Armagnac Spice Cake

This is the best cake recipe in the world.

Armagnac Spice Cake

About 2 tablespoons butter for pan
3 cups white, all-purpose flour, plus some for pan
12 ozs. pitted prunes
2 cups water
1/4 cup Armagnac brandy
1 1/2 cups corn oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

2. Combine prunes, water, Armagnac in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to low heat, and simmer about 15 minutes, until prunes are tender. Drain prunes, reserving liquid for glaze (below). If there is more than 1/3 cup of prune liquid left, boil until reduced to 1/3 cup. Coarsely chop prunes.

3. In a large bowl, beat oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well blended. In another, smaller bowl, whisk the 3 cups of flour with the other 7 dry ingredients; add to oil-sugar mixture. Add buttermilk; beat just until batter is smooth. Fold in chopped prunes. Pour into prepared bundt pan.

4. Bake on center rack in 350-degree oven until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean—about 1 hour and 5 minutes. Place on cooling rack and make glaze (below).

5. Pierce cake with a skewer 40 or more times. Slowly pour 1 1/4 cups of hot glaze over hot cake. Reserve extra glaze. Cool cake 30 minutes. Turn out onto platter and cool completely. Re-warm extra glaze and serve with cake as sauce.

10-14 servings


1/3 cup reserved prune liquid
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks (6 ozs.) unsalted butter
1/2 cup Armagnac brandy
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking soda

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan deeper than you think you need. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring. Interaction of baking soda and lemon may cause sudden, rapid over-boil if you don’t watch pot carefully; lower heat and/or remove saucepan from heat briefly if necessary. Boil 2 minutes. Skim off and discard any “skin” that may develop when reheating glaze to serve as sauce.

Bonairian Stew and Funchi

I got these recipes from some friends that used to live on the island of Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean. These were local recipes, they go great together.

Bonairean Stew

4 medium-large onions (2 lbs. total weight)
8 large cloves garlic
1 Jalapeno chili (or substitute Serrano or other variety—milder or spicier—to taste)
6-7 large Roma tomatoes (or the equivalent—1-1 1/2 lbs. total weight)
6 medium-large Yukon Gold or other firm, waxy potatoes (3 lbs. total weight)
1 medium-size unripe papaya * (2 1/2 lb.)
1/4 cup annatto oil (see below**)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
2 tablespoons sugar
Dash of nutmeg (optional)

1. Peel and quarter onions; slice coarsely. Peel garlic, trim off root nub, and mince or press. Stem chili and mince finely, including seeds; to minimize heat, discard seeds and white membrane. Core and quarter tomatoes, or halve if using small Romas; if using large tomatoes, cut in 6ths. Peel potatoes. Using 1/2-lb. potatoes, cut in 6ths: halve lengthwise, then cut in 1/3’s crosswise. (Whatever size the potatoes, make 1-1 1/2-inch chunky wedges). Quarter papaya lengthwise, scrape out seeds, peel off all green skin with a vegetable peeler, then cut into1-1 1/4-inch chunks.

2. Heat the annatto oil** on medium, add and sauté sliced onion, stirring now and then, until beginning to caramelize at edges. Add all the cut up vegetables, the water, 3/4 of the salt, pepper, and sugar, and the nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium-low and bring to a boil slowly; stir often but carefully, using a wooden spoon or heat-proof rubber spatula to prevent sticking/burning and breaking up vegetables; reduce heat to a simmer.

3. Cover and cook 10-20 minutes, or until potatoes are done through and papaya is tender and translucent. Taste and correct seasonings, adding remaining salt, pepper, sugar to taste. Serve with Funchi (see recipe).

*Papaya for cooking must be dark green (i.e., not ripe or sweet). It has a subtle, distinctive flavor. The same fruit ripe and raw is bright yellow-gold and sweet. Green papayas are available seasonally at some Asian markets (e.g., Sunrise Market in Eugene).
**Annatto seed, also called achiote, is available at Plaza Latina and some other Latino markets in Eugene. It also can be mail-ordered from spice/imported-food stores. To make annatto oil: In a medium saucepan, sauté 1/4 cup annatto seed in 1 cup corn oil on medium-low heat for 1 or 2 minutes—until seed turns a slightly darker shade of red (but not brown/black). Turn off heat and remove saucepan from burner to stop cooking. Leave for 10-15 minutes to color/flavor oil. Strain off oil and discard seeds. Makes about 1 cup.

