Desserts can be daunting! I am not talking about the difficulty of the recipe — though some can send me into a total cold sweat — but just about the issues called “choice overload” or the “paradox of choice.”
Choices are supposed to help us, to make our lives easier, to spark joy in the decision. We eat in restaurants so that each member can eat something they choose, that they like and are thrilled to eat. We have lots of tee shirts, or scarves, or nail polishes — because we like choice. But, when there are too many choices, we can shut down and find ourselves dealing with this paradox of choice in which there are so many choices that we cannot decide and find ourselves with that proverbial “deer in the headlight” expression!
So that brings us to desserts for the holidays. There are billions of dessert recipes out there and millions that look delicious and are holiday worthy. Do we make a fall apple pie for dessert? It almost seems that if we do, we are pushing away the summer. Do we make a cake, a pie, brownies, cookies, tarts, crumbles and more! As they say, “So many desserts, so little time” Or is that about books?
So, when it comes to dessert, I find myself in that choice overload conundrum. As a result, I often overdo it. I always have guests who say, “are you making your Lemon Cake, I am so often asked to make my lemon cake that I think I can make it in my sleep — or your Brownies, or Honey Spice Cake, or Cranberry Cake or Apple Pie, and on and on. This week I asked my kids what they wanted. They found themselves in the “Paradox of Choice.” They came up with about 10 desserts for two holiday meals.
While holiday desserts stymie me (I always make too many) happily, they get eaten. In addition, those extra servings are often sent home with my guests, making friends and relatives happy and saving me from the calories!
Here are some of my favorites that are fairly easy to make and are delicious. I hope your decisions are easier!
Orange Spice Tea Honey Cake (Pareve)
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey (a mild variety)
1-1/2 cups white or new golden sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 extra-large eggs
1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup completely flat ginger ale (not diet)
1/4 cup very strong orange spice tea, cooled
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)
OPTIONAL: 1 cup raisins plumped in hot water and well drained
2 to 3 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp. honey
1/3 cup. confectioners’ sugar (more or less, as needed)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease a Bundt pan or a 9x13 pan. Please adjust baking time down if using a 9x13 pan.
Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix with a fork to blend. Place the bowl onto the stand and add the oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, ginger ale, tea, and juice. Mix on low to blend and then increase speed to medium and beat for 30 to 45 seconds until all ingredients are well-blended. Scrape into the prepared pan.
Make the glaze: Whisk the ingredients together until smooth and thick — like thin sour cream.
Bake for about 55 to 75 minutes depending on the pan and your oven. A tester should come out just barely clean or the cake should spring back when touched. Let stand for about 15 minutes to cool before removing from the pan. Remove from pan and drizzle with honey orange glaze. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Serves 10 to 12.
My Husband’s Favorite Lemon Cake (Pareve)
I got this recipe from one of my aunts. The original recipe used far less lemon in the cake and the glaze and was made with butter. Through trial and error, this cake emerged. This adapted version has a fresh lemon glaze is infused into the cake immediately after baking. I changed the lemon glaze to one that used Confectioner’s sugar and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice to make it more lemony. If you love lemon, this is for you!
2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 extra-large eggs
3 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup fresh orange juice or lots of pulp, not-from-concentrate juice
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup vegetable oil (Canola works best)
3 tsp. pure Lemon extract
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound confectioner’s sugar enough to make a thick glaze
FOR THE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Very generously grease a Bundt pan or spray generously with not stick spray. Set aside. Place all the cake ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on low until completely blended. Scrape the bowl and increase the speed to medium. Beat for 1 minute. Scrape the batter into Bundt pan. Tilt the pan and swirl batter around the outside rim, barely one inch above the batter. This helps the cake bake higher and flatter. Bake just until a cake tester comes out clean. 30 to 40 minutes Be careful not to overbake.
FOR THE GLAZE: While the cake is baking, combine juice and sugar and whisk vigorously. The glaze should be the consistency of thinned sour cream.
