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Velvet Banana Bread – my blue ribbon winner!


It all started in 2009 when I entered the foods competitions at the Kansas State Fair for the first time, and met a wonderful & talented woman named Colleen Woker.  We met while watching the pie judging and I asked her if she’d won any ribbons in the other competitions. She listed off approximately 241 things she’d placed in, including getting “Best in Show” for her banana bread, which as far as I understand means that her banana bread was so good, that the judges deemed it better than anything else submitted for judging in the foods competitions. I mean, it beat cakes!  CAKES! I was so impressed by her and in that moment, knew that some day I had to get myself a blue ribbon in the banana bread competition.  Little did I know it would become nearly an obsession.

In my quest to win a blue ribbon, I’ve made over fifty different banana bread recipes, and no matter how hard I tried to find the best, most perfect banana bread, the highest I ever placed was 3rd.  I really thought I was doomed to never get my blue ribbon, or even a red one.  This year I had no idea what recipe I was going to make until the day before the competition.  In fact, I had even forgotten to buy bananas in advance to let them get super duper ripe, and all I had was bananas that were still green at the stems.  Not acceptable!

I posted a last minute plea on Facebook for rotten bananas and was given some by two wonderful women (thank you Lacey & Lisa!), enough to make a practice loaf or two if I could find the time.  I decided to take my best good friend, Jackie‘s, advice and replace the pumpkin in my most favoritest pumpkin bread recipe with bananas, which she has been doing for a year.  That recipe has 1/2 cup of water in it, which I’d never ever seen in all the banana bread recipes I’ve read in my search for the perfect one, and I was so scared to try it.  I asked her probably five times, “Do you really put the water in it when you make it? REALLY?” She assured me she did, and that it wasn’t wet or gummy, but really similar in texture to the pumpkin bread.  That sold me, because that soft texture is the ultimate for me in a quick bread.

Despite my deep fears of including the water, and the temptation to replace it with something more exciting like milk or pineapple juice, I gave her idea a go, adding a touch of cardamom, and was absolutely floored by the result.  I had never in my life had such tender, soft banana bread.  And so delicious, sweet & perfectly banana-y with a the perfect balance of spices to set it off.  Unfortunately, it was one of the uglier loaves I’d ever made, and since 25% of the judging score was based on appearance, I lost all hope right there.  Because I knew it was too good not to submit, but also knew it was too ugly to win a blue ribbon. I just hoped it was good enough to win a red.

So many things went wrong in making the official loaf and my spirits sunk deeper and deeper with each obstacle. I kept questioning why I was even bothering.  This wasn’t the regular little banana bread competition, this one was sponsored by King Arthur Flour and the first place prize was a $150 gift card to their catalog, which is much bigger than the usual $9 prize.  This was a big deal, and more people would be entering than usual.  I didn’t have a chance! I was exhausted, would have loved to sleep in the next morning, didn’t want to waste the gas or the effort when I knew it was hopeless, but I’d been in the paper about the being the Banana Bread Queen Wannabe, and everyone on Facebook knew about it.  I had to go.

When I arrived to submit my bread, I noticed that everyone around me had loaves that were the same dark shiny brown, which I found unattractive.  That made me feel a little better, until I looked to see if any of my other three baked goods I’d already turned in had placed, and they hadn’t.  I knew it was going to be my very first no-ribbon year, and I went home defeated, knowing my quest might never end.

But when we returned to the fair as a family two days later, there it was. My ugly brown banana bread sitting front and center.  Next to a blue ribbon.

I squealed. I hopped around.  I squealed and hopped some more.  I think there was a lot of, “I can’t believe it!!”  I gushed my entire banana bread story to the poor couple standing nearby when my freak out started.  They were so happy for me, but everyone else looked pretty perturbed & disturbed by my antics.  I stopped myself several times from running up to random people to tell them I won.  Joshua was grinning and giggling, clearly trying to figure out what had Mom so excited.  I took his hands and we did a little celebration dance together.  When Dennis approached us (he’d been in the bathroom), I wanted to let him discover it on his own but I just couldn’t contain myself and as soon as I saw him I beamed and jumped up and down and waved him over, pointing wildly at the display case where my winning bread resided. He knew instantly of course what that meant, and he hopped up and down with me a little in celebration.  Joshua was so happy to see all the happiness and I was so happy, and Dennis was so happy, I thought all our heads might explode.

