Oh, life is bigger

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Chocolate cake filled with raspberry filling and pistachio buttercream. Sometimes I get to make new cakes at my new job!

Hi! I can’t believe it’s September, more than mid-September, and I haven’t blogged since May. WOWOWOW. My life kind of exploded in a good way, and although I’ve had so much to say and share, I keep falling asleep. When we put both our daughters in braces the same month, it became clear that we needed more money and better insurance. So I applied for full-time at the Wegmans bakery. Wegmans offered me a job as a bakery coordinator–yes, please!–so I got transferred to a new store and started on Memorial Day.

 

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I liked this cake (white with apple pie filling and cinnamon buttercream) but…

 

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It turned into this one, which my savvy managers think will sell better! It is also white cake, apple pie filling, and cinnamon buttercream, but we added a cinnamon glaze, caramel drizzle, and dried apple chips. We are going to call it “Apple-y Ever After! Of course!

I love the job and my new people, but starting any new job is rough. Last Saturday was the first Saturday I’ve had off since May. I’ve had to be more organized than EVER just to keep life rolling. I’m happy to say I haven’t lost touch with the book I’m writing, but it’s going sloooooowly. Slow is fine. Life is good. I’m tired. 

I’m also co-teaching a class two nights a week, which MAY have been a poor life decision because I literally have to explain to everyone dealing with me why I am a hot mess who can’t stop yawning and takes three full blinks to answer yes or no questions.

Work. Eat. Sleep. Write. Text. Write everything down. Yoga. Kiss the kids. Love the husband. Shower. (Don’t forget to shower.)

A new normal is emerging.

Happy September! I’m back! 🙂

bottoms-up-webOH! I’m making BOTTOMS UP free for a little bit, Amazon only. I’m experimenting with marketing on KDP Select. I suck at marketing! LOL. The new job threw a kink in my plan to improve my business skill set. I figured it couldn’t hurt. So if you haven’t read it, and you want to take a walk on the wild side, grab it and have a good time. 😉

 

Do you holi-craze?

Get this delightful Christmas e-short story when you sign up for Jessica Topper's newsletter, which you should totally do. And then buy her books because they are delightful.
Get this delightful Christmas e-short story when you sign up for Jessica Topper’s newsletter, which you should totally do! And then buy her books because they are delightful!

My Christian roots are damn glad Hanukkah starts on Christmas Eve this year! Almost every year I get blindsided by an early Hanukkah, and my internal clock is, like, WTF? Are you kidding me? I have no gift ideas and no holiday spirit yet! Luckily, the Jewish folks in my world are pretty low key about that holiday. They get their groove on hardcore for the high holidays like Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, but for Hanukkah we just get together as a family on one day during the eight and exchange gifts. Of course, over-achiever mother-of Jews that I am, I try to have a gift for the kids to open every night. Basically, that means I rush out to buy gifts last minute, and then rush to wrap one for each kid each night. I’m going on year 15 of that ridiculous behavior, but at least this year Thanksgiving and Hanukkah don’t collide because THAT was a huge surprise. Or maybe, I’ll change my procrastinating ways. I have a list going. It could happen.

But no matter when Hanukkah happens, I can’t quite shake the urge to give gifts to all the people I love at Christmas time. Even though it drives me up a wall. And costs a mint. Even though we don’t celebrate Christmas, and every year I think to myself, “Self, get your act together and give all of these people gifts at Thanksgiving. Because you are grateful for them.” Even if I did get my act together in time, which I won’t, I’d still catch the Christmas fever and drive myself nuts anyway. *groan*

Just one little way I drive myself crazy at Christmas. It's fun! Try it!
Just one little way I drive myself crazy at Christmas. It’s fun! Try it!

I can’t help it! It doesn’t smell like Christmas without baking fruitcakes. I baked my first fruitcake a LONG time ago in an effort to give my father something he might actually like for Christmas. Now it’s tradition, and I bake four batches, roughly 28 mini loaves. Everyone who tastes one wants one, and once you get on the fruitcake list, you pretty much have to perish to get off of it. If you would like to make YOUR house smell like Christmas heaven and have a small pile of delightful fruitcakes to give as gifts, here’s the recipe for Grandpa Baker’s Amazing Fruitcake, a little Christmas gift from me to you.

And for my Jewish friends, a latke cooking tip. The other night, my husband made latkes for dinner, and he tried something new. He grated the potatoes and onion, and then he blanched them, cooking almost fully but not falling apart, before he drained them. (Next time he said he would omit the onion because he didn’t like it with the sour cream and apple sauce. I put ketchup on mine, lol, so all good.) He cooled them and squeezed them dry before proceeding with a latke recipe. At least, you would proceed with a latke recipe. He just made it up, but he has a lot of cooking experience and probably a latke shared genetic memory or something. THEY WERE SO AMAZING. Less starchy. Without that “is it done or not?” texture. Insanely good with all the usual accoutrements like sour cream and apple sauce. Also good with ketchup and Sriracha and a fried egg on top. Super good leftover the next day on a sandwich… So, latke makers, please try cooking your grated potatoes first and tell me how it turns out for you!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, INDEED!
MERRY CHRISTMAS, INDEED!

