Friday, November 22, 2013

Delia's Amazing Bourbon Pecan Cake From A Recipe In The Magazine She Read in 1970-Something

This is my mother's Bourbon Pecan Cake. It is a labor of love and nostalgia, it is the smell of Christmas. I believe she found the recipe in a waiting room magazine. Probably a ladies magazine, in the early 70's. Mom, was it earlier? Were we in Ramona?

This is a copy of the recipe my mom typed up for me. The first time I tried to make it on my own, we had just moved (surprise!) and William was three years old, Alex was just a baby. We were hosting all the family for a Noche Buena. Geoff knew this was a special recipe, one I referred to in hushed and reverent tones. He offered to help by doing the shopping, and I had to insist that we not buy the "pricey" bourbon! My reasoning was this: We had to stay true to the recipe, and my mom was on a tight budget in those days when she was baking these as holiday gifts, so I reasoned that she never would have been able to buy the good stuff. We brought home the cheapest jug we could find. We found all the ingredients, including those day-glow *candied cherries that arrive in markets at this time of year, and then I braced myself for a major baking scene. It starts well ahead of the day you want to serve the Bourbon Pecan Cake, because the cakes, once baked, are wrapped in bourbon soaked cheese cloth, then sealed and stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks. It's quite a commitment!

Someone convinced me to double the recipe. After all, if you are determined to go for it, then go for it! The trouble was my mom made a slip... she forgot to type the amount of flour needed. I was already up to my eye balls in double butter, double eggs, double everything! My mom was out of reach, the Internet was not the Internet we know and love today, and I had to guess.

Shall I get to the point? Bourbon Pecan Cake baking session in 1994 was a disaster. I underestimated the flour, and we had a gooey mess, that was impossible to rectify.

Thanks to a successful Internet search I was able to find the original recipe, and in 2001 I dared to try again. I gathered our ingredients, cleared my counters, and calendar, and went to it! Two more moves, and one more baby, and a deep longing to connect with childhood memories and Christmas past, led me to trying, again, to bake my mother's Bourbon Pecan Cake.

In 2001 it worked, and we had Bourbon Pecan Cakes for Christmas. I wrote a word of caution in the margins, though. Grandma and I were sampling the cakes, and after a slice, or two, we realized that the cheesecloth was awfully saturated with bourbon... urp!

The first step is to put two cups of *candied cherries, two cups of golden raisins and 2 cups of bourbon into a bowl and let them sit, sealed over night in the refrigerator. The smell alone makes me want to play Nat King Cole, and wear wool socks. The next day requires a sturdy apron, and determination. And big bowls!

The recipe is rich. Did I already mention this? You'll want good coffee on hand when you serve it, and slice it thin.

I love the pecans. They sweeten, and get a bit soft in the cake.

Here comes the fruit. Is this a fruit cake? Maybe. Kind of. But it's so good. It can't possibly be fruit cake, ridiculed and maligned, unloved.

But. It sort of is, isn't it? I mean, that's a lot of fruit, for a cake. And bourbon, too. Don't forget the bourbon. Geoff gets a kick out of this, because I am not much of a drinker, and I come from a family that didn't (doesn't?) drink much, but if I catch a whiff of hard liquor I get all starry-eyed and sentimental, and start humming White Christmas and Joy to The World.

Oh-my-gosh! What a heap! I was feeling even more nostalgic and sentimental about making my mom's recipe, because I was using her Pyrex bowl, too. But, maybe she had an even bigger bowl back then, because at this point I am out of space, and there are still whipped egg whites to fold in!

Oops! Looks like I was supposed to fold in the beaten egg whites, and then add the fruit and pecans. No harm done, thankfully.

Bigger bowl. And at this point, let's be honest, the kitchen is piling up with dishes, and spills. But it smells great! And I'm belting out the carols!

If the mile long list of ingredients, the multiple days of preparing, and the weeks of waiting have not discouraged me... this is where I get overwhelmed, but there is no going back now! None of these steps can be abbreviated, or skipped. Believe me. It says so in my mom's typed recipe and it says so in the online version I found: Do not take shortcuts, here! Grease the pan, then line with wax paper, then grease and flour the wax paper! The kitchen is already a mess, so just do it.