It took six years and countless loaves of banana bread, but I did it. The blue ribbon is MINE! Thanks be to God, to Jackie, Lisa, Lacey, and to Colleen for not entering the banana bread competition this year and giving me a chance.  And to everyone who has rooted for me all these years, thank you!!  My quest is complete and I couldn’t be happier to have found my very favorite recipe for banana bread and gotten the blue for it so that I never have to try another recipe again.  I’m so DONE with new banana bread recipes.  This one is definitely my new favorite, and I truly may never make another recipe again.

Velvet Banana Bread

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1 cup (8 oz) mashed overripe banana
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 1/8 oz) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (7 1/2 oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl, combine banana, sugar, vegetable oil, water, and eggs. Whisk until well mixed. Measure the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and cloves into a separate bowl and stir until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture, beating until smooth. Mixture will be very very thin and it’s OK to mix until no flour streaks remain, but if you see little lumps of flour that won’t mix out, don’t sweat it, they will dissolve while baking and overmixing will make this tender loaf tough and dry.

Spray the bottom of a 9×5 loaf pan and pour batter in (if your pan sticks, go ahead and grease the whole thing). Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately remove from pan, and cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. Remove from pan immediately and allow to cool at least 15 minutes on a wire rack before slicing. Cool completely before wrapping leftovers in plastic wrap.

Veronica’s notes: If you aren’t measuring your ingredients on a scale, please use a very light hand when measuring the flour, spooning it gently into the cup and not packing it at all before leveling it.

Also, I only left the sides of my pan ungreased because the state fair judges have disqualified me in the past for greasing the whole pan. According to them, this is a baking sin and the sides of your bread will be much more tender if you grease only the bottom. This works fine with my new nifty galifty USA Loaf Pan because it’s crazy nonstick, but if you have any other not fabulously non-stick pan, you’d better go ahead and grease the sides. I honestly can’t tell a difference in the finished loaf whether the sides have been greased or not, the judges need to chill.

Speaking of loaf pans, be sure to use a large 9×5 as this is too much batter for an 8×4 loaf pan.  If you only have a small loaf pan, make some muffins with the extra batter, but don’t fill your pan more than 3/4 full.

Lastly, if you overbake your loaf a bit (I did on the one photographed, by a couple minutes because I was busy when the timer went off), don’t forget my water trick. It works on quick breads as well as cakes! Spray the sides and bottom well with water, don’t be shy with it, and it will all absorb while cooling and soften those hardened edges right up.

Classic Cherry Pie

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If you had trouble accessing the Preacher Tuna Salad recipe yesterday, I apologize. I accidentally posted it twice and deleted the original, making the link most everyone got lead to nowhere.  You can click here to view the recipe.With the 4th of July holiday quickly approaching, I thought it was about time I shared my favorite cherry pie recipe.  Maybe it’s all the red, but it just seems very festive to me! :)  There’s nothing fancy about it, unless you consider a lattice top crust fancy, but it’s a very good pie and excellent with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  I love the flavor the almond extract adds, to me it is the essential key to a good cherry pie.

I love my Perfect Pie Crust above all others, and is the crust pictured here.  I highly recommend it for any and all pies, but truth be told, I just as often use a box of Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts.  Judge me if you must, but it saves so much time!  If you buy pre-made crusts, don’t bother with generic/off-brands, they are awful. Pillsbury is pretty good if you don’t have time to make your own.

Classic Cherry Pie

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Pastry for a two-crust pie
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
2 (14.5 oz) cans tart cherries in water
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon red food coloring (optional)
Milk & coarse sugar for top crust

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out one pie crust and line a 9” pie plate; place in refrigerator. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar & cornstarch and mix well. Drain the juice from the cherries into the pan with the sugar & cornstarch; set the cherries aside. Stirring constantly, cook the juice mixture over medium heat, until bubbling and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter, almond extract, and food coloring, if desired, until butter is melted. Stir in the cherries. Spoon into prepared pie plate. Roll out second disc of dough and cut into strips with a pastry wheel or pizza cutter. Arrange strips on top of filling to make a lattice design. Seal and flute edges. Brush milk over crust and sprinkle with sugar. Place on middle oven rack and put a cookie sheet below to catch any spillover. Bake 30 minutes, then put a pie shield on the pie to protect the crust from over-browning. Bake another 15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling. Cool at least two hours or overnight before serving.