(Antillean-style, quick-cooked, boiled corn bread*)

1 tablespoon butter, plus some to grease bowl (or substitute corn oil for vegans)
1 1/4 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 1/4 cups boiling water

1. Butter or oil generously a wide, shallow bowl of 5-6-cup capacity; set aside.

2. In a heavy saucepan of at least 6 cups’ capacity, off heat, mix the cold water, salt, and cornmeal. Add to it slowly, stirring well, the boiling water and butter (or corn oil).

3. Place over medium-high heat and bring to an active boil, stirring constantly* with a heavy, heat-proof rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring; scrape down sides of pan as needed. Continue cooking 3 more minutes, now mixing really vigorously, until mixture is very stiff and pulls away from sides of pan. Remove from heat. Shake a little water from your fingertips around bottom/sides of buttered bowl.

4. Immediately turn funchi out into the buttered bowl and cover with a plate of the right diameter to just fit inside bowl. Shake funchi down well into the bowl, pressing down on plate, so it molds to the bowl-bottom’s shape. Invert onto the plate or a larger serving plate/platter and cut into wedges. Alternatively: use an ice cream scoop or ladle to shape individual servings* for each plate, and serve directly from the saucepan in which funchi cooked. Serve immediately with some extra butter on top whichever way you choose to do it..

5. Can be microwaved, covered, to reheat without any loss of texture/flavor. Leftovers also can be fried to crunchy in butter/oil.

6 servings

*Funchi was an Antillean staple, eaten in place of bread, in the days before reliable supplies of wheat flour from abroad and European-style bakeries. It remains a “down home” favorite, especially with local stews and soups. Old-school cooks, it is said, repeat in Papiamento (the lingua franca), “Un pa mi, un pa bo, un pe”, (i.e., “One [ scoop] for me, one for you, one for him”) as they stir and serve.


Pasta al Vino Rosso (Pasta in Red Wine Sauce)

Pasta al Vino Rosso

4 1/2 cups dry, somewhat fruity red wine (e.g., Beaujolais, Montepulciano, Zinfandel, Chianti Classico)

5-5 1/2 teaspoons salt

60 grinds very coarse black pepper

Scant 3/4 teaspoon chili flakes

2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)

2 ozs. pine-nuts (6 tablespoons by measure)

2 heads garlic (more or less, depending on size: enough f/6 tablespoons, sliced, after peeling/trimming)

1 dry pint cherry tomatoes

2 lbs. fettuccine (or other pasta of choice)

1/4 cup (2 ozs./4 tablespoons) olive oil

6 teaspoons butter

1. Combine wine, salt, pepper, chili flakes, and sugar; set aside. In a dry skillet on medium-low heat, stir pine-nuts until lightly toasted, i.e., a shade darker than raw ones, with some flecks of gold. Once hot, they overcook quickly; so do not leave unattended. Remove from heat and set aside. Peel only enough garlic cloves to equal 6 tablespoons after trimming off root nubs and slicing thinly crosswise. Halve cherry tomatoes to equal about 2 rounded cups after cutting.

2. In a large pot of rapidly boiling, lightly-salted water, cook pasta half way only. It should be flexible and somewhat swelled, but still too crunchy to eat and showing more yellowish than white color. Meanwhile, the last 3 minutes pasta cooks, place a very large skillet, or a large, wide saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat. When pan is hot, add and heat olive oil.

3. When pasta is half cooked, quickly drain well and immediately add to olive oil pan. Stir and toss for 1 minute. Add garlic and the wine mixture and continue stirring or turning with tongs until almost all wine is absorbed. Meanwhile, re-warm pine-nuts for a minute or two.

4. Add cherry tomatoes and butter to pasta and continue to cook, stirring, just until tomatoes are hot through. Garnish each serving with toasted pine nuts.

6 servings

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