It was a difficult year. So much conflict and disagreement. So much misunderstanding and anger. Resentment. Even hate. American people have spoken and many are trying to come to terms. Many are feeling alone and isolated. I don't know what it will take to heal and get together. Make amends. Work together. Build values all of us can stand for and feel proud of.
Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, yet I look forward to the winter holidays. It's the time of the year when everything stops and being merry takes over. In difficult times, holidays are a safe harbor. A place in time we stop being afraid and turn into being hopeful again. "Holiday is a big, furry blanket of insta-hope," is how my daughter likes to describe it. "And a big plush pause button," I might add. So, I am keeping my fingers crossed that perhaps this holiday the madness will go on pause, and we will look at our loved ones, and look inside our hearts, and get better on all sides of the isle.
Over the Labor Day I baked my three Christmas cakes, just as I always do. I soaked them in brandy and wrapped them in parchment paper, and put them to rest until holiday. I like my cakes aged. Dark and ancient, stormy with booze, and drunk with spices, a testament to the country my husband came from. Exotic and wise, my three cakes could tell tales. But yesterday, I made another one. An entirely different cake: light, floral and happy, and full of sunshine, because I felt like I needed a slice of it. We all do. And besides, one can never have enough of Christmas cakes.
Christmas cakes are my passion and my obsession. I could travel the world in Christmas cakes. Sometimes I do. I close my eyes, throw a dart on a map and imagine. Italy: bitter almond, orange and marzipan. Check. Serbia: tons of prunes and toasted oats. Check. Thailand: ginger, lemongrass and lime. Check. Nordics: lingonberries, juniper and vodka. Tropics, oh man, you got to see the tropics. And to the tropics I went for my new cake this time, because it felt warm and happy and far away.
In case you never made a Christmas cake, do not give up, perhaps now is a good time to start. In case you are worried that there is not enough time for the cake to mature, allow me to reassure you. This is not That Kind of Cake, it is an entirely different species; it is so light-hearted and groovy that it does not call for much aging, even a tiny three-week nap will get the fellow relaxed and chubby with booze. So roll up your sleeves and get to work. Do not give up. There are no excuses. Then, come holiday, take a slice and share it with your loved ones. And give them a big warm hug. Let them know that they are not alone.
Tropical Christmas Cake
* 6 oz raw cashew nuts, finely chopped
* 6 oz candied papaya
* 6 oz candied pineapple
* 6 oz candied ginger
* 6 oz candied mango
* 6 oz candied orange peel
* 6 oz candied guava
* 6 oz butter, softened (plus a bit more for greasing the pan)
* 6 oz semolina
* 8 egg yolks
* 4 egg whites
* 5 oz granulated sugar
* zest of half lemon, grated on a microplane
* zest of one orange, grated on a microplane
* 1 cup orange juice
* 1 cup brandy (plus more for drizzling)
* 1 cup Malibu liquor
* 1 tbsp lemon juice
* 1 tbsp vanilla extract
* 2 tsp cinnamon
* 1 tsp cloves
* 1/2 tsp allspice
* 1/2 tsp nutmeg
* 1/4 tsp salt
* almond paste for decorations (optional)
* 9-inch round baking pan
* parchment paper
Chop the cashews finely. Chop the candied fruits into small dice (about 1/4-inch or so). In a large bowl, mix the cashews and fruits. Add the orange juice, lemon juice, brandy and Malibu. (The mixture should be quite moist, if needed add more orange juice or Malibu). Mix well, cover with a plastic wrap and leave for two to three days, or until the fruits have absorbed all the liquid. (You may want to mix the fruits from time to time, to help them absorb evenly.)
Preheat the oven to 220°F.
Prepare the baking pan. Grease the pan with butter and then line with parchment paper. (I usually do so by cutting a round for the bottom and a long strip for the side, then "glue" them onto the greased pan. If you try to line the pan with one piece of parchment paper, it will crumple and the cake will not turn out even.)
Beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Beat in the egg yolks. Add the spices, vanilla extract and salt, and continue to beat until combined. Add the semolina and mix until well combined.
Transfer the batter to a bowl with the fruit mixture, and stir well until fruits and nuts are dispersed evenly throughout the batter.
Beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the whites into the cake batter. Turn the batter into the pan and bake for about three to four hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cake cool and remove it from the pan. Drizzle the cake with additional brandy or Malibu, wrap it tightly in several layers of greaseproof paper and then aluminum foil and store in a cool place for at least three weeks before serving. (The cake can be kept for a year in an airtight container. And you can keep on drizzling the booze to keep it moist!)
When ready to serve, you can decorate the cake with marzipan decorations (I like them way better than icing.) To make the decorations, dust a wooden board with confectioners sugar, and roll out a piece of almond paste until it is about 1/16- to 1/8-inch thin. Dust a cake cutter with confectioners sugar and stamp the paste. (If you are not using the decorations right away, store them in the fridge covered with plastic wrap so that they do not dry out.)