Veronica’s note: I tend to cook my fruit pie filling until extremely thick, as I prefer my pies not to run at all when cut, as you can see in the photos. If you like yours to run a little, just follow the directions and you’ll be fine. My weirdness for cooking it until nearly cement is not included in them. :)  Also, I have a step-by-step video tutorial on another pie that includes how to make a lattice design here.

**Be sure to visit my “Current Favorites” in the sidebar at the right for other recipes that would be a great addition to your July 4th menu.**

Cranberry Crumb Bars

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Are cranberries in season any more?  I haven’t been looking for them since they’re more of a December thing for me, but I had a jar of Killer Cranberry Sauce leftover from a large batch I made in December and I wanted to use it, so these bars were made…in season or not.

And oh my goodness, they are amazeballs.  I include orange juice and zest in my cranberry sauce, and there is even more orange flavor from the zest in the crust and crumb topping, which pairs so well with cranberry filling.  The crust and crumb are so tender, buttery, and crumbly – the perfect texture and I plan to use the base recipe for other crumb bars in the future.  The recipe does include a little bit of an unusual ingredient – almond flour or meal, but you can make your own by grinding almonds very fine in a food processor.  Also the Killer Cranberry Sauce is great in these bars, if you don’t want to make cranberry sauce, go see Bakerita’s recipe for her filling that doesn’t require cooking beforehand.

If you prefer very tart desserts you can skip the glaze, but for the sweet tooth like me, it is necessary to balance the cranberry.  Alternately, you could melt some white chocolate to drizzle over the top – a classic cranberry pairing.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Crumb Bars

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2 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 oz) almond meal (almond flour)
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups Killer Cranberry Sauce
1 cup (4 1/2 oz) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice (or milk or water)

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 9×13 baking dish.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. The dough will be crumbly. Alternatively, you can pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor with the butter until pebbly, then mix in the egg until it all comes together. pat half the dough into the buttered pan. Spread the cranberry sauce over the crust, the crumble remaining dough over sauce. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until top is a light golden brown. Cool completely, then blend the powdered sugar and orange juice together in a small bowl and drizzle over the top. let set for 5-10 minutes before slicing into bars.

Recipe source: adapted from Bakerita

Who cares if cranberry is out of season when it makes such delicious eats?  Here are a few other ways to enjoy it…

Cranberry Chicken

Cranberry Bliss Cookies

Romaine Salad with Chicken, Cheddar, Apples, Spiced Pecans and Cranberry Vinaigrette

Chocolate Mocha Punch


Seriously, a recipe today! :D I drafted this November 14th so it’s about time I posted it-lol.  I’ve shared a few of my friend, Teri’s, recipes before (see them all here), and this one is just as wonderful as the others.  She made this punch for my last baby shower and it was delicious! I’m sure once you scan the ingredients, you won’t have a hard time figuring out why.  It’s very decadent!  She also made it for her daughter’s wedding and the holiday party at her home last week, and I think it’s great for any occassion.  New Year’s Eve, maybe? :)

Chocolate Mocha Punch

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3 quarts water
1 cup Nesquik
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup instant coffee granules (decaf is fine)
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1/2 gallon chocolate ice cream
2 cups whipped cream (Teri uses Cool Whip)
Chocolate curls for garnish

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add Nesquik, sugar and coffee; stir until dissolved. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. About 30 minutes before serving, pour into a punch bowl. Add ice cream by scoopfuls, stir until partially melted. Garnish with dollops of whipped cream and chocolate curls.

Traditional Turkish Delight {gluten-free & vegan}


Turkish Delight is perhaps the recipe I’ve been wanting to make longer than any other, for  over twenty years!  I’ve wanted to try it ever since I was in elementary school and read about the Turkish Delight which the witch seduced Edward with in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  It just sounded so delicious!  Dennis also told me years ago that he also has wanted to try Turkish Delight ever since reading the book.  So this year I decided to make it for him for Valentine’s Day, and to send it to my matches for The Sweetest Swap as well.

I decided to go with the traditional recipe, which doesn’t include gelatin and takes quite a long time to make.  But the texture is worth the effort!  I took my recipe and method from Titli’s video, and I tell you this woman is mad, but I love her.  You have to watch a few of her videos to start jiving with her craziness.  Anyway, we discovered that we quite liked Turkish Delight, especially the nice soft, chewy texture.  It’s similar to a jelly candy but really so much softer that it’s not really jelly-like at all, it’s just the closest thing I can compare it to. And so smooth!  The flavor is very nice, bright from the lemon juice, and mysterious & romantic from the rose water.  While the rose water is nice, I think I would like this a lot better using lemon extract and would suggest it if you don’t have the rose water, but cutting the amount down to maybe a teaspoon (or to taste) since it’s much stronger than rose water.