I don't have a tube cake pan, so I made six cakes in small aluminum loaf pans.

They baked at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, for about two hours. Do the toothpick test, to check for doneness.

Once the cakes cool, bring out your aluminum foil, cheesecloth and bourbon. It's time to wrap!

I cut a length of cheesecloth, enough to wrap around the cake, and wring it out. A bit. Or not. But get a designated driver, if you don't!

Wrap your cake, then seal it up in foil, and put the cakes in an air tight container, and stash them in your refrigerator. I used grocery bags. I checked them after a week. I thought they seemed a bit dried out at this point, so I re-soaked the cheesecloth, and wrapped them again.

After two weeks came test day. Just a slice, or two!

Very thin. Just to be sure everything worked out. Science.

Geoff came home as soon as could, to help. You know, with the science.

It's Christmas! Bourbon Pecan Cake success! The cake is moist, and even the cherries are yummy. And it's raining, today, which is about as wintery as can hope for. Bourbon Pecan Cake tastes even better when it's raining. Only one thing could make this a complete success... friends and family to share it with. Happy holidays! Merry Thanksgiving!

*It's been twelve years since I last baked this cake. Besides the labor, and the fact that the richness can stay with you and last a decade, I was reluctant to revisit this recipe because of those candied cherries. No-no. Even when I was a girl, I plucked them out of my slice of cake. They are dyed, shot, poisoned, reconstituted, converted, inverted... they're unnatural! I couldn't bring myself to bake with them again. Which is why I was thrilled-thrilled-thrilled to find Tillen Farms natural maraschino cherries! James and Geoff gave them a pre-bake taste test and declared the Tillen Farms maraschino cherries yummy. I drained the juice, and added them to the raisins and bourbon, just like the recipe says, but now we have no dye worries! Once again, I am happy to shop at Major Market, where the service is excellent and the selection inspiring. (No paid endorsements, just my own effusive and bubbly enthusiasm.)

18 comments:

  1. Oh, Natalie, I'm sitting here with a mug of tea...and I REALLY want some of that cake!!

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    1. I wish I could bring all of us together for a tea party!

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  2. I love your indomitable spirit in the kitchen!

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  3. Oh, and I never eat those unnatural cherries either!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. These Tillen Farms cherries are the first I've enjoyed eating!

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  4. I love your indomitable spirit in the kitchen!

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  5. I love every bit of this story; the history of the first cake, the past challenges and disappointments, the time and effort, the current success and the feeling that this IS what makes it truly *the holidays*. I always make bourbon-sweet potatoes with a roasted pecan topping for Thanksgiving -- sounds as though we hit a few of those flavor notes. Oh for joy -- the season is here!!

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    1. Pecans. That's all it takes... add sweet potatoes... oh-my!
      (((hugs)))

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  6. This sounds delicious and so interesting. Yes, I second a no-no on the weird cherries; glad you found a yummy version.

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    1. Interesting is a good word. I think the cake is a bit weird... not something I would think to try making or eating, but the nostalgia of it brings me back, every time!
      Thanksgiving plans? Hope they're special~

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  7. Did you see it? Did you see it? The fifth photo from the bottom. I can clearly see the profile of a dog's face.

    Zan

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    1. Whoa!
      That is a hound...
      Oh-my-gosh, hilarious.
      Can we sell T-shirts?!!

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  8. I see the hound! Had to look twice, but now it's so clear! Thanks Zan.
    Thank you Natalie for the detailed cake journey. What a life lesson - keeping in mind that what we do today, now, can create lasting memories. May they all be fond and or productive.

    Love from Bandon

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  9. Ok, this looks really good. Darn, it's already past Christmas. I am adding this to my list for next year, especially if I can get my hands on some of those dye-free cherries.

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  10. I just realized that I commented last year too. What can I say Natalie? I'm losing my edge.

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