Thursday, 16 December 2010

Aunt Alethea's Famous Squares

These squares are a Christmas tradition throughout various branches of my mother's side of the family, although there is some difference in opinion about how exactly they should be made. I decided I would make both versions this year.

The other (heretical!) version has 1/4 cup each candied orange peel, candied lemon peel and candied pineapple instead of the preserved ginger. Instead of 1/2 a cup of sugar in the batter it calls for 1 cup icing sugar, and a little nutmeg grated in. And finally, it doesn't get iced. I didn't have any candied pineapple (glick, frankly) and so I put in dried cranberries instead and I left out the nuts, because I also have to admit to not loving nuts in cake generally plus there's a lot going on in there already.

I used hazelnuts in the first version, which are probably more of a second favourite nut than a favourite nut; but the trouble with my favourite nuts (almonds? pistachios?) is that they don't generally last more than 15 minutes after entering the house.

So, which one is better? Hmm, let me have another one of each while I decide. Actually, I don't think there is much contest: anything made with preserved ginger is obviously going to be the best and that caramel icing rocks. But the other is really quite good too.

25 squares
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time PLUS 15 minutes to ice

Prepare the Dry Ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped favourite nuts
1/3 cup chopped candied ginger
3/4 to 1 cup chopped dates

3/4 cup soft unbleached (pastry) flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Chop the nuts, ginger and dates. Put them in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over them, and mix gently but well, breaking apart any clumps of dates or ginger. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9" baking pan with parchment paper and butter the sides, or else butter the whole thing.

Make the Batter:
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Beat the eggs until light and pale, in a slightly larger mixing bowl. Beat in the sugar and the melted (but not too hot) butter.

Fold in the flour and dried fruit and nuts until all the flour is absorbed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. It will seem thin and skimpy but persevere.

Bake the squares for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch. (You can do the old toothpick test if you like.)

Once the squares (to be) have cooled, they can be iced. I generally do this the next morning.

Ice the Squares:
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup Sucanat or very dark brown sugar
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the butter, milk and brown sugar until the dissolved. Beat in the icing sugar and the vanilla. Spread over the pan of cake. Cut it into squares, and remove them from the pan.

Last year at this time I made Basler Brunsli.

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