It’s that time of year again: time to make room in the freezer.
Every year I have odd quantities of dried and glazed fruits, nuts, breads, cakes, cookies, etc., leftover from holiday baking. Which they are, and how much of each, depends on what the focus of holiday baking has been that year. Or what I had planned to make but didn’t get around to. Or, what I haven’t eaten or given away.
Usually, I am polishing off the last of the cookies right around now. It is a great pleasure to, ever-so-slowly over the course of the months between New Year’s and March, nibble away at the cookie inventory. Cookies age very nicely; in fact, I think the freezer greatly improves many of them, as the flavors meld and intensify in storage. And of course, it is wonderful to reach into the freezer and pull a cookie out for dessert after dinner.
So, having eaten the last cookie a few days ago, a fair amount of space has been freed up. But still, there remained all those bags of fruits and nuts, and a little more than half an orange olive-oil cake. I ate a small piece of the cake—excellent, still—essentially evening it off to a neat half. Then I used everything to make the cake below, and took it to the office. I probably won’t have everything on hand to make this cake in exactly the same way again, but as you can see, the recipe could easily be adjusted according to what you do happen to have, producing a different cake each year.
One-off Post-holiday Cake
3 cups medium cake crumbs—about ½ of a 10” tube cake (see Note)
1 cup candied citron
¾ c fresh crystallized ginger
½ cup raisins (I used mixed, mostly large flames)
2 T marsala or sherry (I used Spanish mistela)
¼ c light turbinado or pure cane sugar
½ c Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa
2 large brown eggs
Juice and grated rind of ½ medium navel orange
¾ whole milk
5 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 tea baking powder
3 tea mixed best-quality fresh ground spices, to taste (I used: 1 tea cinnamon, ½ tea cardamom, 1/3 tea cloves, ¾ tea nutmeg, 1/8 tea white pepper, big pinch salt)
1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds (chopped hazelnuts would do)
Pear or other fruit syrup for glazing (optional)
Use a deep 8” cake or springform pan. Butter it, line it with parchment, and butter and flour the interior.
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Divide the crumbs in half. Put ½ half into a medium bowl, the other into a food processor.
Soak the raisins in the alcohol.
To the crumbs in the processor, add the citron and crystallized ginger and pulse until the fruits are ground and crumb mixture looks medium-fine.
To the crumbs in the bowl, add the sugar, eggs, cocoa, milk, juice and rind, baking powder, and spices, and stir until smooth. Add the fruit/crumb mixture and the raisins and their liquid (if the raisins are very large, cut them in half using a wet knife), stirring well to blend. Beat in the soft butter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the slivered almonds across the surface (I sliced whole blanched almonds in half).
Bake at 325 for about 1 hour, until the surface is puffed and lightly cracked, the nuts are turning golden, and a cake skewer inserted midway between the center and the edge comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes, then turn carefully out. The cake will pull away from the sides as it cools. While still warm, you can brush the top and sides with a syrup if you wish; I had some leftover pear syrup from poaching pears for a pear tart for my students before Christmas, so was able to use some of it. But not necessary.
Note: I used a cake made with olive oil because that is what I had, but any plain, rich cake would do, such as pound cake. The cake does not have to be at its peak, but it should not be dried out—i.e., should not be stale.