I don't have the small motor dexterity to construct and decorate gingerbread houses, even with those pre-cut kits. The baking of gingerbread doesn't faze me, but I am no good at icing and decorating.
But I was so excited about the gingerbread cake dessert I whipped up for Christmas dinner. My old college roommate gave me a sandcastle-shaped Bundt cake last summer - why? I don't know. She lives in Rome, Italy and is a contemporary art curator and historian, so there may have been some coded ironic message about American consumerism. If she reads this, she can tell me. But as Freud might have said in the aisles of Williams-Sonoma: "sometimes a Bundt pan is just a Bundt pan."
So I have this sandcastle bundt cake pan which may or may not be a covert witticism but it's also a very cool-looking form. Last week I tested out a gingerbread (cake) recipe in it (see version 1.0 above).
The white bits are where I was clumsy with the PAM spray and "light flour". Cooking spray is new for me, but I thought it was necessary to get into all the little crevices of the bundt mold. I was more careful in version 2.0, but this time I hadn't cleaned out every tiny crumb from the crevices so the turret detail was not optimal. Dang! I scoured it using various contraptions, soaking, etc. but I shall have to buy a bottle brush.
Then I made a compote, adapting a recipe out of a Russian cookbook - dried appples, apricots and raisins, a little sugar, a cinnamon stick, ginger and a few cloves, lemon zest, and at the very end a splash of rum. I really wanted to use orange flower water but my husband voted for rum.
For Christmas dessert spread whipped cream around the castle base and daubed a little on the turrets; David sifted confectioners sugar over the bare parts. Mother-in-law Celeste had fresh raspberries out for the kids so I swiped four for the turrets.
I imagined that the apricots would look like gold treasure or something. Having grown up around Middle Eastern Crusaders' castles, I find this whole construction wildly romantic, and love the Arab influences of the compote. I was going to stir in pine nuts as well - I once ate an apple compote in Arcos de la Frontera, Spain, made from an old convent recipe, with walnuts and orange flower water. But I forgot, and my in-laws, who have really good taste in these matters, said it was just as well.
Pine nuts are even more Moorish/Arab than the walnuts would be. But the rum is pure Crusader influence! Some other time, if this is a success, I'll do it again with orange flower water, to be incredibly Andalusian/Moorish/Arab about it.
Ginger and most of the spices used in gingerbread (I added cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the recipe) were introduced to Europe by the Arabs, via the Crusades. Apricots and dried fruit compote are beloved by the Arabs, as well. So I'm tickled to make such a Christmas-y dessert that pays homage to the half of my family that's Middle Eastern.
I thought of naming the cake Krak Des Chevaliers after a castle in Syria I've never visited. I just like the name.
By the way, if you've gotten this far and are puzzled, remember that Arab Christians exist in decent numbers - 20% of the population of Syria, 12-15% of Iraq, 40-50% of Lebanon, almost that high among Palestinians if you include the diaspora. (Don't know the numbers in Egypt - a small but significant minority.) My father's Eastern Rite Catholic church is one of the oldest around, older than the church of
Rome. Jesus visited my hometown (Sidon and surrounding hills) and the Apostle Paul founded early churches in the area. When the Crusaders came to "liberate" Palestine and Jerusalem, they found indigenous Christians who traced their spiritual lineage back to the apostles and Jesus himself. So a Middle Eastern castle Christmas cake is a perfectly appropriate reflection of my cultural and spiritual heritage.
Merry Christmas everybody.
(adapted from a usenet post 12/25/05)