December 30, 2009

Holiday leftovers

One of the nice things about cooking for the holidays is enjoying the leftovers for days afterward, savoring the flavors and reaping the benefits of the hours spent preparing everything -- the main meal, all of the side dishes, the cookies and candy, everything except for this cake. It didn't even last through the weekend. I wish it had. At least it was a hit. You know it's a good cake when you go for another slice a couple of days later and discover that every last bit is gone, crumbs and all.

Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. They all add up to create a moist, lightly spiced, nutty cake, dotted with the tang of fresh cranberries as well as dried cranberries. Rather than crafting some rich, heavy dessert, I wanted one that wouldn't overwhelm the taste buds after eating a full dinner, one that would still be appealing after eating such a dinner. Rich desserts often aren't, especially with lots of other goodies around (all of those cookies, you know). This cake isn't light, but a small slice isn't too filling, either. I love that the recipe calls for Chinese five-spice powder, a blend of several warm spices that adds the right depth of flavor, creating a nice background for toasted almonds and those cranberries. It also calls for almond meal, which makes the texture more hearty and better able to support the mix of flavors. For the final touch, a simple icing glazes the top, dripping down the sides, adding just a hint of orange to make it even more festive. Even with the icing, the cake isn't overdone or too sweet. It's very appealing, actually, and looks much better in person than in these photos.

This is one of those cakes that calls for another bite right after the first one, and another and another until you've eaten the last crumb and then wonder how it disappeared so fast. It's good with a cup of black tea, but I have a hard time putting down the fork for a quick sip without getting impatient for another bite. That must be why I'm pining over leftovers, because it was practically gone before you could consider it a leftover. Any way, try it sometime, perhaps next year for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or even New Year's if you're the type to stay at home and celebrate quietly, with a few friends and a good film. The flavors are appropriate any time during the fall and winter, really. It's an unusual, flavorful addition to the holiday table, a welcome deviation from the traditional pies or trifles and such.

Spiced Cranberry Bundt Cake
Adapted from Bon App├ętit, November 2008

For cake:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup almond flour or almond meal
2 ½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed golden brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plain reduced-fat Greek-style yogurt
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
1 cup halved fresh or frozen cranberries (not thawed)
½ cup dried sweetened cranberries
For icing:
⅔ cup powdered sugar
4 tsp (or more) orange juice

To make cake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. Whisk first 8 ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add both sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then yogurt. Add dry ingredients, beating until just blended. Fold in almonds and both types of cranberries. Transfer batter to prepared bundt pan.

Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.

To make icing: Stir powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons orange juice in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Mix in more juice by ½ teaspoonfuls to reach consistency of heavy cream. Spoon icing over cooled cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Let stand until icing sets, at least 30 minutes. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature.

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