Stir-Up Sunday: Jamaican Fruit Cake

Happy New Year!

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and we begin a new church year, another Year of Grace, or Year of Our Lord. This time of Advent we focus on two comings: we remember the longing, the anticipation, the hope, the long patient wait for the Messiah. We also are remembering that Christ will come again at the end of time, and we prepare for that Final Judgment. Our time here is precious! The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this much more eloquently:

When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (CCC, 524)

And so, we need to stir up our hearts, renew ourselves to prepare for His coming. In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the translation of the Collect (or Opening Prayer) of the Mass for the First Sunday of Advent invited that stirring:

O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

A traditional English custom on this day was to make a Plum pudding, with every family member giving a good stir representing their hearts being stirred on that day. Plum pudding and fruit cake have taken a hard rap over the years. There are those who hate them and those who love them, and few fall in between. I know this is a bit late for actually stirring up on Sunday, but all week is a good time to do this. I’m offering this recipe as an alternative to standard fruitcake — because it contains rum AND no candied fruit. Perhaps this will suit someone’s fancy?

This recipe requires soaking the fruit in rum at least 3 days prior to mixing up all the ingredients, so on Wednesday or Thursday before Advent, start soaking. (The years that Thanksgiving is the week before Advent, just plan on having a cocktail with rum to remind you to start soaking!)

Jamaican Fruit Cake

1 lb. each of currants, seedless raisins, prunes, and dates.

Cut with scissors into small pieces.

Mix and stir in, soaking for 3 days:
1 pt. light rum
1 pt. white tablewine

After soaking fruits, sift together:
6 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. each nutmeg, cinnamon

1 lb. butter
2 cups sugar

8 beaten eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix well, then add flour mixture gradually.

Lastly, fold in fruit and liquor, and

1 cup English walnuts, if desired (chopped to desired size).

Grease and line with wax paper 4 bread pans or 2 tube pans. Place cakes on rack in middle of oven. Place shallow pan of water (hot) on bottom or slower oven (300 F.) Bake 3 hours, removing water last 30 minutes of baking.

When cakes are cold, wrap in aluminum foil. Store in air-tight container in a cool place. Allow at least 2 weeks, preferably longer for aging.

(If this is baked in a tube pan, it can be used as the Christ Child’s birthday cake, with as many candles on it as there are children in the family.)

Recipe adapted from Family Liturgical Customs, No. 1: Advent by Ethel Marbach, 1964, Abbey Press.

1st Sunday of Advent: Sugar Plum Cake

On the first Sunday of Advent, the Collect prayer from the 1962 Extraordinary Form of the Mass prays:

O Lord, stir up Your might and come! May we deserve Your protection. Deliver us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and be our salvation.

We begin our Advent journey to Christmas, and the Church begs Christ to come. Not only do we ask God to to God to “stir up” His might, we also are looking to stir up our hearts, to start preparing ourselves for His coming.

With this request to God to “stir up” His might, this day was traditionally called Stir-Up Sunday. Many families would begin a traditional plum pudding or fruit cake or some other recipe that everyone can take a turn to “stir-up”. This activity of stirring-up the ingredients symbolizes our hearts that must be stirred in preparation for Christ’s birth.

Usually batter needs to be mixed up well, and everyone in the family and guests should give a good stir.

I personally do not enjoy fruitcake or plum pudding, so I’m always trying to think of a different recipe that would need lots of stirring and can be saved and gets better with time. This recipe is a big contender.

This is a delicious, spice-filled, every-so-moist cake! Prunes have never had such a lovely presentation! This is my MIL’s recipe, and a traditional favorite for Christmas brunch. She makes it ahead of time and stores it in the refrigerator. It gets moister as time progresses.

Sugar Plum Cake

2 cups sugar
3 whole eggs
1 cup cooking oil
1 tsp. soda
2 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cooked unpitted prunes*
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. each ground nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and salt

*Cooked prunes: Dried plums or prunes, add water and cook in saucepan until plumped up. Measure AFTER cooking. MIL cuts them in half.

Combine sugar, eggs, oil, and buttermilk. Add dry ingredients gradually and mix well. Fold in nuts and prunes. Pour into tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool in wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, or add glaze.

