Alla Helgons Dag

Holger Motzkau 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Holger Motzkau 2010, Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

Each family has its own unique culture, and for us, my Grandparents were instrumental in shaping that culture. I always looked forward to visiting them and hearing stories about their life in Sweden before they came to the Midwest. My imagination would stretch itself to Sweden; to forests with dim light pouring through them. Sure, they would tell the same stories over and over again, but each time they would add a little flourish that made it new again. Years later I found myself telling my kids these family tales. I’d see their faces, and  find myself exaggerating and adding my own twists. Eventually, I came to realize that my voice had become just as much a part of the telling as the voices of my Grandparents.

One of my favorite stories my Grandmother told me was that on Christmas she would bring wreaths and candles to the cemetery and put them on the graves of her Great Grandparents. She said that on that night the cemetery was washed in light, the flames from the candles cutting circles and shadows in the snow. This image has stayed with me throughout my life, and eventually I made it to her village. It was around this time of year, near Halloween (years after my Grandparents  moved to America, Alla Helgons Dag  or “All Soul’s Day” was moved to the Saturday following the 30th of October). When I got to the cemetery, I realized that although the day had changed the traditions continued. Being there was like stepping into my Grandmother’s memory, as I was surrounded by light.

In Sweden, the end of October marks the beginning of  the dark nights of winter. On Alla Helgons Dag we bring lanterns, candles and wreaths to loved ones who have passed on. We bring them these things, though more than anything they are gifts to ourselves. We are reminded that the love of those we have lost continues, despite the long days without them.

Sweets to the sweet…

Image courtesy of exclusivelyfood.com.au

As the season changes, so do my cravings. Mid-day snacks become sweeter, cookies abound, and I just can’t pass up making the most luscious, gooiest of desserts…Sticky Toffee Date Cake! It is an indisputable fact that any dessert that begins with “Sticky Toffee” is guaranteed to be delicious, but I found this recipe by Ina Garten to be particularly scrumptious. Enjoy!

Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze

For the cake:
¾ pound dates, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoons baking powder

For the sauce:
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons good bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 2-inch round cake pan.

Place the dates in a deep saucepan with 1¾ cups of water. Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates. Allow to simmer 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the baking soda (it will bubble up!). Set aside.

Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the mixing bowl. (It may look curdled.) Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer still on low, slowly add it to the batter. With the mixer on low, add the hot date mixture in two batches to the batter, scraping down the bowl. The batter will be runny but don’t worry! Stir in the baking powder, which will also bubble up. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a 2-cup heat-proof glass measuring cup. Set aside.

As soon as the cake is done, poke holes all over it with a toothpick. Pour three-quarters of the sauce evenly over the cake while still warm and allow it to soak in for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out bottom side up onto a flat serving plate and pour the remaining sauce on top. Cool completely.

Serve at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.

Fall picks

Image courtesy of poorandpretty.com

As Autumn begins, I look forward to all of its simple pleasures. One of my favorite activities is visiting our local apple orchard. Our family has gone apple picking every year since I was a child, and every year I feel the same jolt of exhilaration stepping out of the car. While engaged in the simple act of gathering apples, I experience a rich sense of harvest. I breathe in the sweet, crisp, leafy combination of the morning and the orchard, and all the years come back to me.

When I get home and put the kids to bed I find myself leafing through old photos and recipes, I search for that elusive nineteenth century novel I swore I was going to finish last Fall, and I make myself a hot mug of apple cider with allspice. Apples, pumpkin pie, old books; scent memory and emotional memory are inextricably linked together. We all have little reminders of this at different moments in our lives, but for me Autumn and Winter are two of the most powerful seasons for these kinds of associations.

This fall, we introduced a new scent called Hearth which combines cedar wood, with sweet amber and leather. It conjures up that first cold evening curling up by the fireplace. Another new scent is our Vanilla Noir, which combines a creamy Madagascar Vanilla with soft woods and musk; this one always reminds me of baking with Mom in the kitchen. And last but not least, our Pumpkin candle with its warm notes of harvest pumpkin, spice and herbs always cheers me up after a long day.