27 December, 2017
Back in the Christmas post, I made a brief mention of wine cakes, and I showed the recipe in my little slideshow. Well, if you looked at the recipe, you might have noticed that it was a little… well, cryptic. After a few calls to my mom and a little bit of trial and error, I finally figured out the recipe I had last tasted so many years ago. It brought back memories, fond and bittersweet, but most of all, it reminded me that food is more than nourishment — It’s history. It’s memories. It’s a way to carry on tradition and the love of family members long after they’ve gone.
So, this one’s for Nana. The best baker I ever knew, and the source of my insatiable sweet tooth. I hope she’d be proud of these wine cakes, because we worked hard to make them just like she used to.
7 cups Flour
1 ½ cups Sugar
2 tsp Baking powder
2 tbsp Ground cloves
1 cup Water
1 cup American Marsala (I use Cribari brand)
½ cup Canola oil
Several cups of honey
Cloves and nutmeg
Crisco, for frying
Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and cloves. In a small saucepan, heat together the wine, water, and oil. On a large, clean area of counter, make a mound of the dry ingredients and create a well in the top. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and carefully mix everything together until you have sticky yet workable dough.
In a larger saucepan, heat up 1-2 inches of honey and add in ¼ tsp of nutmeg and ½ tsp ground cloves over medium heat. Stir it all together until the honey is runny and the spices are mixed in. Place Crisco in the fryer and heat it to 375 degrees F.
Grab a small fistful of dough and place it on the counter in front of you. Cover the rest of the dough, either in a bowl or on the counter, with a damp towel to keep it moist. Roll the dough out into a snake about ¾ of an inch thick. Cut the snake into 1 inch-long sections using a non-serrated knife or a dough scraper. Once the oil is heated, place one layer of dough bits into the basket or directly into the oil (I say one layer because having them overlap makes it more likely they’ll stick together while cooking).
Let the cakes cook for 3 minutes before removing them from the oil and letting them set for about 30 seconds (or, in subsequent batches, however long it takes you to fish the previous batch out of the honey) before transferring the freshly-fried dough into the pot of warm honey and spices. Toss the dough in the honey with a wooden spoon until they’re coated and let them sit 3 minutes while the next batch of cakes cooks.
When the next batch comes out of the oil, use a slotted spoon or another drainable scoop to fish the coated dough out of the honey and lay them on a large platter. Decorate them with copious amounts of sprinkles and transfer the next batch of cakes into the honey. Always make sure there is at least a half inch of honey in the pot. Any time you add more honey, add more spices. When putting the wine cakes on the platter, do your best to form a pyramid (that’s the traditional way to present them, and it makes eating them a lot easier than trying to take them out of a bowl, trust me).
Once all the dough has been fried and the honey used up, allow the honey to cool slightly before pouring it over the pile of dough balls and topping it all off with more sprinkles. Enjoy fresh or let sit, covered in plastic wrap. As the cakes sit, the flavors become more prominent and the texture softens a bit. Their flavor should be very heavily spiced and the texture should be tough but soft, and they should never be crunchy (if they are, no worries, it just means they were fried for too long – every fryer is a bit different).