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Cakes for the holidays full of sweet nuts and spices

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It won't take weeks, days, or even hours to prepare this year's holiday cakes. All of the ingredients can be picked up with the weekly groceries, and much of the tedium of bygone annual cake-baking has been removed.

Be thankful that flour doesn't have to be sifted over and over to remove impurities, nor sugar pounded to a granular texture. And unless you live on a farm you are not likely to churn your own butter or gather eggs.

The fruits you buy for baking will have been sorted, stemmed, and seeded, but you won't need the muscular arm of a man to blend the ingredients with a stout hickory rod. Pity the poor cook who had to thrust her arm into the hot oven and hold it there until she could count to 40 in order to test for the proper temperature -- a method recommended in a cookery book published in Vermont in 1845!

If you're not partial to the traditional holiday fruitcake, here are recipes for several cakes, all luscious, and tasting just as good as they look. Thanksgiving Cider and Spice Cake 3 cups sifted cake flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 3/4 cup shortening 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed 3 eggs, beaten 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 cup apple cider Cider Filling, recipe follows Cider Icing, recipe follows

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs. Beat until thoroughly blended. Add lemon juice to cider. Add alternately with dry ingredients to creamed mixture, beating after each addition. Pour batter into 3 greased 8-inch round layer cake pans. Bake in 350 -degree F. oven 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn out on racks to cool. Spread Cider Filling between layers. Frost with Cider Icing. Serves 10 to 12.

Combine cranberries, sugar, and water in an 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking pan on top of stove. Bring to boil. Turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of cranberries burst, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and spread evenly in pan. Set aside to cool while assembling cake. Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Add shortening, milk, and vanilla. Beat vigorously for 1 1/2 minutes with mixer at low speed, scraping sides and bottom of bowl occasionally with rubber scraper.

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