Glaze (optional)

1/4 cup cold milk
1/2 powdered sugar

Mix and pour on cooled cake.

Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Kahlua Cake, Take Two

Deja Vu. Six years ago we said Goodbye to my friend Steven and served Kahlua Cake. His stay on the West Coast lasted only one year, so he was back in the DC area for 5 more years.

Now he has a new teaching job at Lock Haven, PA. It’s not as far, and since we travel frequently to central PA, I know our paths will cross again. Yesterday we had a little goodbye dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant with my parents and two of my sisters and their families. (I can’t host right now because we’re in the middle of painting.)

I made the Kahlua Cake, but I’ve updated it a bit. I’m bothered by the use of vegetable oil. I’m also bothered by the box cake mix, so I know this recipe will have one more update when I figure out a homemade version. But for this time (since I barely had room or time in my kitchen to whip this up because of my better-half painter) I used the boxed cake. I did use organic sour cream and farm fresh eggs, and instead of vegetable oil I used butter, the Irish kind. I melted a cup, skimmed off the solids and it made about 3/4 cup.

The temperature of the oven needs to be reduced a bit, and the baking was faster, so I would set this at 350 degrees F. and check at 40 minutes and then 45 minutes.

Kahlua Cake

1 package Devil’s Food Cake mix (Duncan Hines my preference)
1 cup Kahlua (may substitute non-name brand of a coffee liqueur or chocolate liqueur)
3/4-1 cup butter melted, solids removed (clarified, let cool a little)
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (mini-morsels work best)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt or tube pan.

Mix all ingredients except chips together and beat 2-3 minutes.

Add chocolate chips and beat 1 minute.

Pour into a greased and floured Bundt or tube pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. It’s okay to undercook — better moist. If toothpick inserted has a few crumbs but not liquid, cake is ready.

Before serving (after cooled) sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

I’ve also drizzled melted chocolate over top and garnished with strawberries in the center hole and dipped strawberries around the side of the cake. Presentation is important — but the taste is even better. This cake is moist, rich, chocolate-y and unbelievably good.

I recently made this for my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday. He personally requested it with a certain frosting with Courvoisier Cognac. I ended up making the large cake for the whole party, so it was a doubled and tripled double sheet cake and then a small football cake on top.

It was delicious and beautiful, but I don’t remember all I did!

Pecan Coffee Cake

For a going-away celebration I made a Pecan Coffee Cake which was out of this world. I followed this adapted version of this original recipe. Just so I don’t forget, I’m writing it down here.

I have no picture. I was too tired last night to wait until it came out the pan, so the cake stuck to the pan this morning. Although I used a Bundt pan, I had to serve the cake upside down because the top was unpresentable. The presentation wasn’t beautiful, but it was so moist and delicious — the kind of cake everyone wants the recipe. Even my husband and young son were liking the cake pan clean, hoping I would bring back leftovers.

The reviews of this cake mention the topping sank to the bottom of the cake. Since I used a Bundt, I was actually hoping for that result, but my topping didn’t sink. I think I mixed the cake very well (I have a Kitchenaid) and it was too fluffy to sink. Also, I had finely chopped my pecans; they were not chopped coarsely. So the next time, I will sprinkle some of the topping into the bottom of the pan and the remaining topping sprinkle into the cake batter when only half of it is in the pan.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4-5 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt, set aside.

In mixing bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Add sour cream gradually, mixing in between, then beat in sugar. Mix until all smooth and creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, and then mix in vanilla. By hand, fold in the flour mixture gradually, mixing only until blended.

Pecan Topping: Mix together brown sugar (remove all lumps), cinnamon, and pecans. Add melted butter and stir together until crumbly mixture.

Into Bundt pan, sprinkle 1/2-3/4 of mixture into the bottom of the pan. Add half the cake batter into the pan, sprinkle the remaining topping, then add the rest of the cake batter.

Bake in 325 degree F. oven for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven to cool for 10 minutes, then remove cake from pan and let cool on cake rack.

The cake is sweet and moist, but if desired, drizzle a confectioner’s icing for presentation purposes.

Pentecost Celebration

Pentecost is Sunday. I won’t be doing much cooking for a while, so it’s nice to look back at what we’ve done before.

