STORY AND PHOTOS BY Pete Dulin
During a season when hand-me-down traditions reign our holiday schedules, sometimes unfolding the origins beneath those customs—even down to the desserts—can breathe new life into annual festivities.
Somewhere between abstention and indulgence lies acceptance. Rather than focus only on restraint or sheer gratification when faced with dessert choices during the holidays, simply accepting what is offered can be a gracious gesture. We celebrate holidays by preparing, buying and sharing food as a social and cultural act. Accepted and enjoyed in moderation, holiday desserts are a literal way of celebrating the “sweetness” of life with others.
Drawn from different cultures and inspired by traditions and ingredients the world over, these locally made desserts appeal not only to distant roots but also to an appetite close to home.
Ho Ho Ho and a Cake of Rum
The air is redolent of butter and rum in the Lenexa-based kitchen of Craig Adcock, the jovial baker behind Jude’s Kansas City Rum Cake. Named after his mother-in-law, the cake was inspired by their trip to Panama years ago. Adcock formulated a recipe using premium Haitian Barbancourt rum and Missouri pecans.
The cakes are baked, glazed, vacuum-sealed and sold locally and online nationwide. “They freeze and thaw well,” Adcock says. “The shelf life is about 25 days.”
Jude’s Kansas City Rum Cake has generated hoopla from local and national press and food critics as “absolutely celestial” and the “best rum cake in the universe.” Understandably, Adcock is proud of his handmade product. “It’s consistently high quality—it’s all in the technique and the ingredients,” he says before popping more trays into the oven to fill orders. Over his shoulder, he jokes, “Every day is rum cake season.”
For anyone keeping their indulgences to a minimum—which, in this case, will be near impossible—try the two-bite teaser cakes (5 per package, $12) or the muffin-sized mini cake (3 per package, $15). Feeling generous? Order a 2-pounder (16 small slices, $30). Family, friends or co-workers can also enjoy the baked bounty of the 4-pound original (16 large slices, $50).
Although rum cakes can be ordered at judesrumcake.com, they’re also served just as moist and scrumptious at local hot spots. Buy the cakes locally at JJ’s (910 W. 48th St.), The Farmhouse (300 Delaware St.), The Rieger (1924 Main St.), Dean and Deluca’s (4700 W. 119th St.) and other venues listed on the website.
Italian Holiday Tradition Lives On
Linda LaSalle learned how to make Italian holiday cookies from her mother and aunts. She’s been baking them for Jasper’s Restaurant (1201 W. 103rd St.) for the past four years. “The tradition isn’t carried on much anymore,” LaSalle says. “Most people don’t know how to make them but love to eat them.” LaSalle carries out the family legacy by teaching the holiday cookie recipes to her daughter and nieces.
Jasper’s carries these adorable petite cookies during the holidays so everyone, Italian or otherwise, can enjoy a delicious taste of the heritage. The thumbprint cookies are filled with a dab of jelly, and the twice-baked biscotti will be perfect for dipping into a piping hot cup of coffee. Sweet-toothers can also choose a chocolate tay-tu, Italian fig cucidati, giugiuleni (sesame seed cookies) or powdered white Russian tea balls.
Anyone wanting to make their home a little Italy for the holidays can snag a bag of the Italian holiday cookies at Jasper’s ($4.99/10–12 cookies) or a plentiful platter ($75/7–8 dozen; advance orders only).
Executive Chef Natasha Goellner of Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott (10573 Mission Road, Lenexa) prepares a colorful version of buche du Noel ($48) and opened a Plaza location just in time for the holidays (4745 Central Ave). The dessert symbolizes the real wood that burns in the hearth on Christmas Eve. An array of macarons add whimsy to Goellner’s version.
Her cheerful, sweet-smelling shop also sells a German version of Christmas Stollen ($18), better known as fruit cake. Her cake is packed with dried fruit and nuts with ample lemon and orange zest in the dough. After it’s baked to perfection, she brushes on melted butter. Finally, she dredges the cake in vanilla sugar and a snowy dusting of confectioners sugar. “It’s very good,” she says. “Not your typical fruitcake.”
On a Roll
Povitica, a nut roll made from sweet, yeasty dough, originates from Eastern and Central European countries. Several bakeries in Kansas City prepare povitica based on family recipes passed down for generations. Mike Pallo of Pallo Povitica (pallopovitica.com) bases his version on Polish and Austrian family recipes, which have been bestowed on younger Pallo generations for 60 years. “Some people put cream cheese in theirs,” he says, “but my sister reminds me that Grandma didn’t have cream cheese where she came from.”
Pallo begins by making the dough paper-thin. Then he slathers it with an English walnut filling, tightly winds it into a simple roll and bakes it to perfection. A cut slice reveals a decorative swirl. Although some povitica is dry and lacks sweetness, Pallo’s dessert leans decisively toward the sweet side of life. Best eaten hot from the oven, povitica will keep for several months when frozen, so come even mid-June, you can tease your tastebuds with this holiday treat.
Although Pallo receives most of his orders on his website, his povitica also makes appearances in three tempting sizes at City Market and the Overland Park Farmers’ Market. For gatherings with close family and friends, a 1-pound mini loaf ($9) might suffice. The half loaf ($14) will please 9–12 people, and Grandma’s hefty 4-pound full loaf ($25) is a must for the annual holiday office party.
Enjoying any of these internationally inspired desserts with guests can be a great conversation starter about your food-based holiday traditions. Share, eat and remember to celebrate the sweetness of life.