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Holiday Baking: Cakes & Pies

Yule Log Cake
by

Find that rolling pin and dig out the sifter. Holiday baking season is upon us! Never will there be a better time all year to indulge your creative urges while lavishing affection, in the form of fantastic desserts, upon those you love.

Your choice of recipes will be determined by a number of factors like time, talent and how much you love chocolate. Our first recipe is as impressive and festive as it is delicious. And if you enjoy "food construction", you will enjoy putting it together.

Holiday Yule Log Cake

  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 2 cups sweetened whipped cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder or crystals
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 1-ounce squares unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2-1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • Whole candied cherries
Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 15x10x1-inch jellyroll pan (or use cooking spray). Line bottom of pan with waxed or parchment paper and grease (or spray) lightly.

Combine the baking powder, salt and eggs in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until blended. With mixer running, gradually add sugar and continue to beat until batter is thick, 3 to 4 minutes. At low speed of mixer, add flour, cocoa and vanilla.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan, and bake in preheated oven for 13 minutes (surface should spring back when gently pressed).

Spread a clean cotton or linen dish towel on kitchen counter. Sift 2 to 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar over an area the same size as the cake (10 x 15 inches). Turn the cake out on the sugared dish towel, and peel the paper from the surface of the cake. If necessary, trim away any crisp edges from the cake.

Starting with the short end, carefully roll up the cake and the towel, jellyroll fashion. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, seam side down.

Carefully unroll the cooled cake. Spread evenly with the 2 cups of sweetened whipped cream and carefully reroll cake. Refrigerate until chilled through.

Heat butter, instant coffee powder, dash of salt and boiling water in a medium saucepan just to boiling, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add baking chocolate, and stir until melted. Cool to lukewarm.

Stir 2-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar into chocolate mixture, blending well until a spreading consistency is reached. Spread frosting evenly over cake. Drag tines of a fork horizontally along surface to create the look of tree bark.

Garnish with whole candied cherries. Refrigerate until serving time. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Okay, so you would just as soon not play with your food, but you want to make something from scratch that is simple, straight-forward and irresistible. This cake needs no frosting. If, however, you feel you must gild the lily, a light dusting with sifted confectioners' sugar will do the trick.

Praline Pound Cake

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2-1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup milk (not skim or 1%)
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or 12-cup Bundt pan (or use baking spray that contains flour).

Cream butter and shortening. Gradually add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine 2-1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and stir well. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Dredge the chopped pecans in the remaining 1/2 cup flour (this is to keep the pecans suspended in the batter and not sinking to the bottom). Stir pecans and vanilla into batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool.

For many people, pie is the only acceptable Thanksgiving dessert. In fact, many rolling pins see the light of day only in November. I, of course, am a strong advocate of pie at any time, but I still applaud the cook who produces only one homemade pie per year at Thanksgiving. Here are some alternatives to plain old pumpkin pie, not that I have anything against pumpkin pie. But it's always nice to have options.

Sweet Potato Praline Pie

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup (Karo)
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (see Note below)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey (optional)
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
  • Sweetened whipped cream
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Melt butter in a large, heavy saucepan. All the pecans and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until butter is golden brown and pecans are toasted.

Remove pan from heat and stir in sweet potatoes, eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and bourbon, mixing well.

Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325° and bake an additional 45 minutes or until center is set. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Note: The equivalent of 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice is 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon allspice and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg.

Chocolate Eggnog Pie

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups commercial eggnog
  • 1-1/2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 baked 9-inch pie shell
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract
  • 2 cups whipping cream, divided
  • 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Soften gelatin in cold water, and set aside.

Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Gradually stir in eggnog, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Cook an additional 2 minutes, and remove from heat. Add gelatin mixture, and stir until dissolved.

Divide the filling in half, and set one half aside to cool. Stir in rum extract.

To the other half, add the melted chocolate and vanilla and stir well. Pour into pie shell and refrigerate until filling is set.

Once the remaining filling has completely cooled, beat 1 cup whipping cream until soft peaks form and fold it into the filling. Spread filling evenly in a second layer over the chilled filling in the pie shell.

Beat remaining 1 cup of whipping cream until foamy. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating until soft peaks form. Spread over pie. Dust top of pie with sifted cocoa powder or chocolate curls, if desired.

Mincemeat Custard Pie

  • 1-3/4 cups mincemeat (right out of the jar)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cold milk (not skim or 1%)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
  • 1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Spread mincemeat evenly in unbaked pie shell.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, brown sugar and salt. With mixer on medium speed, blend in the butter. Add the egg yolks, milk, ginger, lemon juice and zest, and beat until smooth.

Carefully fold the stiffly beaten egg whites into the custard mixture, and pour over mincemeat in pie shell.

Bake at 450°F for 10 minutes. Then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake an additional 45 minutes. Delicious served warm or cold.

If you intend to make just one dessert this Thanksgiving holiday, you're going to have a tough time deciding which dessert to make. So you may just have to make two, or even three or more.

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