Free Range on Food: Fruitcake, Hanukkah doughnuts, the best cookbooks of 2012

Dec 05, 2012

The holidays are coming: We offer a variety of fruitcake recipes for Christmas and doughnut recipes for Hanukkah. Also, see what cookbooks made our best-of list for the year.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Gree-tings, Free Rangers! If you like to bake, or eat baked goods, you're in luck today, with Israeli doughnuts and so, so much highly evolved fruitcake in the section. Blogger Shulie Madnick's here to discuss the former and all Hanukkah foods, and Jane Touzalin the latter. Jason Wilson can talk us away from White Russian-ville with his dairy-based holiday cocktails and punches; Jim Shahin's here to talk BBQ gifts and more; Tim Carman can relate his "Modernist" experience more fully. Becky Krystal can tell you exactly how. many. cookie. recipes. she's had to input for next week's you-know-what extravaganza. 


For the chatters with the two best fruitcake-related stories, we could award either "150 Best Donut Recipes" (for the record, I do NOT condone that spelling;  harrumph) or "Sweet Celebrations" by the Georgetown Cupcake sisters. We'll announce winners at the end of the hour. 

Don't you love doughnuts? Here we go. 


I'm having family coming over for tea over the holiday season and I'll put together some appetizers. I also thought I should have some desserts, but one family member is allergic to all things nuts. I need some suggestions for small sweet things to serve with appetizers. Thanks.

Today's Dinner in Minutes recipe sounds delicious. Cumin doesn't scare me in the slightest--I love it! My question is about the couscous. For this and any other dish served over pearled couscous, would you recommend just cooking it in water or do you use broth and seasonings? I ask because I recently made Chicken Marbella (the classic Silver Palate recipe) that I served over the large couscous and was disappointed with the couscous because I thought it was rather bland.

Whew.  Jane Touzalin thinks the spice smells like old shoes; I guess I had her and her ilk in mind.


I endorse the broth method, as long as it's a homemade or no-salt-added liquid. If you have the time, toast the couscous first (skillet filmed with olive oil spray; med-low heat) before you follow the package directions. It makes a difference, flavorwise! 

I was so excited to see Tim Carman's story about Modernist Cuisine at Home. Over the last year, I've become increasingly interested in the science behind cooking. I read What Einstein Told His Cook, working my way through Hervé This's Molecular Gastronomy and love the new Cook's Illustrated's The Science of Good Cooking book, which is a science-minded cookbook with everyday food. I've yet to really dive into truly modernist cooking, but plan on getting this cookbook so I can try my hand at it. I've also not visited any of the vaunted modernist restaurants, since they tend to be really expensive, but hopefully someday. My question is about sous vide. From what I've read, this is one of the most celebrated modernist techniques, and I assume this cookbook has quite a bit about it. The control aspect sounds very appealing. However, at the same time, aren't we increasingly skeptical about cooking with plastic? The consensus seems to be against using it in microwaves. Wouldn't the same apply for a hot water bath? If this is true, I'm surprised that sous vide is becoming such a fad among the science-minded cooks.

It's a good question and one that's been raised in other forums. Nathan Myhrvold told the San Francisco Chronicle that both Ziploc bags and the plastic pouches made for vacuum sealers and sous-vide equipment are safe and free of bisphenol A or BPA, the toxic substance that has been banned in baby bottles in Canada and the European Union.

Do you know the approximate cooking time of the Low Temperature Steak? 20 minutes? 1 hour? 6 hours? Thanks!


Yes, I've already fielded three e-mails this morning with the same question. Clearly, the Modernist Low-Temp Oven Steak is striking a chord.


The length of time it takes to reach the desire temperature of 133 F will depend on how low you can set your oven. I was able to set mine in the 160 range, which meant that it took nearly 50 minutes to reach the medium-rare mark. But when I retested the recipe here at The Post, the oven was running at a slightly higher temperature, and it was finished in about 40 minutes.

I make couscous all the time (I use Streitz Israeli in the bag) and find that when I saute onions, boil the liquid with the onions and then add the couscous, it's delish.

Oddball question. I'll be traveling the day before Christmas to a location that does NOT have good beef. My fiance craves a really, really good steak and I'd love to be able to provide one for Christmas dinner. It'll be 15-17 hours of travel. Any suggestions?

Vacuum-sealed, in a soft-sided thermal lunch bag with ice packs all around should do the trick.  And just how will you be cooking that steak? Modernist Low-Temp Oven Steak catch your eye?

The annual Holiday potluck is coming out, and I'm out of ideas for something (not dessert) substantial that can be made ahead, and doesn't require re-heating, since I take public transportation (therefore no crock pot), and there's sure to be contention for the microwave. I'd really rather not go the cheese plate/crudites route... Thanks.

