Saturday, March 7, 2015

Betty's Irish Soda Bread

Last fall, Arthur Schwartz gifted me with a huge shopping bag filled with recipes sent in by listeners to Food Talk, his long-running radio show on WOR.  Arthur had organized these into a couple of folders: Savory, Sweet, and --- Irish Soda Bread! Apparently a show in 1992 about the traditional bread caused such an outpouring of recipes as to require its own folder.

The one I chose (and it was a hard choice) was submitted by Betty Foster, a former resident of Dublin. Unlike many others, it did not contain butter or sour cream, and seemed a more traditional choice for St. Patrick's Day. I was not disappointed -- it's really, really good. And really, really easy to make. (And it worked perfectly, even though I forgot to add the sugar -- see production notes.)

Raisins are optional, but I added them, first coating them with flour to prevent their sinking to the bottom of the loaf.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl, add the egg and buttermilk.  I used a stand mixer, but a bowl and spoon would work just fine.

When the dough is mixed -- it will be sticky! -- add the raisins.

Turn out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about five minutes.

Place the dough in a greased and floured 9-inch pan. I didn't flatten it (there were no instructions about this) and I thought it might assume the form of the pan in the oven. It didn't, but I like the free-form dome shape that emerged from the oven.

Bake for exactly 60 minutes and remove from the oven.

Let cool slightly and slice. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Production notes: I followed this exactly EXCEPT, I see now, that I completely forgot the sugar. But it was still really moist and sweet (on account of the raisins). If you don't add raisins, definitely add the sugar.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

French Silk Chocolate Pie

Last week, when my mother fell ill, I unexpectedly found myself in Akron. While I spent most of my time with her, I did attend one estate sale and purchased a c. 1987 dessert cookbook published by the PTA of my elementary school, Fairlawn.  (Its name has since been changed to the Judith A. Resnick School; the Challenger astronaut was a former student.)

The Fairlawn PTA, I read in the cookbook, received national recognition in 1957 when it began sponsoring French classes for grades one to six. I am forever grateful for those classes, as I still remember the French I learned as a young child. (It stayed with me more than the high school French I studied.)

Anyway, I wanted to bake something chocolate for my mother, for there's little she loves above chocolate, but was daunted by the limited baking tools in her kitchen. Then I discovered this French Silk Chocolate Pie recipe -- easy and perfect! The only tools required are a bowl and beater (and a pan or microwave to melt the chocolate).

The recipe says it's "very rich and chocolaty" and it is. French silk pie is basically a chocolate mousse in a pie crust.

I began with some supermarket Baker's semi-sweet chocolate.

After melting the chocolate (and setting it aside to cool), beat the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, beating well after each addition.

Stir in the melted chocolate...

and pour into a pre-baked pie crust. Refrigerate for several hours.

Production notes: I cheated and used a store bought crust (not recommended unless you're as desperate as I was). Make sure the butter is really soft and beat the sugar in for a long time, or better yet, use superfine sugar. (I didn't do either, and there were still some sugar crystals in the finished product.)
To serve, whip some heavy cream and place a dollop on each slice. With a knife, grate some of the chocolate on top for a nice presentation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Brownies (for Valentine's Day and Every Day)

Is it too early for Valentine's Day baking? I think not, considering that many retail establishments display Christmas decorations right after Labor Day (or so it seems).

Brownies are one of the easiest baked goods to prepare, and are one of the most beloved for good reason. Simple, delicious, and chocolate -- what's not to love? There are probably millions of recipes for brownies, and this c. 1950s vintage recipe is pretty darn good. Using a cookie cutter, I made them February 14th-appropriate by stamping out heart shapes.

Start by chopping some unsweetened chocolate. Because chocolate is the star in these bar cookies, it's worth investing in a premium brand. I used Scharffen Berger, which has a very fruity taste, but there are many other excellent brands out there, like Valrhona and Callebaut.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, then mix up the rest of the batter.

This recipe creates a very stiff batter. Be sure to grease the pan, or line it with parchment paper.

Use a spatula to smooth it to the edges of the pan.

Because there is no salt in the recipe, I decided to sprinkle the batter with sea salt before baking.

Cut into squares or whatever shape your heart desires.

A light dusting of confectioner's sugar makes for a nicer presentation.

The negative space created by the cut-outs are a special treat for the baker.

Production notes: I followed this exactly, but wrote out the recipe below for ease of preparation. I also sprinkled sea salt over the batter before baking. These brownies are not overly chocolate-y, which is typical of mid-20th century recipes. I used one 9 x 12 inch pan. If you plan on cutting out shapes, you might leave out the nuts (I didn't) and consider investing in a very high quality cookie cutter. I swear by those made of copper; they are strong, have a good cutting edge and retain their shape.



Preheat oven to 350 F
Grease a 9 x 12 inch pan (or line with parchment paper)

3 squares (ounces) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. vanilla
1 c. chopped walnuts

In a double boiler (or a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), melt the butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool slightly.
Beat three eggs.
Add sugar gradually.
Add the flour and baking powder (which you've mixed together)
Add the vanilla.
Stir in nuts.
Place batter in pan and smooth until it reaches the edges.
Optional: Sprinkle some sea salt on top.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes.
Let cool slightly and cut into squares. Or hearts.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Coconut Cookies

Who doesn't like a nice, crispy coconut cookie? These treats -- from a vintage Kansas recipe -- are easy to make, virtually foolproof and would be an ideal Superbowl party dessert.

