Can’t Decide Between Pie and Cake? It’s Time for Piecaken!

Planning the holiday dessert lineup is always the best part of entertaining. Christmas Cookies and Italian Strufoli (sweet honey balls with non pareils and candied fruit if you are unfamiliar to this tradition)? Check. 20+ varieties of Grandma’s favorite cookie recipes? Check. Pies and cakes? Not so fast. Think piecaken. It’s a perfect dessert if you cannot choose between a slice of moist cake with melt in your mouth frosting or a traditional holiday pie.

Piecakens have been around for several years now. They have a keen sense of surfacing in food magazines, blogs and bakeries every Thanksgiving and Christmas but I bake them for Valentines Day as well.

Tradition rules with holiday pies. If you don’t have the time to bake one, go out and buy a pie. Pumpkin, Apple, Pecan or Sweet Potato to name a few. Cakes however, are a matter of choice whether they are double dark fudge, cinnamon spice, buttery bourbon, rich red velvet or any other flavor that floats your boat. Bake them together by placing a baked pie inside a cake with complementary flavors and there you have it. The dessert conversation piece. Your Piecaken.

I first learned about them a few years ago when I read about Zac Young, a talented out of the box young culinary chef who playfully and creatively crafted these little culinary wonders during the Thanksgiving holiday. My first reaction was ‘is this a good thing?’ so I had to try making one myself. I scoured the internet for derivatives of the original which called for layering pies and cakes, one on top of the other with frosting in between. If that was not unusual enough, I was intrigued with other bakers who opted to actually bake a pie inside a cake.

So off I drove to my local grocery store in search of pies that would complement my cakes. The checkout employee must have thought I was on a pre-Thanksgiving sugar rush with my purchase of nine pies in different flavors and sizes. I think that I could have told her that I was getting ready to build up my strength for black Friday shopping and she would have believed me more than my description of a piecaken. Her response was classic. She laughed and said “Are you sure this will taste good?”   I told her that I would let her know and I am happy to report that they turned out great.

 

Here is the process:

Spray coat the baking pan which needs to be at least 2” (Preferably 3 inches) tall. Pour 2/3 of your cake batter in the pan. Take the pie out of the tin. OK. There is a note on this. You CAN also bake a pie but in the interest of time, I opted like so many others to buy a ready baked pie. Gently drop the pie into the center of the cake pan so as not to sink the pie. Pour the remaining batter over the pie in the cake pan. Bake for 350 degrees for the following size pans:

6 inch pans with a small mini pie –   35 minutes

9 inch pan with an 8 inch pie –   55 minutes

 

Test for doneness remembering that this is a very moist cake with a pie inside.

Let the piecaken cool. I personally like to refrigerate the piecaken for at least 1 – 2 hours.

Frost the single piecaken and decorate or for a more traditional piecaken which kind of resembles mismatch day at school when you were a kid, layer 3 piecakens using cream cheese frosting between each layer.

Decorate, chill, serve and enjoy the reactions of your family and friends.

This may never exceed traditional pumpkin pie or spice cake but it will have guests buzzing in the weeks ahead.

Happy Holidays everyone and Happy Piecaken!

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Boozy Fun at Your Dessert Table

Hosting a dessert party during the holidays? After you plan that decadent menu of sugary sweets, fruits and cheeses, take a little time to complement your holiday Viennese table with your favorite liqueurs. Marry the flavors of your lite bites with a little boozy fun and get the party started.

 

Often served at the end of a meal during the dolce hour, liqueurs add understated flair to a festive table when complemented with little thoughtful add-ons. I love to add a small cup of fresh espresso beans for Sambuca or Anisette lovers. Try serving fresh raspberries or Blackberries for the fruit liqueurs. Citrus slices quartered and dipped in sugar alongside small sprigs of fresh rosemary for Grand Marnier or Limoncello look so pretty. Plan ahead and try anything you can imagine to make the liqueur offering that much more inviting including chilling some of the cordial glasses with a frosted sugary rim. Even coffee lovers may be tempted to embellish their drink with a little liqueur. Add a dish of shaved chocolate, a cocoa shaker, a cinnamon shaker and a little bowl of fresh cream alongside some Bailey’s or Godiva.

Liqueurs are so diverse. They can be nutty, fruity, herbal, spicy, chocolaty or creamy. Some are best served straight up and others are best on ice or in a hot beverage. However you prefer your holiday liqueur, thank the host and hostess for going the extra mile to include this little luxury and enjoy the party!

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Here are 15 of my favorite liqueur staples to serve at the dessert table. I know some of you will ask why I did not list your family faves. Also, keep in mind that this list does not include Ports, Sherrys and Brandys. My apologies to our Great Grandpa Stephen from Slovakia who remains in our families hearts but there is no mention of Slivovitz Plum Brandy in this blog. These are liqueur staples I use for entertaining, cooking, baking and enjoyment listed in alphabetical order:

  1. Amaretto (Almond)
  2. Anisette (Licorice)
  3. Bailey’s Irish Cream
  4. Chambord (Raspberry)
  5. Crème de Cassis (Black Currant)
  6. Curacao (Bitter Orange)
  7. Drambuie (Scotch Whiskey with Honey, Herbs and Spices)
  8. Frangelico (Hazelnut)
  9. Grand Marnier (Orange)
  10. Godiva (Milk, White or Dark Chocolate)
  11. Jägermeister (Swiss Herbs)
  12. Midori (Melon)
  13. Kahlua (Coffee)
  14. Limoncello (Lemons)
  15. Sambuca (Licorice)

I would be remiss if I did not mention this. While some liqueurs have seen popularity shifts over the years, others remain timeless and even more have dissipated into oblivion. Does anyone out there remember Vandermint or Cheri Suisse? Those little blue delft and milk glass bottles were so cute and the liqueurs were especially delicious on ice cream. Maybe Santa will return them to us one day.