The downside is that they tend to weep.  You should store them packed in the extra powdered sugar, but even so, after only a day mine were pretty much a mess.  I wish I’d taken photos right away because right after cutting and dredging in powdered sugar, they were so pretty with such smooth surfaces.  Instead I took my photos two days later when the bowl had turned into  the nastiness above. :( I had to cut off the worst of the edges and then roll them in fresh powdered sugar for my photos, but believe me they are so much prettier the first day!  I asked Titli if this was normal and she said it was likely our damp weather to blame, but even so, hers start weeping after four days.  Her cure for the weeping?  “Eat them quickly!” lol

This is what my poor swappees received (along with a dozen oatmeal candies–thank goodness I sent enough of those to make up for the Turkish Delight mess!)–photo courtesy of Shesten M.

If I haven’t scared you off with my cautionary photos, here’s the recipe!  Just be sure to make this when you’re enjoying a spell of dry weather and perhaps when you have enough company to polish them off within a few days.

Turkish Delight

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Note: I followed the gram measurements for this recipe, using my kitchen scale.

3 ½ cups water, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups (800 g) sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (120 g) cornstarch
1 tablespoon rosewater
Few drops of red food coloring (I used icing gel coloring)

For dusting
1 cup (160 g) powdered sugar
¼ cup (30 g) cornstarch

Oil an 8” square pan, then line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Oil the parchment paper; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups of the water, the lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil while stirring and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches 115C (soft ball stage). Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining 2 cups water, the cream of tartar, and the cornstarch. Bring to a boil, using an electric mixer to beat it on low speed the entire time. It will get thick quite quickly. It will be very milky and opaque in the beginning, but will get more clearish. Once it is a thick gluey paste and turns more and more clear, add in a little of the sugar syrup and beat with the mixer until blended. Scrape down the sides of the pan, and add a bit more at a time, beating well after each addition until smooth. When all the syrup is added, it will be thick but fluid. Turn on the heat again and bring to a gentle boil. Turn heat to low and simmer very, very gently for about an hour, stirring frequently (I stirred every 1-3 minutes). It will turn a light golden brown color. Add in the rosewater and food coloring if desired, and mix well.

Pour into prepared pan and shake the pan to make sure the mixture reaches all the corners. Allow to sit at room temperature until set, about 3-5 hours, or overnight.

Combine the powdered sugar and cornstarch for dusting and sift them together into a large bowl. Sift some on top of the pan of Turkish Delight. Sift some over a surface, then turn the Turkish Delight upside down onto prepared surface. Carefully remove the paper and sift some sugar over the top. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the Turkish Delight into small squares. Put the squares into the bowl of sugar and toss them around every so often. Once all are added, toss them around really well to make sure they are well coated with the sugar/cornstarch mixture.

To store, place Turkish Delight in a container with an airtight lid, and pour the sugar/cornstarch mixture over the top to keep them from weeping or sticking together.

Recipe source: Titli’s Busy Kitchen

Sweetest Swap Recap

The swap went very smoothly and I was lucky enough to get 6 packages in the mail!  They disappeared all too quickly…

Oreo & Biscoff Truffles from Shania, Lemon Muddy Buddies and Pretzel Caramel Bark from Lynn.  Dennis ate all the Oreo Truffles by the time I got home, so I’m glad I got one before I left for work! I enjoyed the Biscoff Truffles all to myself, which was fine by me because I liked them even better.  Lynn wasn’t a match of mine, but she was kind enough to send me two packages! One stuffed with the Lemon Muddy Buddies (YUM!) and another with the Pretzel Caramel Bark (love salty and sweet!).  Thank you ladies!

Snickers Bars from Laurie.  Wow!  Talk about impressive.  These were every bit as good as they look and I had trouble saving any for Haus.  I had to beg him to hurry up and eat some before I ate the whole package. LOL!

Vanilla Sea Salt Caramels from Shesten (that’s Hawaiian Black Lava Sea Salt on them). Oh so incredible.  These I ate one after another until they were all gone, in just a matter of minutes.  Poor Haus.  Poor me! I need a refill, Shesten. ;)

In total, 1,275 candies were exchanged through our swap, and because swapper Marcia L. registered us with Cookies for Kids Cancer, Barmioli Rocco matched $1 for each and we raised another $1,275 for pediatric cancer research just by doing what we love to do.  And I’m also very glad to report that we had zero flakes for this swap!  Every single person sent out their candies.  These swaps just keep getting better.  Thank you to all who participated, I had a ball.

