I think it's easy, clicking around on the web, to get the idea that Catholic families are feasting almost all the time. It seems there is a "special" day weekly, if not more often. In reality, most families observe just a handful of days that are important in their particular homes. True, there are feast days and memorials nearly every day and we pray them with the Universal Church. But the cake and the finery? In most families, those are the exceptional days.
Many of our exceptional saints' celebrations are tied to our name days or birthdays (or both). It's as if the feast finds us and is forever ours. So it is with All Saints Day. Beyond observing All Saints Day as a Holy Day of Obligation, the day really never stood out for me. I'm not a big fan of Halloween. (This isn't any kind of moral indictment. I dislike talking to strangers and I was never all that fond of candy. Dressing in a costume to ring doorbells and ask for candy was a nightmare of epic proportions to me as a child. And I've never really gotten into it as an adult, either, though it's more fun to dress my children than it was to dress myself.) All Saints Day was sort of The Day after Halloween for a long time. It was a day of incessant battles over the candy and dealing with fallout from sugar fatigue.
Then there was my Year of the Saints. That was the year that Sarah Annie came into our lives. All sorts of saints found us that year. And they found their way into my prayer book. I got to know them, to appreciate them, to love them. Some of them, we celebrate on their own feasts, but the others, well, they introduced me to All Saints Day. And like so many unbelievable blessings in my life, they came to me in a hospital bed.
The night that Sarah Anne was born began early in the morning, just a few ticks past midnight. I remember staring at the puddle of blood and thinking, "I hate Halloween. Can't we possibly wait?" Um, no. But then, there were the hospital miracles and what looked like a crash delivery in the wee hours turned into a peaceful delivery well into the vigil of All Saints. I delivered right at trick-or-treat time. And as soon as I was sure I was alive, I started planning a party. That was last year: Sarah Anne's first birthday.
All Saints Day was on a Sunday last year and fit right in with my party plans. And as soon as I swept up the mess and wrapped the last of the cake, I wondered what to do with her birthday this year. I didn't want to share it with Halloween. I didn't know how to meld it to All Saints Day.
Care to hop down a rabbit trail with me?
I had a very recent conversation with a friend. She commented that in my daybook this week, I had a Julian of Norwich quote and a picture of Sarah Anne with Nutella. She said how cool that was, what with the hazelnut being a symbol of Blessed Julian and all. I wish I could claim such seamless ingenuity, but this was all news to me. So I did a little research.
In her book Showing of Love, Julian of Norwich writes about how God showed her the magnitude of His love:
And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut , lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, 'What may this be?' And it was answered generally thus, "It is all that is made."' I marvelled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nought for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding:It lasts and ever shall for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that he loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially oned to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.
This little thing that is made, I thought it might have fallen to nought for littleness. Of this we need to have knowledge that it is like to nought, all things that are made. For to love and have God that is unmade.
For this is the cause why we are not at ease in heart and soul, for we seek rest here, in this thing that is so little where there is no rest, and knowing not our God who is all mighty, all wise and all good. For he is true rest. God will be known, and he likes us to rest in him. For all that is beneath him cannot suffice us. And this is the cause why no soul is rested, until it is noughted of all that is made. And when he wills to be noughted for love, to have him who is all, then he is able to receive spiritual rest.
In the same coversation, but on an entirely different tangent, my friend and I talked about those wooden saints dolls that we've come love so in this house. We call that basket the "All My Saints basket." And then it hit me. I had already established an All Saints tradition. Just like Michael always has a Devil's Food cake (spiked heavily with Kahlua) on his Michaelmas Birthday and Patrick has angel food cake on his Guardian Angel Birthday, Sarah Anne will continue to have a hazelnut cake with all her saints. We'll do it again. And again. We already know she's a hazelnut fan. A tradition is born.
So there's the dessert part. Recipe at the end of the mega post.
