After half a dozen years of cooking Thanksgiving dinner at my house, this year I'm so happy to be going home to Mom's, where I'm responsible only for desserts. Baking the expected cakes, pies and cookies will be a breeze. Transporting them, from Sag Harbor to northern New Jersey, however, has made me reconsider my standard repertoire in terms of portability.
My pecan pie is pretty indestructible, as are my sturdy sugar cookies flavored with maple extract and cut into maple leaf shapes. But the puff pastry apple tart I have relied on in the past is delicate and probably wouldn't make it across the George Washington Bridge in one piece. Pumpkin cheesecake requires refrigeration (you never know how long you will be stuck in traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway), and I'd rather leave the cooler at home.
So I will bake a Bundt cake, which looks pretty, can be cut into 12 or more slices and travels well. Fresh cranberries and cornmeal will give my cake some seasonal flair. Confectioners' sugar icing flavored with molasses, the staple sweetener of Colonial America, will finish it nicely. And because the icing hardens as it stands, it is less likely than a softer frosting to be ruined if my cake slides around a little in its keeper as I change lanes on the LIE.
I gave the recipe a test run. Before I let anyone taste the cake, I asked my 17-year-old (a newly licensed driver with a troubling lead foot) to take it to Bridgehampton and back. No worse for the wear, the cake was admired and enjoyed by all after dinner that night.
So I'll bake one again on Wednesday. And on Thanksgiving, I'll take extra care when packing my desserts before heading to Fort Lee. A plastic cake keeper will keep the Bundt cake clean and dust-free in the trunk of the car. If you don't own a cake keeper, go to the bakery counter at your supermarket and ask for a bakery box, which will work just as well. Cover pie with plastic wrap and foil. Cookies will go in tins. This might sound crazy, but to prevent a tragic Bundt cake-pecan pie collision, I'm planning on placing a scrap of an old nonskid rug pad underneath the desserts to keep them in place during the trip.
As soon as I arrive, I will unpack the sweets and set them on dessert platters, well in advance of serving time. I've hosted enough Thanksgiving dinners to know that guests who fuss in the kitchen while the cook is carving the turkey are not appreciated. I wouldn't dare ask my mother during this frenzied moment if I might pull out her KitchenAid mixer to whip some cream. So everything I bring, including this simple but special holiday cake, will be ready to eat as is.
CRANBERRY-CORNMEAL BUNDT CAKE
Cornmeal in the batter gives this cake a little crunch. Brown sugar makes it wonderfully moist and gives it a little molasses flavor, which is enhanced by the molasses glaze.
For the cake:
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups fresh cranberries
For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons milk, or a little more, if necessary
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1. Make cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Whisk together yogurt and milk in a small bowl.
3. Combine brown sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add eggs and beat, scraping down the bowl once or twice, until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Mix in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the yogurt in 2 additions, and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in cranberries.
4. Scrape batter into prepared Bundt pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 to 70 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes. Invert it onto a wire rack and cool completely.
5. Make glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together confectioners' sugar, molasses, milk and ginger until smooth and thick but pourable. Scrape into a glass measuring cup. Place cake on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle glaze over cake. Let stand until icing is set, about 30 minutes. Makes 12 servings.