Prepare for the Feast

Just a couple of the basic ingredientsOur 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.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Prepare for the Feast

  1. Having come into a relationship with spirits at a later stage in life, I am not accustomed to the taste. Does this cake have a strong brandy taste in the end that would discourage a recovering teetotaler?

  2. I’m the wrong guy to ask, Leigh Ann. I was reared with spirits, beer, and wine. While the kids were never allowed to “indulge” as the adults did, we often were given “sips.” That’s a topic for another time/place. The intent was to demystify the beverages, and it worked. It has worked with our own children, too.

    But, the novelty of the tastes that inhabit that part of the gastronomic universe is long forgotten.

    The actual alcoholic content of the cake is nil. Alcohol is pretty volatile stuff, and if its cooked, or let stand around, it evaporates out of the liquid. What remains, however, is the taste (alcohol has no taste), and that may or may not be suitable, depending on how one’s tastes have developed.

    Here’s a compromise if you want to try this: try the recipe, scaling it to a third (or a sixth; you’ll need a calculator and an accurate kitchen scale and measuring cups). For fruit, use dried apricots and cranberries. Then, for the “bath” use what is sold as “apricot brandy.” This is not actually brandy (which is a distilled wine), but apricot flavored vodka. It’s sold in half-pints, so the investment won’t be significant.

    I did this version one year, and it was quite tasty. I didn’t repeat it, because years of eating the brandied cake caused the apricot brandy to disappoint expectations. But, it was very good and garnered lots of praises from those who ate it.

  3. I will see if I can find the stuff and make the cake. Then maybe I can work my way up to the real deal:-).

  4. I just saw this today. If I made the cake late this week or this weekend, would the loss of the week of soaking be significant? This sounds so wonderful, and like such an appropriate addition to the celebration of advent. So, is it too late?

    (and glad to see your comments over on adventuresinmercy…..)

  5. Tiffany,

    You need a minimum of two weeks. Every week thereafter it just gets better and better.

    Go for it!

    Fr. B

  6. Fantastic! I know what I am doing this weekend! Thank you.

  7. Hope your cake was delicious!

  8. Jane Threlkeld

    I’m really enjoying your blog, and this recipe looks wonderful. One of my favorite things is hearing how families celebrate the holidays with their unique traditions.
    Bill, I was really interested in hearing more about demystifying the beverages, whenever another time/another place is right. It sounded like a wise thing to do.
    I tend to run scared from it because alcoholism has been a problem on my side of the family.

  9. Hello, Jane! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

    I, too, have alcoholism running back into my family’s history. I don’t want to take responsibility away from those who fall into that ditch, but there does seem to be a genetic component in the family line that makes falling into that ditch easier for some than for others. In view of that, it’s wise to be candid about things like that, and to forewarn the kiddos we’re rearing that this is something to keep an eye out for as they grow up and rear their own children.

    “Demystifying” in the case of me and my brothers (and cousins in the extended family) was a simple thing: to articulate and enforce a “permitted consumption policy,” which amounted to sips and no more after the sip or two was consumed. And, I do mean sip!

    In many cases, the result was not attraction, but repulsion as the raw flavors of some distilled spirits were just too intense for childish palates. Beer never seemed to have that problem (except for the heavily hopped pilsners which can be very bitter). In Austria, beer is referred to as “liquid bread,” a fairly accurate idea given the yeasty flavors of many beers and the pungent sourdough flavors of many Austrian breads.

    Among those who developed alcoholism in our extended family, (all are recovered for many years now), all will candidly acknowledge that the problem was their abuse of the beverage, not the beverage. Several are total abstainers, and feel no threat when others in the extended family continue to consume alcoholic beverages in moderate ways.

    Greet Ron for us!

  10. Jane Threlkeld

    Thank you for more on this.
    We are total abstainers but also are comfortable with those around us who partake.
    It seems to be the men who are most apt to become abusers in my family.
    We have the two grandsons and want to be supportive with how our son and his wife are training them in regard to alcoholic beverages. They are in a fellowship which has a point of view very similar to what you have written here, and which we agree with.
    Apart from my own inner fears about alcohol abuse, Ron and I both know that the Lord has given us all things richly to enjoy. The main reason we abstain is that we minister to so many recovering drug and alcohol abusers in our church. As a pastor, Ron felt it best just to lay it aside so as to not be a stumbling block for them, and I wholeheartedly agreed.
    Thanks again.

  11. “As a pastor, Ron felt it best just to lay it aside so as to not be a stumbling block for them, and I wholeheartedly agreed.”

    As do I.

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