The other man handles the sweet like a relic. He takes a nibbly bite out of it, then a bigger one, and with the next bite takes a full quarter of it into his mouth. A huge smile spreads across his face as he chews. “Oh, my God. What is this?”
“Told you. Fruit spiked with rum, baked into a black cake biscuit, straight from my Nan’s recipe box. Well, mostly,” Craig says. “It’s a bit like your fruitcake, I suppose. Glad you like it.”
“I love it. Christ, that’s good.” A sigh escapes the guy as he sets what’s left of the sweet down once more and glances at Craig; his gaze is a little steadier now. “Are you sure you’re not at least hitting on me a little? Because I was serious. If you wanted to, it would work, especially with this.”
Chocolate speaks the language of love – or at the very least, seduction – for quite a lot of people. There is, after all, a reason it is the hot edible commodity on Valentine’s Day.
(apart from candy panties, I suppose…)
But some of us are absolute trollops for a good spice cookie. Our unnamed friend up there in the book excerpt, for one. And me, for another. Oh, yes. Oh, goodness.
Now, I’m a big fan of ginger snaps. But Craig, our purveyor of baked goods in Definitely, Maybe, Yours, is partly of Caribbean descent (specifically, British Virgin Islands), and his Nan Oliver has a recipe for black cake that would knock your socks off – partly because it’s truly delicious, but also because it is chock full of rum. Black cake (here’s a link to an especially good-looking Trinidadian recipe) is traditionally made with rum, and with fruit soaked in rum, and it’s also bathed in the rum once it’s done.
It’s also made with an ingredient called browning, which in the case of baking is essentially a burnt sugar syrup. You can buy it if you know where to look, but honestly, it’s easy to make at home (if mildly hair-raising). Browning helps impart the dark color to the cake, and gives it a wonderful depth of flavor.
Craig, in the book, adapts his Nan’s recipe into cookies. I’m not quite so clever. And I didn’t get my browning sauce right – it tastes lovely but it isn’t dark enough and it never quite thickened. I did, however, cobble up a recipe that creates a really sexy little spice cookie with a soft, cake-like texture and wonderfully warm flavor. In an early draft of my book, I called them “little bites of sunshine”, and I think that applies, too – they’re made with rum-soaked dried cherries, apricots, and pineapple for a brightness that balances the deep warmth in the cookie dough. They’re not black cake cookies (they’re barely beige), and maybe one day I’ll figure those out, but these are a very nice little treat, and definitely my favorite of the recipes I’ve put together.
I apologize for the lack of pictures this week, I was on my own baking and only have so many hands!
Spice Cake Cookies
Fruit Mixture – makes more than you need for one batch!
1/3 c. dried cherries
1/3 c. dried pineapple
1/3 c. dried apricots
Rum to cover the fruit
“Browning” Ingredients – makes more than you need for one batch!
2 c. dark brown sugar
2 c. boiling water (this is where I went wrong, and why my browning…isn’t…but the resulting syrup is what I used when I made the cookies)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter (4 tbsp), melted and allowed to cool to room temperature
3 tsp. “browning”
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. soaked fruit mixture, drained
Make your fruit mixture ahead of time – way ahead. Take your fruit and chop it up into bits. Combine it in a glass jar, cover with rum (clear the topmost fruit by a half-inch at least), and seal the jar shut. Store in a cool, dry place. I stored mine for a month, but you could do longer.
The “browning” can be made ahead as well. Pour the two cups of dark brown sugar into a high-sided, heavy-bottomed pot and turn the heat to medium high. Do not stir too much. Let the sugar melt. Seriously, let it melt, and seriously, do not stir it too much. It’s going to look a bit lava-ish. It will bubble and splort. Let it do its thing. When it’s all melted and dark, take it off the heat and carefully, very very carefully because sugar burns are not fun, okay, add the boiling water. The contents of your pot will start to steam and foam. Back off of the pouring and let it settle down when it gets too crazy, then resume.
When you have finished pouring all the water in, return the pot to the heat and now you can stir it. Stir until you have a thin, dark brown syrup. Allow to cool before storing it in a jar. You can refrigerate the mixture and it will last a while.
Now, for the cookies – don’t preheat your oven yet. Instead, in a mid-sized bowl, first whisk together your flour, baking powder, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Set it aside.
In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs, “browning”, and vanilla. Use a big spoon to stir in the brown sugars, making sure to stir until the whole mixture is smooth. If you’re feeling a little sassy, you can drop in a a splash or two of the rum you soaked your fruit in, but no more than that.
Begin adding the flour, very slowly as usual. Continue using a spoon to mix this…and frankly, when I got near the end of the flour bowl, I got in there with my hands and just kind of kneaded it all together. Take your half cup of the fruit mixture (remember to drain it, and also to re-cover the remaining fruit in the jar with more rum) and get it all mixed in there as well, making sure it’s spaced out nicely in the dough and not clumped up in one place. If you want, you can puree the fruit mixture before adding it, I didn’t.
Chill the cookie dough overnight. Aren’t you glad you didn’t preheat the oven?
The next day, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll your chilled dough into 24 balls and lay them out on the baking sheets in groups of eight (put the cookies that aren’t baking back in the fridge to keep chilled) – I only had one cookie sheet handy, so I baked my cookies in three rounds. Flatten the cookie balls out with your hand (trust me – I tried using a coffee cup bottom, the dough is sticky, it did not work, use your hand! and don’t freak out when you get cookie dough all over your hand either!) to about a 3/4 inch thickness and slide the sheet into the oven for about 12 minutes (check them at 10, go no longer than 13). When the cookies are deep golden brown and look just dry, take them out of the oven and let them rest on the sheet for five minutes. After that, you can put them out on a rack or plate to finish cooling.
They will be soft, fragrant, spicy, and wonderful. In an airtight container they should keep for a week, if they last that long.
You could keep them wrapped in a rum-sprinkled cloth napkin in that container, if you were so inclined, and that’s a tip I learned from my grandma’s friend Miss Rosalie, God rest her soul.
This is the last of the DMY Recipe Box posts! I hope you’ve enjoyed them. Please come back next week for Book Launch Day – I plan to compile the recipes into a PDF for all of you lovely readers, and plus I’ll have a little bit of a giveaway, very tiny, to celebrate.
Definitely, Maybe, Yours by Lissa Reed debuts on August 11th, 2015, and is available for pre-order from Interlude Press.