For foodies, traditional Christmas-season foods are the benchmark for the arrival of the holiday. There are some foods that are tied to Christmas, and we’ll look into making them in this edition of the Mackinac Journal.
Let’s start with a recipe some consider more apropos for a doorstop instead of eating. That would be fruitcake, and this recipe comes from Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse — how could you possibly not eat an Emeril concoction?
Creole Christmas Fruitcake
For the simple syrup:
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons strips of lemon zest
Juice of 2 lemons (about ¼ cup)
For the cake:
1 pound combination of dried fruits, such as blueberries, cranberries, cherries, raisins and chopped apricots
1 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 ounces almond paste
8 large eggs
1 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup slivered blanched almonds
1 cup walnut pieces
½ cup bourbon
Make a simple syrup by combining sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Add the lemon zest and juice and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for two minutes and remove from heat.
Combine the dried fruits together in a large mixing bowl and pour the simple syrup over them, toss to coat, and let steep for five minutes. Strain and reserve the syrup.
Creame the butter, sugar and almond paste together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle at slow speed, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat until the mixture is fluffy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in between each addition on low speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add ½ cup of the Grand Marnier and mix to incorporate.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium size mixing bowl and blend well. Add this mixture ½ cup at a time to the butter mixture with the mixer at low speed, each time mixing until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as necessary. The batter will be thick.
Add the warm fruit and the nuts a little at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the sides of bowl and the paddle.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 12 1-pound loaf pans. Spoon about 1 cup of the batter into each pan. Bake until golden brown and the tops spring back slightly when touched, about 45 minutes (rearranging them after about 25 minutes, if necessary, to brown evenly).
Page 2 of 4 - Cool 10 minutes in the pans. Remove cakes from the pans and cool completely on wire racks. Wrap each in a layer of cheesecloth. Store in plastic storage bags until they are slightly stale, 3 to 4 days.
Combine the reserved simple syrup with the remaining ½ cup Grand Marnier and bourbon. Without removing the cheesecloth, make tiny holes with a toothpick randomly on the top of each cake. Pour 2 tablespoons of the syrup over each cake once every 2 to 3 days until all the syrup is gone.
Let the cakes age for up to 3 weeks before eating.
Makes 12 cakes.
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
A few drops red food coloring
Prepare two cookie sheets by spraying them with nonstick cooking spray or covering them with a light layer of oil. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer and continue cooking without stirring until the candy reaches 285 degrees, the soft-crack stage.
Once the proper temperature is reached, remove the candy from the heat and stir in the mint extract. Pour have the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet and place it in the preheated oven to stay warm.
Add red food coloring to remaining candy. Pour the candy onto a marble slab or heat-safe cutting board. Allow it to sit briefly until it forms a “skin.”
Spray a bench scraper or heat-safe spatula with nonstick spray and use the tool to begin spreading the candy out and pushing it back together, working it across the board and allowing it to cool.
As soon as the candy is cool enough to handle, but still quite hot, begin to pull it. If you have plastic gloves, put them on and spray the gloves with nonstick spray. Take the candy in both hands and pull the hands in opposite directions, stretching the candy into a large rope. Bring the ends of the strands together and twist the candy into a rope, then pull the rope out into a long strand. Keep pulling the candy until it has a satin-like finish and is an opaque red color. While it is still pliable and barely warm, pull it into a strand about 2 inches thick, and place it on the remaining baking sheet. Put this sheet back into the oven, turn off the heat, and remove the baking sheet with the other half of the candy syrup. The pulled candy will remain pliable in the warm oven.
Repeat the pulling process with the second, clear portion of the candy. At the end you will have candy of a pearly white color. Form it into a 2-inch log, just as with the red candy.
Page 3 of 4 - Remove the red candy from the oven. Cut a 5-inch segment from the white log and the red log and place them next to one another. Begin to pull the candies together, twisting gradually, to form the familiar candy cane stripes. Once the twisted candy is the thickness you want, used oiled kitchen shears to cut them to approximate 8-inch lengths. Immediately form the hook at the top of the cane and place it on a baking sheet to set at room temperature.
Repeat the twisting with the remaining candy. If the candy gets too hard to pull, place it in the warm oven for a few minutes to soften, but don’t let it sit too long and melt.
The candy canes will get very hard at room temperature, but if left out for long periods of time, they will get soft and sticky, so be sure to wrap them in cellophane once they are set.
Hot Buttered Rum
(Not for the kids … 21 and above only)
1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ½ ounces dark rum
Sugar to taste
1 stick cinnamon
Pat of butter
Heat the pineapple juice until it steams -- don’t boil it. Pre-warm a large, heat-safe mug by filling it with hot water and pouring out the water when it is warm. Place cinnamon stick in the mug, stir together the rum and sugar. Pour hot pineapple juice over the rum. Float pat of butter on top.
Makes one drink.
Plum Pudding With Hard Sauce
1 cup light molasses
¾ cup melted butter
½ cup warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for tossing fruit
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 pint candied mixed fruit, or diced dried fruit such as pineapples, pears, apples and plums)
1 cup raisins
1 ½ ounces brandy
Holly sprig, for garnish
Combine the molasses, butter, milk and eggs in a mixing bowl. Next, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves in a large mixing bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three additions. Toss candied fruit and raisins lightly with flour to prevent sinking and add to the batter. Stir in brandy.
Pour into a greased and sugared steam pudding mold and place on a rack in a large covered pot with water that comes halfway up the sides of the mold. Cover and steam for two hours, checking occasionally to make sure water hasn’t boiled out. Let cool for five minutes on a rack before turning out. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with a sprig of holly and hard sauce.
Page 4 of 4 -
¼ pound butter
1 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce brandy or rum
Beat all ingredients together until very well
combined. Serve with pudding.
(Another adult-only delight)
1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ cup dark rum
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 ½ cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
1 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
Into a large bowl sift together 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar the cocoa powder and allspice. Stir in the rum and corn syrup. Stir in the vanilla wafers and walnuts, and mix well. Place in the refrigerator to firm up slightly, about 30 minutes. The rum balls may appear crumbly and dry, but that’s OK.
Place the remaining ½ cup confectioner’s sugar in a shallow bowl or dish.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out portions of the chocolate mixture and press into 1-inch balls. Using your hands, roll the balls in the confectioner’s sugar, coating evenly.
Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, placing waxed paper between the layers to prevent sticking.
Rich Adams is a dedicated foodie, writer and former editor of the Cheboygan Daily Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org