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Show some love with holiday food gifts

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Bless Your Spoon

This holiday season, I’m sharing recipes for delicious dessert treats that your family will love.

Better yet, these selections make great gifts for sharing with others. No gift conveys love for others more than a handcrafted dish made from scratch. If you don’t want to gift an entire cake, consider a festive tray with cake slices.Now’s a good time to begin sorting through those old family recipes to find a couple that not only taste delicious but will continue a tradition in your family’s honor.

Although my mother, Anna Quinton, wasn’t an avid baker, she had a few delicious dessert recipes – so when she baked, you knew the confection was going to be good. You don’t need an entire file box of dessert recipes under your belt– just a few in your repertoire that you’ve conquered and can bake with confidence.

At our home during the holidays, Mom ordered cakes from a woman named Lyssa Gillespie, who baked out of her home kitchen. Ms. Gillespie didn’t deliver, so we’d drive to her home to pick up the goodies. As a child, I remember cradling those boxed cakes in my arms – holding and protecting them as if for dear life.

My family always had traditional desserts in the house at Christmas – Rum or Bourbon Balls, either fresh Coconut Snowballs or a layered cake iced with white, whipped marshmallows and coconut spread. Every year, there was either a layered Prune Cake or Tennessee Jam Cake frosted with caramel icing.

If you’ve never had a prune cake, you must try it. Like both carrot and jam, the ingredients might not sound appealing in a cake, but taste sometimes defies the mind.

Give any of these delightful sweets as food gifts – and you’re guaranteed a friend for life.

MRS. GILLESPIE’S COCONUT SNOWBALLS

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

1 cup sugar

1 ½ cups egg whites

¼ tsp. salt

1 ½ tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Sift together the flour and ½ cup of sugar five times. Sift separately 1 cup of sugar and set aside.  Beat egg whites and salt until they stand in peaks. When foamy, add cream of tartar. Slowly add the sifted 1 cup sugar. Add vanilla extract.  Fold in flour and sugar mixture. Pour into an angel food cake pan. Cut knife through batter before baking to release any trapped air. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30-40 minutes. To cool, invert cake pan over the neck of a bottle to ensure desired height. For snowballs, cut angel food cake into 2-inch squares and ice with white icing. Roll in fresh or frozen coconut, not canned.

COOKED WHITE ICING

4 egg whites

2 ½ cups sugar

1 tbsp. light Karo syrup

Pinch of cream of tartar

½ cup water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients except egg whites and cook to soft ball stage. Slowly add to beaten egg whites. Continue beating with a mixer. Fold in vanilla.

RUM BALLS

Freshly baked or store-bought angel food cake

2 boxes confectioner’s sugar

1 stick melted, salted butter

Whole milk

Rum extract

Chopped pecans

Cut up the angel food cake into 1 ½ -2 inch squares. Set aside. In a mixer bowl, combine 2 boxes of confectioner’s sugar with melted butter. Reach desired thin consistency with a little milk and add rum extract to taste. Dip angel food cake squares in the butter-rum mixture and roll each in chopped pecans.

TENNESSEE JAM CAKE

1 cup sugar

¾ cup salted butter

3 egg yolks

2 ½ cups Swansdown cake flour

¾ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. allspice

½ cup buttermilk

3 eggs whites

1 cup blackberry jam

In a mixer bowl, cream sugar, and butter. Add egg yolks, blending one at a time. Sift cake flour with baking powder, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. Add flour mixture while alternating with buttermilk. Beat egg whites and fold into batter. Add blackberry jam and mix well. Bake in two, greased and floured, 9-inch cake pans in a 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Ice with caramel icing.

PRUNE CAKE

½ cup salted butter

1 ¼ cup sugar

3 beaten egg yolks

2 ½ cups Swansdown cake flour

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup whole milk

1 cup cooked, chopped prunes

3 beaten egg whites

In a mixer bowl, cream sugar, and butter. Add egg yolks one at a time blending well between eggs. To flour, add baking powder, nutmeg, and cinnamon and sift. Add cake flour mixture while alternating with milk. Fold in prunes. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into batter. Bake in two, 9-inch, greased and floured cake pans or line pan bottoms with wax paper and greased the sides of the pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool. Spread filling between cake layers.

