Monday, January 13, 2014

Holiday Porter Cake, Hobbit-Style

Holiday Porter Cake
A recent watching of The Hobbit reminded me how much I love the Lord of the Rings movies.  A couple of Christmases ago I decided to watch all of the extended versions in a row... and not just the movies, but also a Hobbit-style feast to go along with them.  Hobbit culture is all about food - growing it, preparing it, preserving it, and especially eating it.  Heck yes!

Tolkien wrote a passage describing the delicacies that abound in Bilbo's many pantries, and it was from this that I pulled inspiration.  I made scones and jam, an apple tart, drank herbal tea and dark beer (um, not at the same time), and generally reveled in spending the entire day watching movies from the kitchen.  My favorite discovery was this Victorian-Style recipe for Porter Cake, originally from a website called Historical Foods that has since been taken down - I am happy to discover that the full collection is once again available at Recipe Wise: Food In The Hobbit.  Victorian Era recipes are not the easiest sets of instructions to cook from, so I updated it to US measurements and swapped out some ingredients to be more Utah-local.  Did you know that golden currants are a native Utah plant?  You can pick them up fresh at the farmers markets in the summer.  Or plant some!

Winter is the perfect time to use dried and preserved fruits, to make up for the lack of fresh ones available.  Technically, this is a fruit cake.  Before you run screaming, this dark and hearty cake bears zero resemblance to the travesties that are filled with candied neon things. Once you try this, you will never refer to those things as fruitcakes again. 

If, while you are baking one of many Porter Cakes, the last of the baking powder goes into waffle batter, do not go ahead and make the cake without it.  Baking powder is very important.  But eat the delicious waffles first. 

Local highlights:
King's Peak Porter - Uinta Brewery - Did you know that this brewery is solar- and wind- powered?
Black Cherry Mediterranean Market - Where I found the wonderful golden raisins, currants, and dates.  This is a lovely local market full of international specialty goods. Check them out!

Brown Sugar Topping on Porter Cake
Holiday Porter Cake (Hobbit Fruitcake)
Makes 1 cake

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup dried currants
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup chopped dates
1/3 cup applesauce (or zest and juice of one medium orange)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups Porter beer (a bottle minus a couple of sips)

3 eggs, beaten
2 2/3 cup white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground mace

Topping (both optional)
About 1/8 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1.  Preheat oven to 320 degrees F.
2.  Prepare a cake pan (a 9" round spring-form pan or a 9" square baking dish works well, whatever you cook brownies in is probably good) - line with parchment paper, including the sides.  This helps the cake retain moisture.  Note: parchment paper is *not* the same as wax paper. 
3.  Put the butter, dried fruit, zest, apricot juice, sugar and porter in a large saucepan. Bring it slowly to a boil, stirring until the butter has dissolved, then turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  (It's okay to put the mixture in the fridge overnight at this point if needed)

4. Stir the beaten eggs into the hot fruit mixture.
5. Add in the flour, baking powder, and spices, and mix well. 
6. Pour the thick batter into prepared pan and smooth out the top to distribute evenly.  Sprinkle brown sugar and/or almonds over the top and press the almonds slightly into the batter.
7.  Bake at 320 for 75 to 90 minutes.  Use the toothpick test to determine done-ness (toothpick will come out clean when it's done).  If the top browns too fast, cover it with foil for the rest of the baking time.

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