Monday, April 14, 2014

Enter the Cake Contest!

Henry Street Settlement, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, is hosting a big block party on Saturday, May 3, to celebrate the 147th birthday of Lillian Wald, it's founder, as part of the first-ever Lower East Side History Month.

One of the highlights is a cake contest.  All amateur bakers are invited to enter.  Just whip up a birthday cake, and bring it to 265 Henry Street by 1 p.m. on May 3rd.  Register by writing

Cakes will be judges on appearance, creativity, taste and interpretation of the birthday theme.   Prizes will be awarded and your cake will be featured on Henry Street's website and on its social media channels.  Judges include Tara Bench, Food and Entertaining Editor of the Ladies Home Journal; Serena Solomon, of DNinfo; and Ed Litvak and Traven Rice of The LoDown.

Pictured above is last year's grand prize winner -- a beauty entered by Jillian Besemer, a reader of this blog!

Above is the second-place winning cake, baked by Peggy Coon.  And below, baker Kira Wizner, took a page out of Lillian Wald's book to create the third-place winner.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mildred Snyder's Graham Cracker Cake

This is a very special and surprisingly timely cake, considering the recipe dates from the early 20th century. There's a viral (as in 2.2 million views) -- and very moving -- graham cracker video exploding on the internet today: Click here to watch it and then you can feel really good about buying the graham crackers to make this delicious cake.

The recipe is courtesy of Ellen Snyder-Grenier, curator and historian extraordinaire, who is working on an exciting history project at Henry Street Settlement, my place of employ.  This is a cake her late mother, Mildred Snyder -- and her grandmother -- used to make often.

Mrs. Snyder, who was so health conscious that she believed that an Oreo was actually two cookies, not one, liked this cake for its wholesomeness.  Graham crackers were once thought to be a health food and the custard filling is barely sweetened (but still wonderful).

This is not an easy dessert: It requires the cake, a filling and separate frosting.  But, trust me, it is worth the effort.

Get started by crushing the graham crackers, which you can do (as Mrs. Snyder did)  by placing them in a plastic bag and rolling over them with a rolling pin.  Or you can give them a whirl in your food processor.

Spoon the batter into two greased and floured eight-inch cake pans. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, coax the batter to the edges of the pan.

Neither layer released from the pan very well.  But it's not much of a problem -- you can use a small offset spatula or butter knife to lift the remaining pieces from the pan and, pretending it's a jigsaw puzzle,  fit the pieces where they belong on the cake.  Once the cake is filled and frosted, no one will be the wiser.  You might also try lining the bottom of each pan with a parchment round to ensure an easy release.

The custard filling, called cornstarch pudding on the recipe card, is made in a double-boiler.  If you don't have one (I don't!), just place a bowl over a saucepan filled with simmering water.

When the cake layers are cool (and after the custard has cooled) fill the cake.

Next, frost the cake with whipped cream frosting.

I sprinkled the top with a bit of cinnamon for decoration.

Ellen enjoying a slice of graham cracker cake.

Ellen reports that the Graham Cracker Cake recipe card was most likely written by her grandmother, who was born around 1900.  She found another recipe card for the cake in her mother's handwriting, titled "Mom's Cake." The Cornstarch Pudding recipe is in her mother's handwriting.

Production notes: I used room-temperature unsalted butter instead of shortening, and  mixed it with the dry ingredients before adding the milk.  I wasn't sure it would work the way it's written -- I've never seen this method before.
For the frosting, I simply whipped some heavy cream with a bit of confectioners' sugar and vanilla -- that's what Ellen remembers her mother doing. (To make the best whipped cream, buy cream that is not ultra-pasteurized and keep the bowl and beaters in the freezer for 20 minutes before mixing.)  I kept the cake refrigerated on account of the whipped cream frosting.

Mildred Snyder's Graham Cracker Cake

Preheat oven to 375 F
Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans

2/3 c. sifted flour
3/4 c. sugar
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
20 square Nabisco graham crackers, finely rolled (1 1/3 c.)
1/2 c. shortening
3/4 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, and combine with graham cracker crumbs.
Place shortening in a bowl.  Add dry ingredients, milk and vanilla.
Mix until dry ingredients are moist.
Beat two minutes in electric mixer (or 300 strokes by hand).
Add eggs and beat for two minutes.
Pour into pans.
Bake in moderately hot oven (375 F) about 25 minutes.
Cool, fill and frost with whipped cream frosting.

Production notes: Ellen remembers her mother serving the pudding separately, and this recipe makes four portions.  For the cake, simply divide in half, but you can use an entire egg, rather than trying to use half an egg. Let it cook in the refrigerator before using it to fill the cake.

Cornstarch Pudding
(For filling, make 1/2 of recipe below.)

Heat 2 1/4 c milk in a double boiler
Mix 3 T cornstarch, 3 T sugar, 1 beaten egg and 3/4 c milk in a bowl.
Slowly add the hot milk to the ingredients in the bowl.
Return to double boiler and cook until thickened.
Add 3/4 t. vanilla
Makes four portions.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Breakfast Muffins

I was headed to the gym this morning (really!) when, on my way out the door, I spied this recipe card on the dining room table.  It called my name (in a way the gym never does), so I swapped my sweatshirt for an apron, and put these delicious breakfast muffins together in literally five minutes.

These are old-school style muffins -- simple, small and not overly sweet --  muffins that will not give you the kind of muffin tops you try to avoid by going to the gym. They are the opposite of the huge modern-day muffins sold in delis and bakeries, which are really just muffins disguised as cake (which is fine, but we should all acknowledge them for what they are).