How about empanadas? These are vegan, and pretty tasty. Or this Asian-Style Cabbage Slaw? (you know it's the ramen noodle one, and people always grab every last bit.  Or a Wild Rice and Turkey Salad With Dried Cranberries -- I bet by now that people are jonesing for a bit o' the bird again. 


Hi, thanks for taking my question! My boyfriend decided that he wants to take on a new food project, and picked pasta-making. I plan to give him a pasta machine for the holidays, and a book to go along with it. I know Domenica Marchetti is local and I was wondering if her book "The Glorious Pasta of Italy" would be a good choice, or if you have other recommendations. Thanks!

Definitely you can't go wrong with Domenica's book. Our cookbook roundup from today also included "Making Artisan Pasta" by Aliza Green.

I'm new to making pies. I saw in the chat 2 weeks ago that pie crust recipes should not be multiplied. Why is that? I use this recipe from Williams Sonoma and not only says "To make a double-crust pie: Double the recipe..." but I did it successfully just before Thanksgiving (yay me!). Is there a rule of thumb on multiplying pie crusts?

I think doubling a recipe from a single to double-crust is just fine. It's just when you do more than that it can get problematic. I for example, tried to one-and-a-half times a double-crust recipe. It was just too hard to uniformly combine, and then I overmixed and developed too much of the gluten. If you're planning on massively upscaling a recipe, better to do several separate batches than all at once.

All look great. Thanks for the list and for so many vegetarian options. Curious why ATK Science of Cooking didn't make the cut. I tend to think of their books as the last word on whatever subject they take on.

Thanks! We like Cook's (see Becky's recap of when Kimball and Co. came to town in the fall). Just struck us that this was a compilation of what we had read from their estimable magazine. Figured the audience who loves to curl up with this stuff will find it, with or without a nod from us. 

If a recipe calls for one clove of garlic minced, is there any appreciable difference if you put the garlic clove through a garlic press as opposed to mincing with a knife?

I think so. Absent Jacques Pepin skills and coarse kosher salt, my minced garlic is never so finely discombobulated as when it goes through a garlic press. That said, I hate cleaning the things (have you ever gotten every little speck of garlic out of the press mid-recipe?) and I don't always care about garlic juice, so I almost always use a knife. 

I made a TON of chicken broth a couple of weeks ago and then forgot to freeze it in the haste of Thanksgiving (and generally not feeling well). So...I'm afraid my 2 big canning jars full of chicken broth (with ginger!) have to get tossed. :( Since I no longer have any chicken carcasses (or broth) and probably won't for a little while, is there a good shortcut/non-wasteful way to make chicken stock? What parts would I buy? I generally don't like the texture of the residual meat after making the stock, so it gets tossed. Since I'm sodium& MSG sensitive, even a lot of the so-called organic broths are out (thanks to the use of autolyzed yeast extract (aka organic MSG), so I try to have a good bit of homemade stuff on hand.

You can roast backs and necks (cheap). I like Kitchen Basics' no-salt-added stock; have you tried that?

And have you tried resurrecting by boiling the stock, BTW? 

Thank you for the fruitcake recipes. I joked about fruitcake as much as anyone; then I tried some that were really outstanding! Unfortunately, only one baker was willing to share her recipe; fortunately, that recipe turned out to be really easy. Regarding the Arkansas Fig Fruitcake recipe, do you think I could substitue brown sugar? Is that even a substitution, since the recipe just calls for "sugar?" I'd think brown sugar would taste better, plus make the recipe vegan without spending $7.00/lb on vegan sugar (yes, I realize not all "brown sugar" is vegan, but I know how to tell the difference).

I used regular cane sugar myself when testing, so I can't be authoritative here, but I don't think it would hurt to try it. The cake is awesome, by the way.

Hi Rangers! This past summer I went on a canning spree. The results were delicious peach preserves and jams. My question is, if I followed the directions correctly, how long are these good for? Also, I made a huge batch of apple sauce and have not eaten all of it yet. How long is it good for in the fridge? Thanks, everyone!

For your preserves and jams, the National Center for Home Food Preservation says

For best quality, it is recommended that all home-canned foods be used within a year. Most homemade jams and jellies that use a tested recipe, and have been processed in a canner for the recommended time, should retain best quality and flavor for up to that one year recommended time. All home-canned foods should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place, between 50-70°F. Over extended periods of time, however, changes in color, flavor, texture and nutrient content of home-canned jams and jellies is inevitable. A typical full-sugar fruit jam or jelly should be safe to eat if the jar seal remains intact and the product shows no visible signs of spoilage from molds or yeasts.

As far as that applesauce, it depends a little bit on what went into it. If it's just a standard version, Bonnie seems to think you'll be all right for a few weeks.

Isnt it traditionally made with ground veal, pork and beef??? Not with chicken livers? I prefer to use whole Italian tomatoes and tomato paste to tomato puree because puree is just to fine. I use heavy cream.