 

Key Lime Pie


So happy to return today for the Secret Recipe Club‘s Group C reveal day!  Life has been keeping me pretty busy, but I’ll talk about life another day.

Today I need to tell you about this Key Lime Pie.  This amazing key Lime Pie.  I was assigned to Mother Thyme‘s blog this month, which is a new-to-me blog, and I was really excited to peruse it.  Jennifer’s blog is attractive, organized (yay for a recipe index!), and her photos are beautiful, so it was a real treat!  Not to mention that most of the recipes are her own creations!  I truly admire bloggers like Jennifer who mostly post their original creations, since I find that difficult, personally.  My creations are very rarely blog-worthy. LOL!

So when I ran across this key lime pie recipe, I was excited because Dennis loves Key Lime Pie and I’ve been wanting to make him one for a long time, but I was also very skeptical.  The main ingredients are sweetened condensed milk and lime juice.  And it only calls for for 9 minutes of baking.  I thought it was mis-typed, and eggs and extra baking time were missing.  I mean, how can two very liquid hardly-baked ingredients make a thick, creamy filling?

So I searched online recipes and found some similar ones that didn’t even require any baking.  What?  Really?  Wouldn’t this make soup pie?

I decided to give it a go, and I’m so glad I had faith in Mother Thyme!  This is kitchen science, folks, and utterly fascinating.  Apparently when the acidic lime juice is combined with the condensed milk, it thickens it, because as soon as I whisked it in, the two liquids turned into a thick, pudding-like filling.  Amazing!  After just two hours, it was ready to slice, and I didn’t even bake it at all!

The taste?  Just as amazing as the magical thickness.  Perfect balance of sweet and tart!  I’m just so excited by this pie, you guys, you don’t even know.  It’s so easy to make, so magical, and so delicious.  You could even say…it’s magically delicious.  :)

I made it a little festive by adding some food coloring to intensify the green (it’s really more ivory without the food coloring), and added shamrock sprinkles for a St. Patrick’s Day look.  This would make a nice change for a St. Patty’s day dessert since most of them feature booze and/or mint.  But even if you don’t try it for a holiday (would also be cool for Christmas with red sprinkes!), it’s great any time of year–especially spring and summer.  Dig in!

Key Lime Pie

Printable recipe
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Crust
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
5 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons granulated sugar

Filling
3 (14.5 oz) cans sweetened condensed milk
2 drops green food coloring + 1 drop yellow (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup key lime juice (or regular lime juice)
2 tablespoons freshly grated lime zest (from about 2 large limes)

Garnish
Whipped cream or Cool Whip
Extra lime zest or sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix crumbled graham crackers, butter and sugar in a 9” spring form pan or a deep dish pie plate and firmly press evenly over bottom and sides of pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Let cool before adding filling.

Meanwhile, combine sweetened condensed milk and food coloring if desired, mixing until totally blended. Add the sour cream, lime juice and lime zest and whisk until thickened and completely incorporated. Pour mixture in to cooled crust and refrigerate 2 hours or until ready to serve.

If desired, just before serving, pipe whipped cream around the edge of the pie (I used Wilton tip 1M) and garnish with some extra lime zest or festive sprinkles of your choice.  Or you can just serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Veronica’s note: never mind my shallow pie dish, do not use a regular pie dish or you will have too much crust and filling, as I did (I made a second small dish of pie with my leftovers). Do as I say, not as I do. ;)

Recipe source: Mother Thyme

You can see all the other Group C SRC recipes by clicking the linky man below:



Eight Days ‘Till Christmas?!


I have several cookie recipes that I really wanted to share before Christmas but it’s looking like I won’t be able to do it.  :(  It’s go-go-go right now, not only with Christmas-related stuff, but it just so happens everyone in my family was born in December (maybe a slight exaggeration) so there are a lot of celebrations going on right now.  I’m also busy in my kitchen making the only gifts we’re giving this year, and my sister is begging for help with an order for 12,000 lip balms that she has to do on top of her regular orders, and I think we should take pity on her overworked hide. Soooo yeah…nos be bloggin’.

