Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thanks, 2009!

I started my last day of 2009 with toasted country brown bread from Ken's, and a big bowl of caffelatte from my husband (Stumptown beans today--we rotate, based, largely, on what's open when we realize we're out of beans).  I can't imagine anything more wonderful. Today I even spread Paysan Breton butter with sea salt crystals on my toast.  I am so lucky.

Before I head into 2010 and resolutions, I just want to thank 2009.  It was, all in all, a good year.  My oldest daughter graduated from college, my son and youngest daughters went on huge adventures.  I started my blog, and have enjoyed it hugely.  My husband still has his job, we're all healthy, and we live in Portland.  How lucky can you get?

If 2010 is as good as 2009, I'll be a very happy and very grateful woman.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Panettone and Zabaglione

When Pavel turned 40 (a couple of years before me), I threw him a big party, filling our small living room with three long tables.  With help from family, I made choucroute for 40.  Our kids, then 9, 12, and 14, mixed martinis for the guests (hopefully they'll always be able to find work).  It was a wonderful party, done largely to celebrate Pavel.

But, as most people who are married know (and a few might even admit), marriage, besides being about  sharing and forgiving (yourself as well as your spouse), also is about score-keeping and escalation.  A small part of me figured I was setting the bar for him to jump over when I turned 40 two years later.

Pavel cleared the bar easily, as I knew he would.  He surprised me with a trip to Venice and Rome; a dream, really.  We spent New Years' Eve in Milan, and arrived in an eerily quiet Venice on New Years Day, my birthday.  All my life I've wrestled with the problem of a New Years birthday.  There's the problem of people not wanting to get up that day, and then when they finally do, they're often not in the most festive mood.  As a kid, I wanted to go to San Francisco's Hungry Hippo for a hamburger, which came with a sparkler on birthdays.  But they were always closed January 1.

Venice was shut pretty tight on New Years Day, so we ate dinner at the only place we found open.  Nothing great about the dinner, until it was time for dessert.  I certainly, by the advanced age of 40, knew better than to hope for a birthday cake.  But what I got was just as good.

Turns out that Italy, post-Christmas, is lousy with panettone.  When you stay at bed and breakfasts, you get slices of it every morning.  The cafes all push it.  And that Venetian restaurant was no different: they had panettone, and wanted to get rid of it.  But here was the genius of it.  It wouldn't do, alone, for dessert.  Instead, our waiter cut a big hunk of it, and set it on a plate.  Then, from a large silver colored warming dish, he ladled yellow zabaglione over the top.  Just like that, two of my very favorite things on earth came together on my birthday, on my plate.

Much as I loved this dessert, I'm not ready to part company with birthday layer cakes.  But it occurs to me that there's always panettone lying around her after Christmas (not that I'm wishing it gone!).  In fact, I made these with some warmed panettone leftover from, hold on to your hats, last Christmas.  And it was pretty tasty.

I think I'll make another batch of zabaglione late on New Years Eve, and Pavel and I will ring in 2010--and my birthday--with a little memory of 2003. 

Happy New Year to all!

Here's one recipe for zabaglione.  Traditional recipes often suggest using the eggshell to measure the sugar and marsala, and it works fairly well--each half shell holds about 1 tablespoon.  If you want an easy to remember recipe, for each serving you need 1 egg yolk, 1 half eggshell sugar, and 2 half eggshells marsala. I usually make it with at least 3 egg yolks.  I also use a heavy saucepan instead of a double boiler.  But you have to be extra careful, then, not to cook the eggs.

For more about zabaglione, here's a story I wrote for Culinate last year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Few More Christmas Cookies

Once I'd made the kids' favorite Christmas cookies, I still only had four types. And I was still missing the kids. It occurred to me that they're off celebrating Christmas in new places, getting their own stories they'll someday share with their own kids. I was starting to feel a little sorry for myself, missing out on their adventures.

So I'm making a second cookie for each kid. One from the place where they're celebrating Christmas this year.

