaments and the lights down from the attic, hung them on the tree and put up the outdoor Christmas lights. My daughter came over later and we all had dinner together for the first time since September. We worked out our Christmas routine to accommodate the yms. We would have Christmas Eve lunch and go to church Christmas Eve afternoon. That meant I had a chance of staying awake in church, which at midnight mass, I am unable to do.
All of which explains why I was prospecting through Safeway for glaced fruit on Christmas Eve prior to making Christmas cake. I fully expected to find it, since it had been there before Thanksgiving, when I made Lizzies for the church bake sale. Well, supermarkets have a season the same way farms do, and the glaced fruit that was there in profusion in mid November had disappeared by December 24. I guess people make their fruitcakes in November. All I was able to buy were the walnuts, the golden raisins and the maraschino cherries.
However, I had planned to make Christmas cake last Christmas, and had gotten caught in the time crunch, so I was not dismayed. We had had the same no glaced fruit experience at Whole Foods, where the staff member we talked to said, "People ask us all the time for that, but we don't have it" a definite grrr inducing response. At that time, I bought dried, sugared papaya and dried, sugared pineapple, which lurked in the closet for 12 months.
When I got home from the supermarket I trotted out the dried fruits and substituted them in the recipe for the glaced fruits. Since I didn't have the green glaced cherries, I put in the full ten ounce jar of maraschino cherries. Normally I avoid maraschino cherries like the plague, ever since the 70s when I heard that red dye number 2 caused cancer in rats. However, when you are leaving half the ingredients out, it pays to put in the ones you can get.
I also took special care to grease the bundt pan and then lay baking parchment over it and grease that, as it said to do in the directions. If you don't do that, the cake sticks to the inside of the bundt pan and makes a complete mess. I had some baking parchment from some other baking project. It's available in the supermarkets. Don't try to make this cake without it.
When I came to put it in the oven, I realized that I was running very late. The cake is meant to bake for three hours at 250 degrees. I didn't have three hours, so I cranked up the oven temperature to 300 degrees and set the timer for two hours. It worked fine.
As I was reading over the recipe, I discovered I had left out a cup of brown sugar. This is not such a bad thing, as the resulting cake was acceptably sweet but not too sweet. Anyhow, the cake turned out moist, flavorful and not too dense. We ate it for dessert and then again on Christmas day, as we sat around waiting for my daughter to come for Christmas breakfast.

Christmas Cake

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup green glaced cherries chopped
3/4 cup drained maraschino cherries, chopped
1 cup chopped mixed glaced fruits
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
2. Beat the shortening, butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the vanilla, lemon and almond extracts.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Reserve one=half cup of the flour mixture and stir remainder into better alternately with the milk.
4. Mix together the raisins, glaced cherries, maraschino cherries, mixed fruits and nuts. Toss with reserved flour mixture and stir into batter.
5. Grease a nine-inch tube pan with removable bottom, line with unglazed brown paper or parchment paper and grease again. Spoon batter into pan.
6. Bake three hours or until the cake tests done. Cool thirty minutes in the pan, remove and finish cooling on a rack. Makes 14 servings.

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