Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cranberry Fruit-Nut Bread

Can baking teach equanimity? In my case it did. A long time ago, I presented my mother-in-law with a beautiful loaf of cranberry nut bread for Christmas, which I (a novice baker at the time) managed to prepare with two toddlers underfoot in my tiny kitchen using an overly complicated recipe. Let's just say, she didn't appreciate the gift. It bothered me for a while (ok, years), but the more I came to understand her and her lovable quirkiness, philosophical pronouncements (we called her the Yogi Bera of Queens) and witnessed the devotion of her children, the disappointment of my gift's rejection disappeared. I loved spending time with Lucy, and I think of her fondly whenever I bake this bread.

This Cranberry Fruit-Nut Bread, a vintage recipe from an Amish collection I purchased a few years ago, is the best I've made so far. It's the easiest and yields the best looking loaf. Donald Trump would give it a 10. You can see the other two here and here.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and add in the cranberries and nuts.  It's better not to use a mixer (as I learned) because the cranberries get crushed.  Do it the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon for a better result.

Mix the juice, egg, orange zest and butter together.  I measured the juice, then added everything else into the measuring cup to save on clean up.

Grease (or spray) a loaf pan, and spoon the batter in, spreading it evenly.

Let it cool in the pan for ten minutes before turning it out.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, using butter (not margarine) and did not cut the cranberries in half. It might result in a slightly better loaf, but I don't think it's worth the very tedious effort. You can get a teaspoon of zest from one orange. After step 5, the recipe gets weird and seems to morph into another recipe entirely. Just ignore it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Coconut Washboards

One reason I began A Cake Bakes was to discover delicious and unusual recipes from the past that for reasons unknown didn't make it to the 21st century. Coconut Washboards are that -- and true rock stars among cookies. These are very yummy and so easy to make. They are shaped like old-fashioned washboards and a fork is used to add the grooves, completing the look,  A little internet research into these gems revealed that they were meant to suggest that hard work (i.e., scrubbing clothes by hand) makes for a sweet reward. 

I baked these for our friend Alec, who joined us to watch the second presidential debate. I figured that we could all use a little old-fashioned sweetness to counter the bitterness (and craziness) that's overtaken our nation.

Start by beating the butter and brown sugar, then adding the egg, vanilla and almond extract.

Combine well and add the coconut and flour, mixing it all together.

Divide the dough in half, and roll out one portion into a rectangle between parchment or wax paper.  (The recipe suggest patting it down, but I found rolling it was easier. Though I still couldn't achieve a rectangle.)

With a sharp knife, cut into "washboards."

With a fork dipped in flour, create the washboard grooves.  I needed to coat the fork continuously so it didn't stick. A bit of flour on the cookies didn't make a difference after baking.

These took me longer than the ten minutes suggested in the recipe. But at the end, the tops were a light golden brown, with the bottoms a slightly darker shade.

Production notes: I followed this recipe almost exactly, but have written out the method I used below. Not sure of the size of a bag of Baker's Cookie Coconut when this recipe was written (in the 1940s), so I used the 7 ounce bad of sweetened coconut available today. I also could not achieve a 10 x 13 inch rectangle. You can just gather the scraps and roll out again. If you want the washboard grooves to be more prominent, you will need to process the shredded coconut so that the dough is really smooth.

Coconut Washboards

3/4 c. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) softened
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
2 1/4 c, all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. each cinnamon and nutmeg
1/8 t. salt
7 oz bag of sweetened coconut

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Set aside.
Cream butter, and cream in sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in egg, vanilla and almond extract.
Add flour mixture and blend until well combined.
Add coconut and stir.
Divide mixture in half. Pat (or roll) each half into a 10 x 9 rectangle between two sheets of parchment or wax paper.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Chill for one hour.
Cut into 1 x 3 inch rectangles.
Place on an ungreased (or parchment lined) cookie sheet
Press ridges into each with a floured fork.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes.
Cool on a rack.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lime Pie

Have you ever tasted a cloud? I did when I ate this lighter-than-air and beyond delicious fresh lime pie. Making it was a rather time consuming endeavor, but oh so worth it. I chose this vintage recipe because it is unusual -- instead of the meringue atop the custard filling, it is folded in, which creates the ultra light texture. The flavor is pure lime, sweetened the perfect amount.

