Thursday, October 22, 2009

Easy Spice Cake

Easy Spice Cake

One of the unique things about our Hi-line publications is that most of them print recipes submitted by local homemakers. These recipes frequently use such ingredients as Velveeta, crushed corn flakes or cream of mushroom soup. My sophisticated foreign friends, foreign being not from Montana , laugh at the quaint simplicity. But I know what it is like to have to make a good meal using whatever limited ingredients remain in the pantry. Once, back in the olden days on the ranch south of Dodson, where we lived at the end of a three mile dirt road which wound through the hills, we were snowed in for three months. Though that fall I had bought supplies in quantity at Claypool’s Mercantile, toward the end of that particular ninety day siege of snow and wind, I was out of such essential ingredients as sugar, flour and vanilla. Deer trampled our haystacks nightly. We ate a lot of fresh venison. But man cannot live by meat alone, even roasted at low heat in the woodstove and smothered with undiluted cream of mushroom soup. Hungry for sweets, I concocted a delicate lacy cookie using crushed corn flakes and Log Cabin syrup. That was the winter I got pregnant.

So in the spirit of sharing good food made with basic ingredients, I give you my recipe for “Easy Spice Cake”. This old favorite of mine was given to me years back by my friend Terry, a dynamite cook. We both approach a recipe as a guideline, filled with possibilities.

I do love a good cake and spice cake with penuche frosting is one of my favorites. I have had a hankering for spice cake for the past six months. With determination and perseverance I’ve managed to put off baking one. My problem is that I am the only one around to eat it. I eat maybe a fourth of the cake and dump the rest. Seems silly to bake a cake and throw most of it in the garbage. I wasn’t raised that way. But on Sunday my resolve vanished and I pulled Terry’s spice cake recipe from my battered yellow file box, a relic of high school freshman home-ec.

I measured two cups of water into a sauce pan and dumped in a mixture of raisins and craisins, about three cups. I’ve also used shredded carrots, zucchini, chopped apples, dried apricots. They’re all good with the spices. There is no limit to the flavors you can create. I bring the concoction to a boil, let it simmer for a few minutes and set it off the burner. I pour in a cup of oil. (I know this sounds like a lot, you just have to trust me.) I let the mixture cool. This gives me a chance to sit with a cup of coffee and read a couple chapters of a fast-paced James Lee Burke novel. That is not essential to the recipe, but I recommend it. Or you can go ahead and beat two eggs, measure out a cup and a half of sugar, I prefer brown sugar. Blend the eggs and sugar into the cooled fruit mixture. Sift and measure three and a half cups flour. You’ll be glad you sifted the flour. It is worth the extra step. I bury a half teaspoon salt, two teaspoons soda and two teaspoons each cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice plus one teaspoon cloves into the flour, gently. You can play with the spices too. I always use more cinnamon, almost three teaspoons, and a pinch more cloves. I chop between one and two cups pecans and pop half a dozen nuts into my mouth while chopping.

Here is where it gets tricky, though it is supposed to be easy. Terry folds the dry ingredients into the batter in the same pan used to cook the fruits. Doesn’t work for me. I dump the goo into my mixing bowl and then gently blend the flour mixture and spices and nuts with my mixer. Do what works for you. Turn the batter into a greased, floured pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until done. Your whole house will smell deliciously spicy. When the cake nears the end of the baking time, do not check your email, go outside to water the potted plants, or begin a new book. Just take my word for it, please. Once the cake is removed from the oven and set on a rack to cool, you can do any of those things.

This cake is delicious plain. But penuche frosting is my favorite companion for any spice cake. Melt one half cup butter in a saucepan and stir in a cup of brown sugar. Stirring constantly, bring it to a boil. Keep stirring and boil for two minutes on low heat. Stir in one fourth cup milk and bring it all back to a boil. I then set the pan of syrup into an ice cube filled sink to cool to lukewarm. Once the syrup has cooled, I pour it into my mixing bowl and carefully stir in two cups powdered sugar. Be sure to use the lowest setting on your mixer unless you want powdered sugar covering every surface in the kitchen. Once it is well blended, turn up the speed and beat until the frosting holds its shape and is of spreading consistency. You can add chopped nuts if you wish. But I put all my chopped nuts into the cake so I left the frosting smooth.

I sliced a generous piece of spice cake and placed it on my prettiest saucer. My mouth watered in anticipation. The phone rang. It was a friend from British Columbia , a gourmet cook. I described my cake and mentioned that I surely hated to throw most it away, but I knew I would. She said, “Dummy. Why don’t you just cut the cake into sections and put them in your freezer?” I knew that.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Home Again
September 3, 2009

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