Nothing fills me with the holiday spirit quite so much as baking. Bourbon balls, whiskey cake, bourbon-soaked fruitcake (are we sensing a theme, here?) as well as lemon cranberry tea bread, gingerbread cookies, and more. In years past, I've baked most of the gifts we've given out to friends, neighbors, and officemates, not to save money but just for the love of it! Of course, this year, baking gifts feels smart for many reasons--it's something you can do to show people you care about them without spending tons of moolah, and in a lot of ways, I think a gift of cookies or cake you made yourself is more meaningful than something purchased in a store.
My mother's whiskey cake, formally known as Mississippi Nut Cake by my teetotalling Baptist ancestors to gloss over the heavy presence of bourbon, is a universal favorite. I make it every year, and just getting out the nutmeg and the golden raisins, the Jack Daniels and the pecans, makes it feel like Christmas to me.
Another great gift, and one maybe better suited to a family with members under the age of 21, is this Walnut Crown Coffeecake. This recipe comes from Martha Wertz, a great cook and my mother's best friend, and it is divine.
Walnut Crown Coffeecake
In a bowl combine 1/3 cup ground walnuts with 3 TBS sifted light brown sugar. Butter a 2 1/2 cup Kugelhupf pan or tube pan (I use a regular bundt cake pan) and coat it with the walnut mixture. Into a bowl sift together 2 cups sifted flour, 1 3/4 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon each of baking powder and baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl beat 1 egg and add 1 cup buttermilk, 2/3 cup melted butter, cooled and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth. Turn into the prepared pan and bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 1 hour or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, turn it out on a wire rack, and let it cool completely. Wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and foil and let it stand at room temp. for up to 7 days.
Note: This cake was one of several recipes that were meant to get better and better as they age. I have never kept it up to 7 days, but it has been good at all stages. It is also so rich that it is meant to fall a little as it cooks. I think I bake it in a larger pan than the recipe anticipates, so check it after 30-40 minutes of baking. It is sometimes so tender that it falls apart, but the crumbs taste great.
So what holiday baking traditions do you hold to every year, or do you try something new? I always want to make at least one thing I've never made before; this year, I think it's going to be these pistachio cranberry icebox cookies.
If you've got a great holiday recipe, please feel free to share!