Women Giving Back. There are a few groups that use this name. Over in Sonora, it is a group of generous women who hold a monthly fundraiser for a local charity. It started when one woman had lunches in her home and each of those invited would donate a certain amount of money. They’d have a speaker from a local charity come and gift that money to the speaker’s charity. It is now significantly larger. The local blood bank allows the use of their banquet room and kitchen as long as a certain number of folks donate blood in Women Giving Back’s name during a quarter. About 10 women purchase all supplies for lunch and host it (one is a professional caterer). Those attending make a donation of $25.00 to that month’s charity. The amount includes a raffle ticket, with additional raffle tickets available for only $5 for 3. Prices are very reasonably set so that, even in this economy, many can attend. I donate a raffle basket once/year and chose this month as it is Sonora Library’s Literacy Services program. I read constantly and thought it would be a good fit.
A Good Book, some Hot Cocoa and Snacks in Murphys is my theme (I’ve mentioned I love my little town and like to lure folks here). I’m not the best with baskets, the two previous years I’ve picked up a beautiful plant or two from local garden centers in a nice basket container. Every time I went to buy something locally to put in the basket I thought “if it were me I’d rather have a gift certificate so I could pick what I really want”. After all, I’m an avid reader – but it’s of fun fiction not the kind of books so many book clubs settle on. I was an English Literature major in college and have done my duty trudging through the work of so many depressing suicidal geniuses. If someone put books in a basket for a literacy raffle, I can bet it wouldn’t be something I’d be dying to read. So, gift certificate to the local bookstore, Murphys Books aka Paul’s Books, it is. The recipient can choose what they like.
Then on to Creative Cookware, our marvelous cooking store. The owner, Barbara, made a few suggestions in my price range for the basket – and again I was thinking “would the recipient rather have a new cookbook, a snack of gourmet jams or chutneys or a snack of an Ina Garten mix? Why decide for her? Second gift certificate done. To round out the Murphys theme a stop at the very deadly if you have any sweet tooth at all, Nelson’s Candies. Their locally handmade candies (you can watch in their Columbia shop – a popular stop for school field trips) are not only delicious but they are beautiful. Their large handmade candy ribbons are a staple of my Christmas repertoire – they add such beauty to dessert tables. This was easy, a small box of chocolates and a small box of fruit chews. Stunning new black and white mugs and a four pack of gourmet flavored cocoas rounded out the purchase. Topping it off would be some treats baked by me. I settled on Baker’s Chocolate Nut Loaves.
It’s an easy recipe to put together and something on my list to try. This gets another Maggie Gold Star gotta try it recommendation. I did alter it just a tad by adding one heaping tablespoon of cocoa to the mix for a deeper chocolate flavor. The smaller cakes took 25 to 30 minutes to bake (I’m at an altitude in the mountains, start checking something as small as the leaves at 20 minutes).
Cooks Illustrated has some special editions out for the holidays. One (with an updated Tunnel of Fudge cake) talks about cooking in Bundt pans. They recommend melting 2 tablespoons of butter, mixing in the same amount of flour and then pasting that into your pans with a pastry brush so the cakes come out easily with the added bonus that they won’t have that white coating you get with a flour dusting or Pam Baking Spray. Also recommended was to use cocoa instead of flour for chocolate cakes. Decided to give it a go as I wanted to drag out the fancy pans for this effort. It can be confusing with cocoa as it so looks like chocolate, that your brain keeps telling you it’s going to burn. Although I’ve found America’s Test Kitchen and Cooks Illustrated to be correct and informative, I made one pan with Pam Cooking Spray in case there was anything off about this method. I also used a silicone brush which worked well. It turned out fine and you get fingers covered in chocolate powder anytime you touch those treats – be careful using it with any finger food. The batter is actually a bit thick for the detailed pans. I’d pushed the batter into all the corners but did end up with lots of bubble marks (and I’d tapped the pans to release them). Luckily – lots of icing covered the little pock marks but if I wanted a clearer shape (like the Nordicware leaf pans with leaf vein lines) I’ll use a different recipe.
The small book had a recipe for bittersweet glaze, and although I had the unsweetened Baker’s chocolate, I was concerned it might be too strong for some. So, I substituted the unsweetened with semi-sweet squares and then followed their recipe.
2 squares Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate
2 TBL butter
1 ¾ Cup Confectioner’s sugar
3 TBL hot water
Melt chocolate with butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add salt. Alternately add sugar with water, making sure to stir until smooth (may look lumpy after a sugar addition). Enough for a 9 or 10 inch cake (tube or square). Completely yummy.
The cupcake boxes can now be found in the Wilton area of your craft stores. The leaf pan fits cupcake bottoms and in the cupcake boxes quite well. For others, you can pull out the cupcake insert piece of cardboard and use it as a small bakery box.
These cakes with glaze are superb. After the luncheon, shared some with my neighbor over a glass of light white wine and we agree this is a winner (yes reds with chocolate when you want to balance, but believe me, white works J ). Oh, and it is a bit different than a traditional chocolate cake – truly something about it is more of a “loaf” texture.
For folks who know me, one of my favorite containers is saved and washed ice cream containers (don’t soak them or put in the dishwasher or they fall apart, but quick hand washing is fine). Works great for single layered cookies, excellent for shipping them as you can pad outside the small container, works for single cupcakes, here you see the raspberry bars en route to neighbors. Also works for a few small rubber stamps with one inch type stamp pad or special Christmas ornaments. They are just so dang cute (and I am an ice cream fan). However, not fancy enough for the basket so went with the cupcake boxes. The Cupcake Queen over at 52 Cupcakes I believe I saw recommend Plastic Container City. I’ve also seen folks recommend Candyland Crafts. I’ve not used them but have them bookmarked to try if I don’t find what I want at the craft stores. For those of you who like to craft your own, Wilton’s single cupcake box is 10 1/2 inches by 16 inches. You could use glossy 11 X 17 cardstock to replicate them.
I ran out and didn’t nab photos of the raffle basket with mugs and treats – it did turn out lovely and the Sonora library got almost $800 for their new book fund from the lunch plus raffle activities (and I have extra chocolate nut loaves to share with my neighbors).
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