Category Archives: christmas

Recipe: Not-Mincemeat Pie (Spicy Apple & Dried Fruit Pie)

The combination of sweet, savory, and above all, spicy found in mincemeat hearkens back to the pre-modern kitchen. Finely chopping (mincing!) meat and mixing it with suet, fruits, and spices not only used up leftover, odd bits of meat but stretched the available protein. The use of late apples and dried fruits made it a perfect winter dish, and it was a Christmas specialty by the sixteenth century. Gradually, less actual minced meat was included in the recipe (though suet is still commonly used), and by the mid-nineteenth century, mincemeat in both England and the Americas was what we would recognize today.

I didn’t grow up with it, but I sure do love me some mincemeat. I don’t think it’s common in Hawai’i at all, but every Christmas when we were shopping at Kahala or Pearlridge, Mom and I would stop by See’s Candy for mincemeat and marzipan chocolates (they have since discontinued their mincemeat candies, due to the lack of a reputable supplier. Jerks.). I loved them; they were so foreign, so exotic, and yet so quaint, something out of a Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery novel. I didn’t get to try a mincemeat pie until I was twenty-one, and visiting my relatives in Western New York (Buffalo). My Cousin Johnny Stevenson’s Quebecois then-wife baked one for my little sister and I, and it was a revelation (she also introduced me to turnips and rutabagas–oh, my!). I was in love at the first bite, and have often been baffled that mincemeat pies are so unpopular in the Pacific Northwest. After all, they use some of our finest ingredients, such as apples and dried berries. When I found this pie in November’s Sunset Magazine, I knew I had to make it for Thanksgiving.

For my pie, I used half Calville Blanc and half Newtown Pippin apples, both heirloom varieties I picked up at the Portland Nursery Apple Tasting Festival this year. They made for a phenomenal pie, with perfect taste and texture. This is a very messy, bubbly pie, so be sure to either place a foil-lined cookie sheet on the rack beneath your pie, or line the floor of your oven. This is a very rich, intensely-flavored pie, not for the faint of heart or full of stomach. Continue reading

Christmas Cookies: Toffee Bars

Toffee Bars

Toffee Bars

Schatzi: These are quick and simple, and one of my favorite Christmas cookies. When I was little and hated nuts on things (I didn’t like biting on anything hard), Mom would leave them off part of the pan for me. I’m not sure when or where the recipe dates from; Mom’s recipe card has no date or sourse, only the note “ono!” in the upper right-hand corner, and a comment that almonds are the best, then pecans. (I prefer pecans.) According to Gourmet,  Toffee Bars were popular during the Eighties, which is when I was growing up, but I have a published copy of a nearly identical recipe (using Spry Shortening, no less) dated 1960. Gourmet’s version of Toffee Bars from the 80s, however,  is a bit more complicated than it needs to be.

Try them with dark chocolate chips, too.

click here for the Toffee Bars recipe!

Christmas Cookies: Fruitcake Bar Cookies

this years batch

this year's batch

Schatzi: So I came across the original of this recipe last year while idly paging through a Real Simple from the previous year (see, I am vindicated in my habit of holding onto magazines), and was immediately intrigued. After all, I do love fruitcake. As a “fruitcake cookie,” however, it was distinctly lacking. One cup of cranberries and one cup of nuts? The cranberries are a nice touch, but those proportions hardly make it fruity! Since I already had extra fixings from the Fruitcake Cookies, I decided to experiment a little. I added golden raisins, and I also added the glaceed fruits that are the trademark of the modern American fruitcake. (You could use a mix of glaceed fruits, or combine citron, cherries, pineapple, and citrus peels in your own preferred proportions to equal one cup. If those types of fruit are just too unbearable, one could probably make a delicious variation on this recipe with just dried fruits: cranberries, raisins, currants, dates, cherries, blueberries, apricots, etc. In fact, I may have to try that later this week!)

The proportions in which I added fruit last year weren’t quite enough, so this year’s batch had more, and the difference is visible. I also added a dash of spice this year because they seemed a little bland, otherwise. The end results were surprisingly delicious and popular–even with a few people who don’t care for fruitcake.

I must say, though, these are only superficially like fruitcake. They simply don’t have the moist, rich density or complex flavor of a good fruitcake. They more closely resemble lebkuchen, the German gingerbread.

EDIT: This Christmas (2009), I further experimented with the recipe, substituting one tablespoon of molasses for one of corn syrup, and it made such a difference in these cookies! The texture was much softer, more like that of a brownie than a cookie, and the flavor was much deeper and spicier. I left some corn syrup in to keep sugar from crystallizing and to also hold it together a bit. The recipe has been altered to reflect this. Also, if you do not or cannot eat nuts, it is perfectly delicious without them. Everyone raved about these this year, more so even than last year; they were nearly a different cookie entirely, and makes them much more closely resemble a fruitcake taste and texture.

continue reading for the Fruitcake Brownie recipe

Christmas Cookies: Fruitcake Cookies

Fruitcake Cookies

Fruitcake Cookies from LHJ circa 1977

Schatzi: It seems that one either loves fruitcake or hates it. Well, count me among the former, because I could maow fruitcake all the livelong day. These cookies can  satisfy my cravings for liquor-soaked, nutty-fruity deliciousness all season long. These Fruitcake Cookies were a Christmas staple in my mother’s household for as long as I can remember–and according to the recipe card, were around even before I was. I always remember them being there at Christmas, but it must have been when I was twelve that these became my particular responsibility every year. I use both red and green glace cherries to top them with for a more festive approach, but you could stick with just one color. I also have adapted her recipe slightly to fit my currently tight budget, but these are delicious either way. And as you can see on her original recipe card below the cut, a half batch is pretty large. I like Myers’s Rum’s delicious, rich, and boozy cookie, but we made them with bourbon for years, so don’t worry about the right liquor. Anything flavorful will do: dark rum, whiskey, brandy. After they cool, store them for a few weeks to ripen for the best flavor.
continue reading for the Fruitcake Cookies recipe