Divinity

This is another of those family favorites.

 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 Cup Honey
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Vinegar
  • 1 Egg white
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans
  • 30 Pecan Halves

Tools

  • Cookie Sheet
  • Deep Sauce Pan
  • Candy Thermometer
  • Blender or Hand mixer or Stand Mixer
  1. Combine the honey, water, vinegar, chopped pecans and vanilla in a pan and bring the temperature to firm ball, 250.
  2. In a separate bowl beat the egg white to stiff peaks.
  3. Gently combine the egg white into the sugar mixture.
  4. Drop by teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet.
  5. Press a half pecan in each cookie.
  6. Let cool.

Red Velvet Cake

Tonight is Christmas Eve for most of us. My friends in the UK and Europe are long since tucked in and my Chinese and Australian friends are already nursing hangovers or opening presents or both. Most of us are extremely fortunate to have good health, make a good living and have interesting and successful lives filled with lots of friends and family. This is the season of giving. Please give what you can to those not as lucky and fortunate as you. Be careful, be thankful and be gracious. From my warm hearth to yours, Merry Christmas!

I know, I know another sweet thing. It is Christmas after all and this is the perfect Christmas cake. There are many variations of this cake floating around. What makes this one special is the icing and my lovely wife makes it so well.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1 1/2 Cups Butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 Large Eggs, room temperature
  • 4 Teaspoons Red Food Coloring
  • 1 Teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

For Icing

  • 16 Ounces Sour Cream
  • 1 1/2 Cups Shredded Coconut
  • 1 Cup Sugar

Tools

  • 2 Large Mixing Bowls
  • Fine Sifter
  • Stand Mixer or Hand Mixer
  • 3 Cake Pans, buttered
  • Whisk
  • Small Mixing Bowl
  • Wire Racks
  1. Pre heat the oven to 350.
  2. Butter and lightly flour the cake pans.
  3. Sift the flour, sugar, soda, salt and cocoa into a mixing bowl.
  4. In the other large mixing bowl whisk the melted butter, eggs, buttermilk food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.
  5. In or with a mixer, combine the dry and wet ingredients just until a batter is formed.
  6. Pour batter into the three cake pans, divided evenly.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, then switch positions and bake for another 15 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out dry.
  8. While baking, combine the sour cream, coconut and sugar in the small mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
  9. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool on wire racks.
  10. Stack the cakes on a cake stand and ice. We like ours iced on the top and sides.
  11. Refrigerate and keep refrigerated until gone (this won’t last long). If you have the option, it is better the next day.

My Mom’s Ginger Cookies

My brother and sister did a really amazingly sweet thing for me. I called both of them last week and asked if they knew the recipe for our mom’s ginger cookies. I had tried to reconstruct them and even with the help of the internet I was at a loss. Neither knew the answer but my brother said that he would have a look through my mom’s stuff.

Today, a very heavy box arrived at my door. I thought my brother had sent their annual Christmas box of goodies, although it was quite weighty for a tin of peanut brittle and a gift or two. When I opened it there was a card on top, another mystery. It turns out that my brother and sister boxed up all of my mother’s cookbooks and hand written recipes and sent them to me. I was floored and quite touched. I sat all afternoon and went through all of the books since each contained several clippings and hand written recipes. On one of the last pages of the last book, appropriately titled “The Family Tree Cookbook” I hit pay dirt. The evasive Ginger Cookies recipe in all of it’s glory and in my mother’s practically illegible scrawl. Fortunately, I speak scrawl. Here it is. The white icing recipe is still missing, but there are plenty to choose from on the internet. Anything with butter, powdered sugar and a dash of milk will do.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Shortening (crisco of course)
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Small Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Molasses
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Cup Hot Water
  • 2 Cups Flour, sifted
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cloves
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon

Tools

  • 2 Mixing Bowls
  • Spoon
  • Baking Sheet
  • Plastic Wrap
  1. Pre heat oven to 375.
  2. Sift together flour and spices in one bowl and stir together.
  3. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water.
  4. Combine the egg, shortening, molasses and baking soda mixture.
  5. Stir in flour mixture until smooth.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
  7. Butter a cookie sheet.
  8. Drip teaspoon size dollops evenly spaced on the sheet.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes until set. Do not burn.
  10. Repeat until done.
  11. Ice.

Makes about 2 dozen.

The Family Fudge

When I was growing up we rarely had store bought candy. On special occasions my mother, at the begging and insistence of her children, would begrudgingly concoct a tin full of fudge. Begrudgingly I now understand, because the process is time consuming and even a little bit of a workout, but totally worth the effort.

For many generations my entire family and especially my Uncle Bob – who provided the closest thing to this recipe – made this fudge. If you were to believe the family lore, this recipe has been in our family for more than 100 years. There have been things added and subtracted and nuts and peanut butter have always been an option, but the rich and creamy fudge is a window into the history of a poor family who made the most of a few ingredients. My mother told stories about growing up in the depression and how things like fudge were a really special treat. Tastes and smells reinforce the oral history of a family. At Christmastime especially, they long outlast any outward remnents of Christmas past.

