Brook Hurst Stephens
New Year? Piece of Cake!
Like many people, I start to think about what I’ll be making and doing to celebrate the holidays not long after Halloween. It’s hard not to think about Thanksgiving and Christmas when reminders are everywhere. The Christmas decorations are already in the big-box stores, the free turkey coupons are in the newspapers, and Black Friday ads are everywhere. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas flies by, full of parties and school events and, for some, difficult emotions, too.
We have a little lull before we ring in the New Year, thank goodness, and that’s when I breathe a sigh of relief. I can still enjoy my holiday decorations but I don’t feel the stress sometimes associated with the business of the holiday season.
Some people have grand ways to ring in the New Year, whether by hosting parties or traveling someplace special to watch fireworks. Not me. I dislike fireworks, crowds and, most of all, I can’t stay up until midnight. I’m an early bird and I love mornings, especially being up before the sun comes up. Blame it on my childhood.
When I was very small, my grandmother owned a doughnut shop, which meant when I spent the night with her, we would be getting up while it was still dark for the 10-minute ride into downtown Yakima. She had strategically opened up next door to a successful stock brokerage firm. Their employees welcomed and loved it; since they had to be on East Coast time, they came to see us bright and early.
I was so little, literally and age-wise, I had to stand on a stool to run the cash register, but was big enough that my grandmother put me in charge of dipping the tops of the doughnuts in pretty pastel-colored icings, then topping with coconut or chopped nuts, or even better, adding sprinkles. Lots of sprinkles. Best childhood ever.
In many cultures, it is a tradition to eat ring-shaped foods, such as doughnuts, bagels or cakes on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. It represents the past year coming full circle and is thought to bring good luck in the New Year.
In Poland and Hungary, many people eat doughnuts to mark the New Year.
Bakers in Denmark celebrate this custom of ring-shaped baked goods with kransekake, a towering confection made with stacked rings of marzipan cake.
At the stroke of midnight, some families in Greece cut into a specially prepared lemon cake called vasilopita, in which the baker has placed a coin before baking. Right before cutting into the cake, the sign of a cross is etched with a knife across the top. Whoever finds the coin in their slice of cake gets one year of good luck.
I might be busier than usual this year, with the horses finally coming home to Faraway in time for Christmas and so many restoration projects in the works, but I do have a favorite go-to recipe for those times when I want to serve cake but don’t have time to bake and stack layer upon layer or whip up Seven Minute Frosting.
This quick and easy recipe is adapted from Ina Gerten’s Chocolate Ganache Cake recipe. It’s a small, single-layer cake but rich enough that a sliver is plenty. If you’re lucky enough to have access to duck eggs, use them. They’re richer than chicken eggs and provide more loft when baking cakes, quiches and soufflés.
Here’s to another great year here on the Key Peninsula. Cake or no cake, I already feel lucky just being part of this wonderful community.
Hershey’s Syrup Cake
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 duck eggs (or 4 chicken eggs), room temperature
1 16-ounce can (or 2 cups) Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup heavy cream (more for whipping, if desired)
8 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate chips
Whipped cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan. Line with round of parchment, if you have it.
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the chocolate syrup and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until just combined. Don’t overbeat or the cake will be tough.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until just set in the middle. Do not over-bake! Let cool thoroughly in the pan.
For the icing, cook the heavy cream and chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally.
Place the cake upside down on a wire rack and pour the glaze evenly over the top, making sure to cover the entire cake and sides, using a spatula if needed. Do not refrigerate.