Home Baked for the Holidays

Some of our friends and neighbors
share their treasured holiday favorites.

Rum Bundt Cake

From Jill Paglia

“This is a quintessential family favorite. I love to see my dad’s face light up when he sees this on the table. He’s not one to take home leftovers, but on Christmas I send home a few generous slices. It is important to connect with others through their love of food because, after all, when we cook and bake, isn’t love the secret ingredient? The recipes remain with us through generations when we gather together.”

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (18.5) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dark rum (I use Papa Pilar)

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark rum

Heat oven to 325. > Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. > Sprinkle nuts evenly on bottom of pan. > In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. > Mix in eggs, water, oil and rum. > Blend well > Pour batter over nuts. > Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. > Let rest for 10 minutes in pan, then turn out onto serving plate.

For glaze: In a saucepan, combine butter, water and sugar. > Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. > Remove from heat and stir in the rum. > Brush glaze over top and sides. Allow cake to absorb glaze and repeat until all glaze is used.

Another option to easily glaze your cake is to pour half of the glaze into the empty pan, then reinsert cake. > Pour the rest of the glaze over the bottom of the cake. Let absorb well and then invert the cake back onto the platter.

Optional: Heat 1 cup of dark chocolate melting wafers at 50 percent power for 3 minutes. > Stir and drizzle over cooled cake. > Sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped walnuts over top.

Black Forest Cake

From Marian Rizzo

“I always get raves when I bake my Black Forest Cake. My daughter requests it every year. It’s a very colorful holiday dessert. I usually do three layers. It looks fabulous. I also like making it because it’s so easy.”

1 3/4 cups flour

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup boiling water 

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. > Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. > Beat for 2 minutes. > Stir in 1 cup of boiling water. Batter will be thin. > Pour into greased 9 X 13 pan or use two or three round pans. > Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes.

3/4 cups of Crisco or combination Crisco and butter

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
Splash of milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 can of cherry pie filling

Beat for 2 minutes with mixer, keep adding sugar until right consistency. > For a lighter frosting, blend in whipped cream and refrigerate the cake until ready to eat.

If using round pans, spread frosting between the layers, drizzle cherry pie filling in center and allow the juice to trickle down the sides. > If you don’t frost the sides, it’s more like a torte when finished. If you frost the sides, you can coat them with chocolate or almond slices. > Frost the top and create a pattern using chocolate shavings, canned or fresh cherries.


From the children of the late Toni Steele

“Our mother was known for her light and fluffy cheesecake. She learned to make it from her mother. And as it is with many other Italian families, recipes are treasured documents that are passed down through the generations. We Italians also love our sweets, so cheesecake was just one of many special desserts that became a holiday tradition. And while our mother had a love of tradition, she also had an appetite for adventure. Over the years, she experimented with a few variations—crust, no crust, different cheeses and various toppings—but, ultimately, she favored a simple recipe with no crust. And even though she had perfected it long ago, she approached each time making it like it was a sacred act. She never rushed or missed a step, ensuring the measurements were precise and the timing was exact, to ensure the cake emerged from the oven the perfect shade of pale ivory. If the color was too dark or cracks had begun to form, she knew it had baked too long and deemed it unsuitable for serving or gifting. And she would simply start the whole process over again. What most people remember is how delicious her cheesecake was, but we remember the pleasure she got from making it. It didn’t need to be a holiday. She would often bake one if she wanted to repay a kindness or simply show someone she cared. Making one of these cakes truly brought her joy. Her not so ‘secret’ ingredients were the love and good intentions she baked into each one.”

5 bricks Philadelphia cream cheese1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons flour
5 eggs
2 egg whites
1/4 cup heavy cream

Use a springform pan, as cheesecake is too soft and delicate to “turn out” of a regular cake pan. The removable sides make it possible to keep your cheesecake intact and looking pristine. 

To ensure your cake stays moist and avoid cracking, you will place the primary cake pan into a second pan, half-filled with water, when placing it in the oven to bake. This creates a “water bath” for your pan to sit in. A roasting pan is ideal. 

Begin with room temperature cream cheese and eggs. Your cake will be much creamier when the cream cheese is softened (room temperature) and will blend better.  