Grace is spending Christmas in Prague. Actually, it's her second Christmas in the Czech Republic; she was there when she was four as well. It's been fun reading about her time there, as it's helping her remember bits and pieces from that holiday so long ago. When we went there in 1991 it was still Czechoslovakia. I have fond memories of seeing Prague under a veil of snow, and the men selling carp on the squares.

We spent the actual holiday in the Moravian town of Kromĕřiž, where Pavel's grandmother Růža lived.  When we got to her house, she (and her boyfriend, Strýc) had prepared plates and plates of cookies.  They were stored on the marble stairs to their attic.  The grandest of these cookies were the Ůly.  The name means beehive; the cookie is a three-part affair, with a cookie base, a nut and sugar hollow hive, and pastry cream inside.  After I wrote a story for Gourmet about the cookies, my husband's family sent me Růža's Ůly mold.  I meant to try them every year after, but never managed.  Until this year.

Simon is in Punta Arenas, Chile.  That's at the very tip of South America.  If I didn't know how much he loves his family I might take it personally, him running off to the end of the earth.  Before he went, there was a lot of subterfuge at our house.  His girlfriend didn't know he was coming, which meant he had to make up excuses about why he wouldn't be on skype or facebook for two days while traveling (he told her he had a two day job washing dishes on Mt. Hood).  I helped his cause by asking Caro for recipes for Christmas cookies they make, so I could surprise Simon with them at Christmas.  Sneaky, no?

She sent on a recipe for Alfajores.  These seem to be enjoyed across South America, or at least in Peru, Argentina, and Chile.  Recipes in books and on the internet differ in the cookie flavorings, some with Pisco (the Peruvian and Chilean brandy), others with citrus.  Some are rolled in coconut.  But they all share one thing: Dulce de Leche sandwiched between the two cookies.

And Francesca, our youngest, is in Caserta, Italy.  I had thought I finally had an excuse to buy a pizzelle iron.  Turns out pizzelle are not eaten across Italy.  A little research, and some help from Eleonora at Aglio, Olio, and Peperoncino pointed me to two choices for a Christmas cookie from Campania: Struffoli and MostaccioliStruffoli, a pile of deep fried pieces of dough bound with honey, are tempting, and maybe I'll make them next year with Francesca (I'm looking forward to that!).

I went with the Mostaccioli.  I found a couple of recipes in books, and many online.  In the end I used a recipe at The Perfect Pantry adapted from a recipe of Nick Malgieri's.  I changed this recipe slightly, using all honey instead of honey and molasses.  I also made the glaze with 2/3 cup of confectioners sugar, and the grated zest and juice of a Meyer lemon.  I find there's something spicy, clove-like about these lemons, and they complement the chocolate spice cookie quite nicely.

So I'm done with my baking.  My kids are off in the middle of their own adventures, and I'm truly happy for them.  I suppose it's a little pushy of me, co-opting their Christmas cookies.  Oh well.  I'm looking forward to next Christmas, when, hopefully, we'll all come together again.  Who knows what new Christmas cookies we'll be eating then?

And now I'm off to enjoy my Christmas--Pavel and I need to get down to the business of eating cookies and drinking eggnog.  

Monday, December 21, 2009

Uly Cookies

I'm not going to make you wait a long time to figure out what this is.  Congratulations to those of you who looked at this picture...

...and thought to yourselves, "why, isn't that Giovanna's husband Pavel's grandmother Růža's Ůly mold?".

Well done.

Perhaps some of you are still a little unclear as to what, exactly, an Ůly mold is. Ůly means 'beehives' in Czech, and the mold is used to make a Christmas cookie I've meant to try for many years.  The mold is dusted heavily (but never quite heavily enough) with cocoa.  Then you push a mix of ground walnuts, sugar, and egg whites into the mold, and somewhat miraculously, after much trial and error (and a healthy pinch of good luck), a perfect little beehive comes out.

The Ůly  are then air-dried for a few days, filled with a rum-flavored (or vanilla, or even chocolate) pastry cream, and cemented to a butter cookie.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

What's This?