I do have a giveaway that I’d like to do it this week so you can look forward to at least one post if I can find the time.  It’s for Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil (it seriously rocks) and I’m writing a review for it too, otherwise I’d just say “hey leave a comment for a chance to win some awesome coconut oil!”  I’ll do my very best because I’d love for the winner to get it in time for Christmas.

For now I will leave you with some pictures from my middle sister’s 30th birthday party with an ugly Christmas sweater theme.  Of course, pretty much me and the Haus were the only ones who actually wore ugly sweaters (and Danielle b/c I brought one and forced her to wear it).  It was obviously a conspiracy to make fools of us…but you’d be surprised how easy that is to accomplish.  No, you actually wouldn’t be surprised, would you?

Two additional notes, the party was in Danielle’s shop in case you’re wondering what’s going on in the background, and my little sister dyed her hair black (she was blonde last time you saw her here), just in case you don’t recognize her!

Dennis wore my sweater and said “my rock hard manly abs are stretching it out.” Meanwhile, I was stretching out a friend’s sweater with my bodacious curves (thanks, Stephanie!)

Friendship Fruit Cake

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I posted the recipe for the friendship fruitcake starter yesterday, and although the holidays are still far in the distance, I wanted to post the full recipe for the fruitcakes now to help you decide whether or not you want to embark upon this fruitcake adventure, because the decision will need to be made fairly soon.  The starter takes three weeks to make, and the cake itself takes a month.  So I figured you’d need a better description of the resulting cake and photos to help you understand why you should bother with any cake that is going to take this long to make.

After you have your starter ready, you will add peaches, pineapple, and maraschino cherries to it over time, along with copious amounts of sugar.  Your fruit will become essentially candied in it’s own sugary juices, giving you the most flavorful candied fruit you could ever add to fruitcake.  This fruit beats the stems off store-bought candied fruit.  It is just sooo….fruity.  Usually when I taste a candied cherry, it doesn’t taste like much except sweet.  This candied fruit is sweet, but has so much flavor!

The actual time you will spend working on the starter and the fruit is maybe a minute a day, and totally worth the result.  And if the fruit itself wasn’t enough, the recipe for the cake itself is outstanding.  I have two versions available, but both are moist and delicious, and studded with this magical fruit, nuts, and shredded coconut.  Absolutely fantastic and nothing like the fruit cake you last turned your nose up at.

Now, let’s talk about the batter that surrounds the fruit, nuts, and coconut.  Usually, friendship fruit cake is made with a cake mix.  Two of them, to be exact.  When I made this cake last year on Christmas eve, I only had one mix, and of course every grocery store was closed, and I couldn’t find a single convenience store that sold cake mixes.  Rather than let the lack of a second mix defeat me, I decided to halve the recipe for the cake (what I now call the “easy version” although technically it’s the “original version”) and use half the fruit for it, then make a batter from scratch to mix the remaining fruit into.

To tell you the truth, I really can not pick a favorite.  I love, love, love them both.  In fact, I actually would recommend you do the same as me, halving both recipes and using half the fruit in both to see if you can pick one.  (Just be very careful to halve everything–this can get tricky if you don’t physically write down the new measurements before starting.)  They are so different and both so good in their own way.

The cake mix cake is very moist, and very sweet with a great cake mix flavor.  I’d say the cake mix version has more of a holiday feel than the other, because it is sweeter.  The cream cheese cake is less sweet, the slight tang of the cream cheese pairing nicely with the sweet, candied fruit.  It tastes more “real,” for lack of a better word, more home made.  It seems more of like a cake to enjoy with tea, and this would be a great version to make throughout the year.  I keep wanting to pick the cream cheese one as my favorite, until I remember how nice the cake mix one was, so I have given up.  I leave the decision entirely up to you, but either way, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Friendship Fruit Cake

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Printable recipe with picture

Day 1
In a large glass bowl, combine:

  • 1 pint friendship fruit starter
  • 1 (16 oz) can sliced peaches with juice, each slice cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 ½ cups granulated sugar

Stir every day for ten days.  When not stirring mixture, keep it covered with a splatter guard, paper towel, foil, or a loose lid. Let sit at room temperature. Do not refrigerate it or cover it airtight. A pan of water underneath the jar or bowl will keep the ants out, but I had no problem with bugs since I made mine in the winter.

Day 10
Add:

  • 1 (16 oz) can chunk pineapple with juice, each chunk cut in half
  • ½ cup granulated sugar

Stir every day for ten days.

Day 20
Add:

  • 2 (10 oz) jars maraschino cherries, drained, and each cherry cut in half
  • 2 ½ cups granulated sugar

Stir every day for the final ten days.

