Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Grasshopper Pie

During college, in addition to protesting (it was the 1970s), studying, experimenting with all manner of things (again, the 1970s), I worked as a waitress in a couple of restaurants.  One, CJ's Tavern,  was in a mall on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin, to which I hitchhiked or took the bus. At CJ's, the cooks made everything from scratch -- I still remember the yeasty aroma from huge mixer where dough for the bread was kneaded every day. (I also recall on the rare occasions when both the owner and the head chef were not working, all of us going into the huge walk-in refrigerator and grabbing handfuls of the exotic-to-us fresh crab meat meant for the Crab Louie salad.  (Sorry about that.)

Anyway, at the end of each shift, we would all gather at the restaurant bar to count our tips while the bartender prepared Grasshoppers, a cocktail with creme de menthe, creme de cacao and ice cream, blended together so it was a dessert and cocktail in one. (I recently ordered a Grasshopper at a chic Manhattan restaurant and it was so modernized, it tasted nothing like the smooth, sweet cocktail confection of my memory.)

That's a long way to get to this vintage recipe for Grasshopper pie, but you can imagine my delight when I found one. It is extremely light and rather delicious and very easy to prepare. (A Google search revealed an even earlier version where a more traditional meringue is used instead of marshmallows.)

 Begin with chocolate wafers for the crust.

Crush them in a food processor or by placing them in a plastic bag and using a rolling pin, or skillet or wine bottle. Mix the crumbs with melted butter and press into an eight-inch pie pan, reserving some for the topping. Bake for about eight minutes.

Next, melt the marshmallows with the milk in a double boiler (or in a bowl set atop a saucepan of simmering water.

When melted, stir in the creme de cocoa and creme de menthe.

Pour the mixture into the crust, smoothing out the top. 

Add the reserved crumbs to decorate the top. Refrigerate for several hours.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, except I baked the crust (at 350 F for about 8 to 12 minutes). Also, I'd suggest adding more of the liquors -- the taste was very subtle. If you want the pie to be green, just add a drop or two of green food coloring after adding in the liquors.

Family members enjoying the pie at our annual Jersey shore rendezvous last month.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pistachio Watergate Cake with Cover Up Frosting

These days, what's happening in Washington, D.C., makes Watergate seem like child's play, but at the time, it was THE BIGGEST SCANDAL EVER, commanding the attention of everyone -- even, apparently, bakers. And so, in the 1970s, just around the time that Jello introduced its new pistachio pudding mix, the Watergate Cake was born. It is full of nuts, and features cover-up frosting.  And therein lies the albeit random connection to the (now old-school) burglary and cover up that captured the nation. (I actually attended one day of the Watergate hearings in 1973 with two high school friends while on a road trip. I recall we just waltzed in to see John Dean testify -- it was that easy!)

This cake screams the 1970s in other ways, too. Check out the processed food ingredients required. It was no easy feat finding Jello pistachio pudding (thanks, Target in Brooklyn) and a box of Dream Whip (thanks, Walmart in Athens, Georgia).

Despite the ingredients, this cake is DELICIOUS!!  I could not stop eating it. Did I mention that it's a snap to make?  Once you locate the ingredients, that is.

First, the essential nuts. I used walnuts, but pecans would also be lovely.

Just dump all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, after beating the eggs separately, and combine.

The batter will look like this.

Spoon it into a well-greased bundt pan.

Bake until the edges of the cake just being to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let it cool in the pan a bit, and turn it out onto a rack.

Start the cover up frosting. I mixed all ingredients together first, then added the sour cream.

Make sure the cake is cool before frosting. I had tons left over, btw.

The recipe I followed You'll notice there are no real instructions, but I was able to figure it out by Googling a bunch of other similar recipes. (Ruth C. Scott, whose name appears on this card, embellished the standard recipe by the addition of flavorings and sour cream in the frosting.) Basically, I followed the recipe on the cake mix box, adding the beaten eggs, and flavorings last.  You really can't mess this up.
If you want to make this cake without processed ingredients, please see the wonderful book Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson, who features a from scratch version of Watergate Cake with Impeachment Frosting.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ruth Hamilton Cookies

If you yearn for a crisp coconut brown sugar cookie, then these are your ticket to happiness. I didn't love them (I like chewier cookies) yet found them very, very addicting.

You can feed this habit with ease -- Ruth Hamilton (whoever she was/is) created a recipe that can be put together quickly and simply.  You just need the simple ingredients, a wooden spoon and a saucepan.

I found this vintage recipe in a large binder filled with family recipes dating back to about 1920. As you can see at the end of the post, a younger generation family member carefully copied the original recipe, and may others. (Somehow this family treasure trove ended up on eBay. So much for tradition.)

These cookies are a dream to make. Butter is melted, sugar is added, and the rest of the ingredients are simply added to the saucepan.

Adding the eggs and vanilla smooths this out.

After the liquid mixture cools, the dry ingredients are introduced.

Mix it all together very well.

You can drop these cookies from a teaspoon or, as I did, scoop them with a small cookie scoop (or roll the dough in your hands).

Bake and watch them disappear.