Lastly, a gift for all the faiths! Because this Christmas story written by a nice Jewish girl is a treat for anyone. I love my pal Jessica Topper’s books, and she’s offering a FREE short story to her newsletter subscribers. It’s totally worth signing up for her (very occasional) newsletter to get this heartwarming Love & Steel short story (KAT AND ADRIAN!) and to be alerted when her books come out. Because I have no words for how beautiful HER words are. You don’t want to miss out on this amazing author.

Enjoy the holi-craze, my friends! And if you don’t celebrate anything in this month, enjoy the contact high! 🙂

 

Damn good fruitcake!

SEDUCING THE PLAYBOY is being featured as the Christmas Steal at Entangled today.  Tell all your friends, okay? 🙂

I’ve been planning on posting this recipe even though it’s a little late for fruitcake baking. However, if you still have some baking left in you, and you want to tackle a big, yummy, heavenly, totally-worth-it labor of love…make my fruitcake. I guess if you make it, it will be your fruitcake, but I’ve been baking these for so many years now I kind of feel possessive of them. In a good way. Such a good way! IMG_3371

It started because my father has everything, and I could never figure out what to get him for Christmas or his New Year’s Eve birthday. We share a love of books–for example, he introduced me to both Tolkien and the Outlander series–but every time I bought him a book, I struck out. I can’t even remember how many different books I bought him, and then quietly stole out of the basement the next year. But I struck gift gold with fruitcake.

Fruitcake lovers are a unique breed. Maybe you have to be brought up with it, as my father was. His mother’s fruitcake is, of course, the best. I will never top it. Unfortunately, she passed away a good twenty years ago. I named my daughter after her, so her name lives on lives on. Unfortunately, her fruitcake recipe does not.  Many years ago, I found an old-timey recipe in Richard Sax’s book CLASSIC HOME DESSERTS, and gave it a shot. My father loved it! And I’ve made fruitcake every year since. A labor of love, indeed! This fruitcake is Christmas to me. It’s the intoxicating smell of warm, buttery dried fruit soaked in brandy. It’s the search for the perfect gift for someone I love.

I’ve tweaked Mr. Sax’s recipe a bit because I like more fruit, less lemon, less time in the oven, less cheesecloth. Oh, fine, I’ve tweaked it until it’s nearly unrecognizable to anyone but me! However, I mention the book because I love it, and you might love it, too. A last-minute Amazon Prime gift for the home baker on your list? If your holiday baking is done, keep this recipe on tap for next year. It’s a delicious, delightful, holiday tradition in-the-making!

Grandpa Baker’s Holiday Fruitcake

(makes seven mini-loaf pans or two regular-size loaf pans)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

2 1/4 cups sugar

6 large eggs, separated

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I separate my eggs with my hands. Less chance of breaking yolk on the edge of the shell. Egg whites won’t whip up with any kind of fat in the bowl, so be careful!

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1/2 pound golden raisins

1/2 pound dried cranberries

1/2 pound prunes, cut into pieces the size of raisins

1/2 pound dried apricots, cut into pieces the size of raisins

1/2 cup crystallized ginger, diced into tiny pieces

Use any kind of dried fruit that suits your fancy. I like a variety of colors!
Use any kind of dried fruit that suits your fancy. I like a variety of colors!

1 pound walnuts, chopped

pinch of salt

2 cups brandy, as needed

1.Preheat oven to 235

2. Line pans with parchment so that the ends overhang the long sides of the pan. Then cut a strip to line the short sides. I’ve discovered it likes to stick to the pan, and lining both sides makes it MUCH easier to get it out without cracking the top. Spray lightly with pan release.

I spent a lot of years lining them like this before I discovered lining both sides works better.
I spent a lot of years lining them like this before I discovered lining both sides works better.
MUCH BETTER.
MUCH BETTER.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Toss 1/2 cup of the flour with cut-up dried fruit.

I've heard tossing it with flour will keep your fruit from sinking in the batter.
I’ve heard tossing it with flour will keep your fruit from sinking in the batter.

4. Sift remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour with the baking powder. Set aside.

5. Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high until pale, light, and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Then beat in the vanilla.

Pale, light, and fluffy!
Pale, light, and fluffy!

6. Lower the speed to slow and beat in sifted flour mixture. Mix only until flour disappears.

7. Add dried fruit mixture. Combine.

8. Add walnuts. Combine.

Abort! Abort! (Not really.)
Abort! Abort! (Not really.)

9. At this point, I exceed the capacity of my Heavy Duty Kitchen-Aid mixer and have to transfer the very thick batter to a bigger bowl.

It's all good now. Gotta have some room to work.
It’s all good now. Gotta have some room to work.

