Kitchen Mailbox: A bejeweled holiday dessert


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Have you ever found a recipe in a cookbook and decided that minute that you had to try it? It happened to me about a week before Thanksgiving. I was looking through the new "The Good Housekeeping Christmas Cookbook" and saw a photo of a stunning cake with fluffy whipped-cream icing garnished with candied cranberries. I said out loud, "I'm going to make this cake for Thanksgiving." I wanted to make this for my daughter, Kellie; my sister, Louise; and my brother-in-law, Jake -- all of whom celebrate their late November birthdays at my house on Thanksgiving Day.

The cake can be made one day ahead but I chose to make the three-layer cake on the Monday prior to Thanksgiving. I wrapped each of the layers in foil, placed each in a freezer bag and stuck them in the freezer. On Tuesday I made the filling and refrigerated it; on Wednesday I made the cranberry garnish and after the cranberries cooled, I placed them on a cooling rack wrapped in foil to let them dry overnight. Thursday morning I removed the cakes from the freezer. Once the cakes were thawed, I made the whipped cream icing and, finally, filled and iced the cake. Just before I brought the cake to the table I added the cranberry garnish.

Not only was it beautiful and festive, but it also was delicious. My family loved it!

CRANBERRY-VANILLA CAKE WITH WHIPPED-CREAM FROSTING

This cake can be a centerpiece for any holiday party. For the cake:

3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

5 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1¼ cups low-fat buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottoms of 3 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Grease sides of pans and parchment. Into large bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt.

In large mixer bowl, with mixer on medium-high, beat butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low; alternately add buttermilk and flour mixture in 2 or 3 parts, beating well after each addition.

Divide batter evenly among pans; smooth tops. Tap pans firmly against counter. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes. Invert cake onto rack; remove pans and peel off parchment. Cool completely.

Cake may be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature up to 1 day.

For the Cranberry Filling

12-ounce bag fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (3 cups)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cups apricot jam

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In 3-quart saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, jam and cinnamon. Cook on medium 8 to 10 minutes or until most berries burst, stirring often. Transfer to bowl; refrigerate until cold.

For the Candied Cranberry Garnish

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries

In 1 quart saucepan, combine water and ¼ cup sugar. Heat to boiling on high. Stir in cranberries. Cool completely, drain. Place remaining ½ cup sugar on plate. Toss berries in sugar to coat. Place on wire rack; let dry 1 hour.

For the Whipped Cream Frosting

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To assemble the cake place 1 cake layer on cake stand; spread half of filling on top. Repeat with another layer and remaining filling. Top with third layer.

With mixer on medium speed, whisk cream until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low; add confectioners' sugar, cream fraiche (or sour cream) and vanilla. Whisk until stiff peaks form.

Spread frosting all over cake. Garnish with sugared berries. Cake can be covered and refrigerated up to 1 day. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

-- "The Good Housekeeping Christmas Cookbook" by the editors of Good Housekeeping (Hearst, 2013, $30)


To request a recipe or send a recipe or question to Kitchen Mailbox, write the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222 or aburnett@post-gazette.com.

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