Well, the recipe we published today does offer the option of veal stock, for those who want that flavor. And, yes, the traditional (if there is such a thing in a country where every region and every family has its own recipe) ragu alla Bolognese typically includes the trio of pork, beef and veal.

No I'm not asking about how to cook with detritus found in an abandoned storage locker, but how to store certain items so they won't spoil immediately. Specifically, I have a hard time using up garlic before it starts to sprout (I keep it in a basket out of the fridge) and fresh ginger (which I keep in the fridge). I happily keep yogurt way past it's sell-by date without problems, but have hard cheese go bad even though refrigerated. Is there some sort of article or guide on how best to store things? I hate to waste food.

Here's a nice guide from the North Dakota State University Extension Service. Keep that garlic in a dry, dark place. As far as the cheese goes, refer to the document I linked to, but I have pretty good luck wrapping it in wax paper and then aluminum foil. I keep ginger in the freezer, cut up into reasonable one- or two-inch chunks. Keeps forever and makes it very easy to grate for recipes.

Thank you for taking my question! I'm throwing a Hanukkah brunch next week and will be making latkes. Normally latkes are made with eggs, but I'd like to accommodate a friend who keeps a vegan diet. What can I use instead of an egg? Is an egg replacer ok? Some recipes omit an egg and add baking powder and flour. I'm not sure how that would affect moisture, taste, texture, etc. Please help!

A quick spin around vegan latkes recipes on the Web shows egg replacer's a common substitute. Chatters, any thoughts on this? 

While this may be an obvious question, what is the different between "baking" chocolate and any other kind of chocolate? Do white baking chips have any different qualities than chocolate chips?

Baking chocolate can be used as a catch-all term. Traditionally it referrred to unsweetened, pure chocolate (Food Lover's Companion). Some chocolate chips contain an emulsifier like soy lecithin or additives that actually keep them from melting into puddles.


 Brands of white choc baking chips vary in cocoa butter content -- the less of it, the less likely they are to melt when contained in a cookie, let's say). So, what's good for the shape of a chip is not necessarily good for the cause of Good Tasting Chocolate. Does that make sense?

Hi. Question for Jason: I'm going to have a holiday cookie party this weekend, and I'd like to offer a cocktail or two in addition to tea. I'm a whiskey drinker, which I know isn't everyone's thing, but I'd really like to stay away from stuff like flavored vodkas. Any ideas for something that can be made in large quantities and will stand up to lots of sweets? PS: Can't wait for Joe's return!

There are plenty of whiskey cocktails that will be nice with cookies, and can be enjoyed by most people. I think, for cocktails, just stay with anything that calls for too much bitter. The Blinker, for instance, with rye, grapefruit juice, and raspberry syrup would be nice to serve. So is the Algonquin, with rye, pineapple juice, and vermouth. If you want something more punch-like that you make in a batch ahead of time, look at maybe the Honey Spiced Punch (rum, cachaca, falernum, lemon, honey syrup) or the Thieves Punch (port, cachaca, lime) that are both perennial party favorites.

Simply take your favorite recipe and reduce or even eliminate the baking soda or baking powder. If you're hesitant to completely eliminate the leavening, try reducing the amount by half. Also: Search the internet for 'No Fail Sugar Cookies' and cut the baking powder in half. Even the detailed Hammersong cookie cutters work with this recipe. Note that I prefer crisp sugar cookies; reducing the leavening may not work for soft cookies, which would seem to require some "puffing." On the subject of cookies... Will next week's Food Section feature holiday cookies?

Good tips, thanks. I'd add that rolling thin and freezing before baking helps eliminate the puffing as well.


Cookies next week, you bet! We have been getting concerned calls. With a new cookie project from pastry chef Josh Short. 

I make a standard Betty Crocker apple pie that turns out well for me. My son, however, would prefer an apple pie with more "goo." I think mine is too dry for him. Do you have a recipe for a pie with more goo? Or do I just need a different apple?

Don't think it's the apples per se. Do you cook your apples first, like in this Tiffany MacIsaac recipe or this Maida Heatter recipe? That might fulfill his goo desires. 

Thanks for the fruitcake recipes- I am one of those who appreciate a homemade slice with a cup of tea. One of the best things about fruitcake is that it lasts forever, a nice reminder of the holidays. Any idea how long the chocolate cherry cake would last, and how best to store it?

The chocolate cherry cake isn't a traditional fruitcake -- basically a chocolate cake with a cherry brandy filling -- so I wouldn't expect it to store for long. We have one in the freezer right now to see how long it can be frozen. Check back with us in two weeks, when we will defrost it!

