Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas cake...and chaos

All is not well at Chez Brick. For one thing, neither Dave nor yours truly can seem to get rid of this huge, rattling cough. For an hour, all is peace. No hacking, nothing. Hmmm. Maybe I'm getting better, you muse to yourself. Maybe it's going...then a sneak attack, and you spend the next five minutes doubled over, trying desperately to breathe AND not lose your lunch. (At least I do.) Not to mention the embarrassing moments some middle-aged (I hate that phrase) women have when they cough or laugh too hard. Ahem.
In between coughing fits, I decorated the Christmas tree (which we finally got Sunday, and put up last night), and baked. A large Christmas cake, plus some babies, is cooling on the counter. So is a double batch of Sacher Torte, a yummy double-chocolate-made-partly-with-breadcrumbs cake that I first met (slice-wise) at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna.
That story first. My cousins Tim and Joan were missionaries in Vienna ('Wien' or "Veen"), and needed help watching their girlies. Joanie was pregnant with baby #3, and they were planning to move down south to Kaarnten to Villach (pronounced "Feel-ach"). I spent the summer as nursemaid to Amy and Kari, as well as traveling about town -- thank God for public transportation. It was a wonderful summer...I not only learned a lot of German, but managed to get in stops at the museums and even a stop at the Hotel Sacher, which isn't that far from Mozart's residence. It didn't impress me that much from the outside (the hotel, that is), but inside, it is pane after pane of glass mirrors, so you can watch others while they pretend not to watch you! The coffee is half grounds, thick as all getout...and wonderful. Add a slice of this incredibly rich cake (made famous by the Sacher), and you have a serious case for bliss. I've baked a Sachertorte for Christmas nearly every year since then.
The Christmas cake is from Tasha Tudor's TAKE JOY, a wonderful Christmas compendium of stories, recipes, songs, and so on. It gets read every holiday season. The cake is British style, a heavy butter-based cake with fruit and nuts. Tasha's original recipe reminded me some of a modified fruitcake. Since I am not fond of the F----- word, and raisins and I are not happy with each other, I modified it some. Tasha has this freaky thing about butter -- the more, the merrier. But I am not fond of seeing pools of fat soaking into the cake, so that got modified, too.

CHRISTMAS CAKE (Colorado style)
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs (no, I'm not making this up)
1 cup chopped almonds, pecans, filberts (your choice)
4 tablespoons orange juice (I also grate a bit of the orange rind in)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 cups flour (make this 5 heaping cups if you're cooking at high altitude)
1 cup 'craisins' (dried cranberries -- or substitute raisins, if you like them)
1 cup halved maraschino cherries

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing as you go, then the other ingredients -- stop before the flour. (It's easiest with two people, but one can manage just fine.) Stir in the flour, a cup at a time, then add craisins and cherries. Mixture will be very thick.
Line your pans with foil -- I can generally get a 10" springform pan, plus 3 or 4 little patty pans out of this, but you might prefer two round cake pans or an angel cake-type pan (the kind with a funnel in the middle). You'll get approx. two round cake pans, or a round (or loaf) pan plus the angel food cake pan. Now 'glop' the mixture into the pans, smoothing on top when they're done. (About half-full)

Bake at 275 degrees for approx. an hour -- my 10" springform took 1 1/2 hours because it was so thick. Cake is done when it's firm in the middle...test by gently pushing against it, or using a toothpick poked in. (Clean means it's done.) Let cool in pans, then fold foil over and store in a cold place for at least a week. (Tasha does it for months, but I have had these spoil when held that long.) Frost with confectioner's sugar, or serve as-is with tea. (The Brits like to add a layer of almond paste on top, then frost it.)
Makes one good-sized cake for you and your dinner companions -- plus a cake for a friend. Intensely rich and memorable.

I'll post the SacherTorte recipe tomorrow. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go cough for a while. A long while.

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