Though these are called coconut cookies, that flavor isn't overly predominant. The nuts and oats also play starring roles.  

 As always, it's best to gather the ingredients first. This has more than a few, but the recipe is easy, trust me.

Mix the butter and the sugars, then add the egg.

The dough will be somewhat stiff -- ideal for rolling it into balls.

Flatten each ball with the bottom of a drinking glass or your palm and sprinkle the cookies with a bit of white sugar.

When they're finished in the oven, let cool on the pan slightly before transferring them to a baking sheet.

Like many vintage recipes, this one doesn't have a method. (Doesn't everyone know how to make a cookie dough? Probably in 1950, but certainly not today.) I've written out the method below.

Coconut Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 F

1/2 c. (one stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 c. flaked sweetened coconut
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1 c. rolled oats
1 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla

Beat butter and sugars together until smooth.
Add egg and beat.
Add vanilla.
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Add to batter and blend.
Mix in nuts, oats and coconut.
Form dough into balls (about the size of golf balls) and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
Press with the bottom of a glass or your palm to flatten.
Sprinkle each cookie with some sugar.
Bake 12 to 16 minutes. For a chewier cookie, reduce the baking time.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sour Cream Cake

In preparation for holiday baking, I bought a lot heavy cream -- not the ultra-pasturized stuff from the supermarket, but the thick sweet cream from the farmer's market. When the holiday festivities came to an end, and the last guest departed, I found an errant quart at the back of the refrigerator, just a few days beyond its expiration date.  Now if this was the ultra-pasturized variety, I would have tossed it immediately; it's slightly sour odor would indicate that it had gone bad.  But the real deal cream has a second life, in this case, as the star ingredient in this Sour Cream Cake, a vintage recipe from Kansas home baker.

This is a delicious, not-too-sweet pound cake that can be mixed in minutes. I suspect that regular sour cream would make a fine substitute for the slightly sour heavy cream that I used.  (The moral of the story, perhaps, is that while it may be cheaper to buy supermarket heavy cream, that theory doesn't hold up if one needs to pour the spoiled cream down the drain.)

Start by beating the eggs, and then adding the sugar and cream.

Mix in the dry ingredients.

Spoon the batter into a greased loaf pan. (I'm hoping to get a much needed new loaf pan for my upcoming birthday. Hint, hint.)

Bake until golden brown.

Even if part of the cake sticks to the pan, no problem. Just attach the stubborn piece to the loaf.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly. The soda-cream mixture didn't foam, but didn't make much of a difference.  Who says baking is a science?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Grand Budapest Hotel's Courtesan au Chocolat

In honor of the nine Oscar nominations (including best picture) that The Grand Budapest Hotel, just received, I am reposting an earlier blog entry for Courtesan au Chocolat, the film's signature pastry.

If you haven't seen the movie, you're missing a wild ride -- and a dessert that plays a starring role. It's rare that pastry stars in a film, so I'm breaking from my mission of baking exclusively from vintage handwritten recipes, to bring you Courtesan au Chocolat.

The dessert, from the fictional bakery Mendls, consists of three cream puffs (pate au choux) filled with chocolate pastry cream, dipped in icing and stacked.

Start by making the cream puffs.

While they're baking, make the chocolate pasty cream.  This recipe requires two pastry bags -- one for the pate au choux and one for the chocolate filling.  And a third, if you decided to pipe white icing for a beautiful, but time-consuming, finale.

The toughest part was mixing the icing colors. Use a light hand, when adding the colors if you want to recreate the look of the dessert from the film.

You can find the recipe and a video and more details here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cup Cakes (Disguised as Muffins)

These days, most muffins are really just cake without the frosting. But this mid-20th century recipe is the opposite. It's titled Cup Cakes, but what emerges from the oven are muffins, perfect for breakfast.

They are simple to prepare and very forgiving, as in I forgot to add the egg until the very end, and they still came out beautifully. Spiced with nutmeg and cloves, and filled with nuts and raisins, they are moist and flavorful.

Mix up the batter. Start to finish, it should take about five minutes.


What's inside.

Aerial view.

Production notes and recipe:
Like many early recipe, this is really just a list of ingredients, with no method given.  So, I wrote out what I intended to do below. I made these while chatting with my friend who had just signed her divorce papers that very day, so you can understand how I might have been a bit distracted.

Effa's Cup Cakes/Muffins (makes about 15)

1/3 c. unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/4 c. brown sugar (plus extra for the tops)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. nutmeg
1/2 to 3/4 t. cloves (I think 1 t. would be overpowering)
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. raisins
1/2 c. nuts

Preheat over to 350
Line muffin tin with paper cups

Beat butter and brown sugar until combined.
Beat in egg
Mix flour, soda, salt and spices together and combine.
Add dry ingredients to bowl and mix well.
Add buttermilk and mix.
Fold in nuts and raisins
Spoon into muffin tin.
Top each muffin with 1/4 t. brown sugar
Bake about 30 minutes.