Kasey Wilson: It’s never too early to think about holiday baking

Anna Olson’s Festive Berry Compote not only makes a lovely gift but will put you in a holiday mood when you cook it.

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With Christmas exactly a month away, it’s time for home cooks to think about food gifts and holiday baking.

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Anna Olson’s Festive Berry Compote not only makes a lovely gift but will put you in a holiday mood when you cook it. As she writes, it “smells like Christmas as it simmers — the aromas of pears, cranberries and raspberries melding with orange zest and spices is better than any scented candle you could buy.”

The compote, from Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson: Recipes to Bring Comfort and Joy is not put through a traditional canning process but rather stored in the refrigerator. Make sure you note that in the card that accompanies the gift.

When it comes to holiday baking, our family’s favorite is Rum Cake with Lemon Eggnog Sauce from Winnipeg. It’s traditionally served at Christmas but is a welcome addition to a dessert buffet any time of the year.

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Spiced with cinnamon, ginger and cloves, Anna Olson's cranberry-based Festive Red Berry Compote smells and looks like Christmas.
Spiced with cinnamon, ginger and cloves, Anna Olson’s cranberry-based Festive Red Berry Compote smells and looks like Christmas. Photo by Janis Nicolay /PNG

Festive Red Berry Compote

Serve as a sauce or a topping for pancakes or waffles. The compote works well with savory dishes, too: bake it on top of a wheel of Brie and serve with crackers. You can double the recipe for giving gifts. To take this compote to the next level, add a splash — or more — of Grand Marnier after you take it off the heat.

1 cup (110 g) frozen cranberries

1 cup (170g) frozen raspberries

1 pear, peeled and cut into a small says

½ cup (125 mL) sugar

2 tsp (10 mL) finely grated orange zest

½ tsp (2 mL) ground cinnamon

¼ tsp (1 mL) ground ginger

¼ tsp (1 mL) ground cloves

Place the fruit, sugar, zest and spices in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Simmer gently, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the pears are translucent, 15 to 20 minutes. Let the compote cool in the pan at room temperature.

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Scoop the cooled compote into an airtight container and chill until ready to use. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

make 2 cups

Rum Cake with Lemon Eggnog Sauce

This cake can be made and frozen for up to four months. The sauce is also delicious, chilled or warmed, with steamed plum or carrot pudding or mince tarts.


1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch

2 cups (500 mL) eggnog

Zest of 1 lemon

2 tbsp (25 mL) brandy


1 lb (500 g) dates, finely chopped

1 ½ cups (375 g) brown sugar

1 cup (250 mL) chopped walnuts

½ tsp (2 mL) vanilla

1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon

1 tsp (5 mL) salt

¾ cup (175 mL) butter

1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda dissolved in 1 cup boiling water

2 eggs, well beaten

1 cup (250 mL) sifted all-purpose flour

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2 tbsp (25 mL) dark rum


4 oz (125 g) butter, softened

2 cups (500 mL) sifted icing sugar

2 tbsp (25 mL) dark rum

light cream (optional)

For the sauce, combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Gradually stir in the eggnog and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the mixture simmers and thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and brandy.

Pour sauce into a pie pan or other broad, shallow dish. Place plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a film from forming and refrigerate until chilled. (Cooled sauce may be thinned with eggnog if desired.)

For the cake, preheat the oven to 325 F degrees. Grease a 9-inch (3 -L) angel-food or tube pan and line it with wax paper.

Combine the dates, sugar, walnuts, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and butter in a large mixing bowl. Pour the dissolved baking soda over all, stirring to mix. In a small bowl, stir together the eggs and flour until blended. Add to the date mixture and stir to combine; it will be thin.

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Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and tests done with a skewer. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack and drizzle the dark rum over the top.

While the cake cools, make the icing: Beat the butter, icing sugar and rum with an electric mixer until fluffy. Thin with cream if necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency. When the cake is completely cooled, spread the icing over it.

To serve, slice the cake and drizzle each portion with sauce.

Makes 12-16 servings.

Kitchen Hack: Just enough alcohol for cooking

When a recipe calls for brandy, rum, etc., save money and shelf space by buying a nip-size 50 mL bottle or two, available in liquor stores, rather than a full-sized bottle.

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