Thursday, December 18, 2008

Old Treats, New Cooks

Three holiday dessert recipes have come down to me from my great grandmother Mabel. They are so delicious, that I always imagine her forever in the kitchen, developing hundreds of delightful treats, most of which are now lost forever. Of course, for all I know these were the only three desserts she ever made, and she got the recipes from her great grandmother...

For many years, each recipe resided in one branch of the family. My aunt Randy made the fruitcake, my aunt Jo made the shortbread cookies, and my mom made the sand tarts. Randy sent me a copy of the fruitcake recipe several years ago, because it turns out that Blanca's mom Rosie loves fruitcake. I was sure it was because by the time this fruitcake is really done it has easily a cup or two of rum in it, but this year she was over while I was baking and convinced me to give her one right out of the oven. It was gone in a day. She really loves fruitcake, but even to those who are sickened at the thought of the oversweet syrupy thickness that the cake usually conveys might be happily surprised by this one. No one else in my family would eat a whole cake, but we all really do enjoy a slice or two.

Mabel's Fruitcake

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1/2 pound (2 cups) sugar
5 eggs, beaten separately (at last minute)
1/2 pound (1 cup) broken up pecans or walnuts
1/4 pound white raisins
1/4 pound citron
(I sometimes use 1 big container of candied fruits instead of the raisins and citron)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 pound (2 cups) white flour

Preheat oven to 325. Beat with an electric mixer: sugar, butter, egg yolks, brandy. Mix, separately, the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, candied fruits, and nuts. Combine the two mixtures. Just before you are ready to add them in, which is now, beat the egg whites to very stiff. Then fold them into the rest of the batter. bake in two greased bread pans or two foil pans, about 1 hour.

Mabel's Sand Tarts

For 40 dozen cookies

2 pounds (4 cups) sugar
2 pounds (8 cups) flour
1 1/2 pounds (3 cups) butter
4 eggs
2 pounds almonds

Rub sugar and flour together, then add the butter and rub well until thoroughly mixed. Wet with the beaten eggs. When thoroughly mixed, form into small loaves 2" square by 8-10" long. let stand in ice box several hours or overnight. Slice as thin as possible. Place on smooth surface. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and put one nut kernel in center of each. Bake in a quick oven (375-400) until brown 95-10 minutes). This recipe can be halved or quartered easily.

Mabel's Shortbread Cookies, with a few variations

Makes one small batch. Can easily be doubled, quadrupled, etc.

2 cups flour
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar

Blend sugar and butter, then add flour and mix well. Form into two or three small logs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove from fridge and slice thickly. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. Jo suggested using Sucanat instead of regular sugar. This is a brilliant switch, giving the cookies a wonderful spotted look and a great nutty texture and flavor (no real nuts used).