Love these chats, they make my week. Thanks, team! A question for Jason - my friend is a lover of bourbon and I'd like to give a nice bottle for a birthday present. Unfortunately, I am more of a gin girl and don't have a clue where to start. Any suggestions for a knock-your-socks-off present, up to $40?

If $40 is your limit, you can find some very nice bourbons. Some to look for, all around $40: Wild Turkey Rare Breed; Rowans Creek: Elijah Craig 12 yr old; Four Roses Small Batch.

Is a cookbook that expensive worth the price for a person who may be interested in trying a few recipes but is not part of the modernist movement?

Well, we would first have to pry it from Tim Carman's hands. 

I have been lugging that thing around like a stone tablet now for weeks.


To answer your question, I'd say the book is worth it for the explanations of kitchen equipment and techniques alone. The recipes may prove frustrating and expensive in the short run, but over time, even those could be fruitful as you gather more equipment and more experience.

my grandmother used to make little fruit cake "mini cupcake size" the recipe is basically a method to eat lots of dried and candied fruit and nuts with just enough batter to hold it together. My mom and I made them one year when they were living in Wales and we actually had to candy fruit our selves since they didn't sell some of the candied fruit we could get in the US. Thinking of making them again this year for the memory and because they are tasty.

Our first fruitcake story! 

I have dietary issues as well as my holiday guests. I'd like to serve something sweet that would make all of us happy. I'd prefer a plain doughnut. Any suggestions?

Here are GF chestnuts doughnut holes.  Enjoy!

In Shahin's blog yesterday, he mentioned several wishes for the barbeque cook - the wine-soaked barrel wood sounds intriguing - how can that be ordered please?

They are available on Amazon or, by clicking on the link in the story, from The Tool Wizard -

Good morning! I loved the article on fruitcakes-- I'm nuts about trail mix-type desserts and your updates on the overly sugary/drunken classics are fantastic. I'm looking to get into the local holiday spirit with cooking and baking; do you have any thoughts about updates on any traditional DC/MD/VA foods and/or local ingredient sourcing? Thanks!

For Maryland, anyway, you could do Smith Island Cupcakes

Kendall Barrett's Smith Island Cupcakes

or Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake.

Smith Island Ten-Layer Cake

I'm struggling to come up with any other regional sweets in our database, but these White Chocolate, Cherry and Almond Cookies are from the Clifton Inn near Charlottesville.

White Chocolate, Cherry and Almond Cookies

I enjoyed the article and recipe, but could you tell us how the result will taste compared to a tradition grill preparation?

See the answer above!

Would that kill off any bacteria that's been growing for the last 2 weeks? If so, I'm going to do that asap -- and then freeze the remainder! [Also, thanks for the backs/necks idea. I have tried Kitchen Basics, and it does seem to be the best of the bunch.]

To tell you the truth, I've reboiled my own homemade stock after 1 week in the fridge and live to tell the tale. But I guess I can't recommend 2 weeks. I bet you're the not the only cook who's left some very good holiday stock in the fridge and is regetting it....

I have a jug of storebought eggnog leftover from a party I had, and I don't want to drink it. What can I do with it? Would it be a good in the egg mixture for french toast?

It would be! Also pancakes. You can substitute it for milk in baked goods, such as cakes, muffins and scones, and in bread pudding. I'd also be tempted to try it in rice pudding. You can also swap it for milk in an ice cream recipe -- eggnog ice cream sounds pretty appealing.

Try these ideas from our recipe database: Eggnog Bars, Eggnog Bread Pudding Bites With Quick Maple-Blueberry Sauce and a holiday cocktail: Silky Kiss.

Hi. Love the weekly chat. I live in downtown DC and don't have a car (or time to order online and await delivery). I'm having a hard time finding Spanish peanuts (in the red skins) to boil and bake in a simple syrup for a favorite sugared nuts recipe. I've struck out at Trader Joe's and so far. I don't think that I've ever seen them at Whole Foods either. Any ideas? Thanks.

Seems like a large grocery store would carry them; Planter's packages them in a tin can.  Have you tried the Latino markets near you? I have a big bag at my house...can't for the life of me remember where I got them but I dont' think I had a hard time finding them. Let me ponder....

Last Christmas Eve I made Beef Wellington for the first time and it was a smashing success. I want to try to do individual Beef Wellingtons but am unsure how to adjust the cooking time/temperature. Any suggestions are appreciated.

Not sure about your own recipe, but we have one in our database for Shiitake Beef Wellingtons.

Hello. In today's Food section, you gave the recipe (more of a technique, I suppose) for slow-cooked steak in a home oven. My question: what does the result promise in terms of taste, consistency, etc.? Is it somehow better, or different in a good way, from my traditional grill preparation? Thanks.

It's a matter of precision. With many traditional methods of preparing steak -- grilled, fried in a pan, seared then roasted in the oven -- you must rely on your own skill and experience on determining when the meat has reached the perfect internal temperature. You may be the best finger-poker in the history of grill cooks, but you likely are still not able to tell when the temperature has reached a perfect 133 F.  This method allows you to nail it every time.