Here's the original recipe, and below that, the recipe copied over by a daughter or granddaughter.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, but used half light brown and half dark brown sugar (mostly because that's what I had on hand). Using light brown sugar will make the cookies lighter in color. I used old-fashioned oats, and Angel Flake coconut. And butter, of course, instead of shortening.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pizza for Dessert!

This recipe is a pure fun -- and delicious -- trompe l'oiel of a dessert. Wish I'd made it for April Fool's Day, but didn't want to wait 11 months to post this. It's that good.  It is also very, very easy and would be a delightful baking project with children. The vintage recipe is from a collection I purchased on eBay last year.

Start by making the crust, which is much easier than pie (or pizza pie) crust.  Melted butter is simply stirred into some flour and confectioner's sugar.

Blend the mixture until it holds together.

Then simply pat it into a greased baking pan. I used a springform pan so it would be uniform and easily removable, but I think free form would work fine. And maybe look a bit more authentic.

Bake until the edges are slightly brown. Cool.

Next make the "cheese" topping by mixing softened cream cheese with sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice.

It's best to use a hand mixer for this task. I spread the mixture on the crust and refrigerated it for 30 minutes to firm it up, as I feared the strawberry mixture would bleed into the soft "cheese."

You can start the strawberries at any time. I bought a bag of whole frozen strawberries (I think it was either 12 or 15 ounces) and put them in a saucepan to cook down. I then added the cornstarch -- big mistake. I learned the hard way that adding dry cornstarch to hot liquid results in small white balls of starch, which need to be picked out one-by-one.  The way to do this is to make a slurry -- dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of liquid -- and then add it.

Cornstarch slurry added to the strawberries, below.  I used a potato masher to break down the berries so the mixture would more closely resemble tomato sauce.

Place the "cheese" on the crust, top with the "sauce" and add some dollops of  "cheese" on top. Dot with fresh mint leaves and enjoy.

Enjoy a slice! And share the rest.

 Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, and used a 9 inch springform pan.  Next time, I might try to simply pat the crust on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and go free form.  Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature, and make a slurry before adding the cornstarch to the strawberries.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

One Egg Cake and Creamy Fudge Frosting

My obsession with simple everyday cakes is more than a recipe quest. Instead it's a search for an idealized 20th century America, one I know is more rooted in fantasy than reality. I'm not the only one trying to recapture a false nostalgia of pies cooling on the window sill, a cake quickly made for a Sunday supper. Just listen to the yearning in Nellie McKay's wonderful I Want to Get Married.   And I would venture to say that Trump's Make America Great slogan is intended to evoke a version of this same thing -- the heteronormal nuclear family enjoying the middle-class privilege of post WW II America. But much of it was an illusion. The reality is/was probably more like Patty Griffin's Making Pies, a mournful song about factory work (albeit at Table Top Pies) following the wartime death of a boyfriend.. Or the domestic violence and alcoholism in the film The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio. Or the truth about women's work in this New York Times opinion piece.

Politics and nostalgia aside, no one can argue with a good cake recipe. And this one egg cake ticks all the boxes. Quick, easy, delicious. And I found a vintage chocolate frosting -- equally easy -- that pairs beautifully with this cake.

There were no instructions on the vintage recipe card, which probably dates from the early 1940s. One egg cakes were quite popular then, given wartime shortages.

Here's the method I used. Beat the butter, add the sugar and egg.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

The batter is very thick, so spread it to the edges of the pan using an offset spatula, a butter knife or the back of a spoon.

Bake until it is very light brown. This cake bakes quickly and is very dry if overbaked. (I did that the first time.)

Remove the cake from the pan after about ten minutes, turning it out onto a rack.

This creamy fudge frosting is as easy as the cake, and just as delicious.  Combine sugar, milk, cocoa and butter in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add some vanilla and mix with a beater until it thickens and reaches frosting consistency. Make sure the cake is completely cool before frosting.

I put the boiled frosting into a bowl before beating it. It got a bit too stiff while I was waiting to use it, but I just added a bit of cream and beat it again.

Production notes: I followed the top recipe and the method I used is below. The week before I had made the large cake recipe which I don't recommend (or else I overbaked it). See the end of this post for pictures.  For a two layer cake, I would simply double the "small cake" recipe. This cake does not brown much and it's very easy to overbake. I started checking it at 15 minutes.

Production notes: I followed this exactly, and added one teaspoon of vanilla. If it sits before frosting the cake, it will become stiff. Just add some cream or milk and beat again. This makes enough for one single layer cake. I didn't frost the sides, just put a generous layer of frosting on top.

One Egg Cake

Preheat oven to 350F

2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter (one stick), softened
1 egg
3/4 c. milk

Grease and flour an 8 or 9 inch round or square pan.

Combine four, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add egg and mix well.
Alternately add flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour.
Combine mixture (but don't overbeat).
Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth top.
Bake about 20 - 30 minutes, checking frequently so cake doesn't overbake.
Remove from oven (top will only be very light brown).
Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out on a rack to cool.

First time I made this, was for a dinner party. It did not work out well, but my guests, below, were very polite. Jim, Paul, Kris and Karin "enjoying" the dry cake.

Slice of cake.

Whole cake, frosted with a modern ganache, which saved the whole thing.