Heat oven to 500. > Whip the cream cheese and vanilla together in a mixer. > Add sugar and beat in one egg at a time at a low speed. > Then add the egg whites. > Fold in the heavy cream. > Blend well. > Pour batter into the pan. > Bake at 500 for 10 minutes and then lower to 250 and cook for an additional hour. > Turn the oven off, open the door a crack and let the cake rest in the oven for another 30 minutes. > Remove from oven and the secondary pan. > Allow the cake to cool to room temperature and then unclasp the sides of the pan for easy release. > Refrigerate for at least four hours, preferably overnight. > Before serving, take the cake out and allow it to return to room temperature. > Garnish the entire cake or individual slices with toppings as desired. 

Slicing your cake can be tricky, as the cake will be dense and you don’t want messy looking slices. There are different techniques (including one using dental floss), but we typically use a hot knife to ensure the slices keep their shape as you place each onto a plate. 

Fill a tall container with hot tap water. > Dip the knife’s blade in hot water and let it rest for a few seconds. The hot water will ensure that your knife will move smoothly through the cheesecake. > Wipe the knife clean after each slice and return to the hot water before slicing again. > If serving on a buffet, we cut the entire cake into slices at once to make it easier for guests to remove a slice when they are ready. The cake will hold its shape, even as the slices are removed. 

Our mother loved to serve her cake with a mixture of fresh and macerated strawberries. Macerated means to soften or sweeten by soaking in a liquid. It is the perfect way to sweeten strawberries that aren’t as ripe as you would like them to be. Fruit can be easily macerated in a bowl with some sugar, which will pull out the juices of the fruit, forming a syrup, and turns a tasteless berry into a sweet one. Simply stir in 2-4 tablespoons of sugar per one cup of berries, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Reserve a few fresh berries to garnish.  

Alternatively, you can use any topping that appeals, from caramel sauce or a mixed berry coulis to any canned pie filling or fresh fruit. You could even offer a few options in bowls near the cake and allow your guests to choose for themselves.

Sweet Potato Pie

From Cynthia Wilson-Graham

This is a family recipe passed down by Cynthia’s mother Juanita Bernard, who received it  from her Aunt Lorene Bernard. “They would make them for Christmas and Thanksgiving and never used measuring utensils. We would try to do the measuring while my mother was making the pies, but she’d still add a pinch of this or that…which we still do. I make my pies the week of Thanksgiving and freeze some of them to serve at Christmas.”

6 large sweet potatoes
4 sticks Land O’Lakes Butter
1 1/2 cups Dixie Crystal Sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 can (14 fl. oz) Borden Eagle Brand
          Condensed Milk
1/2 can (14 fl. oz) Nestle Evaporated Milk
1 teaspoon McCormick Lemon Flavor
2 teaspoons McCormick Vanilla flavor
1 tablespoon McCormick Nutmeg
1 teaspoon McCormick Cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon Martha White Self-Rising Flour
3 9-inch, deep-dish pie crusts 

Wash the sweet potatoes, place in a pot and boil until tender. > Peel potatoes while hot and place in a large mixing bowl.> Beat with an electric mixer at a medium speed. > Add softened butter and sugar and continue to mix.  > Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition. > Stir in milk, flavorings, nutmeg and flour. > Pre-bake pie crust until light brown. > Pour 2 cups of filling into the pie shell and bake at 375 for 55 to 60 minutes or until the pie is set (when a toothpick is inserted in the center comes out with little to no filling).  > Remove from oven and allow to cool.

* Yield: 3 pies. 6 pies, if not using deep-dish pie crusts.

Carrot Cake

From Colby Robinson

“My love for baking began as a young girl while spending time with both of my grandmothers. Carrot cake is a family favorite. The moist texture of the cake, balanced flavors of the fresh carrots, pineapple and warm spices and the sweetness from the cream cheese, make for the perfect holiday dessert. It’s also not time consuming to create. When I’m baking this recipe, it reminds me of family traditions, unconditional love and a lasting legacy.”

2 1/2 cups self-rising flour 
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
4 large eggs (room temperature)
3 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup crushed pineapple (partially drained)                
1 cup chopped roasted pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (for greasing pans)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
16 ounces cream cheese (softened, but still
          a little firm)
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (add another
          1/2 cup to stiffen)
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350. > Sift together flour, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and baking soda and set aside. > Line the bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment and lightly grease with melted butter. > With a mixer, beat sugar, oil and vanilla bean paste at medium speed. > Add eggs, one at a time, carefully blending.  > Lower the speed and gradually add flour mixture. > Fold in carrots, crushed pineapple and pecans. > Pour batter into cake pans. > Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. > Let rest for 10 minutes then flip cakes onto baking racks to cool completely.

