Friday, December 6, 2013

Bourbon Pecan Cake and Christmas

It's the time of year again, to bring out the family recipes for Christmas treats.  Today I'm baking an old favorite, one that I've never found anywhere else:  Bourbon Pecan Cake.  You could call it a fruit cake, but that would be doing a total disservice to this wonderful holiday cake.  This is to fruit cake what cupcakes are to rocks - no comparison.  I shared this recipe last year, and this year I'm sharing a slightly different version of it, since I had to halve the recipe to save time and money.  Here's Bourbon Pecan Cake, Mark II:

Bourbon Pecan Cake
(original recipe from Mary Thompson; modifications by Laurel Rudd )

1 1/2 c. whole red candied cherries 
1 c. golden seedless raisins
1 1/4 c. bourbon whiskey (any smooth brand – Jim Beam is great in this)
1 c. butter, room temp. soft
1 c. white sugar
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
4 eggs, separated – yolks into a smaller bowl, whites into a mixing bowl
2 1/2 cups sifted flour (2 1/4 cups plus 1/4 cup)
2 1/2 c. pecan halves 
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

The night before, combine the cherries, raisins, and bourbon in a glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight, stirring a couple times. A couple hours before baking, set the fruit out to bring it to room temperature. Drain the fruit and reserve the bourbon-cherry liquid.  Preheat the oven to 275F.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugars gradually, until well-blended, then add the egg yolks one at a time.

In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup of flour with the pecans and mix to coat. In another bowl, sift the rest of the flour (2 1/4 cups) with the baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.  (I have to be honest - I skip the sifting step and just do it all in the one big mixing bowl with the butter and sugar.  I don't notice that much of a difference between sifted/not sifted in this recipe.)

Add the flour mixture to the eggs/butter mixture; combine thoroughly. Add the reserved bourbon and the rest of the flour mixture alternately, ending with flour. Beat well after each addition.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter, gently, then stir in the floured pecans and the fruit. (You can do this in a standard large mixing bowl, just be careful when you stir to not lose any fruit and nuts over the side.)

Grease and flour 7-8 mini foil loaf pans. (If you use medium 3-4 will do, or 2-3 large pans).  Bake the mini cakes at 275F for 2 hours (2 ½ hours or so for medium, 3 hours or so for the large ones). The cakes will be golden brown when done, and a tester inserted in the middle will come out clean.

Last year's batch of mini loaves.

Turn the cakes out of the pans while still slightly warm. If you want extra punch from the bourbon flavor, wrap the cooled cakes in bourbon-soaked cheesecloth and wrap them in plastic wrap and foil (or place them in plastic bags) for strong bourbon flavor.  I usually refrigerate the cakes in plastic wrap and foil, for milder flavor.  You can also cool and store the cakes in their pans for easy gifting.  Either way, the cakes should “mellow” in the fridge for a couple weeks before being used.  They slice best when chilled.

This recipe is truly one of the “tastes of Christmas” from my childhood memories. Mom and Dad used to make a weekend afternoon project of this wonderful treat. Mom would cut brown paper and line the metal bread pans with it, greasing the pans first, lining the pans then greasing the paper again before putting the batter in, to make a very neat looking loaf when done and cooled and the paper was removed. I remember helping with the paper cutting process – and the eating, of course.  The house smelled AMAZING as it baked.   Sometimes I'd sneak a piece of it before school - amazing that no one ever noticed bourbon on my breath in class first thing in the morning!

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