Catholic Cuisine has loads of ideas for Pentecost. We usually choose simple ones for our meals: red tablecloth, fruit salad (without dressing), and cupcakes with tongues of fire. The chocolate cupcakes are from a boxed mix, allergen free (no eggs, dairy, or wheat) and just simple canned icing from Duncan Hines.

The main meal is Sunday-worthy, usually chicken, to remind us of the symbol of the Holy Spirit as a dove descending. One year I made wings from this recipe for the feast of St. James. They are very good. But all of a sudden I’m getting a craving for some hot wings, which would be a great combination of the fire and the wings of the dove. But the boys aren’t crazy about “spicy”.

Last year we ate on the screened porch; lovely weather, lovely feast.

Our tongues of fire cupcakes:

Our 12 Fruit Salad. We aren’t fond of melons except watermelon and citrus fruits, so our combo last  year included: kiwi, watermelon, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, grape, apple, nectarine, peach, plum, cherry. Serve over pound cake for the adults and a dollop of whipped cream.

King Cake for Epiphany

Having roots from southern Louisiana, King Cake is a necessity, not an option for Epiphany. “King Cake” is the Louisiana term for the sweet bread served on Epiphany. This is the day that opens up Carnival or Mardi Gras. Most people think that Mardi Gras is only around the beginning of Lent, but it actually begins on 12th Night and ENDS on Tuesday at midnight before Ash Wednesday. This excerpt from The Original Picayune Creole Cook Book, fifth edition from 1922:

This is a Creole cake whose history is the history of the famous New Orleans Carnivals celebrated in song and stories. The “King’s Cake,” or “Gateau de Roi,” is inseparably connected with the origin of our now world-famed Carnival balls. In fact, they owe their origin to the old Creole custom of choosing a king and queen on King’s Day, or Twelfth Night. In old Creole New Orleans, after the inauguration of the Spanish domination and the amalgamation of the French settlers and the Spanish into that peculiarly chivalrous and romantic race, the Louisiana Creole, the French prettily adopted many of the customs of their Spanish relatives, and vice versa. Among these was the traditional Spanish celebration of King’s Day, “Le Jour des Rois,” as the Creoles always term the day. King’s Day falls on January 6, or the twelfth day after Christmas, and commemorates the visit of the three Wise Men of the East to the lowly Bethlehem manger. This day Is still even in our time still the Spanish Christmas, when gifts are presented in commemoration of the Kings’ gifts. With the Creoles it became “Le Petit Noël,” or Little Christmas, and adopting the Spanish custom, there were always grand balls on Twelfth Night; a king and a queen were chosen, and there were constant rounds of festivities, night after night, till the dawn of Ash Wednesday. From January 6, or King’s Day, and Mardi Gras Day became the accepted Carnival season. Each week a new king and queen were chosen and no royal rulers ever reigned more happily than did these kings and queens of a week.

It seems almost every country has their own version of an Epiphany cake or bread. I couldn’t find all the names or types for all the countries, but here are some highlights, keeping in mind that different regions and families do things a bit differently, so it’s hard to make sweeping summaries.

Hispanic Countries: Rosca de los Reyes (Cake of the Kings). This is a fruit and nut filled ring or crown topped with icing and decorations, and bean or tiny doll inserted.

Spain: Roscón de Reyes is a roll that is ring shaped and sometimes filled with chocolate or jelly. Germany and Switzerland: In both countries the Three Kings Cake is called Dreikönigskuchen and usually a gold crown is placed on top of the cake.

France: Galette (or Gateau) des Roi (or Rois) (Cake of the Kings). Usually this is a round and flat cake, honey-spice or sponge inside. It is decorated with pastry, fruits, or sugared frills. Each cake has a bean, small token or miniature doll inside. A nice tradition: there should be one more piece than the number of guests. The extra portion, la part a Dieu–God’s share–is for the first poor person who knocks at the door. The day of the Kings means sharing as well as receiving. Nobody who asks for food or alms will leave empty-handed that day.

England: Twelfth Cake is eaten with Lamb’s Wool (mulled ale with roasted apple pulp). Inside the cake are a bean and a pea. The man to find the bean was the King of the part, and the woman with the pea is the Queen.