As Myhrvold points out in the book, the slow-roasting method also prevents you from overcooking a significant portion of the steak. When you grill or pan-fry a steak, up to 40 percent of the meat can be overcooked (the browned parts that surround the rosy red interior). But with slow-roasting and sous-vide techniques, you get a gorgeous shade of medium-rare almost edge to edge.

One day *after being married for over 30 years) I sighed that sometimes I don't feel like making supper. Shortly thereafter, my husband, knowing that a gadget sometimes will spark a new interest, gave me Modernist Cuisine at Home. Like you, I started with a low oven temp strip steak, and it was perfect with hardly any juices lost. After we bought a sous-vide setup, I made one sous-vide and then seared it. It also was perfect but different. The oven steak had the texture of roast beef and the sous-vide had a steaky texture. Both were the same color throughout the entire steak. The book has inspired me, often to try things other chefs recommend such as cooking a chicken slowly and then broiling it for color. Perhaps this is due to the beautiful photos. Note, I didn't go through the whole two day process and yet, the result was the best non-premium chicken I've ever had. I do fear I'll break the binding from flipping from one section to another for all the techniques a single recipe requires...

I tested the roast chicken recipe, too. While it's labor-intensive (and a little scary, with all that transporting of a hot bird from boiling water to an ice bath and back to the boiling water), but I found the final bird delicious. The skin was tight and crispy as a result of that par-boiling.


I'm wondering if you know that the accompanying spiral-bound book with "Modernist Cuisine at Home" contains all the recipes in an easy-to-use format? The manual is practically indesctructible.

Just a suggestion- I wish your online recipes would allow for user comments. I think it would be a neat and helpful feature for us home cooks.

We do, too.  Still hoping (and typing with fingers crossed) that the wizards here can reinstate that function. In the meantime, send feedback to We read every one. 

My honey LOVES Woodford Reserve

I have always enjoyed dairy products in alcohol. From hot buttered rum, to mixing Amarulla with milk just before going to bed. this even applies to cooking where many cream sauces have sherry or cognac as ingredients. My question is about separating curds from whey. How much straining and how long does the process take. Some of the recipes today called for cooking the milk first. That seems like a long process just to mix a drink. What would be downside if whipping cream or milk were used and no curdling was done?

For the two punches in today's piece, the Agave Con Leche and the Victoria Milk Punch, you really need the whey, and so you do need to carefully strain. It takes maybe 15-20 minutes and several passes to fully strain out the solids. "A long process" is a relative concept. Punches are always a little more work than one-off cocktails (sometimes they need to steep overnight in the fridge) but once you're finished, they're fuss-free. If punch seems like too much work, you could try  Egg Nog or an Alexander with real milk or cream -- no separating curds and whey at all.

base for ice cream


With so many "snack bags" coming up, someone told me about barbequing nut meats. Do you have any such recipe? Thanks

Nothing better while having a pre-dinner cocktail. Here's a good recipe.

Please forgive me, I am new to mailing baked goods, and I would like to ship some cookies and treats to friends for the holidays. Do you have any suggestions or guidance? I would appreciate your advice on the actual packaging/mailing (is Priority Mail a must or is first class acceptable?) and mailable treats (can you safely mail homemade jams/pickles? I assume cookies with a low moisture content are better for shipping?) Thanks!

See last week's chat for some advice. And from the deep archives, read this story from our friend Elinor Klivans, complete with mail-friendly recipes. Mailing jams and pickles? You can try. It would probably make me needlessly nervous, but properly cushioned, the jars could survive.

in my coffee instead of milk

You don't say!

my husband's mother used to make a "special" fruitcake and I acquired the recipe. I made it one year for all his children and it looked like a real mess - had grape juice and a bunch of "stuff" that I thought looked horrible in the making - made it anyway and the kids all loved it - said it tasted just like "grandma's - sure could have fooled me!!!!

Proving once again that there's a wide range of fervent opinions about fruitcake. (And a wide range of quality among fruitcakes.)

Yes, including a reader's comments we received by email this morning, titled "Seriously." Highlights: 


 "I can’t tell you how extremely disappointed I was to see you devote the front page of prime holiday real estate to the lowly, deservedly reviled fruitcake.  Frankly, I don’t care how updated it is, I will never make or eat a fruitcake, especially when there are so many more interesting, tasty and attractive desserts to be made at holiday time that might actually be worth the calories."


I tell you, we're blushing with pride. 

I'm vegan and have made latkes (and other shredded root veggies "pancakes.") I have used the egg replacer, but I have also at times not used a binder. As long as you are using a hot pan and don't make them too oversized, the crust that develops as you pan fry the bottom helps to hold it together. Let us it nice and brown (and firmed up) before flipping.

