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Making Traditional Holiday Dessert

December 03, 1987|DIANA WILLIAMS HANSEN | Hansen is a Louisville-based cooking consultant specializing in microwaving. and

If you haven't done much baking in your microwave oven, you might be surprised to learn that you can microwave traditional European Christmas desserts. Some originally created for treasured turks-head, kugelhopf , bundt and other tube-shaped molds adapt well to one of the most popular molds for microwaving: the 9-inch plastic tube pan. Ring-shaped tube pans help batter microwave evenly because there are no corner areas to overcook. In addition, the slow-to-cook center area has been displaced by the built-in tube.

English plum puddings that contain bread crumbs microwave well because they retain moisture evenly. The batter is drier but fluffier and consequently microwaves more rapidly than all-flour recipes. The resulting pudding generally is moister and more tender than all-flour puddings.

In finished appearance, texture and flavor, microwaved steamed puddings bear a close resemblance to their conventionally steamed counterparts. But, in the microwave, steaming is so easy that many people wouldn't call the technique "steaming" at all. All that's necessary to create steam is to cover the ring pan with plastic wrap. The microwave energy, which penetrates from all sides, creates a moist heat that cooks the pudding. Compared with conventional steaming, which involves a pot of boiling water and longer cooking time, microwave steaming is a piece of cake.

'Wave' the Butter Soft

You can use the microwave to soften butter for the hard sauce that accompanies steamed puddings and other holiday desserts. Actually, I don't like to refer to hard sauce as "hard." I think it's best when freshly made, soft and spreadable like rich buttercream--or at least, softened in the microwave. If you make your English pudding ahead of time, you can reheat each piece separately at HIGH power for about 15 to 30 seconds to improve flavor and soften the hard sauce.

Sponge or chiffon cakes are almost never recommended for microwave cooking because they tend to get tough with rapid cooking. The spongy nut cake that follows is an example, and so we soak it liberally in rum syrup. This type of cake, like the European babas and baklava , needs a sturdy texture to hold its shape so it can absorb the syrup. The syrup adds moisture and tenderizes the cake while adding flavor.

The larger microwave ovens often bake more evenly than smaller ones do. If in doubt as to whether your microwave is designed to bake, check the manual.

ENGLISH CHRISTMAS PUDDING

1/2 cup butter

4 cups wheat bread cubes, lightly packed (about 6 slices)

1 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup brandy

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup light molasses

2 eggs

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Brandy Hard Sauce

Place butter in large microwave mixing bowl or casserole. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until butter is softened. Add bread cubes, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, nutmeg, brandy, orange juice, molasses and eggs. Beat with electric mixer at high speed until well mixed. Mixture will be thick.

Stir in raisins, apricots and walnuts. Pour batter into greased 9-inch ring mold. Cover with plastic wrap, pulling back slightly at one side to vent. Place on microwave trivet set in microwave oven (trivet helps cook underside of pudding). Microwave at MEDIUM HIGH (70% power) 12 to 16 minutes, until wood pick inserted in several areas comes out clean. (Be careful to test underside around tube.)

When cooked, carefully remove plastic wrap so steam escapes away from face and hands. Let cake stand in mold several minutes. Turn pudding out onto serving plate (choose microwave-safe plate in case pudding needs additional cooking). Serve warm with Brandy Hard Sauce. Makes about 10 servings.

Note: If desired, pudding may be wrapped in waxed paper, then in foil for storing. Let stand at room temperature up to 2 days, then refrigerate or freeze. Aging will even out moisture in all areas so overcooked spots won't be noticeable.

Brandy Hard Sauce

1 pound powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup brandy

1/2 cup butter

Combine powdered sugar, salt and brandy in 1 1/2-quart microwave bowl or casserole. Place butter on top. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until all areas of butter are soft.

Beat with electric mixer on highest speed of mixer until smooth. Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed. Microwave briefly before serving. Makes 2 cups.

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