FILLING FOR PRUNE CAKE

2 beaten egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

½ cup whole milk

½ cup chopped prunes

¼ cup chopped raisins

¼ cup chopped dates

1 Tbsp. salted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup chopped pecans

In a mixer bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar and milk. Fold in chopped prunes, raisings, and dates. Pour into a pot and cook until thick. When thickened, remove from heat and fold in butter, vanilla, and chopped pecans. Spread between layers of cake and ice with caramel or white icing.

OLD FASHIONED CARAMEL ICING

¾ cup sugar

3 ¼ cup sugar

2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. all-purpose flour

1/8th tsp. salt

1 1/3 cup whole milk

1 ½ sticks salted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a heavy skillet, add ¾ cup sugar. Over low heat, continuously stir for 10 minutes until sugar is melted and golden tan in color. Remove skillet from heat and set aside. In a pot, add 3 ¼ cup sugar, flour, and salt. Stir in the milk until smooth. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Slowly add the melted ¾ cup of sugar from the skillet. Cook to 400 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat. Place pot in a pan of tap water to cool down to 110. Fold in softened butter and vanilla. Beat with a hand mixer until creamy and spreadable.

FAVORITE EASY CARAMEL FROSTING

1 stick salted butter

½ cup light brown sugar

½ cup dark brown sugar

¼ cup whole milk

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a saucepan, add butter and brown sugars and heat until butter and sugars are melted. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat. Fold in confectioners sugar and vanilla. Beat until frosting is smooth. This icing needs to be used immediately. Keep on stove to keep warm and spreadable. If it turns hard, warm it back up. If more than 2 layers, double recipe for additional icing.

TENNESSEE BOURBON BALLS

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

½ cup Tennessee bourbon whiskey

3 Tbsp. light corn syrup

3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers

1 cup finely ground pecans

½ cup confectioners sugar

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup confectioners sugar and whiskey. Blend in corn syrup. Stir in crushed wafers and pecans and mix well. Form into bite-sized balls. Roll in ½ cup confectioners sugar. Store in an airtight container.

CHARITY LEAGUE’S EASY BOURBON BALLS

1 box crushed vanilla wafers

1 ½ cups ground nuts

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

7 oz. quality bourbon

Additional confectioners sugar

In a mixer bowl, mix well. Form into 1-inch balls. Roll in confectioners sugar. Store in airtight container. This recipe is from the Charity League’s cookbook, Taste of the Town, Lexington, NC. Members of the league made these to sell at their annual Shoppes at Holiday House.

DATE NUT BALLS

½ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar

1 stick salted butter

Pinch of salt

8 oz. chopped dates

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups Rice Krispies

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 cup coconut (optional)

In a saucepan, combine sugars, butter, salt, and dates. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and fold in vanilla. Fold in Rice Krispies and nuts and coconut.  While warm, roll into balls. Dry on waxed paper or racks. Butter your hands while making balls. When cold, roll in confectioners sugar. Store in an airtight container.

APRICOT-COCONUT BALLS

8 oz. dried apricots

2 cups shredded coconut

2/3 cup condensed milk

Confectioners sugar

In a food processor, grind apricots. In a mixer bowl, add processed apricots, coconut, and milk. Shape into balls and roll in confectioner’s sugar. Chill until firm. Store in airtight container.

WHISKEY SOUR BALLS

12 oz. finely crushed vanilla wafers

1 cup flake coconut

1 cup chopped macadamia nuts

¼ cup confectioners sugar

6 oz. frozen orange or pineapple orange juice

2 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup bourbon

In a bowl, combine the crushed vanilla wafers, coconut, chopped nuts, and confectioners sugar. Mix well. Add frozen juice that’s been thawed out, vanilla and bourbon. Mix well. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Then roll into 1-inch balls. Roll in confectioners sugar. Store in airtight container.