Ingredients

  • 4 Cups Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Light Karo Syrup
  • 4 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 1/2 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla
  • 1 Stick Butter (8 Tablespoons)
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts (or whatever you like)

Tools

  • Heavy Saucepan
  • Candy Thermometer
  • Wooden Spoon
  1. Combine the sugar and cocoa in the bottom of the saucepan.
  2. Add the karl syrup and then the milk. Stir together.
  3. Turn the heat to medium to medium high and bring to boil, stirring constantly. This will take a little time.
  4. As soon as the boil starts to roll, turn down to a simmer.
  5. Add 1/2 of the butter and the salt. Stir just to combine.
  6. Place the candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. Do not stir the mixture. The mixture needs to rise to 235 degrees or soft ball. This is a little tricky as the mixture tends to decrease as it simmers and the thermometer sometimes becomes exposed. Depending on your conditions and the temperature the whole process should take between 45 minutes and an hour. You can test for soft ball by taking a spoon and removing a small portion and dropping it into a drinking glass full of water. If it forms a soft ball on its own and does not color the water, it is ready.
  7. Remove from heat and submerse in a cold water bath.
  8. Add the rest of the butter, vanilla and nuts at this point. Stir just enough to combine.
  9. Let cool until your finger can be submersed without being burnt.
  10. While it cools, butter an 8×8 pan.
  11. Once cool, beat with a wooden spoon until it turns color from shiny to mat and bubbles rise up as you fold it over. You need to pour it in the pan right before it completely sets up. This whole process can take from 10-15 minutes.
  12. Pour into pan or dish, cover and refrigerate for about 10 minutes.
  13. Cut into 1″ squares before it completely hardens.
  14. Let cool for another 20 minutes or as long as your family can take. Will last at least a week in a covered tin.

Peppermint Bark

You don’t need to buy this at Williams Sonoma. It is dead simple.

Ingredients

  • 12 Oz Milk Chocolate 
  • 12 Oz White Chocolate
  • 6 Candy Canes
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract

Tools

  • Wax Paper
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Plastic Bag
  • Double Boiler or Microwave
  • Spatula or offset spatula.
  1. Place the candy canes in the plastic bag and break into really small pieces. Use a rolling pin or other heavy object to break apart the canes. 
  2. Melt the milk chocolate. You can use either pieces or broken up bar. I like to use really good chocolate but the bog standard pieces will do. You can either melt over hot water in a double boiler (one pan on top of another) or in the microwave.
  3. Either way, stir the chocolate until smooth.
  4. Add 1/4 peppermint extract and stir in.
  5. Pour melted chocolate onto a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet.
  6. Spread out with a spatula until you have a smooth layer.
  7. Stick in the refrigerator and let cool for about 15 minutes.
  8. Melt the white chocolate in the same manner.
  9. Stir in the other 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract.
  10. Stir in about 1/2 of the crushed candy cane.
  11. Pour over the chocolate and smooth out in the same manner.
  12. Sprinkle the rest of the candy cane evenly over the two layers.
  13. Let cool in the refrigerator for another 10 minutes.
  14. Cut and break into pieces.
  15. Store in an air tight container, serve or give as gifts.

Chocolate Pepper Christmas Cookies

Tis the season. Here is the first of the cookies and other Christmas goodies.

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Coarse Sea Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoon plus 2 Teaspoons Instant Espresso Coffee
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 Cup Butter, softened
  • 2 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Large Egg
  • 3 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Teaspoon Cardamon
  • 1/2 Ground Cloves

Tools

  • Rolling Pin
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Stand Mixer
  • Christmas Cookie Cutters
  1. Stir together flour, cocoa, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and espresso into a bowl.
  2. Mix together the butter and sugar on medium in the mixer until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Turn to low and add the eggs and vanilla.
  4. Add the dry mixture and mix until throughly combined.
  5. Remove dough and form into three equal balls.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  7. Remove one of the balls from the refrigerator.
  8. Pre heat the oven to 350.
  9. Flour a smooth surface and roll out the ball with a floured rolling pin to about 1/4 inch thick.
  10. Cut into cookie patterns and place on a buttered cookie sheet.
  11. Cook for about 8 or 9 minutes.
  12. Remove the next ball and repeat until all of the cookies are cooked.

If you would like, you can decorate the cookies with piped icing or powdered sugar. We like them just the way they are.

Japanese Parfait

Americans have become accustomed to very sweet and sugary desserts. I love apple pie and ice cream – about once a year. I understand the sweet tooth from years of experience as a child. But I am bigger now (partially because of the extra sugar) and I don’t want or need to have dessert after (or before) every meal.

What God’s green earth has provided us for dessert is a colorful and diverse amount of fruit. There are fruits for all seasons. This was the original dessert (remember that pesky apple) and also the first form of clothing (the fig leaf). We have gotten away from fruits for dessert in favor of more elaborate and fattening concoctions full of added sugar, fat and preservatives.

Tonight I was inspired by our favorite sushi chef and friend Toshi. He served us a yummy surprise that I found incredibly satisfying. Here it is. Simple and delicious.

Ingredients

  • 2 Oranges, peeled and sectioned
  • 2 Japanese Persimmons, sliced
  • 1/4 Cup Plume Wine

Tools

  • Paring Knife
  1. Peel the fruit and arrange it artfully on two plates. Currently the persimmons are still a little hard and under ripe. According to Toshi, if you put them in a warm place for a few days they ripen perfectly.
  2. Drizzle the plume wine over.
  3. Serve with a little more plume wine, saki or kisses from your misses.