To prepare for the feast, we'll pray the litany of All Saints, beginning October 23 (which is happily Mary Beth's birthday). The litany is quite long. You can find it here. This is an ambitious prayer undertaking for a family with lots of small children, but we'll give it a go and see where it leads. That litany will be follwed by this novena prayer:
My heavenly brothers and sisters, from those most renowned to those of greatest obscurity, I come before you now in all humility and commend myself, and all who are dear to me, to your intercession.
Pray for us always, that we may awake each day with a burning desire for the Lord whose Face you behold, that we will maintain an intimate personal relationship with Jesus, our Savior and Head, and that we will not hesitate to proclaim God’s greatness to others, and love them as the Lord loves us.
As you offer your continual praise before the throne of God, I raise my heart to you now to implore your powerful intercession for these special needs: (………).
I am confident that your prayers on our behalf will be graciously heard by our loving and merciful Lord. By his grace, may we someday join you in the glory of the Father’s house.
If necessary, we can do the litany at one time and the novena at another.
Our family icon wall has lots of saints on it and the children all have icons of their name saints in their rooms. Usually, I put the saint of the feast on the desk in front of the wall, like it is above, pictured on the Feast of St. Therese. I think for the Feast of All Saints, I'm going to gather them from all over the house, open the desk and prop them all up there. Then, we'll take all the statues and put them on the nearby piano (we may need to temporarily move the Emmy to make room.)
So that's the plan. The Novena Starts Saturday, on Mary Beth's birthday, and finishes on October 31st, Sarah Anne's birthday. I love it when things work out just so!
This recipe came to me from Stephen's Godmother, who is an extraordinary baker. Anything less than extraordinary in this version is my embellishment, but I can't remember what's mine and what's hers.
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Frangelico (I used more, probably a Tablespoon or so.)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup sifted cake flour
3/4 cup hazelnut flour (get from Trader Joe's)
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 TBSP (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (or use regular butter and omit the salt), SOFTENED
• Trace your 9" round springform pan onto parchment or waxed paper & cut it out. Grease pan, put in paper, then grease and flour.
• In a medium bowl lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 of the sour cream, and the extract.
• In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and remaining sour cream. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.
• Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
• Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and unmold or remove the sides of the springform pan. Allow to cool completely before wrapping airtight.
I made four times this recipe to make a 12 inch, two layer cake.
The filling was chocolate ganache. You can also use raspberry jam and chocolate ganache. Mike doesn't like fruit with his chocolate, so we don't mess with jam. BUt if you're jam fan, just spread a thin layer of seedless raspberry jam on the bottom layer. Make the ganache by heating whipping cream almost to boiling, then adding an equal volume of chocolate (I used Trader Joe's brand chips) and stirring until melted (1/2 cup each is probably enough for one cake, but if you make more and it's too much, it freezes well--or you can eat it plain the next day; that's what we do!). When the ganache is cool enough (it thickens a bit as it cools), spread or drizzle it over the jam and refrigerate a bit before putting on the top layer. Alternatively, spread Nutella (hazelnut/chocolate spread) between the layers.
French Buttercream Frosting
So worth the effort!
It is rich rather than sweet. It sounds like a lot of work, but it really just takes planning. Do the cooking part in the morning and the beating part at a later, convenient time. One batch makes about two cups, enough to cover the 9" cake. 2 batches covers the 12" cake to a substantive thickness.
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk (any kind)
2 sticks of butter--one salted and one unsalted
1 tsp vanilla or Frangelico (hazelnut liquer) I used WAYYY more Frangelico, to taste
• Combine sugar and flour in saucepan.
• Stir in milk. Cook over medium heat and stir constantly with a whisk until very thick. Remove from heat and pour into your mixing bowl. Cool to room temp (I cover w/ waxed paper).
• Cut butter into several pieces and add to mixer as it's beating. Add vanilla or Frangelico. Beat at medium-high speed until smooth. It will be scary if you watch to closely, because it will appear to curdle and you'll think it will never get smooth--don't worry! Check for smoothness by tasting--it's the only way to detect butter lumps.
• This icing is soft, so spread soon after mixing. Cake should be stored in fridge if made in advance, but take it out at least two hours before serving or the icing will be as hard as ... butter. :-)