The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler contains 7 different types of bread or cakes for Epiphany, including ones from Spain, Brazil, Holland and a Twelfth Night Bread of Lady Carcas. This book is OOP. Another book I highly recommend, Celebrations of Bread by Betsy Oppenneer, only has one recipe for Epiphany, Rosca de Reyes. We usually serve this King Cake as part of our Epiphany family celebration.

This recipe is from from La Cucina Egeriana. by Eleanor Bernstein, Ferraro, CSJ and Maria Bettina, from Notre Dame Centre for Pastoral Liturgy, a cookbook that is out-of-print. There is another similar recipe in Bad Catholics Guide to Good Living by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak. I know Denise is a chef from New Orleans, so this recipe is definitely authentic. Compared to this one, the main difference is that there is no nut filling in her version.


2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar (divided, 1/3 cup plus remaining amount, 2 Tbsp.)
1 stick butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons finely grated orange rind
5 cups flour plus 1 cup for kneading surface

Melt 1 stick butter, milk, 1/3 cup sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cool to lukewarm. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar, yeast and water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand until it foams (5-10 minutes).

Beat eggs into yeast mixture, then add milk mixture and lemon and orange rinds. Stir in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, reserving 1 cup for the kneading surface. Knead dough until smooth (about 5-10 minutes). Place in large mixing bowl that has been greased. Turn dough once to grease top; cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted

Either 1 egg beaten or Confectioner’s Sugar Icing (see below)
Then 1/3 cup each colored sugar of purple, yellow and green
2 plastic babies (3/4 inch) or 2 red beans

For filling, mix pecans, brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. For topping, tint sugar by mixing in food coloring until desired shade is reached. For purple, use equal amounts of blue and red. (Use just a drop or two at a time).

When dough has doubled, punch down and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll half into a rectangle 30 x 15 inches (this takes a long time for me, and the dough gets to be very thin). Brush with half of the melted butter and cut into 3 lengthwise strips. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture and pecans on strips, leaving a 1-inch lengthwise strip free for sealing.

Fold each strip lengthwise toward the center, sealing the seam. You will now have three 30-inch strips with sugar and nut mixture enclosed in each. Braid the 3 strips and make a circle by joining the ends. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Place each cake on a 10″x15″ baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush each egg and (optional) sprinkle top with colored sugars, in sequence. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 20 minutes or until cake tests done. Remove from baking sheet immediately so that sugar will not harden. While still warm, place 1 plastic baby or bean in each from underneath the cake.

At this point I add Confectioner’s Sugar Icing and then sprinkle colored sugar in different sections of the cakes. To freeze, wrap cooled cake tightly in plastic wrap. Before serving, remove plastic and thaw. The cake is best if heated slightly before serving.

Election Cake

Since our family is praying and abstaining from sweets until this election is over, no election day party for us. But I always enjoy reading and collecting traditional recipes for feast days and other “Red-Letter Days”. For many years election day was a holiday.

There’s a traditional Election Cake that comes from the New England states, also known as Hartford Election Cake. History of Election Cake goes back to colonial times. For comparison, see this version, and this one from Boston Cooking School Cookbook, 1911. Have fun seeing the variety when you search at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. Use the search engine and type in “election cake” — there’s a nice variety.

For a quicker idea, I’m sure a flag cake or Election Day Cupcakes or full plans for an Election Day party might be easier than a 4 hour cake.

I shared this recipe on Catholic Culture from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Dorothy Gladys Spicer, from From Feast-Day Cakes from Many Lands, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, copyright 1960.

Election Day was the great holiday of early New England. In importance it ranked second only to Thanksgiving. Even after 1776, Election Day boasted more processions, sermons, social gatherings and good eating than either Fourth of July or Training Day — the time when volunteer militiamen marched and drilled in all their glory. Since our Puritan ancestors were denied the joys of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday, Election Day with its festivities — parades, religious ceremonies, balls, and fine foods — helped compensate for the loss.