Start by making a graham cracker crust, much easier than the traditional pastry crust. You can crush the crackers in a food processor, or do it the old-fashioned way using a rolling pin (or wine bottle). I did it in plastic bag to avoid a messy clean up.

Press the cracker and butter mixture into a pie plate and bake a few minutes.

Next, zest some limes. A microplane makes quick work of this.

Zest first, then cut and juice the limes.

This is where the recipe gets complicated. Beat the egg yolks in a double boiler (stick a bowl atop a saucepan), add the sugar and cook until very thick.

Add the lime zest and juice, and heat until this mixture gets thick.

While the lime mixture is cooling, beat the egg whites with the sugar. Then, using a large spatula, gently combine the two.

Place the filling into the cooled crust. Make some swirls so it browns nicely.

Bake until the top is browned.

Although I served this for company, you can see that it's a rather messy pie. But I guarantee your guests won't mind once they have a bite of this luscious lime cloud. A gift from the gods and worth the effort.

Production notes: I followed this almost exactly, but used regular, not superfine, sugar. (You can make your own by whirling sugar in the food processor for a few minutes.) I also didn't add the whipped cream topping because the meringue looked so nice. I didn't freeze the pie -- only refrigerated it for a few hours. I also don't see how one could freeze this pie, despite what the recipe author says.
Even though the instructions are long, they are very clear, making the recipe easy to follow.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Rich Peanut Butter Cookies

Who doesn't love a peanut butter cookie? Not me!  I've never warmed up to peanut butter desserts, but since I seem to be in a club of one, I often indulge family and friends. And so, just a few weeks ago on a gorgeous sunny day, I made a batch to share at an outing to the Jersey shore.

Peanut butter cookies have been a popular American treat for decades; I have about a dozen vintage recipes in my collection.  This one dates from the 1950s. These are very good peanut butter cookies (or so I was told), but I think the "Rich" adjective was added for marketing value only, as these are no richer than other peanut butter cookies I've made despite a large butter to flour ratio. It seems to make the cookies softer, if not richer.

Rich Peanut Butter cookies can be put together in just minutes, if you've softened the butter. It follows the formula of beating the "fat" and sweet ingredients, adding eggs and then the dry ingredients. This recipe does call for refrigerating the dough before forming into balls.

Cool the cookies a rack.

World's best SIL Josh enjoying a cookie.

World's best DS created an ice cream sandwich with the ice cream intended for the raspberry pie, the other dessert I brought to the gathering.

Production notes: I followed this exactly, but used all butter instead of the shortening. I used a natural peanut butter with no sugar added. The dough was too soft, even after refrigeration, for the fork indentations to work. After forming into balls (with gloved hands), I just pressed them down with my palm.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Apple Dapple (aka Fresh Apple Cake)

Greetings after a rather lengthy blog sabbatical, but A Cake Bakes is back with a lovely fresh apple cake recipe, perfect for your Rosh Hashana dinner or any dinner or teatime, for that matter. It's a vintage recipe, probably from the 1950s, and it gave me a chance to use my personalized baking pan, a thoughtful gift from my boss. (David, I'll bring you a slice on Monday!)

This is a quick and easy recipe which puts your apple picking harvest to excellent use. The caramel glaze heightens the depth and flavor (and sweetness) of this rather simple cake. I have no idea why it's called Apple Dapple, but its unusual title is why I chose it from my vast collection of apple cake recipes.

The most time consuming part of this recipe is peeling and chopping the four large apples. The recipe didn't indicate the size of the apple pieces; you can see what I did below.

Mix the eggs, oil and sugar by hand or machine...

until it looks like this, smooth and glossy.

Add in the dry ingredients, then the apples. The batter is so thick that, fearing the machine would crush the fruit, I mixed them in with a spoon (right after I took this photo).

Place the batter in a greased and floured 12 x 9 inch baking pan.

Use a spatula to spread it to the edges.

Bake for about 30 minutes.

Just before the cake is done, make the topping by melting butter, and adding brown sugar and a bit of milk. Let the mixture boil for three minutes.

Pour the topping onto the hot cake.

I followed this recipe exactly, using vegetable oil for the oil, and using one stick of butter for the Oleo. I added a teaspoon of cinnamon but not the nuts, as my son who will be enjoying this cake later, wouldn't touch it if he detected a nut. Always preheat the oven before beginning any recipe.