Holiday Baking

by Mark R. Vogel

            One of the most renowned Christmas culinary traditions is baking.  There are countless classic preparations the world over.  The French produce Buche de Noel, or Christmas log; a log shaped cake.  The Germans are known for their Stollen, a bread made from fruits and nuts.  Similarly, the Spanish are proud of their Roscon de Reyes or “Three King’s Bread”, a sweet yeast bread made from fruits and almonds.  In Italy there is Panettone, a lemon flavored bread made with raisins.  The English love their plum pudding.  And in America, well, if it can be baked it’s fair game:  Christmas cookies, bread pudding, pies, cakes, (especially fruitcake), and various other goodies.  Speaking of “various other goodies,” here’s a couple recipes below.  Merry Christmas and happy baking!

MARK’S CRUMB CAKE

For the cake:

4 oz. butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
¾ cup milk
1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the topping:

4 oz. butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Powdered sugar as needed

            Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer for three minutes. Gradually add the cup of sugar and mix for four more minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each one and then one more minute after the addition of the last one.  As with the addition of the sugar, scrape down the bowl as needed to ensure complete incorporation of the ingredients.  Combine the milk and vanilla extract and gradually add to the butter mixture. In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder and salt.  Gradually mix into the butter mixture scraping the sides as necessary. 

            Pour the batter into a greased 9 X 13 pan.  For the crumb topping, mix the butter, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon with a pastry cutter or fork until coarse crumbs are achieved.  Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until set.  Allow the cake to cool somewhat and then sprinkle with the powdered sugar.

LEMON CAPER BISCOTTI

(Makes about 3 ½ to 4 dozen)

Olive oil as needed, for the pan
1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter
2 ½ cups flour, sifted
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Zest of one lemon
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¼ cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup roughly chopped capers
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Egg wash (see recipe below)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For egg wash:

1 egg 
¼ tsp. salt and
1 tablespoon water

            Combine the egg, salt and water and beat.

            Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Oil a sheet pan with olive oil or line it with parchment paper instead.  In a heavy sauce pan over medium-low heat melt the butter and cook until it turns a deep rich brown (but not burnt), and has a nutty aroma; about 6-8 minutes.  Remove the butter from the heat.  Place the flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Turn on low speed and combine the ingredients.  While still on low speed drizzle in the butter until the mixture looks like course crumbs.  Mix the two eggs, milk and olive oil together.  Drizzle in flour mixture with mixer on low speed until just combined.  Then add the lemon juice and mix until just combined.  Add the capers and parsley and mix until incorporated but not over-mixed.  

            Pour out onto a floured board and divide into 3 sections.  Knead each section three or four times then roll into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter and 7 inches long. Cover with plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.  Place each log width wise on baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

            Bake about 35 to 40 minutes or until they are slightly brown and feel firm to the touch.  If the cheese starts to get too brown cover loosely with foil.  Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool for 30 minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.  With a serrated knife cut each log cross wise and at an angle about ½ to ¾ inches thick.  Place a rack in a baking sheet pan and lay the slices cut side down on the rack.  Bake at 300 degrees until lightly browned and dry to the touch; about 30-40 minutes.  Let cool and then store in air tight container.

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