Anyone know what this is?  I'll fill you in next week...



Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas without Kids, More Cookies for Us

 Mexican Wedding Cakes for Francesca

I was under a strict gag order until last Wednesday. You see, my 20 year-old-son was leaving Portland to see his girlfriend in Punta Arenas, Chile.  All the way at the other end of the world. Since she didn't know he was coming (tricky in this computer age--he told her he was taking a job washing dishes on Mt. Hood), I couldn't blog, tweet, or facebook about it.  I hate being silenced.

We don't know when we'll see him next, so the good-bye was tough. And here's the really weird thing: Pavel and I will be childless for Christmas this year. It will be only the second time since we've been married.  The last time wasn't so surprising, we didn't have any kids yet.

View Christmas without Kids, More Cookies for Us in a larger map
I spent a little time trying to decide what it meant. I've been used to baking many kinds of cookies for Christmas: favorites from my childhood, Danish and Czech Christmas cookies, new ones from Gourmet Magazine.  Should I still do it?

Cloud Cookies for Grace
You bet I should. For one thing, why should Pavel and I lose out on treats just because our kids are off having fun? And besides--cookies remind me of all the Christmases past.

So I'm baking some of our old favorites--and a batch of each kid's particular favorite.

Grace lives in the Netherlands now, but is spending Christmas in Prague with my husband's cousin. She's been steady with her favorite cookie, and I admire her for it--I had to grow to appreciate Cloud Cookies. When I was little, my mother always made Cloud Cookies, a barely sweet but very short cookie. The ground walnuts, whiskey, and single clove that adorns each cookie give it flavor. I preferred the sweeter ones, like Mom's orange scented Spritz, and the penuche and divinity fudges. But Grace, from the time she was little, loved Cloud Cookies.

Strýc with Růža

And then there's Simon, who's off in Patagonia, for how long, we don't know.  His favorite is a cookie we call 'Strýc's cookie'.  Strýc (pronounced 'streets') is Czech for uncle; it's also used as a respectful term for an older gentleman.  Strýc was Pavel's grandmother Růža's first boyfriend, and, after her husband died many decades later, her last boyfriend.  I wrote a story (Gourmet, November 2006) about eating cookies at Christmas with them.  The gist of the story was that Strýc made the best ones.  And Simon agrees.  These ones are made with nothing more than hazelnuts, sugar, rum-soaked raisins, and egg whites.  But they are chewy and fragrant from the rum and absolutely wonderful.

Francesca is in Caserta, Italy this year--just outside Naples. Her favorite cookies are Mexican Wedding Cakes, sweeter than the cloud cookie, and made with pecans instead of walnuts. They're exactly the kind of cookie I would have picked when I was little. Especially when it's dusted three times with confectioner's sugar! I use a recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Christmas Cookies.  Incidentally, I love this book.  Besides having many tempting cookies (I especially like all the meringues, and Mother Bauer's Buttered Rum cookies), I like the book's layout.  Directions are give separately for food processor and electric mixer; recipe amounts are given in cups, ounces, and grams.  I find this especially useful when measuring ground nuts, as I can weigh whole, and then grind them in the food processor with a small amount of the sugar, avoiding turning the nuts to paste.

Recipes for the other two favorites:

Cloud Cookies
makes 7-8 dozen

1 lb butter
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
2 T whiskey or brandy
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup ground walnuts
6 cups cake flour
7-8 dozen whole cloves
  •  Preheat oven to 325º
  • Beat butter until soft and creamy, beat in egg yolk.
  • Add sugar, whiskey, and vanilla.
  • Beat in ground walnuts and flour.
  • Shape dough into balls the size of a walnut, set on ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Stick a clove into the top of each cookie.
  • Bake 15-20 minutes, until bottoms are slightly golden.
  • Cool on baking sheet

Stryc's Cookies
Strýc's Cookies
Makes 5-6 dozen
I have a special mold for these cookies--about 1-1/2 inches across.  You might find a similar mold meant for chocolates.  I make these in the food processor.