Making the Frosting

In a saucepan, add butter and melt over medium heat. When fully melted, a white foam will appear over the top. Watch as the butter’s color changes to brown and the smell becomes somewhat nutty. When it turns amber brown, remove from heat. > Cool in the refrigerator until it becomes solid again (up to an hour). > Place cooled butter and cream cheese in the mixer bowl and beat on high until thick and fluffy. > Lower speed and add confectioners’ sugar. Once incorporated, turn the mixer back to high and continue whipping. > Add salt and vanilla, whip until smooth. > Spread frosting over layers and assemble cake. 

Christmas Yule Log


From Max Russell

“I first saw Julia Child’s yule log episode on TV in 1971. Making her ‘Bûche de Noël’ has since become a holiday obsession. I’ve even once made a Florida version—fashioned like a piece of driftwood on a raw-sugar beach. I spent hours making Julia’s original—complete with meringue mushrooms and spun-sugar moss—for a friend’s dinner party. I was horrified when the hostess kept the cake out of sight the entire evening and then served it as slices, without a single guest ever getting the full impact of my festive creation. A good lesson in humility, for sure. But the next year, she got a store-bought fruitcake. When I make the yule log, I still revert to the long version of the recipe, which takes forever. However, I realize not everyone will be as ambitious so, in a pinch, you could do a mash up of two recipes from Julia’s The Way to Cook, one for cake and the other for filling/frosting. This will be an imposter, but still mighty tasty and fun. But if you’re like me and ambitious about your baking projects (meringue mushrooms and all), I suggest the original recipe for the best result. It is the Holy Grail and never fails. Just make sure it makes it out of the kitchen…and then let the oohs and ahhs commence!”

Genoise Cake Roll
*All ingredients at room temperature 
1/2 cup plain bleached cake flour, plus
          an additional 1/3 cup 
1 tablespoon sugar 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
6 tablespoons unsalted butter 
4 large eggs 
1/2 cup sugar 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

Buttered jelly-roll pan lined with parchment, buttered again, floured, then tapped to remove excess flour. 

Preheat oven to 375. > Sift flour, sugar and salt together and reserve. > Melt butter, reserve 1/4 cup of yellow liquid, discard the milky liquid. > Beat eggs with another 1/2 cup of sugar. > Combine egg mixture with vanilla and whisk (using a wire whisk) together in metal bowl over hot, but not boiling, water until the eggs feel warm and have thickened (about 5 minutes). > Remove from heat and continue beating with an electric mixer at medium high speed until mixture has tripled in volume and forms a ribbon when beaters are lifted. > With a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the eggs in three batches, trying to deflate the eggs as little as possible. > Plop a few tablespoons of the flour/egg batter into the softened butter, folding it rapidly but gently. > When completely combined, fold the butter/batter mixture back into the rest of the batter just until fully combined. > Place the batter into the prepared jelly-roll pan and bake until cake has puffed, browned and shrinks slightly from the edge of the pan (about 10 minutes, but start checking at 8 minutes). > Sprinkle cake with confectioners’ sugar. > Immediately turn out onto slightly damp kitchen towel. > Remove wax paper from bottom of cake and sprinkle bottom side of cake with confectioners’ sugar. > Cut 1/4 inch of the cake off edges. > Roll up unfrosted cake in towel. > Cool completely. 

Soft Chocolate Icing
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate 
6 tablespoons rum or strong coffee 
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Pinch of salt 
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter
          at room temp 

Break up chocolate in a medium-size saucepan, add the rum or coffee and corn syrup > Set saucepan into a larger saucepan with about 2 inches of boiling water, remove from the heat > Cover the pan of chocolate with lid and let sit for 5 minutes until chocolate is melted and smooth, but still warm > Reheat water if necessary. > Add the salt to the warm chocolate and quickly beat in the softened butter, one tablespoon at a time until smooth. > Continue beating over a bowl of cold water until firm enough to spread. Do not let water touch the chocolate.

Constructing The Cake 
Unroll cake. > Spread with up to 1/2 of the frosting. > Roll cake up; place seam side down on serving plate. > Cut one diagonal slice off each end, making one larger than the other. > Spread diagonal end of each slice with frosting; place on sides of the log for “branches.” > Frost cake and sides of branches with frosting; leaving the ends unfrosted. > Run fork along log to create the look of “bark.” > Sprinkle very lightly with confectioners’ sugar to emulate “snow.”  > Adorn your log with a sprig of holly or for the more adventurous, refer to The Way to Cook for instructions on decorating à la Julia with meringue mushrooms and spun-sugar moss. 

Posted in Ocala Style Features, TableTagged

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