While the cake is still in the pan and hot, poke deep (not to the bottom) holes into the cake using a chopstick or something about 1/4 to 1/3-inch. The holes should start about 1-inch from the edge and be 1-inch apart. Make 3 to 4 rows of holes that zig zag so they are not in straight lines. Pour 3/4 of the glaze VERY SLOWLY into the holes and over the top of the cake. Let the cake sit for 15 minutes. Thoroughly loosen the sides of the cake and invert onto a serving platter. Tap the top and sides or shake gently to loosen. The cake should release easily. Drizzle the rest of the glaze on top. Serves 10 to 14.
Almond Cake with Berries and (Maybe) Amaretto (Pareve)
This keeps with the almond theme and is really a light cake that is delicious when garnished with fresh berries and served with a cup of tea. Delicious! You can substitute fruit juice for the liqueurs.
1-1/4 cups sugar scant
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. ground blanched (all white) almonds
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1-1/4 tsp. pure almond extract
4 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur, honey, or orange juice
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
2 Tbsp. kirsch liqueur or pomegranate or orange juice
1 pint fresh raspberries
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-inch spring form pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
Place the sugar, egg yolks, and fruit zests in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat in high until thick and very pale, about 8-10 minutes.
Mix the almonds flour and baking powder in a small bowl. Add to the egg yolk mixture and blend on slow just till well mixed. Add the almond extract and mix on slow until blended.
Using another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Soft peaks are peaks that fall over when the beater pulls away but they still hold shape.
Using a spatula, fold the egg whites into the yellows using a folding motion. When no white is visible, pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Gently smooth the top.
Bake until the cake springs back when gently touched, about 60 to 70 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Run a knife around the side of the cake and remove the ring. Leave on wire rack to continue cooling.
NOTE: At this point, wrap the cake in two layers of plastic wrap and freeze. Defrost the day before at room temperature and continue to assemble the cake.
When cool. Use a large serrated knife and cut the cake horizontally so you have two layers. Using a large spatula or two, place a plate over the cake and using a wide spatula, flip the tops layer over so the cut side is facing up.
Place the amaretto, sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Brush the syrup on both cut sides of the cake.
Mix the raspberry preserves and the liquid of your choice together and spread over the bottom half of the cake. Carefully place the top half over the bottom so the syrup-brushed sides are together. Garnish with raspberries around the base of the cake.
NOTE: If you do not want to split the cake, drizzle the raspberry jam over the top of the cake. Even if you split it, you can, If you like, make more raspberry jam to drizzle over the top or you can dust the top with Confectioner’s sugar or drizzle with chocolate syrup. Serves 10 to 12.
Black Chocolate Cake (Pareve)
This is the easiest cake recipe ever! I have no idea where I got the recipe, but I first made it when I was a college sophomore in the basement kitchen of my dorm on Bay State Road. The Dorm “mother” actually took the cake while it was cooling, cut half, and returned the other half to the kitchen. (Someone saw her!) She never mentioned it, nor did she thank me! Who takes half a cake?!
2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup strong coffee or almond milk
1 cup Dutch process cocoa – I like extra dark or black cocoa
1 cup Canola oil
1 tsp. salt
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
Generously grease a Bundt pan, a 9x13 pan or two 9-inch round pans. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the sugar and eggs with an electric mixer. Add the coffee or almond milk. Mix to blend, scraping the bowl as needed. Blend in the cocoa and oil. Add the salt. Scrape the bowl and mix to blend completely. Mix the baking soda and powder into the flour. Add the flour mixture in thirds and blend well. Add the vanilla. Remove the bowl from the mixing stand and add the boiling water. Mix by hand to avoid any splashing. Pourthe batter into a 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes for the 9X13, less for the rounds and more for the Bundt. Cake is done when a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs. Frost or dust with powdered sugar. Makes one cake for 12 to 24.
Vanilla Glaze (Pareve)
This is prefect for a honey cake or a chocolate cake or any other kind of cake!
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 to 3 Tbsp. almond milk, soy milk, or water
Cut a vanilla bean in half and then slice open with a small sharp knife. Scrape the seeds into a bowl.
Add the sugar, extract and milk and whisk until it reaches a consistency that will drizzle slowly. Drizzle over cake. Makes 1/2 to 3/4 cup.
•Omit half the vanilla bean and add 1 tsp instant coffee dissolved in
•1 tsp. hot water.
•Use orange juice instead of almond milk. Omit half the vanilla bean.
•Add 1 Tbsp. honey and reduce milk to 1 Tbsp. or less.