200 grams hazelnuts (about 1-1/2 cups)
200 grams sugar (1 cup)
140 grams (1 cup) raisins, chopped and soaked overnight in 3 tablespoons rum
2 egg whites
  •  Toast hazelnuts at 325º for 5-7 minutes.  While still warm, put on a nubby dishtowel, wrap up, and rub together to remove loose skins.
  • Grind the hazelnuts and sugar together in a food processor
  • Pulse in raisins and egg whites
  • Take scant teaspoonfuls of the dough--it's very wet--and roll in a plate of granulated sugar.  Press into the mold, and then remove from mold and put on parchment lined baking sheets.  If you don't have a mold, shape into little logs and shape into crescent shapes.
  • Bake at 350º for 15 minutes, cool on racks.

I'm afraid four kinds of cookies (I made my favorites, bourbon balls, too) doesn't seem like quite enough.  So check back next week to see the other cookies I'm baking.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eating Crème Anglaise, Fulfilling Obligations

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about a resolution I'd made for 2009. It involved a little red calendar, and a dream of organization and self-discipline. Now 2009 is nearly over; my desk is as cluttered as ever, but I'm still convinced that there's a perfect way to organize my life. If I find that method, I'll manage to read all the books I want to read, knit everything on my Ravelry queue, regain my 20 year-old figure, and accomplish all I hope to in this life.

In the meantime, I thought a calendar would be a good start.  And it started well enough.  But somewhere in April I removed the calendar from my purse.  It's on a pile somewhere in my office.  Apparently I'm not a completely lost soul, though.  Because yesterday, without the benefit of the note in my calendar, I went to Pearl Bakery for 'eggnog'.  Only today, when I read back in my blog, do I see that I had jotted a note to self for that very day: "look for Pearl eggnog".

Before I go any further, a note about Pearl's eggnog.  In my book, it's not really eggnog.  Eggnog requires fluffy beaten egg whites folded into a egg yolk rich cream and milk concoction.  There needs to be bourbon.  A little rum sprinkled on top isn't completely amiss.

Pearl's eggnog has none of these.  In order to avoid the raw egg situation, they make a cooked eggnog.  And you know what a cooked eggnog is? It's nothing more than crème anglaise.  One of my very favorite things.  This one just happens to be nutmeg-flavored. 

In Chez Panisse's early years, crème anglaise was one of the constants (almond tart was another) on the dessert menu.  A dish of it (I remember it being served in a footed metal bowl) cost less than a dollar.  On rare occasions I got to sit in the upstairs café and eat a dish of it after school. 

I've had a rough couple of days, so a glass of crème anglaise, er, eggnog, seemed well-deserved yesterday.  I ordered the smallest size (I'm not a total degenerate, after all), and settled in with my book at a table by the window.  For thirty sweet minutes I read, sipped my nutmeg scented crème anglaise, and felt much better.

I may not need a note to remember to get Pearl's eggnog in December, 2010.  But I have thought of one reminder for myself: bring a little flask of bourbon for doctoring.  After all, wouldn't a glass of eggnog be slightly less extravagant than a glass of crème anglaise?

Eggnog is available through Christmas
Pearl Bakery
102 NW 9th Ave.
Portland OR 97209
503-827-0910 (I'd call first, they sometimes run out)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Slopping the Pigs

 Some happy pig

Much as I wish I were the kind of person/blogger who would (and could!) participate in Gwen Bell's Best of 2009 Blog Challenge, I know myself too well.  The challenge offers 31 writing prompts (one for each day of December) for looking back on 2009.  I couldn't pull off 31 posts in a slow month; in December it would never happen.  But it turns out I can participate, and I didn't even have to read the small print.  Right there, on step number 1: Write on one or all thirty-one of the prompts for the month of December.  I can write on one prompt.  And who knows, maybe I'll even pull off somewhere between one and thirty-one.

