Forget dieting during Chanukah! I’ll bake, serve and savor every morsel of my mother’s buttery cakes. For her, Chanukah was more than latkes, though she fried up dozens every night.
“Keepin’ cakes,” she called them. She was probably influenced by the extensive make-ahead baking that Scots do in preparation of Hogmanay (the riotous Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration). Rich, buttery (and a different oil of sorts), and studded with dried fruits and spices, they were baked in advance, and tightly wrapped and stored.
The highlight for the first night of Chanukah was Whisky Fruit Cake. Forget the tasteless, shamefully lacquered fruitcake that appears every winter in stores throughout our nation. My mother’s version was baked six weeks earlier. The whisky-infused cake was crowned with a layer of marzipan, toasted, and again wrapped in whisky-soaked cheesecloth before storing in an airtight container. Unwrapped, each slice was moist, rich and aromatic with a kick. What else when it had been doused with Dad’s best single-malt whisky?
These “keepin’ cakes” won my mother the highest compliment: “a superb baker.” Friends and neighbors would drop in unannounced, sure of a welcoming pot of tea and a luscious variety of Jean Greenwald’s “keepin’cakes.”
At these tea times, my mother never failed to tell the story of the biblical Judith, who fed Holofernes, the enemy general, enormous quantities of cheese, then plied him with copious drafts of heavy red wine to quench his resulting thirst. As planned, he fell into a stupor so deep that she quickly beheaded him. Without their leader, the enemy fled, and Judith’s town was saved. Her bravery is said to have inspired Judah Maccabee and his followers to clean and re-dedicate the sacred Temple in the second century BCE.
Although my mother’s “keepin’ cake” custom originated many years ago, the bake and store-ahead method fits in admirably well with contemporary frantic schedules. Other than the Whisky Fruit Cake, these desserts — all rich in butter — can be stored three to four days before serving. Wrap and store in a cool, dry place; the day of serving, bring to room temperature. All of these cakes may be frozen, removed from the freezer about four to six hours before serving.
Ingredient lists are simple. You probably have most of them in the house, such as eggs, sugar, butter and flour. A list of ingredients to buy and cook’s tips are included with each recipe.
Glacé Cherry Loaf (Dairy)
1 cup glacé cherries, halved
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-3/4 sticks (7 ounces) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract (use vanilla extract in a pinch)
4 large eggs
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. allspice or nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Line the bottom of a medium-size loaf pan (8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inch) with wax paper. Spray bottom and sides of pan with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Toss the cherries with 2 teaspoons of the flour. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter, sugar and almond extract until pale, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, along with about 1/4 cup of the flour. Mix well.
Add the baking powder, allspice or nutmeg, and the remaining flour, gradually mixing to blend. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the cherries. Transfer mixture to prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top with a spoon.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until risen, golden and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Cool completely before wrapping. Serves 10 to 12.
Coconut Coffee Cake (Dairy)
1-1/2 sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. instant coffee granules
2 Tbsp. honey, warmed (omit if using sweetened coconut)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Shredded coconut to sprinkle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with wax paper to fit. Spray with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Set aside.
Cut the butter into 6 pieces. In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (about 1 to 2 minutes).
Add the eggs, one at a time, along with about 1/4 cup flour. Beat in the remaining flour, baking powder, coffee and honey. Stir in the coconut. Transfer to prepared baking dish.
Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely. Cut into squares to serve. Serves 10 to 12.
Caraway-Seed Cake (Dairy)
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. frozen orange-juice concentrate, thawed
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line bottom of 1-1/2 quart cake pan, ovenproof soufflé dish or 9x5x3-inch loaf pan with wax paper cut to fit. Spray with nonstick cooking spray with flour.
In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar until pale (about 1 to 2 minutes). Beat in eggs, one at a time, with about 1/4 cup flour. If curdling occurs, don’t panic! Add 2 to 3 Tbsp. flour and whisk on. Cake will not be compromised.
Add the orange-juice concentrate. Mix well. Add in remaining flour and baking powder, about 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the caraway seeds. Turn into prepared pan, smoothing top with a spoon.
Bake in preheated oven 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool slightly. Loosen edges with a round bladed knife before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serves 10 to 12.
1 sheet (about 8 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 to 2 Tbsp. preserves
3 Tbsp. ricotta cheese (or a mild grated cheese like Muenster or white cheddar)
1/2 cup mixed dried fruits
1/4 cup chocolate chips or grated chocolate
1 tsp. cinnamon sugar
Preheat oven to 410 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray with nonstick baking spray with flour.
Unroll the pastry sheet and lay on a flat surface. Spread with preserves to within 1/2 inch of edges. Repeat with ricotta cheese. Sprinkle dried fruits and chocolate over top.
Brush the top edge with a little water. Roll up loosely, and press ends and top edge to seal. Place sealed-side down on a prepared baking sheet. Prick all over surface, about 10 times, with a fork.
Bake in a preheated oven 25 to 30 minutes, until risen and nicely browned. It should be firm to the touch. Cool slightly on a wire tray. Slice 1-inch thick. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10.
Whisky Fruit Cake (Dairy)
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 Tbsp. finely ground almonds
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 cup currants
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup glacé cherries
1/2 cup diced candied orange peel
3 to 4 Tbsp. whisky, plus whisky for infusing weekly (may substitute brandy)
Optional topping: 2 Tbsp. apricot jam, melted; 10 oz. prepared marzipan, softened
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with wax paper to fit. Spray bottom and sides with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Set aside.
Cream softened butter and sugar in a large bowl (about 1 to 2 minutes). Add eggs, one at time, with 1/4 cup of the flour. Add the baking powder and remaining flour gradually, about 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well. Stir in all the remaining ingredients. Mixture will be stiff and sticky.
Transfer mixture to prepared baking pan, smoothing top with a spoon. Bake in preheated oven for 1 to 1-1/4 hours, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. If cake seems to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil. Cool slightly before removing from pan.
While still warm, prick the cake all over the top with a metal skewer. Use a teaspoon to pour in the whisky. Allow to soak in thoroughly. Cool and wrap in cheesecloth, then in foil. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place, though not in the refrigerator. Serves 15 to 20.