Below are all the ingredients you need.

Mix everything together in a bowl...

and fill the muffin tin.

This is a thick, sticky batter.  Don't worry that the tops aren't smooth.  They will all even out in the oven.

Plated, awaiting the arrival of the DH, who did go to the gym this morning.

Inside the muffin.

This is one of those vintage recipe cards that's simply a list of ingredients, with no method given.  Below, is the way I mixed them.  If you don't have buttermilk, you can make your own by adding some vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk.  Let it stand for a few minutes before using.

I used butter instead of shortening, and baked them for 20 minutes.

Breakfast Muffins
Preheat oven to 425 F.  Prepare the muffin pan by lining or greasing and flouring.

Mix dry ingredients in bowl.  Pour wet ingredients in and mix well.  Place into lined muffin pan and bake.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Courtesan au Chocolat

If you haven't seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson's newest film, 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 blog 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 Morning Hot Bread

Wanting to prepare a wholesome breakfast today, I whipped up Sunday Morning Hot Bread.  But instead of bread, what emerged from the oven was cake (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

Curious, I did a bit of research and discovered only one reference, an old recipe called Mt. Washington Hot Bread, that was a favorite at Camp Onaway in New Hampshire.  You can see that (even simpler recipe) here. The recipe I used was found in a handwritten recipe book I purchased at a Brooklyn stoop sale.

It is light, not-too-sweet and delicious -- perfect for breakfast or afternoon tea.  And so simple to prepare.

The flavoring in this recipe comes from lemon extract.  If you don't happen to have any, vanilla would make a lovely substitute.

The batter can be prepared in a single bowl.

Pour the batter into the pan; sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar, and dot with butter.

Even though I covered the edges of the cake with topping, it somehow all migrated to the center of the cake.

You can turn the cake out, but it's easier to serve it from the pan.  It would be terrific with some stewed fruit.

The original recipe, below, and a more modern interpretation below that.

Sunday Morning Hot Bread
Preheat oven to 400F
Grease and flour an eight-inch square pan

3/4 c. sugar
2 T. butter
1 egg, well-beaten
1 t. lemon extract
1/4 t. salt
2/3 c. milk
1 1/2 c. flour
3 t. baking powder

1/4 c. brown sugar
1 T. butter

Cream the butter, salt and sugar until fluffy.
Add the milk, lemon extract and egg and combine well.
Combine the flour and baking powder and mix it in the batter gradually.
Pour into prepared pan.
Sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar on top.  Dot with butter.
Bake about 25 minutes.
Cool slightly and enjoy.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ann's Irish Soda Bread

This simple vintage recipe for Irish Soda Bread is simply the best I've ever made.  And I'm not a fan of Irish Soda Bread (where's the butter?), but hot from the oven, this is moist and delicious.  And addicting.  It's so good that I may make this for the DH to bring to work on Monday, instead of the modern-day Ina Garten recipe I'd planned to use.

I put it together this morning in about ten minutes.  Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix them together.

Measure out the raisins.  I dusted lightly with flour to prevent them from sinking in the bread, but you can add them to the flour mixture and skip this step.

Put the buttermilk in a measuring cup, add the egg and mix together.

The dough is a bit sticky, and despite the recipe instruction, no kneading required.

Place in a greased eight-inch cake pan and press down.  I used gloved hands to do this; you can use the back of a large spoon.

About 35 minutes later, you'll have this.

Remove from the pan,

slice and enjoy.

Here's the original recipe card.  I made half the recipe, used butter instead of margarine and skipped the poppy seeds as I didn't have any.  Below the card is the method I used.

Ann's Irish Soda Bread

Preheat oven to 375F
Grease an 8-inch cake pan

2 c. all purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 T baking powder
3 T unsalted butter
3/4 c buttermilk
1 egg
1 c raisins

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Blend.  Add softened butter and mix until incorporated.  Add raisins.
Mix buttermilk and egg together.  Add to bowl.  Blend until just incorporated -- do not overmix.
Spoon into pan and flatten.  Bake about 35 minutes.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Vanilla Wafer Cake

Vanilla wafers, pretty good on their own, are often the building blocks of desserts (banana pudding anyone?).  In Vanilla Wafer Cake, the cookies are crushed and used in place of flour, making this technically a flourless (but alas not gluten-free) cake.  This recipe may have originated in the south, but this version is in the 1977 Indiana Rural Letter Carriers' Auxiliary Cookbook from Hope, Indiana. This cake has many virtues: originality,  sweetness, moistness and portability.  It will keep fresh for days (if it actually lasts that long) and is sturdy enough to survive being transported on a NYC subway.  The vanilla flavor is enhanced by the addition of coconut (which also ramps up the sweetness factor) and chopped pecans.

Start by crushing a box of vanilla wafers.  (Though the recipe calls for 12 ounces, modern-day boxes contain just 11 -- but it won't affect the outcome.)  I used a food processor to make quick work of the task.  You can also place the cookies in a heavy plastic bag and go at it with a rolling pin or a wine bottle, whichever is handier.

Crushed cookies, below.

This is a simple, one bowl cake.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured bundt or tube pan.  Smooth out the top. Bake at 350.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize that the cake was upside down when I photographed it (below).  When properly positioned, the top has a nice light crust (see top photo of the slice).  Either way, it tastes really good.

I followed the recipe exactly, using butter instead of margarine and 11 oz. of vanilla wafers.

My dog-eared and prized copy of this cookbook was given to me by Mrs. Howard Stewart of Hope, who was the president of the organization at the time, and contributed many family recipes to the book.