10. Wash your mixing bowl well to eliminate all traces of butter fat, and then whip the egg whites with the salt until they hold a nice shape/medium peaks/just past soft peaks. Do not beat them until they are stiff. If they are stiff, it’s hard to fold them into the batter.

This will work.
This will work.
So will this.
So will this.

11. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter. Then fold the rest of the egg whites into the batter. The first time I did this, I was very skeptical. The batter is super thick, and whipped egg whites are…not. However, once you get everything combined, the batter becomes a little more friendly and manageable. The egg whites make it nicer, I promise!

12. Divide the batter among 7 mini loaf pans or two regular loaf pans. Or any permutation of pan you desire, although I would not pick an intricately designed pan. As I said, it likes to stick.

13. Bake for about 3 hours at 335. Seriously. They take forever, and your house will smell amazing. Mostly I judge by color. I take them out of the over, stare at them, and wonder if they are done yet. Then I make my husband look at them, and I ask, “Do they look done?” Mostly he says “Yes,” and follows up with, “Can I eat one now?” I poke them a few times, and if they feel firm, I declare them done.

Done looks something like this.
Done looks something like this.

14. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, and then ease them out using the overhanging edges of parchment. Cool completely.

15. Baste them with brandy. My father insists I wrap his in cheesecloth and baste it a few more times through the cheesecloth over a period of weeks, so I do that for him. For the rest of the legion of fruitcakes, I put them in individual Ziploc bags and baste them a few times without the cheesecloth. Does the cheesecloth make a difference? Probably. Dad says it’s slimy without it. I disagree but am willing to humor him!

16. Store them in the refrigerator and baste them with brandy once a week for a couple weeks.

17. I highly recommend eating one while it’s warm. 🙂 I always give the kids a warm one before I baste it with brandy. Especially this year’s brandy…

The secret ingredient in my fruitcake.
The secret ingredient in my fruitcake.

Merry Christmas and Happy Fruitcake!

Just the facts, ma’am straight-up recipe no pictures version:

 

Grandpa Baker’s Holiday Fruitcake

(makes seven mini-loaf pans or two regular-size loaf pans)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

2 1/4 cups sugar

6 large eggs, separated

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1/2 pound golden raisins

1/2 pound dried cranberries

1/2 pound prunes, cut into pieces the size of raisins

1/2 pound dried apricots, cut into pieces the size of raisins

1/2 cup crystallized ginger, diced into tiny pieces

1 pound walnuts, chopped

pinch of salt

2 cups brandy, as needed

1.Preheat oven to 235

2. Line pans with parchment so that the ends overhang the long sides of the pan. Then cut a strip to line the short sides. I’ve discovered it likes to stick to the pan, and lining both sides makes it MUCH easier to get it out without cracking the top. Spray lightly with pan release.

3. Toss 1/2 cup of the flour with cut-up dried fruit.

4. Sift remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour with the baking powder. Set aside.

5. Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high until pale, light, and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Then beat in the vanilla.

6. Lower the speed to slow and beat in sifted flour mixture. Mix only until flour disappears.

7. Add dried fruit mixture. Combine.

8. Add walnuts. Combine.

9. At this point, I exceed the capacity of my Heavy Duty Kitchen-Aid mixer and have to transfer the very thick batter to a bigger bowl.

10. Wash your mixing bowl well to eliminate all traces of butter fat, and then whip the egg whites with the salt until they hold a nice shape/medium peaks/just past soft peaks. Do not beat them until they are stiff. If they are stiff, it’s hard to fold them into the batter.

11. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter. Then fold the rest of the egg whites into the batter. The first time I did this, I was very skeptical. The batter is super thick, and whipped egg whites are…not. However, once you get everything combined, the batter becomes a little more friendly and manageable. The egg whites make it nicer, I promise!

12. Divide the batter among 7 mini loaf pans or two regular loaf pans. Or any permutation of pan you desire, although I would not pick an intricately designed pan. As I said, it likes to stick.

13. Bake for about 3 hours at 335. Seriously. They take forever, and your house will smell amazing. Mostly I judge by color. I take them out of the over, stare at them, and wonder if they are done yet. Then I make my husband look at them, and I ask, “Do they look done?” Mostly he says “Yes,” and follows up with, “Can I eat one now?” I poke them a few times, and if they feel firm, I declare them done.

14. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, and then ease them out using the overhanging edges of parchment. Cool completely.

15. Baste them with brandy. My father insists I wrap his in cheesecloth and baste it a few more times through the cheesecloth over a period of weeks, so I do that for him. For the rest of the legion of fruitcakes, I put them in individual Ziploc bags and baste them a few times without the cheesecloth. Does the cheesecloth make a difference? Probably. Dad says it’s slimy without it. I disagree but am willing to humor him!

16. Store them in the refrigerator and baste them with brandy once a week for a couple weeks.

17. I highly recommend eating one while it’s warm. 🙂 I always give the kids a warm one before I baste it with brandy. Especially this year’s brandy…