Fruitcakes have a bad reputation because many people find them dry, tasteless and chock full of artificially colored and flavored “fruit” ingredients.   I was  among the anti-fruitcake group, until my beloved introduced me to his recipe,  that originated from Juanita Neilands, the wife of his doctoral adviser, the biochemist Joe Neilands at UC Berkeley.   They’re completely natural, which is consistent with their popularity in the hippie era of the San Francisco Bay area.   Each year Juanita and friends would bake a big bunch of these incredible cakes and distribute them to each of Joe’s lab members.

The remarkable man Joe Neilands passed away a little over a year ago at age 87.  He was an outstanding scientist and political activist, a true free-spirit.   You can read about him here.   In our current lab we still continue the research that he began  decades ago, and in our kitchen we still bake this favorite fruitcake, “an old Southern family recipe”.

(from Juanita Neilands, an old Southern family recipe)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup white grape juice
1 t baking powder
1 lb pitted, chopped dates (unsugared)
(or 1/2 lb dates + 1/2 lb mixed dried fruits of your choice)
1/2 lb dried apricots, chopped
1 lb pecans, chopped
3/4 lb walnuts, chopped (about 3 cups)
optional:  Tawny Port wine

Beat the eggs and sugar together.  If you can only find chopped dates that are coated with sugar, then reduce the sugar by 2 T. Mix in the flour and baking powder, then add vanilla and grape juice.  Dust the dates and apricots with flour, add them to the batter, then add the chopped nuts.    The batter will seem very dry, do not worry about it.

Prepare six mini-loaf pans by greasing them with butter.  Line with 2 layers of parchment paper, greasing each layer.   Spoon the batter into each pan, and decorate the cakes with half walnuts or pecans on top.

Bake at 350F for 50 minutes to 1 hour, and remove the loaves from pans as soon as you can touch the cake.  Remove the parchment paper, and put cakes on a rack over a pan.  Pour Tawny port (or brandy or bourbon), about 2 T each,  over the fruitcakes and and allow them to cool.  Add more Port later, if you desire, and wrap for storage.   Enjoy the cake right away,  or store for several months, if Port wine (or brandy) is added.

Happy Holidays!

to print the recipe, click here

This post will be my first submission to “Bread Baking Day”, this month’s theme is “Baking Under the Tree

for step by step photos and comments, read on….

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You say CAKE, they say “CAAK”

Or…”I say tomato, you say tomaato.” When we lived in Paris our great friend and co-worker sometimes invited us for dinner at his place. We relished those special evenings with he and his wife, who is a beautiful, elegant French woman, and a fantastic cook. The French culture is quite private, so an invitation to dine in someone’s home is a true gesture of friendship. Before the meal she often prepared some “cake“. Cake? To start a meal? Well, it wasn’t a typical American cake, which in France would be a “gateau“. Instead, this kind of cake  (which the French pronounce more or less as “caak” )  is a rich and savory loaf with the approximate texture of a banana bread, usually leavened with baking powder.

We loved those dinners, from the first to the last course (the latter always being a selection of cheeses), but the opening “cakes” were likely my favorite part. When I left France I brought along photocopies of her recipes, and also managed to buy two cookbooks that exclusively describe those savory loaves. Yes, that’s how much I loved them! So, I dedicate this post to our friends, Alain and Corinne!

This version comes from “Sophie’s Sweet and Savory Loaves.” It’s a delicious blend of zucchini and feta cheese. As you can see from the photo, I leave the feta in large chunks… for little bursts of sharpness and flavor.

(adapted from Sophie’s recipe)

2 T olive oil
1 medium zucchini, cut in 1/3-in slices
3 large eggs
1 cup + 2 T all purpose flour, sifted
1 + 3/4 tsp baking powder
salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk, hot
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 T cilantro leaves, minced

Heat the oven to 350F. Grease a loaf pan with butter or shortening.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the slices of zucchini until they get soft and golden on both sides. Remove from the pan, drain over paper towels to remove excess fat. Reserve.

Combine the eggs, flour, baking powder, 2 pinches of salt and pepper, and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Add the hot milk and the oil, and beat until smooth. Add the Gruyere cheese, zucchini, feta, and cilantro, mixing well with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack, allow it to cool for 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Savory cakes embellish the cooking repertoire of anyone interested in entertaining, potlucks, picnics, brunches, or late night munchies… They are simple to make, and you can add almost anything you wish in the basic mix. Leftover roast chicken? Dice it and add it, maybe with some roasted red peppers and basil… Smoked salmon, ham, black olives, sundried tomatoes, roasted eggplant… they all have their place in such recipes. Just combine flavors that match together, to the delight of your guests.

For this loaf, I prepared the zucchini the day before and saved it in the fridge. Next day, I only had to assemble the ingredients…
… eggs, milk, oil,  flour, feta cheese, sauteed zucchini…

Add them to the prepared loaf pan….

and bake it!

Allow the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, remove it, slice it, and serve it to your lucky guests!


The BBA Challenge has had its ups and downs.  Unfortunately with this bread I hit the lowest point in the whole challenge.  I had problems from the very beginning, my dough refused to get smooth, it felt like a mixture of sand and water, “breaking” as I tried to knead it.     I moved on, shaped the bread, allowed it to rise – which, it did not, I barely detect any changes – and baked it.

It was dense, and too chewy for my taste.   I definitely need more practice with this kind of a dough.  Rye won big time,  I got a lesson in humility….

