Cakes for the holidays full of sweet nuts and spices

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It won't take weeks, days, or even hours to prepare this year's holiday cakes. All of the ingredients can be picked up with the weekly groceries, and much of the tedium of bygone annual cake-baking has been removed.

Be thankful that flour doesn't have to be sifted over and over to remove impurities, nor sugar pounded to a granular texture. And unless you live on a farm you are not likely to churn your own butter or gather eggs.

The fruits you buy for baking will have been sorted, stemmed, and seeded, but you won't need the muscular arm of a man to blend the ingredients with a stout hickory rod. Pity the poor cook who had to thrust her arm into the hot oven and hold it there until she could count to 40 in order to test for the proper temperature -- a method recommended in a cookery book published in Vermont in 1845!

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If you're not partial to the traditional holiday fruitcake, here are recipes for several cakes, all luscious, and tasting just as good as they look. Thanksgiving Cider and Spice Cake 3 cups sifted cake flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 3/4 cup shortening 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed 3 eggs, beaten 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 cup apple cider Cider Filling, recipe follows Cider Icing, recipe follows

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs. Beat until thoroughly blended. Add lemon juice to cider. Add alternately with dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating after each addition. Pour batter into 3 greased 8-inch round layer cake pans. Bake in 350 -degree F. oven 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn out on racks to cool. Spread Cider Filling between layers. Frost with Cider Icing. Serves 10 to 12.

Combine cranberries, sugar, and water in an 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking pan on top of stove. Bring to boil. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of cranberries burst, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and spread evenly in pan. Set aside to cool while assembling cake. Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Add shortening, milk, and vanilla. Beat vigorously for 1 1/2 minutes with mixer at low speed, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally with rubber scraper.

Add egg. Beat 1 1/2 minutes more at low speed, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally. Pour batter carefully and evenly over cranberry mixture in baking pan. Bake in a 350-degree F. oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Loosen cake from sides of pan. Invert on serving plate, allowing pan to stay on cake 5 minutes before attempting to remove. Serve with whipped cream or whipped topping, if desired. Serves 8. Eggnog Pound Cake 1 package Pillsbury Pound Cake Bundt Cake Mix 1 cup half-and -half 1/2 cup water 1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon vanilla Topping 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup margarine or butter 2 tablespoons water 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour 12-cup bundt pan. Blend 2 clear packets of cake mix and remaining cake ingredients at low speed until moistened. Beat 2 minutes at high speed of portable mixer. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

During last 10 minutes of baking, combine topping packet with sugar in small saucepan; add remaining topping ingredients. Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Immediately after cake is removed from oven, pour half of sauce mixture around edge of cake in pan. Cool upright on cooling rack 10 minutes; Invert onto serving plate and brush or spoon remaining sauce on cake. Store tightly covered. Makes 16 servings. Cider Filling 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1 cup cider 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Combine sugar, salt, and cornstarch in saucepan. Add cider. Mix. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thick and clear. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and butter or margarine. Cool. Cider Icing 1/2 cup butter or margarine 3 1/2 tablespoons flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup cider 3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts

In saucepan melt butter or margarine. Blend in flour and salt. Add cider. Stir well. Bring to boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add sifted confectioner's sugar and beat well. Add chopped nuts. Cranberry Upside Down Cake 2 cups fresh cranberries 2/3 cup sugar 1/3 cup water 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour 3/4 cup sugar 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup shortening 1/2 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 egg

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