Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Season

This is it. The Season is upon us. It is the season for parties (even if you never go to them otherwise), for baking (even if you don't usually bake), for singing (yeah, even when you can't sing), and for believing (even if you don't usually believe). In my neck of the woods, the particular season is Christmas, or more precisely, Advent. And let me tell you, I am thrilled.

Christmas has always been beloved in my family, with all the baking, gifting, and partying. I am even more thrilled than usual though. Maybe it is because we have a tree this year. Maybe it is because I realized that the tradition of Advent means a whole new year (by the Church calendar). I rather adore beginnings. I like the awareness they bring of repetition and rhythm. I like the hope they give. I like the sense of renewal.

This last Sunday we did things all new. We got a Christmas tree! Then, we decorated it! Then, we had a little family gathering in honor of the occasion.

Ok, actually it was totally not in that order. First the family came. Then we went out and got a tree. Then, over the course of the evening, with various members contributing dinner, and others going back and forth from their house (to retrieve lights, extra ornaments, cookies), we finally decorated it.

This is new indeed, because for the last ten years we have been going home for Christmas, leaving our home to go to our parent's home. We have been students, too busy and too poor to afford a tree we wouldn't get to enjoy much anyway. Now that we live here though, now that we will actually get to sleep in our own beds on Christmas Eve, we finally got a tree of our own. Here's to new good things.

These two darlings are the newest of the new too. My in-law women gave me these owls to celebrate. So sweet.

What good is a tree if you don't decorate it? And what good is decorating the tree if you don't have a decorating party? And, you guessed it, what good is a party if you can't eat a little boozy cake?

Last year, it was the Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bunt Cake, which is still, definitely, melancholy perfection. This year I wanted something different, something my whiskey-wary husband and Co. would like. But I also wanted that cake, that perfect cake.

I must be rounding the corner into brilliance because while pondering the plausibility of making Rose Levy Baranbaum's Golden Grand Marnier Cake, I realized I could alter my favorite recipe without muffing up the central pillars of perfection. Oh, brilliance for sure. Thus, I introduce to you the cousin of said Mr. Bunt--Mr. Grand Marnier Dark Chocolate Bunt Cake.

Like his cousin, he is pleasantly crusty and boozy the day he's baked, and he only gets better, delicate, and soft-spoken with age. I am on day three and falling increasingly more in love.

This is the first boozed-up Christmas cake of a few boozy Christmas cakes I hope to make and share. Oh, the season. Oh the food! Oh, as my priest says, to hold celebration close to us, daily.

Grand Marnier Dark Chocolate Bunt Cake (adapted from Molly who adapted from The New York Times, inspired also by Rose)

Maybe I don't have to tell you this, but make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. My eggs were a little cold, and I was a little slow, so a bit of my unsweetened chocolate solidified without my knowing it till too late. Thus, I had some unexpected, but not at all unpleasant chocolate bits in my cake.

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso powder
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
about 1 1/2 cups orange juice, see below for details
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
grated rind of 2 tangerines or 1 large orange
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a large bundt pan.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over--not in--a pan of simmering water. Stir often until half melted then  take off heat and stir until smooth. Set aside and let cool.

Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Heat orange juice to boiling and add enough to come up to the 1 and 1/2 cup measuring line. Stir until the powders dissolve. Add the half cup Grand Marnier, orange zest, and salt. Set aside and let cool.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in a third of the orange mixture. When the liquid is fully absorbed, beat in half the flour. Repeat additions, ending with the orange mixture. Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt and smooth the top. Bake about one hour and ten minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cake cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes then unmold and cool completely before serving. Top with a few teaspoons sprinkling of Grand Mariner and then a dusting of powdered sugar, if you like. (I like.) Enjoy!

Yield: 10 to 12 servings.


  1. This cake was the PERFECT midnight snack while finishing homework.

  2. Guess who "Center for Google" is? Me!