It was an easy choice for me, I've been wanting to write about my favorite restaurant moment of 2009.  How can a restaurant meal that starts with slopping the pig not be your favorite?  That moment was the beginning of a tremendous evening.

Last summer I was in the Netherlands.  It was a two-and-a-half week family obligation, vacation, and work kind of trip.  The family obligation part was fun: my daughter was graduating from college in the small town of Middelburg (Roosevelt Academy, I see right now their website has a link to a selection of food policy research papers called 'From Brussels to Mussels').  The vacation part was spending a few days walking along the southern part of the Pieterpad with my parents (a trip I encourage everyone to try).  The work part was a pancake tour through the Netherlands, with Pavel and Grace, for an article that was to have been published in Gourmet magazine.  Ah well.

And somewhere in that mix, Pavel, Grace, my parents and I found ourselves in Amsterdam one evening, riding south on tram #5 to Restaurant As, right next to Beatrixpark.  We got off the tram and walked a couple of blocks along Prinses Irenestraat to the restaurant.  As's dining room is downstairs from the design firm Platform 21 (a fun website to explore, perhaps the Cooking and Constructing link is especially of interest here).  The building was originally a chapel; the dining room is round with seating radiating out from the central work area (espresso machine, prosciutto on slicer). The kitchen, though, is what you see first when you arrive at As.  That's because it's outdoors under a tent, with a wood oven.

If you're lucky when you get to As, as we were, the chef, Sander Overeinder, just might hand you a gray bus tub full of fava bean pods, potato peelings, and artichoke trimmings, and ask you to slop the pigs.  We took the tub, and walked into the restaurant, through the dining room, out the back door, and past the chickens to the waiting pigs.  I'm sure the other diners were a little jealous.  I know the pigs were happy to see us.

 The dining room at As
Our chores done, we were seated at a wide wooden table in one of the little nooks that radiate off the main room.  Private, but also with a view of the diners and the show in the middle of the room.  Outside the window a tiny car sat under a high wire fence festooned with vines and large light bulbs.   As night fell (late that far north in May) the lights came on, shifting from green to blue to orange to red.  Or did I just have too much to drink?

Our fried zucchini blossoms
Then we got down to dinner.  And how we ate.  We started with a charcuterie plate, and fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and lemon, their tiny zucchini still attached, so tender.

The next course was one I still think of--the picture I'm afraid doesn't do it justice.  It was a rabbit braise, with the rabbit's liver, kidneys, some "blood sausage from last Sunday", spinach, celery, artichokes, favas, and lentils.  It was at once a complex stew with succulent bits of rabbit and rich liver juices marrying all the flavors.  But at the same time it was oddly simple and comforting.  The celery flavor recalled a homey chicken and dumplings, or a meal my French grandmother might have served me.  If I'd had a French grandmother.

Rabbit braise
But this was only a second course.  The waitress and chef consulted with us between courses; with each course I felt done.  With each consultation I was ready for the next course.  Both a brined and roasted veal brisket and a beautiful rare entrecote, with bubbles of fat, came next. These were served with peas and carrots.  Not the kind my American grandmother made.  And I had one of those.

The second to last consultation was especially gratifying.  "How about some cheese?  We have a wonderful Gorgonzola Dolce...".  My mother let out a small gasp.  And a couple of minutes later it arrived.  I watched it come across the dining room, and thought it was a birthday cake, complete with candles, approaching.  It was the whole Gorgonzola Dolce, covering a large dinner plate, with 5 spoons stuck into the cheese.  ("But please don't eat off the spoon and put them back in the cheese!").

 Gorgonzola Dolce

Sander sat with us after our dinner, my parents knew him from when he worked at Chez Panisse many years back.  He's a big man--in expression, in gesture, and in interest level.  He was eager to share his food, eager for us to like it.  He told us a story about the Gorgonzola, which he orders from an Italian import shop in Amsterdam.  Each time he calls, they say, yes, we'll have it for you in two days.  After three days pass, Sander calls back (and he pantomimed the call for us).  They always say the same thing.  We don't know what happened, it will be three weeks, we're so sorry. Sander lets out an exaggerated sigh, rolls his eyes a bit.  But he already knew that, as it's always that way, so he called three weeks before he needed it. With that, Sander let out a big laugh.

