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Juicy Wine Cakes and other 'Dunces' delights

Author Cynthia Nobes eats her way through the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel

NickOfferman's"A Confederacy of Dunces" is center stage at the HuntingtonTheatrethrough Dec. 20, but before there was even a curtain call,John Kennedy Toole’s novel already hada cult following hungry for more.

So writer Cynthia Nobles decided to dissect thebook's numerous food mentions in the glutinous tale of Ignatius J. Rilley and translate them for real life consumption. There's nearly 200 recipes in the book of the same name that came out in October, a majority of which are rich in New Orleans culinary culture.

Nobles, aLouisiananative who splits her time between Baton Rougue and New Orleans, said she re-read the book five times while finalizing her recipe index. "I wrote down every food mentioned and started creating recipes — as far out as pork and beansfrom a sign seen by Officer Mancuso," she said.

She's currently searching for her next fiction-inspired cookbook project for LSU Press, though she laments there aren't many in the Pulitzer-winning category that mention food quite as much as "Dunces," and shared with us her favorite recipe from the book, "Juicy Wine Cakes." They're exactly what they sound like -- fat little cakes soaked in wine for days before they're eaten with whipped cream in excess. She notes, "They're absolutely delicious. I was shocked."

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Juicy Wine Cakes
Makes six 4-inch cakes, or 12 baked in muffin tins. (Make 1 day ahead.)

In the novel "A Confederacy of Dunces," Ignatius J. Reilly and the wannabe stripper, Darlene, both have an affection for wine cakes: smallish yellow cakes soaked in wine and topped with whipped cream and cherries. This dessert goes all the way back to Creole Louisiana's antebellum days, when cakes such assavarin, a French pastry doused with alcohol, were a must at holiday dinner tables. In New Orleans you can still buy wine cakes atDorignac'sGrocery Store, andBrocato'sBakery sells its close cousin, BabaRhum.

2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon iodized salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar, divided

4 large eggs, room temperature

¼ teaspoon ground cloves, optional

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ cups dark rum, divided (or port, sherry,marsala, or even wine!)

½ cup chilled whipping cream

6 cherries

1. Make cakes: Preheat oven to 325°F. Generously grease and flour six 4-inch baking molds or 12 muffin tins and set aside. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar on medium-high mixer speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. (Scrape down sides occasionally.) Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add cloves and vanilla.

3. Using low mixer speed, add flour mixture and ½ cup rum to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.

4. Pour batter into prepared pans until they're 2/3full and level off the top. Bake on center rack of oven until brown and center springs back when lightly touched, about 40 minutes (30 minutes for muffins).

5. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes in pans. Remove cakes from pans and place on a rack to cool.

6. Make Wine Syrup: Boil together 2/3cup water and remaining 1 cup sugar until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, pour into a 4-cup measuring cup or equivalent shaped bowl and cool 2 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 cup rum.

7. Completely submerge each cake into syrup and hold down in the liquid a few seconds. Place saturated cakes in a rimmed baking pan. Pour remaining wine syrup over cakes. Wrap pan tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

8. When ready to serve, place cream in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Place cakes on a rimmed serving dish and pour remaining wine syrup over each. Top each with a spoonful of whipped cream and a cherry.

 
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