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Dancing with Sugarplums

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“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads…”

How often have we read The Night Before Christmas and really thought about Sugarplums? A few years ago, I decided to make some and I include a small tray on dessert tables during the holidays ever since.

Try your hand at preparing, serving and gifting sugarplums this holiday season. They are so easy that you will wonder why you have not made them sooner.  You can make these nostalgic sweets in less than 20 minutes.

A Note to the Healthy Fooderati out there.  Add some shredded coconut, reduce the jam a small bit and think of Sugarplums as a natural holiday energy bar. Whatever you envision in your sugarplum recipe, they are a great addition to your holiday dessert table.

 Ingredients for Sugarplums

  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates and/or figs
  • 1 cup chopped nuts*
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or craisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped prunes
  • 4 tbsp fruit jam
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Optional Confectioners’ Sugar for dusting
  • Optional Shredded Coconut 

* Traditional sugarplum recipes call for ½ cup walnuts, ¼ cup hazelnuts and ¼ cup pecans. I love changing it up with substituting ½ cup pistachio nuts for the walnuts, keeping the hazelnuts and pecans.

Mix Fruit and Nuts   Start by placing the chopped dates/figs, chopped nuts (walnuts or pistachios, hazelnuts and pecans) cranberries or craisins and prunes in the bowl of a food processor. If you don’t have a processor you can do it by hand and just chop everything together until it’s in very small pieces and starts sticking together.

Once all of your fruits and nuts are in the work bowl, pulse the processor several times until everything is in small pieces and is well-mixed.

Add Ingredients and Mix into a Ball   Now add the jam, orange zest, cinnamon and cloves. Give it several long pulses until the mixture begins to come together in a ball.

Christmas Trivia Moment:  Sugarplums get their name from the prunes, or dried plums, in the recipe.

Check the Consistency. Stop and check it once it starts to come together. When you press it between your fingers it should hold itself in a ball, but you want to retain some texture and be able to see individual pieces of fruit and nuts. Don’t blend it so much that it turns into a sticky paste!

Roll Candy through Sugar   To finish your sugarplums, place the granulated sugar in a bowl. Roll the candy into small balls, and roll them in the granulated sugar. To make it a bit healthier, you could roll them in chopped nuts or coconut instead.

How to Serve and Store Sugarplums   To keep things neat, serve them in paper candy cups. An optional touch is to sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on top right before serving. These sugarplums last for weeks if you keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

 This is an EASY Recipe. Let’s rate this 1 Fork. Enjoy! 

Nutty Over 10 Nuts and Yes! That Includes Chestnuts

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Unless you are on a low fat diet or have a nut allergen issue, you’ll probably find a few of these nuts in your pantry at home or on your plate at your favorite restaurant. I love nuts and I could probably live on them for an extended time but I recognize that even with nuts, everything is best in moderation. Here’s my list of theTop 10 nuts to pantry stock for your cooking, baking and snacking needs, saving my favorite for last just in time for the holiday season.

  1. Brazil Nuts
  2. Macadamia Nuts
  3. Almonds
  4. Pecans
  5. Walnuts
  6. Cashews
  7. Hazelnuts
  8. Pistachio Nuts
  9. Pignoli (Pine) Nuts
  10. Chestnuts

#10 Chestnuts – I love Chestnuts or Castagne as they are called in Italy. They are the classic comfort food when it comes to nuts, putting us in a good mood and reminding us that the holiday season is here. I add them to our Thanksgiving stuffing and make sure they always have a place on our Christmas dessert table.

I have fond memories of my in-laws loving chestnuts as much as we do today. Tom’s mother would inspect each and every chestnut in a bulk basket at the produce store for the good ones. His Dad would get his handy “chestnut knife” ready. In actuality, it was a simple pearing knife but we knew that the task would not continue without this special tool which was perfect for marking an “X” on each chestnut before roasting them on a salted pan. They loved to have a few chestnuts dipped in a small glass of red wine at the end of Christmas dinner. Personally, I’m good with a buttery salty coating and a glass of egg nog as I stare at the large basket of fruit, feeling guilty but not enough to pass up this seasonal treat. How do I like chestnuts best? In a simple little brown paper bag so I can make believe I am enjoying them while window shopping in the Big Apple.

Burlap.Chestnuts     ChestnutsAtPinocchios

We even brought our little love of chestnuts to Pinocchio’s Ice Cream when we operated the store on Sanibel Island. The first Friday in December is the Sanibel Luminary Stroll. It’s a festive time for island businesses to kick off the season with complimentary food, drink, song and cheer. Giving the little bags of Chestnuts to our loyal Customers was memorable. Although a few patrons admitted to never eating them, (those are the fans who came back for seconds) many Customers shared their own treasured memories of preparing and sharing chestnuts with family and friends.

 

Enjoy eating your Chestnuts. I hope you cherish every bite this holiday season.

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Here are the lyrics to “The Christmas Song”

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols
Being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like eskimos
Everybody knows
A turkey and some mistletoe
Can help to make the season bright
Tiny tots, with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep, tonight
They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loading lots of toys and goodies
On his sleigh
And every mother’s child
Is gonna spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly…
And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said
Many times, many ways
Merry Christmas, to you
They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loading lots of toys and goodies
On his sleigh
And every mother’s child
Is gonna spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly…
So I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two…
Although it’s been said
Many times, many ways
Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas, to you
Merry Christmas

The Christmas Song” (commonly subtitled “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or, as it was originally subtitled, “Merry Christmas to You) was written in 1945 by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé.