Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Salvation Army Whip Cream Cake with Lemon Butter Frosting



I just returned from a whirlwind 36-hour visit to Akron to celebrate my mother's 85th birthday.  While I have mixed feelings about my hometown (are there any good restaurants?), one thing that never disappoints are the fabulous estate sales held each weekend.

At a particularly interesting one (read: house packed with treasures) on Sunday, I discovered a c. 1960 cook book filled with the recipes of members of the Women's Auxiliary of The Salvation Army of Akron.  (The Salvation Army is not an army at all, but rather a Christian church.)

I was especially interested in the recipe for Whip Cream Cake, as I had recently purchased some fabulous and hard-to-find heavy cream that was not ultra-pasteurized.  This is a rich, almost yellow, cream that is a completely different (and much better) animal than the supermarket heavy cream.

For the frosting, I chose a recipe I've wanted to try for a while -- something called lemon butter, which is really lemon curd but with an easier method.

Old-fashioned whipped cream cakes use cream in place of butter.  As such, they are really easy to prepare.


To make the cake, whip the cream until it thickens and resembles whipped cream.


Add the rest of the ingredients and blend.


Pour into greased and floured eight-inch pans.


For the frosting, zest and juice a couple of lemons.


Place eggs, sugar, the lemon juice and zest, a dash of salt and butter in a saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened.


Better cooks may skip this step, but I always need to strain the lemon curd to remove the egg protein which "cooks" in the sauce.


Voila.  A gorgeous lemon curd.  Refrigerate until cold.


Place a small amount between the layers and the rest on top. Some fresh fruit is a nice finish.


Production notes:  I baked this for 19 minutes (but was using my Chambers oven, which doesn't have a reliable thermostat).  I followed the recipe exactly, but only sifted the flour once.  Grease and flour the pans for an easy release.


The Lemon Butter is a variation of lemon curd.  I followed this exactly, but needed to strain it at the end.  I also used butter instead of Oleo.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Biscuits


A friend* recently asked if I ever did "nothing," i.e., just sit and think.  After I thought about it (for about a minute), I realized I never do. I always am doing "something" and often two things simultaneously.  Not that I'm an accomplishment junkie -- unless one considers playing iPad solitaire while watching the Real Housewives of New York a productive use of time.

But Friday morning, feeling guilty about some rather slothful behavior the day before, I awoke at 5 a.m. and baked two batches of biscuits, and pulled them from the oven in time to roll out my mat for a 7 a.m. yoga class.

These recipes are not from my handwritten collection, but were published in a 1940s Chambers Stove cook book.  My modern oven is still on the fritz, so I'm using my vintage Chambers (below) and figured I'd try one of the recipes from the accompanying cook book.


The recipes -- for baking powder biscuits and soda biscuits (known now by the more appealing name of buttermilk biscuits) -- are simple to follow, take just minutes and deliver a great result.  Why bother with Poppin Fresh when these are so quick and easy?

So, which was the better biscuit?  The DH thought the buttermilk were far superior.  I kind of liked the baking powder ones, probably because they contained a bit of sugar.  Forgot to survey my work colleagues, but trust me, you can't go wrong with either biscuit. (I recently made biscuits from a modern recipe for strawberry shortcake and they were not nearly as good as either of these.)

Place the dry ingredients in a food processor (or a large bowl) and cut in the butter (by machine or using a pastry blender or two knives if you're going old-school).


Add the milk and mix with a spoon.


Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and pat down to half the size you want the finished biscuits to be -- they will rise in the oven.


Cut with a biscuit or cookie cutter.


Form the scraps back together gently and continue cutting biscuits until you've run out of dough.


Bake in a hot -- 450 or 500 degree oven -- for about ten to 15 minutes.  I used a parchment lined baking sheet.

Both types of biscuits were light and fluffy (buttermilk is on the left).




Production notes: I used butter instead of shortening for both recipes. Don't try to finish these on retained heat if you have a regular oven.  Chambers were specially insulated so that it "Cooks with the gas turned off," saving energy and supposedly freeing the housewife.



*Even though he does plenty of nothing, said friend, a Yale-educated Episcopalian priest and arts genius, still manages to accomplish an enviable amount of things.

Friday, July 11, 2014

When Politics Trumps Baking


In my last post about Pinwheel Cookies -- baked on a cookie sheet I took from Mayor Bill de Blasio's stoop giveaway -- I added a throwaway line about regretting not taking a "marijuana poster" that was among the stuffed animals, books and other detritus in front of his house.

Well, that caused a flurry of media (and social media) activity here in New York, giving new meaning to words "slow news day."  On the other hand, the mayor is new and anything he does is news, especially when he does something so "of the people" as putting out his unwanted items for others to take, a well-established practice in Brooklyn.

So last night, instead of lighting my oven, I did a bit of internet research and found a facsimile of the poster, pictured above. Turns out it's a 1942 movie poster for an anti-pot film, in the spirit of the classic Reefer Madness.  (See detective work below.)

Thanks to the DH for enlarging the photo taken at the stoop sale (left), and Crain's NY political reporter Andrew J. Hawkins (@andyjayhawk for creating this educational illustration.

Embedded image permalink

Now that that's out of everyone's system, I will return in a few days to the mission of  ACakeBakes, recreating desserts from hand-written recipe cards -- the material culture of housewives who baked in the early to mid 20th century.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pinwheel Cookies (or Bill de Blasio's Trash is My Treasure)


In my neck of the Brooklyn woods, it's hard to walk a block on the weekend without bumping into a stoop sale. For those not willing to spend the day haggling over the price of their used Brita filter or old record albums, there's another option -- just leave unwanted items outside, available for the taking by any interested passerby.

And that's just what Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, did on Sunday when he (or perhaps a family member) set out a whole lotta stuff in front of their house, with a "Free" sign affixed to the front gate (see photo below).  I suppose they are just cleaning house as they (finally) make the move from Brooklyn to Gracie Mansion.


The mayor lives just down the street from me, and I pass by his house often.  But this was a first for me (though apparently not for him). The DH and I looked over the items up for grabs -- might we find something of future value, considering its provenance?  There were lots of books for toddlers, well-used Halloween decorations, old clothing and the like. Except for a marijuana poster (which I regret not taking), there was little of interest.  That is until I spied a shiny aluminum baking sheet, which I immediately scooped up, under the watchful eye of the New York Police Department officers who guard his house 24/7.

UPDATE: Since the reference to the marijuana poster has created even more media interest than these cookies, I've added a facsimile of the poster below.  It's from a 1942 anti-pot film, Devil's Harvest.  Aides to the mayor have said that the poster was a gag gift that was kept in the basement.  I believe that; most of the items at the sale appeared to be part of a basement clean-out.



The photo below shows the few items remaining the next day.


That's a long way to get to these black and white pinwheel cookies, baked on the mayor's former baking sheet.  But we've arrived.  The recipe, probably from the 1960s, came from a collection I purchased on eBay, and advertised as from the estate of an Amish family.

These pinwheel cookies are a bit labor intensive, but quite good. Mix up the batter; it will be sticky!


Place it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for four hours, or longer.


Prepare the chocolate filling -- just melt chocolate chips, cream cheese, confectioner's sugar and orange juice.


Roll out the cookie dough and spread with the chocolate filling.


Roll it up tightly.  I used a bench scraper, at right, to help it along.


Cut the log into 1/4 inch slices and place them on the mayor's cookie sheet (or any you might have at hand).


Bake and then cool on a wire rack.


The pan, below.


Production notes:  I halved this recipe (it's a small baking sheet, after all!) and used lemon (rather than orange) zest.  I cheated and placed the dough in the freezer for about an hour. It was very sticky and difficult to work with, but I soldiered through.  Next time, I'd follow the instructions exactly.

I made a different, older version, of these cookies last year.. That recipe, which features ground nuts and uses a different method altogether, is here.



Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ricotta Puffs


Here's another winning recipe from Grace Johnson's c. 1950s hand-written cookbook purchased last year at a stoop sale near my house.

Ricotta cheese puffs, I learned (thanks, Google) are traditionally served in Italy at Carnevale, the last celebration before lent begins.  But trust me, these are good any time (especially if one's baking oven is broken and making desserts on the stove top is called for).

These are reminiscent of doughnuts, but are packed full of protein.  In fact, if you have a child who's a fussy eater, ricotta cheese puffs would be a great way to entice them to each some nutritious calorie-packed dairy.
I recommend using an excellent ricotta (often available at specialty or Italian shops) instead of the bland supermarket variety. After all, the cheese is the star of this dessert.

Start by making the batter.  (I neglected to take many photos, as I was distracted by a house full of guests when I made these). Below, is the end of the batter.


Fry them up in some oil heated to 360 degrees.  (My oil was too hot; hence they got a little too brown.  But they were still quite tasty.)


Drain them on paper.


Then dust with confectioner's sugar.  I put the sugar in a paper bag and, adding a couple of puffs at a time, shook to cover them.




Below is the recipe as written and, below that, is the same recipe written in an easy-to-follow method.  What I love about Grace Johnson's book, is that it is full of the ethnic recipes (Chinese, Jewish, etc.) popular in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 1960s.



Ricotta Puffs

1 lb ricotta cheese
3 eggs
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tbs. sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Confectioner’s sugar
Oil for frying (vegetable or canola)

Beat eggs until light in a stand mixer (or in a bowl, using a hand mixer).  Add the ricotta, baking powder and sugar.  Mix well.  Gradually add one cup of flour and a pinch of salt, stirring until the mixture is well combined.  Cover and let stand for one hour.

Heat oil in a saucepan until it reaches about 360 degrees or so.  Drop batter into oil with a spoon.  Brown lightly and turn to brown the other side.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  

Place confectioner's sugar in a paper bag and put a couple of puffs in at a time, and shake to cover puffs with the sugar.  Serve and enjoy!

Production notes:  I used high end ricotta, purchased at a cheese shop, instead of the supermarket variety, since ricotta is the star of this dessert.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Rhubarb Cake


Quick, before rhubarb season ends, get a few of these ruby stalks and bake this moist and delicious (and did I say easy?) cake. Its coconut topping puts it over the top. Not sure when the recipe -- written on a sheet of notepaper was recorded --  but I'd guess the 1950s.

Of course, I made this mostly to showcase the fantastic Christmas present (see personalized cake pan above) that I received on Tuesday from my boss.  I know it's July, but this pan -- along with the three others nested in the beautifully wrapped box -- made the wait worth it. Truly, one of the very best gifts I've ever received. (The boss is famous for his extreme thoughtfulness.  Punctuality, not so much.)


Begin the cake by cutting up enough rhubarb to fill two cups.


The batter is easy and traditional -- cream the butter and sugar, add the egg, and then alternately add the buttermilk and the dry ingredients (flour, etc.). Finally, fold in the rhubarb.


Put the batter in your brand-new personalized pan (or any 12 x 9 pan you may have on hand).


Combine the topping ingredients -- coconut, sugar and cinnamon.


Spoon the topping over the batter as evenly as you can and pop it in a 350 F oven.


Voila!  Let it cool and enjoy.



Each of my new pans comes with its own cover, featuring a beautiful graphic of the Brooklyn Bridge.


Production notes:  I used unsalted butter in place of oleo, and used buttermilk (aka sour milk).  This fit nicely in a 12 x 9 inch pan, which I greased and floured, even though it is a non-stick pan. (Why risk the heartache of a cake stuck in a pan?)  For the coconut, I used 1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (because I had them on hand) and 1/2 cup of sweetened coconut.  But you can use one cup of sweetened coconut -- the rhubarb is tart and extra sugar is never a bad thing.  The recipe's author (a teen, from the looks of the handwriting) neglected to include instructions for adding the rhubarb.  Add it at the end.  I baked it for about 35 minutes, but it could have baked longer.