Thanks. The forum triumphs yet again. 

Chia seeds (not the ones for the Chia Pet)

It's also quite lovely as coffee creamer. :)

Yes, and some folks also make lattes with it.

I made the slivovitz recipe that you posted a couple months ago and it turned out delicious! I have purchased some nice bottles to bottle the liquor as gifts but I'm not sure how to go about bottling it. Should I just strain and bottle the liquid only or should I press on the plums after straining to extract more liquid? Is there a downside to doing that?

Cathy Barrow, aka Mrs. Wheelbarrow and author of the piece, says:  "It's best to just strain and bottle the mixture. Pressing or squeezing the plums will make the mixture cloudy. Some people tell me they eat the plums, but I don't care for the texture. A friend of mine whirred the plums in a food processor and ribboned the mixture through ice cream, which I plan to try when I bottle mine up this weekend."

I have a family member coming for the holidays who is allergic to all things nuts. Since this list includes coconut, I thought I should check about nutmeg. Is nutmeg a nut, a seed, or a spice? Do I need to worry about any allergy issues? I wanted to sprinkle it in the custard for a quiche.

Nutmeg is the seed from a nutmeg tree. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, nutmeg is "generally safe" for those with tree nut allergies.

LOVE Glogg, hate entertaining! If I make a big batch just for myself, do I need to store in the fridge? Also, just b/c I'm curious: does heating the booze to a simmer burn off any of the alcohol? Sure hope not, since let's face it -- the holiday season often requires a little boozy courage to make it through!

Yes, you should store it in the fridge -- it'll keep for a week or so. (Here's a Glögg recipe from the archives btw.) As long as you don't boil it, it should stay boozy enough. Though if you'd like to try something stronger, this Tuscan Sangria might do the trick.

Hello all, I am having a lovely sweet persimmon right now which reminds me a bit of a fall melon. I wish I had some prosciutto on hand as I think it would be an amazing combination. Any other simple ideas to use persimmons? It's not a fruit I am accustomed to eating. Thanks a million! I am addicted to your live chats!

We have four persimmon recipes in our database.

I didn't know this - can you explain?

Discussions I've seen online center around the fact that some facilities use bone char as part of the filtration process to make the sugar white.

I'm laughing so hard right now. That's great.

nothing says southern holiday dessert like pecan pie!

I can't speak for the South, but I can speak for my household and my Texas wife (at least on this point): Agreed!

If I were to add ONE new cookie recipe to my holiday baking repertoire this year, what should it be? For the record, I already make spice cookies and various shortbreads. Oh, and a family recipe of Buttered Knucks, which are mini date-nut-coconut tarts that melt in your mouth. My mother made these for years, but no one else has ever heard of them. Have you? (We have the original typed recipe card from the 1950s.)

I'm sort of tempted to punt this to next week when we have our holiday cookie issue. But thinking about all the holiday cookies I've made and tasted, I'm going to say my favorite is last year's Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints.

Great, thanks, now I am craving eggnog to drink!!!

I received a fruit cake in the mail from my parents one year. I re-packaged it and mailed it out to my brother, who then re-packaged it and mailed it out to our sister, and it kept getting re-packaged until it went to all six siblings around the country. It's a quirky family tradition now, we never know who will be the last to be stuck with it!

I spent a semester in the UK, and my British flatmates were shocked when Christmas approached and I mentioned that I'd never had fruitcake. They decided I should take some home as a souvenir--and put a beautifully wrapped log of it in my carry-on as a "surprise" the day I left. I was definitely surprised, especially when an airport screener took it out of my bag, asked what it was, and took me out of line for extra screening when I (stupidly) said I didn't know. And this was the Christmas after 9/11. Oops.

I am looking at a Claiborne recipe called "Pain d'Epice" that calls for citron (no adjective) and candied orange peel. First, does citron come in any form other than candied? Second, is there a better source for candied peel than the grocery store varieties? (Short of doing it myself, which I have done, and is a lot of work for something you're putting in something else.) The spices are in the cinnamon family; think it would work if I subbed candied ginger for the citron (I realize the flavor would be quite different) and copious amounts of fresh grated zest for the candied orange peel?

No, citron (a semitropical citrus fruit) doesn't come in any form other than candied (except for citron oil, which you don't want here). Yes, there's a better source of peel than the supermarket varieties; you can order online from trusted suppliers, such as King Arthur Flour, or go to good kitchen stores, such as La Cuisine in Alexandria (they have citron). With the caveat that yes, the flavor would be different, I think candied ginger would work. Not so sure about the orange peel. I'm also not sure I agree that making candied peel is a lot of work; I candied some a few nights ago and it occupied about 5 minutes of my time. Of course then you need a couple days of drying time, but it's really pretty painless.