 Restaurant As chef, Sander Overeinder

And that's the kind of dinner it was.  Big in expression, and in gesture, and in interest.  Laughter, humility, and gratitude.  Gratitude, especially on our part.  I still dream of that rabbit.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Housekeeping and Trifles

Apparently counting isn't my strong suit.  I'd planned on marking my 100th post with some updates.  Then I realized my last post was the 100th.  So.  To mark my 101st blog post, it's time for some blog-housekeeping.

The main thing I want to draw your attention to is my new 'about' page.  For nearly a year now I've been writing this blog, breaking one of the foremost blog rules: I had no about page.  Here's a link to it; you can also reach it by clicking on the platter of plums at the top of the sidebar.  I imagine I'll be tinkering with it from now on.

Giovanna's Trifles now has a page on facebook.  I'm posting links to my new blog posts there, but also putting up links to other blogs and articles I (and hopefully others) find interesting or amusing.  I hope you'll join me there.

I've also some shuffling and removing of sidebar elements.  If you look there now, you'll find links to my about page and contact info.  You can also subscibe to my blog's feed, follow me on twitter, or join my new facebook page.  There's a place to search my blog, or browse by blog post labels.  If you decide you want to find a book, there's a Powell's search box as well.

Over the next few weeks I'm planning on adding some other pages: a recipe page, a links page, and a Back for Seconds page.  Look for them.

And about 'Back for Seconds':  it's taking a brief hiatus until after Christmas (though I may stick in one or two before).  When it returns, it will probably change to a once a week format (part one the first week, part two the second).

Lastly, if you print a post now,  you'll get a text-only printout.  In coming weeks I hope to add a print recipe only option--I'm still deciding how I want to do it.

Here's to the next 101 posts!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fruitcake, with Insane Greediness: Part II

Card-carrying proud pro-fruitcake voter
Sometimes you just have to take a stand. I am pro-fruitcake. There. I now understand the power and beauty of self-determination. I'm not convinced that the fruitcake I ate in my Danish bedroom, hoping to fill my heart, turned me into a fruitcake lover. Rather, I think I might just have gotten there in spite of it.

But no matter. I'm always surprised when I run across people who are anti-fruitcake. But then I remember what fruitcake means to them: flavorless sticky fruit, unidentifiable even by color. Cherries might be red, or they may be green. Pineapple is inexplicably dark green, and citron, instead of a pale barely there green is practically fluorescent. I'm convinced a little re-education is all the anti-fruitcake people really need.

Well-loved recipe
Because when I think of fruitcake, I think of the recipe given to me years ago by my sister. Dried fruit and home-candied peel macerate for at least a day in brandy (I left mine for 2 days this year). Nuts, jam, butter, and eggs are added. After baking, the cakes are brushed with brandy frequently and often. Then they are wrapped in cheesecloth (also doused with brandy), plastic, and foil, and set deep in my closet. Dried fruits, candied citrus peel, pecans, and brandy. What exactly is there not to like?

Candied peel and dried fruit bathing in brandy
Ideally you'd make this cake in October to give it time to cure. I find that in October I start thinking about making the fruitcake, and in November I candy the peel and buy the dried fruits. Early in December I finally make the cakes. But you might be better than me. If so, dog ear this recipe and come back next October.

Ready to bake

Wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth
Luckily, the recipe makes a lot of cake. We'll eat some at Christmas (even if it hasn't aged as long as it should), slice some to add to cookie boxes, and give some whole cakes away (only to card carrying pro-fruitcake people). What's left will go back into the deepest corner of my closet, to be enjoyed next year--and maybe even the one after. Just remember to occasionally open them up and brush with more brandy. They like that.

