We all have one… the elderly neighbor, the second cousin we see only once a year, the cranky aunt, our best friend’s mom who is suddenly flying in from the coast. These are the impossible-to-buy-for people still on our lists. And, it’s already December 18! There’s no time, not much money and absolutely not a clue what they’d like. So I say, it’s time to bake a cake.
But not just any cake. A very special Christmas cake my friend Mary Lynn shared with me years ago. It is super simple to make (OK, a big plus there.), takes minimal, easy to find ingredients (Yes!), is small and personal and… the clincher… tastes, looks and smells just like Christmas.
Case in point: We have a very dear neighbor named Dave. He’s getting on in years, and my husband does a lot of yard work for him over the spring, summer and fall. Dave is very generous in his compensation, but Don would do it anyway because Dave is a super cool guy. And other than running the occasional errand for him, taking his trash bins in from the curb and making sure he’s ok if the power goes out, there’s not much we can do for or give to Dave that he couldn’t do or buy for himself.
You see Dave used to own the hardware store in town—I mean the original hardware store. Where you could walk in, open a dusty little wooden drawer, fish out two of the screws you needed for a repair and hand Dave 25 cents. Well, trust me, there were such stores when I was a kid. Anyway, Dave sold his store several years ago and retired to a relatively comfortable, self-sufficient and quiet life. But he can’t cook a lick.
Hear that? No, that sound is not reindeer hooves on the roof but the music of opportunity knocking. Every year for Christmas, I bake Dave his very own Christmas Cake. And, I bet there is a “Dave” in your life, too. So if you are sitting here reading this post, feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of heading back out to the stores or searching online for something…anything…that might work for that impossible someone and actually might get here before December 25, relax. It’s gonna be a piece of cake.
- Two cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour will work)
- One cup sugar (I stick with raw sugar or evaporated cane juice, but any white sugar will do.)
- One-half cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (Nope, you don’t even have to soften the butter!)
- One-half teaspoon cinnamon
- One-half teaspoon ginger
- One-half teaspoon fine sea salt (or table salt)
- One-half cup sifted powdered sugar
- One large egg
- Two teaspoons unsulfured molasses
- One cup buttermilk
- One teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Coat an 8 x 8 glass baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper that overhangs the sides for easy cake removal. (The cooking spray helps keep the parchment paper in place as you add the batter.)
- Combine the flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Whisk well.
- With a pastry blender, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles sand—just as you would for pastry dough.
- Take out one-half cup of the flour mixture and combine this with one-half cup powdered sugar. Set aside for your topping.
- Whisk together the egg, molasses, buttermilk and baking soda and combine with the remaining flour mixture. Beat well.
- Spread the batter into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the reserved topping mixture.
- Bake 50-55 minutes. Test your cake at about the 45-minute mark by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the cake. You want the toothpick to come out clean. If it doesn’t, return to the oven to complete baking.
You can serve this confection warm with whipped cream for a decadent Christmas morning coffee cake or present it to your special someone with a little sprig of holly or fancy bow. It makes a great gift on an inexpensive decorative holiday plate. Optional ingredients: citrus zest from one orange or lemon; one-quarter-cup toasted, chopped pecans added to the cake batter.
Cutting Corners, But Not Nutrition
The real beauty of this cake is its simplicity. The last thing you want on December 18, is stress. So this cake allows you to sort of cut some corners and still have a winner of a gift or dessert to share. But cutting corners only goes so far…let’s talk about your own well-being and nutrition.
It’s all too easy to rationalize a couple of sugar cookies with that morning coffee instead of a healthy breakfast as you make your many lists and head out the door for a day of shopping. Don’t do it! Here’s a better plan brought to you by Delicious Living Magazine—Slow-Cooker Amaranth Cardamom Porridge, a delicious, hot, nutritious breakfast that you make the night before in your slow cooker. Genius. No need to reach for that cookie–save it for Santa.
Delicious Living also has you covered for dinner with a slow-cooker Butternut Squash Lasagna Bake. I know! Lasagna! But it’s true, and it can be waiting for you when you return from the hectic holiday hustle and bustle. Add only a glass of red wine… and maybe that cookie.
So remember yourself as you remember those you love because they love you just as much as you love them. Be merry and well and infinitely brave in that kitchen!