Day 30
Drain fruit and reserve it and the liquid.  Pour the liquid into three glass pint jars.  Save one for yourself for your next fruit cake, and give two to friends, along with a copy of this recipe.  Cake must be started within 3 days after receiving the starter or you should freeze the starter to use at a later date. Do not use plastic or metal containers to store liquid.

~To make the cake~

Easy version

2 (18.25 oz) yellow or butter recipe golden cake mixes
2 (3.5 oz) boxes instant vanilla pudding mix
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
8 eggs
2 cup raisins (golden or regular, or a combination)
2 cups chopped nuts
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
Reserved fruit

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour two 12-cup Bundt pans or four large loaf pans. In a very large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, oil and eggs.  Stir in the raisins, nuts and coconut, and the reserved fruit from the starter. Stir until all ingredients are well combined. The batter will be stiff. Spread batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Sit on wire racks and wait ten minutes before turning them out onto the racks to cool completely.  I spray my cakes thoroughly with water while cooling to help make them more moist—the water absorbs and does not change the flavor.  Store in an airtight container or wrap in plastic wrap.  Serve at room temperature.

Cream Cheese Version
5 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
8 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups golden raisins
2 cups chopped nuts
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
Reserved fruit

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour two 12-cup Bundt pans or 4 large loaf pans; set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  In a separate large bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar.  Beat in the oil. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until incorporated.  Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients; the batter will be thick. When barely any streaks remain, mix in the raisins, nuts and coconut, and the reserved fruit from the starter stirring well.  Scrape batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops.  Place the cakes in the oven and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Friendship Fruitcake Starter

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Yes, I know it isn’t even Halloween yet and you’re thinking I’m crazy for posting such an obvious December holiday-related recipe, but bear with me, I have good reason for posting this early. 

Many of us have heard of and possibly been gifted (AKA cursed) with friendship bread starter. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can either click here to find out more, or just pretend you never heard about it and maybe you can live out the rest of your life in friendship bread-less bliss. OK, I have to admit that friendship bread is delicious, but it never dies and once the starter infiltrates your circle of friends, you practically have to start shooting people to get them to stop pushing it off on you.

(Forgive me, I still suffer post-traumatic friendship bread disorder, despite my temporary reconciliation with the starter.)

Well, friendship fruitcake starter is a whole different ball of wax. This starter is not the same flour/sugar/milk mixture that is aged and fed like a sourdough, nor is it as widespread, at least not in my neck of the woods. This starter is a thick, red, fruity syrup that you use to candy real, non-dried fruit, and you have enough leftover after making your cakes that you can either pass it on to two other friends, or keep all three jars for yourself and freeze them to use throughout the year.

The kind of fruitcake you get from this starter is also unique. It is not the typical disgusting sickeningly-sweet brick you find in grocery stores.  In fact, I can tell you flat out that this is not only the only good fruitcake I have ever had in my life, it is actually so good that I would eat it any time of year, not just because it’s a holiday tradition.  Seriously, you’ve never had a non-alcoholic* fruitcake that tasted this good, and maybe not even one that has been completely doused with alcohol could be better than this.

*Brandy is used in this initial starter recipe, but since you are using it to candy fruit, and not adding the liquid itself to the cake, you will put very little alcohol into the cake because of it, and the amount you put in will bake out.  Also, once you make this starter, you never again have to add brandy to the future starters that come from this batch, so the percentage of alcohol will become nill after several batches.

If you don’t already have one of these starters in your freezer, and you would like to try this fruitcake for yourself, you will need to plan ahead and make the starter fairly soon, which is why I’m sharing the recipe for it now rather than after Thanksgiving.  The starter takes three weeks to make, and the fruitcake takes another month.  If you want to make small loaves as gifts before Christmas, start your starter now-within the next week or so.  If you want to have your fruitcake ready on Christmas day, start by November 4 or 5 at the very latest.  I guarantee you that you will have some very impressed people when you give them this fruitcake or at your party where you serve it, and many disappointed that you only have two starters to share.

I believe it will most likely take further persuasion on my part to convince you that this fruitcake is worth your time, so I will be following this recipe tomorrow with the two recipes I have for the cake itself, one using a mix, and one that I created from scratch.