They also like freshly grated nutmeg
And if you find yourself eating a fruitcake with insane greediness, don't feel too ashamed. It happens to the best of us, and your secret is safe with me.  A few notes:
  • This makes a lot of fruitcake (I baked 2 large loaves, 7-6x3 loaves, and 4-4 inch round pans).  You might want to divide it.  
  • I thought I was pretty clever buying the paper pans that you don't need to line.  Except it would work better if you did.  Next time I'll stick to pans and parchment paper.
  • For a full recipe, finding a bowl big enough to mix everything is slightly tricky.  This year I felt pretty smug for realizing my turkey roaster insert was perfect--it made mixing a breeze.  
  • I've tried both grinding and chopping the fruit.  I prefer chopping; grinding in the Kitchenaid made a mass of fruit too uniform for my taste.  On the other hand, chopping 8-9 pounds of fruit takes a long time.Pick your poison.
  • I use pretty cheap brandy.  This dates to the early years of my marriage, when we had a glut of brandy.  My grandfather, the most frugal and also most generous person I've known, gave the same presents every Christmas.  Women got a 2 lb. box of See's Nuts and Chews; men got a fifth of brandy.  When I married, I learned the true beauty of marriage: you got the chocolate AND the brandy.  And, unlike the IRS, Babbo didn't differentiate between married couples and unmarried--all couples came out ahead.
  • I dislike most dried pineapple, as it tends to have a lot of added sugar and not taste much like pineapple (or anything else, for that matter).  If you can't find one that doesn't have added sugar, I'd use more candied peel and less dried pineapple (or even all candied peel).
  • Homemade candied peel is wonderful.  It's not hard to make.  It impresses people.  It makes your life better.  Make some.

I felt like Christo wrapping all those cakes

Thérèse's Fruitcake

Chop or grind 8-9 lbs. dried fruit:
  • 1-1/2 lbs dates
  • 1-1/2 lbs figs
  • 2 lbs cherries (try to find sour)
  • 2 lbs candied peel and dried pineapple
  • 1-1/2 lbs raisins and currants 
Macerate overnight in plenty of brandy (a fifth to a quart).

Next day: Preheat oven to 300º.  Toss the fruit mixture with a little flour (about 1/4 cup).  Add:
  • 6 cups chopped pecans
  • 8-12 ounces dark jam (blackberry or black currant) or marmalade
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
In another bowl, cream:
  • 1 lb. butter, add
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 lb. brown sugar (about 2-3/4 cups packed)
  • 12 eggs; then stir in
  • 1 lb flour (4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
Mix this batter with the fruit and nuts--it will be a fairly stiff dough. Put in greased paper-lined pans filled 3/4 full--you can use loaf pans, round cake pans--whatever shape you like.  The bigger cakes will stay moister, and require less brushing with brandy.  Put a pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven, and bake the cakes (at 300º) for 2 to 3 hours. I baked my small ones for 1 hour and 45 minutes, then removed the pan of water, and baked for 15 minutes longer.  The larger cakes took longer, about 2-1/4 hours, remove the pan of water, then 15 minutes longer.

When the cakes are done (you can tell with the toothpick in the middle of the cake), turn them out of their pans immediately to cool on a rack.  Have a dish of brandy and a brush ready--you'll start soaking them while still warm.  I just brush on as much as they will take.  When the cakes are cooled, wrap them in cheesecloth that you've soaked with still more brandy, and then in plastic and foil.  I've kept these cakes for up to two years in a cool closet.  I just try to remember to open them up every month or two and brush with more brandy.

You have a lot of leeway with the proportions of dried fruit.  Here's what I used this year:
  • 14 oz dates
  • 12 oz currants
  • 16 oz raisins
  • 34 oz figs (mixed Calmyrna and mission)
  • 15 oz cherries
  • 9 oz pineapple
  • 16 oz candied orange peel
  • 5 oz citron (I candied a small Buddha's hand citron--recipe in Chez Panisse Fruit)
As you can see, I only used 7-1/2 lbs all together.  This is one of the problems with buying the fruit and then waiting to bake.  Someone--maybe even you--could find the dates.

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