Just bought a huge piece of gingerbread from Whole Foods. I don't really want to eat the whole thing in one sitting (it's that good!) -- do you think it would freeze well?

Freezes fine.

I made this Baked Mac and Cheese recipe  from your database and found that it was both soupy and the texture was crumbly. Part of the problem may have been that I used ricotta instead of cream, because I was trying to finish the container. But it looked like cheesy scrambled eggs. Not appetizing.

Something must have gone awry; the headnote promises "it's not soupy." Email us:

Just make sure that the egg replacer is vegan. A lot of people tell me that they "made it vegan" with Egg beaters - which are made from eggs and is not vegan.

My mother's apple pie recipe calls for the apples to be mixed with tapioca pearls and sugar. The mixture is then rested a while before being added to the pie.

Well, there's goo, and there's alien substance (IMHO). 

Is there a particularly thin bread that you would recommend for making cucumber sandwiches for an afternoon tea?

I like the denser pumpernickel that you find in front of the deli case -- it's firm and doesn't get soggy. Other than that, you could try Pepperidge Farm Thin White -- and cut off those crusts. 

One year my Dad asked for an Alton Brown's Free Range Fruitcake (no, I'm not trying to butter you up!). He asked in September because he realized I would need a little time to plan. I gathered the ingredients, reviewed the recipe several times, and started marinating the fruits in a good brandy. The Friday after Thanksgiving I mixed and baked the cake, then prepared the tin for the ripening process. Every other day I basted the cake with some more brandy, and re-sealed it in the tin. Christmas Day Dad opened the tin and inhaled deeply. When we shared some of it after dinner my siblings and I were calling it the "Over 21 Fruitcake" because you truly needed a designated driver after eating a slice. Dad enjoyed that cake for at least two weeks after Christmas.

Mr Carman, What part of Ragu Bolgonese dont you get? What region do think it comes from? If you are making ragu from Emilio Romana or Corsica it isnt going to be Ragu Bolgonese? is it?

Forgive me. I was speaking too glibly.  I know where the dish comes from. But consider for a minute the long history of ragu alla bolognese. The term itself is French in origin, and there is considered a classic recipe, though the variations are many.

I'd heard previously (I think on this very chat) that homemade stock only stays good in the fridge if you boil it every three days or so. An earlier response suggested a chatter might be able to revive stock by boiling that had been in the fridge for two weeks. What's the rule, if there is one?

The three-day edict might have come from Julia Child, no? A rule we generally still follow. 

I made my first and only fruit cake shortly after I was married. I overly boozed my cake in the baking and still added it every couple of weeks. It was completely inedible, even with plenty of ice cream. It practically burned in my mouth. More is not always better.

I am looking for some liquid gifts for some friends. Can you recommend a few gins? This person like extremely dry martinis and their favorite is Hendricks. Along the same line can you recommend a Scotch from the Islay region? I know nothing about this stuff. Thanks!

Ok, for your gin person, I'd recommend one of the three newish gins from St. George Spirits. I wrote about them last fall. Also, if you can find Greylock from Berkshire  Mountain Distillers or G'Vine Nouaison, they would both be nice. As for Islay Scotch, my two picks would be Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. Don't know your price range but the 12 yr old Bunnahabhain and 12 yr old Caol Ila are both around $45.

would love some ideas of how to use it.

Our database has nine suggestions. It will be ten next week with our new chocolate rosemary baklava recipe.

I tested! Lucky me. 

For a unique Christmas gift, I wonder if a person could make a good barbeque sauce and bottle it for a "house" gift. Do you or Jim have any such recipe? Love all the questions and answers!!!!

    Great idea! We have several barbecue sauces in the recipe archives. Here, though, is one of my faves:

On yesterday's episode of The Chew, Mario Batali made some awesome looking sweet potato latkes that were vegan (to accommodate Fran Drescher). The web site has the recipe. (I believe they're called sweet potato crisps with vegetable caponata, or something like that.)

Two stories: The first time I encountered fruitcake was at my great Aunt's house -- fortunately I was a rather shy and quiet teen, so managed not to make any embarrassing comments before it became apparent that they liked it and planned to eat what looked like a brick. In the first few years I was married, my husband wanted to make a cake that had fruit in it, but was not what Americans think of as fruitcake. He struggled to come up with a name for it that wouldn't bring up images of the brick. I think he finally called it "Apple Cake" even though it had lots of other fruits as well.

My sister has offered to get me a 12" non stick frying pan for Christmas since my old All Clad is losing its non stick ability. Last time I purchased a nonstick frying pan was about 10 years ago. is there some new I should consider a green pan or a new coating? I prefer All Clad but if there is something out there that is ebtter I have her get that. Cost is not a factor.

I have an Ecopan that I've been using for about 9 months.  The coating's intact but the pan itself is too light for me on the stove (does that make sense?)

