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Good morning, readers. We will forego any requests today as you are mighty busy, I'm guessing, cooking and eating. And the two expansive recipes that fill our space today are the kinds of winter confections that warm the heart, and fill the belly.
Charlotte Heron, a former Chattanoogan now living in Fairfield Glade, found this recipe in the Chattanooga paper "over 35 years ago. I make two or three of these every year. This is sometimes called the orange slice cake."
Sugar Plum Cake
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
8 ounce package chopped dates
1 pound orange candy slices, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup walnuts (or omit walnuts and use 2 cups pecans)
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 to 11/2 cups shredded coconut
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange flavoring
Spread large piece of waxed paper on table and sift onto it 1 cup flour. Add cut-up fruit and nuts, dredging thoroughly.
In large bowl cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
Sift remaining 3 cups flour with soda and salt and add alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour. Add lemon juice and orange flavoring, then by hand stir in fruit-nut mixture.
Batter will be stiff.
Grease and lightly flour 2 loaf pans or 1 tube pan. Spread batter evenly in pans. Bake in a preheated 250 F oven for 2 hours for a loaf pan, 3 hours for a tube pan.
When cake is done take out of pans and place on aluminum foil. Punch holes in cake and pour over hot cake the following, mixed together:
1 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Wrap in foil and let stand for a couple of days before eating. Cake may also be frozen.
Tom Littauer has not made the recipe below but heartily endorses the source, "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts." He thinks it won't be long until he dips spoon into bowl: "Since Herself craves the things; it's only a matter of time." And when he does, this will surely be a labor of love, as the lengthy instructions indicate will be necessary.
These cookies are the lace cookies our reader tasted at Greenlife under the "Laceys" label. Now that Greenlife has assumed a new official label, Whole Foods, we don't know whether the Laceys are available or not, so making them could be our only option.
These candy-like cookies are a classic European delicacy, elegant and swanky. They are the thinnest and crispest of all lace cookies. This version has two cookies sandwiched together with chocolate in the middle. The dough is mixed in a saucepan; you will need a candy thermometer. Baking these takes quite a while because they must be baked with only a few on each cookie sheet or they run together. The finished cookies must be refrigerated (or they may be frozen).
1/4 pound (1 stick) sweet butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces (generous 1 cup) almonds, blanched or unblanched, and thinly sliced
4 ounces (3/4 cup) candied orange peel, diced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
For the Chocolate Filling:
3 to 4 ounces semisweet chocolate (see note)
Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with aluminum foil. (The foil must be smooth and unwrinkled. Littauer says he's been told that parchment paper works much better than foil.)
You will need a saucepan with about a 6-cup capacity; it should be narrow rather than wide for the thermometer to register correctly. Place the butter, sugar, milk and honey in the saucepan over moderate heat. Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil. Place a candy thermometer in the saucepan and cook without stirring until the thermometer registers 232 degrees (the "thread" stage). Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, almonds, orange peel and flour.
Now place the saucepan over the lowest possible heat and stir occasionally to keep the mixture from hardening.
Use a level or slightly rounded teaspoonful of the mixture (do not use more) for each cookie, placing the mounds 3 to 4 inches apart on the foil-lined sheets. (These spread into large wafers; you will be able to make only 5 or 6 cookies on a 12-by-151/2-inch cookie sheet.)
Bake two sheets at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to ensure even browning. Bake until the cookies are browned all over; do not underbake. If you bake one sheet at a time bake it on the higher rack.
Now the cookies must stand on the foil or parchment paper until they are completely cool. You can slide the cookie sheet under another piece of foil that has unbaked cookies on it, and continue baking. If you reuse the foil it must be wiped dry and spread out completely smooth, or the cookies will run into any creases in the foil and will lose their round shape.
When the cookies are completely cool, gently peel the foil away from the backs of the cookies. Do not let them stand around or they will lose their crispness. Sandwich them immediately and refrigerate.
Break up or coarsely chop the chocolate (morsels may be used as is) and place it in the top of a small double boiler over hot water on low heat. Cover until partially melted. Then uncover and stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove the top of the double boiler.
With a small, narrow metal spatula spread a thin layer of the chocolate on the bottom of a cookie, leaving an uncovered border about 1/2-inch wide. Cover the cookie with another one, placing it so that both flat sides meet in the middle. Gently press the two cookies together. You will see some of the chocolate oozing out of the lacy holes in the cookies. That is as it should be, but there should not be much. And the chocolate should not spread out all the way to the rims of the cookies, so don't use too much.
As you sandwich the cookies place them on a tray in the freezer or refrigerator only until the chocolate is set. Then package airtight in a strong box with plastic wrap or wax paper between the layers. Refrigerate or freeze.
Serve Florentines cold or at room temperature. But don't unwrap them until just before they are served; humidity will make them lose their crispness.
Note: Any semisweet chocolate may be used. But Florentines deserve the best chocolate you can get.
Yield: 24 Cookie Sandwiches
And on such sweet notes this column ends. Watch for bits of ham, scalloped with potatoes, and more delights straight from all your kitchens as 2013 dawns.