Cake equals opportunities. It's a simple equation, and one that works for 550 sugarplum cakes baked every August in anticipation of The National Ballet School's Sugar Plum Fair in Toronto. Proceeds from the sale of these marzipan-covered and artfully decorated loaves go to scholarships for talented students who could not otherwise attend the school.
Of course, there is more than cake that benefits the school's scholarship fund. More than 1,000 beautiful and distinct gift items make the four-day fair a must-attend event for holiday shoppers, the most eager of whom take advantage of the opening night gala.
A little wine, a magical setting and an early-bird crack at the wares make this evening a holiday shopper's paradise.
Yet cake is a cornerstone of the Sugar Plum Fair. Baking them began 25 years ago by teams of volunteers, aptly named the Plums. Their recipe, a 1981 winner of a fruit cake contest, is light, a tad boozy and fruity without being cloying. Even people who turn up their nose at fruitcake have been convinced that they were missing a little slice of deliciousness.
We are delighted to share The National Ballet School's Sugar Plum Fair recipe. Just think, as you chop and stir, how many opportunities these cakes give to young Canadians, and how much pleasure they, as ballet dancers, in turn provide their audience. Cake is small, but powerful!
• Sugar Plum Cakes
• You need 1 pkg (274 x 91 cm) cheesecloth and about 2 cups (500 mL) brandy. Treating each cake like a gift, wrap separately in cheesecloth; place side by side in airtight containers.
• Sprinkle with about 1 cup (250 mL) of the brandy. Overwrap each cake with plastic wrap and seal container. Let mellow in cool spot for 2 weeks.
• Repeat sprinkling cakes with brandy, rewrapping and storing, ideally for 2 weeks. Freeze for longer storage.
• You need 2 cups (500 mL) apricot jam, strained and warmed, 1 1/2 lb (750 g) marzipan and a variety of nuts and candied fruit, such as strips of candied orange peel, candied cherries and almonds.
• Unwrap cakes; place on racks. Brush lightly on sides and tops with apricot jam. Set aside.
• Between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, roll marzipan, one-third at a time, to 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness. For each cake, cut rectangle 3/4-inch (2 cm) larger than top of cake. Drape marzipan over top and down sides; press gently. Decorate tops with fruits and nuts. Wrap in fresh plastic wrap or decorative wrap.