Friday, December 9

Gingerbread cookies

[ sorry for the bad picture! ]

When I was in elementary school, my grandmother always made gingerbread cookies during the Holiday season. She would decorate them with icing and I decorated them with little candies. I had forgotten about that childhood memory until this year. I had never really made gingerbread cookies, because my mom always made normal sugar cookies for the holidays and this was a tradition that I couldn't change, even though I never liked those cookies very much. [ She's going to kill me if she reads that! ] We decorated them with so much colored sugar, candy sprinkles and other artificial tasting decorations that it was like we were only eating the decorations and not the cookies. Since I'm the one who bakes and cooks in the house, my mom and my brother begged me to make Christmas cookies this year again, so I chose to bake yummy gingerbread cookies instead of the tasteless sugar cookies! I found the recipe in a cooking magazine.

Gingerbread cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons allspice

1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup molasses

1 egg

Heat the oven at 350 F.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, the spices and the baking soda.

Heat the butter, the brown sugar, the honey and the molasses at medium heat, stirring until the butter and the sugar have melted.

Pour the warm syrup over the flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the egg and mix until the dough is soft and doesn't stick to your hands. Add a bit of flour if it's too sticky. Let it stand a few minutes.

On a floured surface, roll the dough with a rolling pin until it's thin like unbaked pie dough. Cut out many shapes with cookie cutters, place on nonstick baking sheets and bake in the oven 8 to 10 minutes, depending on how large the cookies are.

For the icing, just stir two cups of confectioner's sugar with a few tablespoons of water, and pipe on the cookies with a pastry bag.


Sunday, December 4

Eggnog bread



Eggnog isn't really popular around here, I can't say it's a staple holiday food for most families in Montréal like it is in the United States. I discovered it a few years ago because it was sold in the grocery store near my house in December. I can't say I love it, but I like anything sweet and rich, so I bought some again this year. I found this recipe last year, and I don't really remember where it comes from. I wanted to bake banana bread for breakfast, but there wasn't enough bananas so I decided to try this recipe. I modified it slightly.
---
Eggnog bread
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup eggnog
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. brandy
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bread pan and line it with greased waxed paper.
Beat eggs, add sugar, eggnog, butter, brandy and vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder and nutmeg together and add them to the eggnog mixture. Stir until just moistened. Pour into greased pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool bread completely before slicing.
---
I have to say it was really good! Everyone liked it, even my younger brother who is really difficult when it comes to food. It was moist and it really did taste like eggnog and nutmeg. I'm definitely going to keep this recipe.

Chocolate cake

I'm not sure if "chocolate cake" describes this cake very well. I made it for a birthday party; my mother's friend was turning 40 years old yesterday. I have a confession to make: I'm not a big fan of dark chocolate. I know, I know. Fine dark chocolate is, according to everyone who enjoys food, something you have to like. But it's simply too bitter for me on it's own, I actually prefer good quality milk chocolate. However, I love using dark chocolate when I'm baking. I wanted to bake something that was not too sweet, because most adults don't like things that are extremely sweet. But this cake wasn't as bitter as I thought it would be. It was really rich and had a fudge-like texture. Also, I used expensive Lindt chocolate, and it made a big difference. Baker's chocolate doesn't usually taste that good in cakes!
This is the recipe.
I didn't have 10 inch cake pans and I shouldn't have used smaller pans because the cake didn't cook perfectly well. If you have smaller pans, just divide the batter and use 3 pans instead of 2. The cake rises a lot, so don't worry about the amount of batter in the pans. Also, I followed someone's advice; I spread a thin layer of sugarless raspberry preserves between the cake layers. I personally liked it, but I think some people would have prefered if the cake was only chocolate flavored.

Friday, December 2

Holiday fruit cake



You may ask yourself "What is this strange round thing wrapped in newspaper?". The answer is very simple: it's fruit cake! I actually baked this cake [ actually, I baked more than one! ] two weeks ago exactly. I promised myself that I wouldn't unwrap it until Christmas Eve, so I decided to take a picture of it while it's hidden under layers of foil and newspaper.
I won't deny it: fruit cake is one of my favorite holiday treats. I have never been able to understand why so many people hate fruit cake. Maybe it's because I have never eaten store bought fruit cake. My grandmother is a great cook and an awesome baker, and I always ate the fruit cake she prepared when we went to her house on December 25. Lately, it seems like fruit cake became more popular, but people change the original recipes so much: they make low-fat versions, sugar free versions, no-bake versions, and most of all they replace glaceed fruits by wholesome dried fruits. Guess what: I am totally against that! I know how unhealthy and full of chemicals those little sugar gems are, but I think a Christmas fruit cake wouldn't be a Christmas fruit cake without them. Of course, the key to make a good fruit cake is to wrap it in cheesecloth soaked in rhum or brandy, then wrap it in foil and newspaper and let it age at least 3 weeks before eating it.
Personally, I prefer white fruit cake batter. The fruit cake should still be moist and the fruits should taste slightly like alcohol. Eating the fruit cake right after baking it is okay, but it's a bad idea in my opinion.
Here is the recipe for the fruitcake I've been making every year since I was 16 years old. It comes from an old book from the 1960's that my mom had, and I have modified it slightly.
- - -
Holiday Crown fruit cake
3/4 cup of softened butter
1 1/3 cup of sugar
6 eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup of brandy
1 cup of sultana raisins
1 cup of golden raisins
1 cup of glaceed cherries, halved
1 cup of glaceed pineapple pieces
1 1/2 cup of mixed glaceed fruit [ or mixed peel ]
1 cup of chopped blanched almonds
2 teaspoon of grated orange zest
3 cups of sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
Heat the oven at 325 degrees F. Grease a 10 inch crown mold and line it twice with greased wax or parchment paper.
In a bowl, mix together all of the fruit, the orange zest, and the almonds. Sift the flour, the baking powder, the salt, the cinnamon and the nutmeg over the fruits. Mix everything gently until the fruits are well coated with flour.
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after adding each of them. Add the brandy and mix well. Little by little, with a spatula, add the flour and fruit mixture to the dough and mix well. Pour the dough in the mold, using the spatula to make sure that the dough is equal. Bake 2 hours, or until a toothpick inserted inside the cake comes out clean.

Do not unmold the cake just now. Put the cake still inside the mold on a rack, and let it cool for at least 15 minutes. Unmold the cake and let it cool down for at least one hour, or until it isn't warm at all anymore. Wrap the cake in cheesecloth, and using a pastry brush, brush the cake with brandy. Wrap twice in foil and once in newspaper and store in a cool, dry place.
- - -
Every year, one month and a half before the holidays, I bake two of those cakes. This year was different, because since I have the bad habit of always buying too much ingredients, I decided to make two cakes AND use the leftover fruits to try another fruit cake recipe. The recipe I tried was.. very strange. It contained an insane amount of sugar, molasses, too many spices and .. no eggs? I baked it in three loaf pans and even though I greased the pans very well and floured them, the batter stuck and one of the cakes was completely ruined. The second cake was only.. um.. half-ruined, and the third one was okay. I have to say that I tasted this cake before wrapping them and I hated it. Maybe this is the type of fruit cake that everyone hates so much! My grandma and my mom tasted this cake and they loved it. They compared it to a confection. But I really couldn't understand. I'm not going to post the recipe here, obviously..