I've made fruitcake cookies for some years now and I wonder if they might be part of your upcoming collection. In any case, they're a handy cookie for those who might just want a little bit of fruitcake - they stay fresh a while in a tightly sealed container. They should be made a couple of weeks before so the flavors mingle.

Nothing quite like that coming up next week, but we do already have this recipe for Fruicake Nuggets.

Fruitcake Nuggets

Glad someone mentioned that, as I'd been meaning to ask about the cut of meat. When I've made it before, I'd used filet mignon, which I'm sure you know is part of the tenderloin. This is such an expensive cut. Is there a less expensive cut that would also work? Also, frankly, I find the tenderloin isn't that flavorful as compared to something like a ribeye steak, so if it had more flavor too, that would be real plus. Thanks.

It's been awhile since I cooked beef Wellington, but I suspect the reason the recipe always includes filet mignon is because of the cut's soft texture. I suspect chewier cuts would not work as well.

They are the same thing, though, aren't they?

I make about 16# of fruitcake every year, mostly for family, but for a few friends ads well. I have one friend who denigrates fruitcake, then asks if she can be put back on my fruitcake list. Then a couple years later she again will make derogatory comments - well not specifically at MY fruitcakes, but I immediatly told her not to expect one this year. There are too many people that want to be on my list to bother giving it to anyone who is in the least bit ambivalent about it. My recipe, which is loosely based on the one my Mother used, started out with all candied citron. That was a heavy cake; but over the years I've changed the fruit mix to include mostly dried fruits, and changed the "whiskey" to dark rum (Goslings). I think these changes that have evolved over the years have really improved the original recipe. My gripe is the producers of the dried fruits have gradually shrunk the package sizes so it's much more difficult to get the requisite 8oz of dried apples, when the package size is 5.5 oz. The pound & a half box of rasins is now 20 oz. You can't buy 1/2 # of dates - they come in 10oz packages this year. I guess we have the 13oz "pound" of coffee to thank for this horrible development. And all these package sizes will change again for next year, for sure.

Could you give an idea of what types of cooking equipment would be needed for the modern cooking. You mentioned an 8 inch pan when you only had a 10 inch pan in the article. That is more bad luck than specialized equipment.

If you really want to get into modernist cooking, you'll need a water circulator (for sous-vide cooking), a vacuum sealer (to seal your ingredients for sous-vide cooking), a dehydrator and a pressure cooker, for starters.

British Christmas cakes are fruitcakes. When I married into a British family, my new mother-in-law worked very hard to alter the traditional recipe she used to fit my no dairy, no wheat, no alcohol (allergies) requirements. She found out at the wedding (our cake was a rice flour dairy free carot cake) so she had very little time to do this before I joined the family for Christmas that first year. She did this and it became the family go-to recipe for celebration cakes. She even made them for Christening cakes (also fruitcakes). I really felt like I was part of the family. I love my mother-in-law not just for this.

I have a jar of brandied cherries that I prepared in September. I am thinking of using them for the chocolate cherry cake featured today, but wonder what to do with the brandy. We have tasted the cherries and they are great, but the straight cherry brandy doesn't appeal to us as something we would drink. Any suggestions? Can I preserve some other fruit in the brandy like I did the cherries? Hate to pour it down the drain.

You can bake with that brandy. Some of our fruitcake recipes call for soaking dried fruit in brandy; I'm sure cherry brandy would be just fine to use. Go to our Recipe Finder database, search for brandy and you'll find lot of possibilities, including Emily Dickinson's Black Cake and Grandma's Walnut Pumpkin Pudding.

I posted last night but see you didn't get to it yet. I suppose it could wait until next week. I was looking for some appetizer ideas for an upcoming holiday party. The only stipulation is that it should not have nuts. Thanks!

Shoot, sorry we didnt get to this. Send an email to 

The current Vegetarian Times has several recipes for veg and vegan latkes...

Tim, I have a pressure cooker. Can you give a few suggestions of dishes that are made in the cookbook, using the pressure cooker.

Lots of soups and stocks. Generally speaking, the soups take twice as long, and the stocks are done in a fraction of the time. Chefs love the stock-making technqiue with pressure cookers. I'm not sold yet on using it for soups, but I'll continue playing with it!

Stick a fork in us -- we're done! Thanks to Shulie, Jim and Jason for joining us today. And to you, dear chatters -- the reason we never eat lunch on Wednesdays. 


Fruitcake story / cookbook winners:  The chatter who mentioned "grandma" and "grape juice," and the chatter who was detained at the airport. Good times! Send your mailing address and choice of book to and Becky will get those prizes right out to you. Until next week. Cookie week. Happy baking and eating!

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal, Spirits columnist Jason Wilson and Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin. Guest: Shulie Madnick, who blogs at
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