No matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you choose to celebrate this time of year, we hope you have yourself a little cheer. Whatever this time of year has you busy doing, please treat yourself to a break at some point to reflect and recharge. The solstice is a powerful time of the year to rest and set intentions for what’s to come, and there’s gonna be a LOT of that going on in the ‘web in 2019. Our next collective meditation on the future will manifest itself fully in our next big beautiful showcase on January 12: NEW YEAR’S REVOLUTION! Our wish is that all our friends will join us; it’s going to be a wild and wonderful carnival of creativity (and masquerade party!).
The holidays may not always be picture perfect for everyone, but like we’ve recently been reminding ourselves, sometimes that things don’t have to be perfect to still be pretty good. We know it’s important to take time to appreciate the little things, which is why we started this blog [a year ago!] in the first place: to enjoy the simple, wonderful pleasure of good food shared with thoughtful, kind people; to slow down and enjoy learning new things; to find creative ways to care for our community. In the rest of this blog post, you’ll find a delightful collection of everything we’ve been baking with our friends in the past month, from traditional treats like Jamaican Rum Cake and Mexican Pan Dulce to candied cranberries and our favorite cutouts for decorating! Let us know if you’re baking anything wonderful this week with your chosen family, we love to see what you’re making too! Cheers to a lovely New Year, Spiderfriends. We love you!
Bakin’ with Booze: Jamaican Rum Cake
From our star baker, Caitlin: “It's been almost a year since I met Otieno and Melissa escorting for the TEA fund. The same day I met Otieno he told me about this Jamaican Black Rum Cake and after several months later he's still talking about the cake I knew we should make it.
Not my usual style of cake, but I was intrigued. He sent me the blog/recipe he had used previously (with undesired results) that he wanted to give another go with some help from us. This recipe takes a lot of rum and dried fruit, and has an unusual step or two but actually ended up surprising us all.
It definitely takes some planning. You have to get lots of dried fruit, soak for up to two weeks, and then the cake seems to improve with some aging after it's baked. Not going to be something you can make on a whim.
Otieno brought the pre soaked fruit over. One batch made enough for 3 small cakes. Would probably do great in a 9 or 10" circle cake pan. We think subbing the zest and juice of an orange would be a perfect substitute for the lemon essence and lime zest.
And the unusual step is the melting/caramelization of the brown sugar. After several failed attempts to lightly caramelize the brown sugar without the sugar clumping and crystalizing, we ended up just mixing in the crunchy crystalized sugar syrup into the batter. In most other cakes this would be a huge no-no but since this cake is so incredibly moist and soaked in booze, any crystals that may have survived baking certainly melted away by the time we ate it.
The longer you let this cake hang out the better. Otieno tried a bite the next day, and Melissa tried hers within a couple of days. We ate ours at the one month mark (at room temp in an airtight container) at our little holiday gathering in small bite size pieces. It was boozy but mellow, spicy but sweet. Definitely felt like a holiday treat and best enjoyed in small bite size pieces.”
Traditional Treats: Pan Dulce
At the very beginning of December, some of our favorite Spiderfriends came over for a very special bake sesh to make traditional pan dulce. We made these beautiful little sweet rolls from scratch at the suggestion of our friend Briana, who was sadly unable to join us due to the flu (but we made sure a special delivery found its way to her)! Anjelica Fraga, Mateo Granados, and Samuel Escalante were the real MVPs that day, helping roll the dough while sharing their favorite memories of these deliciously soft treats. We knew there was no way we were gonna make them as good as anyone’s abuela on our first try, but the process of learning the bake was special all the same. Like Sam pointed out, “pan dulce is a genre” (this was gonna be the name of our blog post before we got embarrassingly behind!), and there are many ways traditional Mexican bakers get creative with their bakes. Our recipes produced one of the most popular varieties: conchas, recognizable by their round shape and patterned sugar designs on top (we tried different designs on ours, carving them into the buttery pre-baked topping with a sharp knife). Of our two attempted recipes, this one from Muy Bueno Cookbook was undeniably our favorite, the cinnamon made the flavors much more of a celebration!
The Crowd Fave: Candied Cranberry
Nearly everyone who has come across these berries in our holiday feasting over the last few years has demanded the recipe, so we thought we’d include our simple, SIMPLE instructions for this sweet and tangy treat you won’t be able to stop eating:
Take a bag of cranberries and rinse in a colander, picking through and tossing any that are too squishy or icky (there’s always a few in there). Once rinsed, let dry or pat dry and coat with a single egg white (we just toss it in the colander with our hands, it works great). Transfer the cranberries to a pan and cover in sifted powdered sugar. Coat and toss in powdered sugar several times, until each berry has a thick dusting of sugar on it.
Bake in a preheated 325F oven for just 2-3 minutes. You're just trying to harden the sugar coating, you definitely don't want to burst any berries! Let cool and store at room temp in an airtight container. Put in pretty jelly jars as an excellent last minute gift!
Classic Cookies: Cut it out!
If you’re looking for a hands-on, interactive treat, look no further than a classic cutout. We made these delicious gingerbread cookies for our own little holiday gathering, made complete with seven or eight different frosting colors and a whole gaggle of sprinkles and sparkles. Storie brought her favorite soft cutout cookies too, giving a lovely contrast to the crunchy spice of the others:
“When asked what my favorite holiday cookie is, most people seemed surprised that my answer is the traditional ‘Christmas’ sugar cookie. As much as I love to experiment with flavors and push my skills outside their comfort zone, there is something so beautiful about the simplicity of these cookies. The buttery, tender shortbread flavor, drizzled with the almond icing, topped with crunchy sprinkles...mmm! They are downright addictive. Not only that—but you can make these for *any* festive occasion! Whether you have cookie cutters for all the seasons or just a mason jar lid to create a perfect circular shape, with the right frosting + sprinkle combo, these are always an adorable crowd pleaser. These cookies can seem a little time consuming at first blush since they require decorating, but that’s actually what I love most about them. You get to be as bold as you want with shapes, icing colors, sprinkle choices, etc. so it’s really a delicious way to flex your creativity.”
Storie’s frosting recipe:
Mix 1 cup of powdered sugar with 1 tbsp of Light Karo syrup and 2 tbsp of milk (or any milk substitute) until you reach a consistency that is not too thick, but not too runny. Add 1/8 of a tsp of almond extract to your frosting, along with any food colorings you wish!
Sugar Cookie recipe notes:
I use 1 cup of real butter instead of margarine and reduce the oven temp to 375 degrees to bake them for about 7-10 minutes for a softer cookie (rotate cookies in the oven halfway through baking to ensure an even texture).