*A big thank you to my friend Cheryl in Florida for passing the starter recipe and instructions on to me since she couldn’t give me one of her starters in person.*

Friendship Fruit Cake Starter

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

1 (20 oz) can pineapple chunks, drained
1 (16 oz) can apricots, drained
1 (16 oz) can sliced peaches, drained
1 (10 oz) jar maraschino cherries, drained
1 1/4 cups brandy
1 1/4 cups sugar

Combine ingredients in a large glass jar or bowl and stir well.

Store at room temperature, covered with a lid or plastic wrap, for three weeks, stirring at least twice a week. Mixture will become more and more red as time passes.  This is what mine looked like on day 21:

Drain fruit and reserve the liquid. You should have two cups of liquid, and this is your starter.  It won’t look as red or thick as the photos above because those are photos of the starter you get after you use this initial starter to candy your fruit when you actually start making the cake.  The 2 cups of liquid you have now will all be used for candying fruit.

You can save the sweetened, brandied fruit for another use (topping on ice cream, turn it into jelly, etc.) or discard.

I added some cinnamon and instant pectin (it needed quite a lot, 1/2 cup if I remember correctly) to mine after pureeing in a food processor to make a brandied holiday fruit jam.  It wasn’t sweet enough, so I’d suggest adding your sweetener of choice if you go this route.

***

Wow, guys!  Thirty people signed up for the cookie swap as soon as it was open for business. I’m kinda scared of your enthusiasm, and excited by it at the same time. :D Rock on!

Bird’s Nest Cookies

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Most of my readers probably know by now that I’m a Christian.  What might surprise you is that I don’t celebrate Christmas and Easter as Christian holidays.  We do the secular stuff with our families, exchanging gifts, hunting for baskets, but we do not recognize any affiliation of those holiday traditions with our faith.  We recognize Christ as our savior, remember his birth, life, death, and resurrection, but we do not do it just because it’s Easter or just because it’s Christmas–holidays that ultimately have pagan roots and nothing to do with Christ, despite the emphasis put on Him during this time by many. Not that I despise that emphasis, it’s actually refreshing, but we choose to keep these holidays secular while keeping our focus on Christ year-round.  Make sense?

*crickets chirping*

Hello?  Is anyone left?  Hopefully I didn’t lose everyone by starting out on such a serious note.  I have lots of thoughts on this subject…and maybe I should share them some day.  I was thinking about starting a “my faith” page on my blog where I can file my thoughts on spiritual matters in more detail.  Let me know if you’d be interested.

Anyway, whether you celebrate Easter or not, these moist chocolate macaroons shaped into nests with white chocolate truffle “eggs” are a perfect spring-time treat!  I made these a couple years ago and nearly forgot about them until I ran across the photos I took.  Perfect timing!  I hope you enjoy them, I know our family did!

Bird’s Nest Cookies

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

2 squares (2 oz) unsweetened baking chocolate
2 egg whites, room temperature
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 (14 oz) bag sweetened shredded coconut
16 to 18 white chocolate Lindt Lindor balls (2 bags), or other egg-shaped candies

Move the oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 275 degrees. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Melt baking chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave on high 30 seconds at a time. Stir after each stop until melted; set aside.  With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the egg whites on high until stiff and glossy. Add the salt, vanilla extract, powdered sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and chocolate. Beat until mixed. Stir in the coconut and hazelnuts. Scoop into mounds with a small (size 24) ice-cream scoop or a 1/4th cup dry measuring cup. Place on cookie sheets and make an indent in the middle with your thumb.

Place both cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Switch the cookies to the opposite shelf halfway through baking. This will prevent over-browning. Meanwhile, unwrap the candy.

Move cookies to a cooling rack and allow to sit for five minutes, or until they are barely warm to the touch. If you place the truffles on top while they are more than barely warm, they will melt into goo. If you are using candies with a shell, wait until the cookies are cool to place them on top, or the shells will crack. For the truffles, working quickly, set the Lindt balls on top of the cookies. Let cool completely. The Lindt balls may drip a little so you may want to place a sheet of parchment underneath the cookies.

*To toast the hazelnuts, place them in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir, and microwave another 30 seconds. Immediately rub together in a paper towel to remove a little of the excess skin. Leave most of the skin on. Chop coarsely and set aside.

Makes 16 to 18 large cookies.

Recipe source: The Cooking Photographer

Question of the day: if you celebrate Easter, what are your favorite traditions?  Our family (technically Den’s family–mine doesn’t really celebrate) always does a Easter basket hunt, even for the adults. I love hiding them almost as much as finding them! :)

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