Next day I cut the bread into thin slices and turned them into rye crisps, which were ok, but not great.

I look forward to the reports of my fellow bakers following the BBA Challenge, maybe they can give me some tips to deal with such a tricky dough.


Growing up in Sao Paulo I often enjoyed great Middle Eastern food.  Thanks in part to the huge inflow of immigrants from Lebanon in the 20’s,  paulistas have an abundance of Middle Eastern restaurants to choose from.   I was spoiled on kibbe, sfiha, hummus, tabouleh, fattoush, kofta… delicious cuisine!   Only after I left Brazil did I realize that those delicacies aren’t available at every corner of the planet.   And… I miss them.

Whenever I return to Sao Paulo to visit my family it seems like I’m too busy enjoying Brazilian food, mostly home-cooked, to seek out restaurants, so  Middle Eastern food gets postponed until “next year.”   Because this “next year” pattern has recurred for more than a decade, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I’ve had this recipe since 2000 – from one of my visits to Sao Paulo, when a friend of mine gave it to me, straight  from her Lebanese neighbor.  It’s hard to accept that it took me a decade to make it, but it’s better late than never,  and I’m sure glad that I did!

You can make kibbe (or, as we spell in Brazil – quibe) in two basic ways.  The first is to shape the meat around the filling as individual portions, with a classical torpedo shape.   In this case, the kibbe is fried.   The second approach is to bake it in a tray, with the filling in a middle layer.  I opted for the latter, which was always my favorite.

(from a Lebanese-Brazilian)

For the bottom and top layers
2 pounds ground round steak
1 cup bulgur wheat (tabouleh type)
1/2 onion, grated
1/4  tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 T fresh parsley, minced
1 T fresh mint, minced
dash of cinnamon

for the middle layer (filling)
3/4  cup ground round beef
1/2 T olive oil
1/4 cup grated onion
1/2 cup pine nuts, slightly toasted
dash of cinnamon
salt and pepper

Soak the bulgur wheat in cold water for 30 minutes and drain well.   Add it to the other ingredients of the top and bottom layers and mix very well with your hands, and then set the mixture aside.

Prepare the filling by sauteeing the ground beef in olive oil with the other ingredients (except the pine nuts), until cooked through.  Drain off the excess fat, mix in the pine nuts and set it aside to cool.

Assemble the kibbe:  divide the meat/bulgur mixture in two and spread half on the bottom of a baking dish, forming a layer 1/4 to 1/2  inch thick.  Add the cooked meat/pine nuts mixture over this layer, then cover it with the remaining meat/wheat mixture.   Cut into squares appropriate for single servings (this step makes it a lot easier to serve later).

Place the dish in a 325F oven for 35-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of your kibbe.   You can increase the temperature to 400F for the final 5 minutes, or run it under the broiler to brown the top.   Allow the kibbe to cool for 10 minutes before serving.


(to print the recipe, click here)

Comments Kibbe is not a light dish; it quickly fills you up as a result of the bulgur wheat, so it calls for a light side dish.  We had it with white rice and cucumber salad with a yogurt-based dressing.

This composite photo (click to enlarge it) shows the addition of the filling (cooked ground beef), the addition of the top layer (raw beef/bulgur), and the kibbe right out of the oven.

One simple variation of this dish is to only bake the meat/bulgur, without the middle layer.  It’s also quite good, but this version is more traditional and, in my opinion,  better.   Don’t omit the pine nuts!  Their crunchy texture and nutty flavor are essential.

Now that I’ve recalled my gastronomic memories of Middle Eastern food, I’m craving sfihas!  We’ll have to do something about that too… 😉

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Following the BBA Challenge, we go forward with the sourdoughs, the next couple of which are made with rye flour.  Rye is low in gluten,  which increases the difficulty of handling it.  In this recipe Peter Reinhart uses a rye sponge, that’s made with a sourdough starter, rye flour, and lightly sauteed onions.  The sponge ferments for a few hours, gets refrigerated overnight, and the next day it’s mixed into a final dough with brown sugar, buttermilk, white and rye flours, and a small amount of commercial yeast.

I was a bit insecure preparing this dough – it’s easy to turn a rye dough into a gummy mess, so I paid extra attention to Peter’s advice to avoid over-kneading it.   And the onion smell was too strong, which only added to my worries and bothered my husband!

But, sometimes a bright light shines at the end of the tunnel!  This bread turned out awesome!  It delivered exactly what Peter promised: a flavorful New York deli rye bread…    My pictures don’t do it justice: it tasted much better than it looks.   😉

The crumb was tight but delicate, and the hint of onion in the background perfectly paired with the caraway spice.

My beloved, as usual, used it in a delicious sandwich creation:  grilled rib eye steak slices, sauteed mushrooms (both leftovers from last night’s dinner), and a few slices of Jarslberg cheese.   His remark afterwards:

Even Tom Colicchio would love this one!  😉

I’m pleasantly surprised by how much we both enjoyed this bread, especially because it’s my first time making this type of loaf.

Flash! Here’s something even more exciting… I enrolled in a class with Peter Reinhart himself in January!  I can hardly wait!   My Bread Baker’s Apprentice book is a little beaten up now, but  it’ll look like a million bucks once I get his autograph on it!   😉

Check the  New York deli rye made by Oggi, from “I Can do That”, by clicking here

Next on the challenge: 100% sourdough rye. That one’s REALLY intimidating.  Stay tuned…