December 28, 2012

Points East: Covert baking operations

By Ike Adams

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Early on this Christmas Eve, just after the drizzling, foggy, rebel-gray,  sort-of, “ daybreak” announced itself, I hobbled out of bed and wobbled to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee and to check out the big Bundt cake pan I had put to use just after midnight Monday morning.   

Said pan contained the now-cooled fruitcake that I had struggled over for over three hours the  night before, and then popped into the oven in the wee-est hour of this day.

I simply can’t stand it when Loretta looks over my shoulder and offers not-so-helpful hints when I am baking and sort of making it up as I go along.  (“You’re not really going to put wine in that!? Baking powder in self-rising flour?? That many eggs?!?? Does anybody really like nutmeg?  Cream of tartar?? You’re kidding, right?  Etc. etc.?”)

So the way I avoid un-needed and, most-certainly, unsolicited advice, when I want to be creative in the kitchen is to wait until my wife is sound asleep and down for the count for the night.

Last night, after 24 non-stop hours of making and reeking of black-walnut fudge, and country ham and spicy cookies, she finally started snoring to the tune of “White Christmas,” with visions of sugar plums dancing on her brow, and finally — with the cat curled up and purring and gently kneading on her toes — Loretta shut down just before the nightly news came on Channel 18.   

When Loretta sleeps through this guy she has a not-so-secret crush on named Bill’s weather forecast, I know she’s out of it and not apt to wake up for several hours. So that’s when I went to work on my fruitcake.   

It takes me about half an hour just to find and arrange all the ingredients on the kitchen table. I mean, unless you live in someplace way bigger than name a town in central or eastern Kentucky, you don’t just run out and buy at the last minute, conveniently off-the-shelf such things as nectar of apricot, nor do you find candied lime, candied pineapple, soaked dates, whole-kernel black walnuts, real apricot brandy, etc. etc., just waiting there for you to scoop them up all at once just anywhere.

I spend some time, well before the holidays, laying in my fruitcake ingredients which I stash about the kitchen at random for weeks before the actual preparation of the cake.  Thirty minutes is actually a short amount of time to locate and assemble them on the table.

Of course, the first thing I try to find is that pint of apricot brandy because I know I’ll need less than half of it in the cake batter and I figure a swig to start with will help me remember where I put away all the other stuff.  Can’t find candied lime or the cream of tartar or the lemon zest, take another sip — and memory is restored.  

Now the first two things I do is turn my oven on to 350 and oil and flour my Bundt pan. Then I spend the next hour stirring and beating stuff together with a big spoon in a huge mixing bowl. As far as I am concerned, electric mixers are for sissies.  Friends admire the biceps on my right arm for weeks after the first of the year and ask, “How’d you do that?” and I tell ‘em  I made a fruitcake over Christmas.  

Finally, I dump the mixture in the Bundt pan, pop it in the oven and pray while I finish off the last few sips of apricot brandy.

Just before 3 a.m., my fruitcake came out of the oven and I went to bed.

Loretta is ready to get up after more than 9 hours of deep sleep but I’m going back to bed. I’ll tell you how the cake turned out sometime after the first of the year.  If it tastes as good as it smells and looks, I’ll be bragging.