Our Lord’s Birthday deserves a special kind of cake, and He’s worth the expense and time required to prepare this one. It is not a cheap cake. Depending on your sources of ingredients, it will probably set you back around $50, particularly if you use a quality brandy. This year’s pecan crop is huge, but I see that in the stores they’re still going for around $9 a pound for the broken pieces. If you use the whole nuts (pecan-halves they’re usually called), you’ll pay $12 a pound or more. This recipe calls for one and a half pounds of pecan-halves. Using the pecan-halves makes for a very lavish looking cake when it is sliced and served.
Think of the extravagance of the Medieval cathedrals as you prepare this. Think of the centuries it took to build them, as you lovingly keep the cake bathed in brandy for at least a month before serving it.
At our house, we observe Advent as a penitential season (which it is), holding back the feasting until Christmas Eve. This cake is the first that is served after sundown that day, and we continue to eat from it during the Twelve Days of Christmas. If you’re so minded to join us, make this cake just before Thanksgiving Day (which means mine will be baked tomorrow).
Brandied Christmas Cake
½ pound glazed pineapple, ½ pound candied cherries, and 1 ½ pound pecan-halves
4 cups flour
1 pound brown sugar, 1 pound butter (NOT margarine!!)
1 teaspoon baking powder, yes ONLY a TEASPOON.
1 ½ ounces (3 tbsps) lemon extract. This will be 1 and 1/2 bottles if you buy the 1 ounce bottles in the grocery store.
6 eggs (separated)
You may use red and/or green marachin0 cherries, but if you use these drain and rinse drain the cherries so that they do not tincture the cake batter when mixed.
NOTE: Other fruit combinations may be used instead. I’ve had good success with dried apricots and pecans. Raisens may also be used. Or dried cranberries. Ordinary candied fruit for fruitcakes works well, but I prefer other fruit combinations in order to differentiate this cake from ordinary fruitcakes.
1. Dredge the fruit in 2 cups of flour. Set aside. Mix remaining 2 cups of flour with baking powder.
2. In a large bowl (a popcorn bowl works well), cream the butter and brown sugar. Add lemon extract and mix well.
3. Add egg yolks alternately with the remaining 2 cups of flour.
4. Beat egg whites until firm and carefully fold into the batter.
5. By hand, carefully fold in the fruit, nuts, and the flour in which they are dredged. The batter will be very, very stiff. It will not pour.
6. Cover the bowl containing the batter tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
7. Grease a large bundt pan with shortening, then dust it well with flour. Prepare a loaf pan the same way, so you may fill it with any batter left over when the bundt pan is filled.
8. Press the chilled, very stiff batter by handfuls into the bundt pan, packing it well. You do not want to have air pockets, and the batter will be so stiff as to have the consistency of cookie dough. Fill the bundt pan right to the top, and place any remaining batter in the loaf pan you have prepared.
9. Place a pan of water on the lowest rack of an oven heated to 225 degrees. That’s right: two hundred twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit. This is a VERY slow oven.
10. Place the bundt pan (and loaf pan if you used one) on a rack above the pan of water. Bake undisturbed at 225 degress for 3 hours. If the cake rises a couple of inches above the rim of the bundt pan, do not fret. It will go back down when it’s cooled.
11. Insert a long stick of spaghetti into the center of the cake. It should come out free of wet batter.
12. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about ten minutes. Invert the cake in the pan onto a plate larger than the rim of the bundt pan. Lightly rap the sides with a spoon until the cake dislodges from the pan. If the batter has baked “hard” around the top edge of the bundt pan you may need to chip that part off to get the cake out of the pan.
13. Let the unmolded the cake(s) cool to room temperature. Wrap the bundt cake in strips of clean cotton sheeting. Be sure the bundt cake is on a plate large enough to hold it without the cake overlapping the edges.
14. Drizzle the sheeting with brandy until it is well drenched. If there is some brandy pooling in the plate around the edges, this is fine. Do not use cheap brandy. Your cake will taste like you tried to go on the cheap. Don’t do that. It doesn’t have to be a $100 bottle. Christian Brothers brandy works well and is not extravagantly expensive.
14. Cover the cake well in plastic wrap, bringing the ends of the wrap under the plate to seal out any odors from the other parts of the refrigerator. Place the cake in the refrigerator. Check the cake every two days. If the strips are beginning to dry, drizzle more brandy onto the strips wrapping the cake until the strips are wet. Then rewrap the cake and plate well in plastic wrap. Continue this procedure for at least a month. It will not be unusual if you use anywhere from a half to a full 750 m. bottle of brandy.
This cake is extremely flavorful and rich. Serve it in thin slices with coffee, hot chocolate, hot tea, or spiced cider. It will easily serve 50 – 60 people at a Christmas buffet. Or, a smaller group of people may snack on it during the twelve days of Christmas (that’s what we do). Make this cake once, and you’ll make it every Christmas as long as you live.