“Their Chief Red Letter Day is St. Election which is annually Observed according to Charter to choose their Governor,” wrote Madam Sarah Kemble Knight about the State of Connecticut, in her Journal of 1702. The Honorable John Winthrop, Esquire, a descendant of the Massachusetts founder, was Governor of Connecticut at the time. Madam Knight, a retired schoolmistress, who was traveling from Boston to New York on business, kept a diary of all the interesting customs and events she observed along the way.

At Hartford, Election Day — which came there on the second Thursday in May — was unmatched in excitement by any other occasion. A traditional feature was the famous Hartford Election Cake which, according to one old family recipe, called for seven eggs, five pounds of shortening (largely butter), a pint of yeast, and unspecified amounts of wine and brandy. In other places Election Cake might be just a sweet raised bread, topped by egg-and-molasses glaze, but in Hartford it resembled a rich well-seasoned fruit cake.

In his autobiography Edward Everett Hale, who was born in Boston and there became the most famous preacher of his day, reminisces on early nineteenth-century election customs. Every child expected a present of ” ‘lection money” from his elders, according to Mr. Hale. This was pocket money to squander at stalls and booths on the Common. For most youngsters election spending sprees were confined largely to things to eat and drink. The Hale children’s mother gave each of her own brood twelve-and-a-half cents, and with coins jingling in pockets the young were off to the Common — boys with boys, and girls with girls. There, food hucksters sold such delicacies as dates, candies of all descriptions, and oysters — two for a penny. There were lobsters, too, for those who wanted them, but the Hale children got plenty of them at home. Ginger beer and spruce beer, sold from small wheelbarrows, were favorite thirst-quenchers. And if a lad lacked two cents — the price for a full glass — dealers obliged with a half glass at half price.

Election night supper was always a festive meal which featured such delicacies as homemade sausages, creamed potatoes — made with real cream and plenty of butter — pickles, relishes, and hot soda biscuits with fruit preserves. The meal ended with Election Cake and several kinds of pie.

There are many versions of Election Cake, the crowning glory of New England’s holiday festivities. This cake — a cross between fruit cake and fruit-filled yeast bread — keeps a long time when wrapped in foil and stored in the refrigerator. A century and a half ago, housewives made the cake in quantities large enough to last the winter. There was enough fruit and brandy in the original Hartford variety to ensure freshness for several months. The cake was sliced and offered with wine or eggnog. I can think of no better way to serve it today, although the cake is delicious with all hot beverages, or with tall glasses of milk.

Election Cake

1 cup milk
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
3 cups sifted all purpose flour (approximately)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
4 tablespoons brandy
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup diced citron
1/2 cup seeded raisin, chopped, or 1/2 cup currants, or 1/4 cup figs, chopped and 1/4 cup seeded raisins, chopped
Orange or Lemon Frosting (see below)

Scald milk, add white sugar. When lukewarm add yeast, stir, and set aside for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of flour, beat thoroughly and let rise in greased covered bowl until double in bulk (about 1 hour).

Cream butter and brown sugar until very light. Then add egg and brandy and beat vigorously. Add to raised yeast mixture and stir.

Dredge fruits with 2 tablespoons of the flour. Then sift together remaining flour with salt and spices and add to other mixture gradually, beating after each addition. If batter is too thin, a little more flour may be added. Work in fruits last of all.

Put dough in well-greased floured bread pan, or in 9- to 10-inch tube pan. Let rise, covered, in warm place until double in bulk (about 1 1/4 hours). Bake about 45 minutes in moderate oven (375° F.).

Some cooks prefer Election Cake decorated like fruit cake, others like a butter icing which, when ornamented with candied fruits, has a truly festive appearance. For the first type of decoration arrange candied cherries, citron, and other fruits on top of the dough before baking. A sheet of foil placed over the loaf will prevent scorching.

When frosting is used let the loaf cool thoroughly before spreading top and sides. Use Orange or Lemon Frosting.

Orange or Lemon Frosting

1/4 cup orange or lemon juice, heated
4 tablespoons melted butter
Confectioners’ sugar, as needed
1 teaspoon grated orange or lemon peel
Candied cherries, citron, pineapple, as desired

Add sifted sugar to liquids until of right consistency to spread. Beat until light and fluffy. Add peel, mix thoroughly. Spread thickly over top and sides of cake and decorate with fruits. Frost the election cake.