Nog and Log, Part II

Oh I love the food at the holidays. This year was no different, complete with a cookie party full of caramel shortbread, peanut butter fudge, and rum balls, a Christmas dinner of rabbit and chicken at James’ request (look for my upcoming post on a bunny and a chicken), and new experiments in the realm of egg nog and fruitcake.

Let’s start with the nog. 

We had a Friendsgiving two weekends before Thanksgiving and I made two batches of egg nog – a non-alcoholic one to take to the dinner and a boozy one to age. The weeks passed and Christmas came… I brought some out to my family in Vermont but we only sampled. The New Years Eve party with some of the Friendsgiving crew was where the nog was more appreciated. It was quite boozy and on the thin side, so I added some cream to thicken it and then whipped 4 or so egg whites until they were barely holding their shape, so very very soft peaks. I folded that in and left the nutmeg grinder next to the punch bowl. Lessons learned around this year’s experimenting include:

  • Use cane sugar to sweeten – a liquid like maple syrup only thins the nog out even more, and
  • Only softly beat the egg whites until they are barely stiff. Travis has hated egg whites in his nog in the past but liked them this time – I think they were too frothy before. This way they add some volume and texture without any over-frothiness (think perfect cappuccino foam done by a real coffee artist versus the over-aerated stuff too many coffeehouses offer up).

For next year I will be tinkering with the Italian meringue idea my friend Aaron wrote about in the previous Nog and Log post, and I think I’ll try a different booze combination, maybe rum and brandy instead of rum and bourbon. Something else that will be fun to play with more next year is a dairy-free version that I tried once this Thanksgiving (inspired by a recipe in Yoga Journal magazine): equal parts coconut milk and almond milk, maple syrup to sweeten, and fresh nutmeg on top. I used canned coconut milk so it was quite thick and rich, and I went minimal on the maple syrup; I also whipped (raw) egg whites and then shook the milks with the syrup and some egg whites in a cocktail shaker and served with nutmeg on top. It was heavenly, and we all enjoyed it, James included:) So many fun ideas for next year, it will be hard to wait 11 more months…

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On to the Log

Here’s where things get interesting. I made two batches of fruitcake this year, a golden batch with apricots, golden raisins, almonds, and maple syrup, and a dark batch with prunes, dates, raisins, walnuts, and molasses (recipes and further discussion for fruitcake geeks at end of post)*. I aged them both with rummy cheesecloths. I was shooting for cakes that were dense with nuts and fruit and barely held together with batter. Here’s what I learned:

  • Just do the dark fruitcake. Although the golden fruitcake was enjoyed, most everyone who sampled them both thought the dark one was a) better and b) more “fruitcake-y”;
  • I could have done even less batter;
  • A finer chop on the fruits and nuts is necessary – this will help everything hold together assuming I do use less batter; and
  • The cakes were fine without any fat but maybe I’ll experiment a bit with fat next year – trying out  coconut oil and butter would be my two top choices but high-quality leaf lard that doesn’t have too much of a bacon-y taste might work as well.

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I made them up the day after Thanksgiving, but I could try earlier next year. In her fantastic book The Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis writes about making the annual Christmas fruitcake in September:

Late September was a fine time to make the Christmas fruitcake. There were rainy days in September when outside work was curtailed and the cookstove was on, making the kitchen warm and cozy. The family was around and friends were dropping in – chopping fruit, grinding spices, and sampling homemade wine, trying to decide which one was best for the cake, and sipping a bit of whiskey as well. Preparing the cake became a festive occasion, and almost as exciting as Christmas itself. In selecting ingredients for the fruitcake, it is best to buy a few important items such as citron, seeded raisins, and candied peel in late December for the following Christmas. The freshest ingredients come into the market too late to make an aged cake. The special fruits can be kept perfectly well in a cool, dry place (not a refrigerator) until it’s time to make the cake. The same care should be taken with spices. Cinnamon from Ceylon is much more delicate and sweet than the other bark that is found today at most fancy food places. Fruitcake is so special and lasts so long that only the best ingredients should be used in it – p.192.

Imagine if for every holiday or season we planned ahead a year in advance to make something that would then age for a couple of months! I think this is the basis of my love for fruitcake – anything that requires such aging and planning ahead makes the farmwife in me giddy. I will take note and plan for next year.  In the meantime, let’s all savor the thought of celebrating the events in our lives with special foods. Viva la fruitcake!

*Golden Fruitcake – baked at 300 until done

  • 2 lbs 3 oz of chopped dried apricots, golden raisins, and chopped almonds, combined with
  • 4 beaten eggs,
  • 1 c Grade A maple syrup, and
  • 1/4 c apple cider; to this add
  • 1 c whole wheat flour,
  • 1 tsp baking powder, and
  • spices – I used cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sea salt

Dark Fruitcake – baked at 300 until done

  • 2 lbs 3 oz of chopped prunes, chopped dates, raisins, and chopped walnuts, combined with
  • 4 beaten eggs,
  • 1/2 c molasses,
  • 1/2 c apple cider, and
  • 1/2 c maple sugar; to this add
  • 1 c whole wheat flour,
  • 1 tsp baking powder, and
  • spices – I used cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sea salt

These recipes were inspired by a bit of research. Some of my favorite discovered tidbits include the Dark Christmas Fruitcake from the Good Housekeeping Cookbook of 1963 featuring 1/2 sq. unsweetened chocolate in the batter; the Never Fail Fruitcake from the Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers Desserts Edition of 1963 featuring 4 cans of coconut, only 3 T of flour, 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, and 4 pounds of candied fruit and nuts; and the Fruitcake in Grapefruit Shells from the same cookbook featuring cakes baked in grapefruit halves that the home cook candies ahead of time (it should be noted that this cookbook contains 22 fruitcake recipes!). I also learned from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook that the fruitcake is a close relative of the plum pudding, which incidentally originally had raisins not plums and was not a pudding as we think of pudding today. So much to ponder for next year’s experimenting! Check back next September:)

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