Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Granny's Christmas Cake

Each year that my Nan visited us from England, she would come with practically a full suitcase of English chocolates, candies and presents. She would usually stow away a few homemade things to bring to us. It may be some Victoria plum jam from the plum tree in the back garden or homemade cake. The cakes were not sugary frosted cakes, but instead more dense fruity cakes typically wrapped in layers of parchment and foil. One of the cakes was known by all as 'Granny's Christmas Cake.' I always thought it was called this as we sometimes called my Nan "Granny" when we were younger, but this cake had been made my my mum's Granny for years also. My mum would typically receive Granny's Christmas Cake and proceed to hide it in one of the drawers in the refrigerator by placing many vegetables in front of it thinking we would never find it. We inevitably did and would sneak a piece here and there.

My Nan gave me her cookbook when I was in England. It was kept in its original box and I treasured the fact that it was passed down to me. My first recipe to use? I wanted to recreate Granny's Christmas Cake for my mum one Christmas and I remember talking with Nan on the phone from my home in the U.S. I confirmed some of the ingredients that were unfamiliar to me, like semolina.  While she confirmed some of the ingredients, I did not confirm the quantities. Well, I came to realize that there were dozens of version of Granny's Christmas Cake in her cookbook and I struggled to figure out what one would make the appropriate amount of cake. I tried making it one year to surprise mum. She thought it was good, but not quite the same. I know she appreciated the thought though. 

We lost my Nan a little over six years ago and when my mum visited me, we reviewed through her cookbook and had fun reminiscing about all the recipes she had written out by hand. We looked through the different versions of the cake with plans to try it again. When I visited her this past Thanksgiving and had a little extra time together, I was set on us making Granny's Christmas Cake.  After a trip to the grocery store to pick up items we wouldn't normally keep in the pantry we were ready to bake. 

We reviewed Nan's recipe to ensure we used all her ingredients and also referred to 2-3 other recipes online for other similar fruitcakes or sojee cakes to confirm the quantities of each ingredient. 

I always remember Nan putting almonds that made a pretty design on the top of the cake so I did just that. 

We tested it frequently, the house was smelling lovely and we were excited with how it turned out. 

Now to cut the cake and sit at the table with a lovely fall view and a cup of tea.  Mum agreed this one was pretty close, but she thought we needed even more brandy in our next one. 

Cheers to Nan and Granny. 


8 oz./1 Cup Semolina
8 oz./1 Cup Ground almonds/almond flour
8 oz./1 Cup Light brown sugar
4 oz./ ½ Cup All-purpose flour
2 t. Baking powder
2 sticks/1 C.Unsalted butter, softened
6 Eggs, separated
3 T. Brandy
1 oz. Ginger, grated
8 oz. Mixed peel (lemon/orange), finely chopped
½ t. Cardamom
½ t. Nutmeg
½ t. Cinnamon


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Separate egg yolks and egg whites. Beat softened butter in mixer with brown sugar until combined.  Add the yolks to butter/sugar mixture one at a time until combined.
Mix together dry ingredients (Semolina, almond flour, AP flour and baking powder, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon) and blend with a whisk.
Add dry ingredients to butter mixture a little at a time until combined. Add the brandy and mixed peel to mixture and blend together.
Beat egg whites until there are soft peaks and fold in gently.
Place cake mixture in a round buttered cake tin and bake at 375 for 1 ½ hours.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tres Leches Cake

I'm not so much a chocolate cake person, so the idea of a vanilla cake soaked in creamy milk sounds amazing to me. It's reminiscent of tiramisu but without the espresso powder and a bit more creamy.

Tres Leches is translated to "three milks" but "tres leches" sounds so much more fancy, so the entire world outside of Latin America is going with this term. The three milks include 1) evaporated milk, 2) sweetened condensed milk and 3) heavy cream. Those are the tres leches that you use to soak the cake in. If you want to be technical about it, there are actually quatro leches as there is a fourth milk used in the cake itself. Either way, this cake is not for the lactose intolerant.

I searched around for different recipes and when we planned another family Mexican dinner night, I made it for dessert. This Pioneer Woman recipe is what I went with and she has thorough step by step instructions on her blog.

I'll show you just a few steps. After baking the cake, you turn it out on a platter. I let it cool for a while and then mixed the milks to pour over and let it soak for an hour or so. 

After the milks soaked in completely, I whipped up the cream with some sugar and vanilla and spread it on top. 

It was the perfect dessert to follow taco night and it was a hit with the kids. What kid wouldn't want creamy cake with whipped cream and a cherry on top? I'm not a huge fan of the maraschino cherries, but they are a very pretty contrast to the stark white cake. So, enjoy dessert with a cherry on top.