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Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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If you’ve ever lost a favourite recipe then you know why people ask me to scour my files for that perfect party dish, or that one dessert that made everyone envious of their kitchen prowess.

Today’s pair are among the most frequently requested in my collection, and what better time to bring them back to you, as you’re wondering what special treats you might make for family and friends during the coming festive season.

Maraschino cherry cake

Here’s the classic holiday cake that everyone wants to eat. How unfortunate that so many versions are dry and lack the intense buttery flavour everyone craves. The crumb of this cake is so tender you won’t be able to cut paper-thin slices; on the other hand, you won’t want to.

This is not the place for substitutions or shortcuts. Everything you do counts, even buttering and flouring the pan — non-stick sprays won’t do as good a job, leaving behind little tasty bits. Don’t use glace cherries or imitation vanilla, and if you can’t find extra-fine or superfine sugar in the store then buzz regular granulated sugar in a food processor for a minute or two. Margarine simply won’t give you the same quality result and both butter and cream cheese must be at room temperature. You can cheat a little bit there, by microwaving them together on the lowest possible power for a few minutes, checking often to make sure they don’t melt.

The eggs should also not be cold, right out of the refrigerator. Run a little warm water over them if you forget to take them out early enough.

I like the cake to be the star and the cherries just tiny bursts of flavour but, if you prefer, increase the quantity of cherries to two cups. The batter won’t hold much more than that. Using all-purpose flour instead of cake flour would give the crumb more structure but won’t be as smooth and tender.

As an added bonus, this recipe works just as well with any dried fruit that you like. Really hard or heavy fruit will tear the result, so stick with such choices as candied citron or pineapple. A small amount of finely chopped nuts can also be added.

1 8-oz. package soft cream cheese

1 cup soft unsalted butter

1-1/2 cups extra-fine sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. almond extract

2-1/4 cups sifted cake-and-pastry flour (divided)

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1-1/2 cups drained halved maraschino cherries

Beat cream cheese and butter until completely combined and smooth. Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extract.

Sift more flour than you will need then carefully measure 2 cups back into the sieve. Add baking powder and salt and sift together into the creamed mixture. Stir slowly until combined. Measure another 1/4 cup and set aside for dredging the cherries.

After cutting the cherries in half, dry them thoroughly on paper towels. Toss in reserved 1/4 cup of flour and stir gently into batter. Pour into generously buttered and floured 10-inch Bundt pan. Bake at 325 F for 60 to 70 minutes. Cake should be light golden brown on top with the sides pulling away from the pan, and a tester in the middle should come out clean.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

Beckney squares

These gorgeous cookies aren’t nearly as finicky as the cherry cake. They are easy to make and look pretty on a fancy serving plate.

I’ve been making these since I was about 12 years old, and they never fail to please, but there are a couple of tricks. The food processor works fine to chop cherries and nuts, but the dates will clog up the works. I prefer to use a pair of sharp scissors and a glass of warm water to keep them from sticking to the dates, and it becomes an excuse to sit quietly in my kitchen for a few minutes and still feel productive.

You can get away with a can of store-bought vanilla icing, although I urge you to stir in a little good-quality vanilla just to freshen it up.

These keep really well in the refrigerator for several days, and they freeze perfectly.

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp. vanilla

2-1/2 cups fine unsweetened coconut

1-1/2 cups finely chopped dates

1/2 cup finely chopped candied cherries

3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Icing:

1/2 cup softened butter or margarine

1 cup icing sugar

1 tbsp. flour

2 tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, melted for drizzling

Beat together sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Stir in coconut, dates, cherries and nuts. Press into a greased eight-inch square pan and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan.

For the icing, cream butter and sugar and beat in flour. Add milk and vanilla and continue beating until smooth.  Spread over cooled base.  Chill at least 1 hour.  Drizzle chocolate over top — I dip the tines of a fork in the melted chocolate and shake it over the icing to get wispy bits. Cut into 25 or 36 squares — it’s easier if you dip the knife in hot water and dry it off before each cut.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram,

P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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