Saturday, May 7, 2016

Rhubarb Torte

I've made (and blogged about) a lot of rhubarb desserts over the past five years. You can find them here (custard pie) and here (steamed) and here (muffins) and here (bread) and here (pie) and here (cake) and here (crunch) and here (pudding).

It's one of the first local vegetables to appear in early spring at the farmer's market, and there are a lot of vintage recipes for rhubarb in my collection. I'm figuring that mid-20th century housewives felt the same excitement -- something fresh! -- and that it was relatively inexpensive and extremely versatile.

Rhubarb Torte was a bit of a failure, and hardly blog-worthy or so I thought -- until the DD came for a visit and couldn't stop eating it (see below), all the time insisting that she doesn't like rhubarb. Go figure. This rhubarb torte (like most rhubarb desserts) is a delightful combination of sweet and tart. The batter forms an almost meringue-like topping and the combination of walnuts and rhubarb is really, really good.

I'm bringing you this recipe with some caveats. Mostly, the crust has the taste and mouth feel of cardboard and you need to "sling" the pan (line it with parchment or aluminum foil overhanging the sides so you can lift the torte out of the pan before cutting). Otherwise, base cements itself to the pan and you'll practically need a chisel to remove it. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

The first rhubarb of the season is green; a bit later the stalks are red. So this looks like celery, but trust me, you don't want to eat it without first cooking it with sugar.

Mix up the batter...

And add in the nuts and rhubarb.

Pour the mixture over the base (see more on that below) and using an offset spatula or butter knife, smooth until it reaches the edges of the pan.

Bake about 40 minutes.  The fruit will be bubbling at the edges and the top will be a light golden brown.

The rhubarb hater, below.

Production notes: Replace the base with a pie crust dough and bake with pie weights (or dry beans) for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Otherwise, follow the recipe exactly as below.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Salted Peanut Cookies

If you're a peanut butter cookie lover, then you'll want to try these Salted Peanut Cookies from a vintage recipe. The strong peanut butter flavor is derived entirely from the peanuts, which also add a lovely texture to the cookies. The sugar coating on top is the icing on the cake, so to speak.

Like most cookies, the batter is a cinch to whip up (providing you've left the butter to soften on the counter). The time suck comes from baking sheet after sheet of these. But you can always bake what you need (as I did for a dinner that night) and leave the dough in the refrigerator to bake at your leisure.

(Full disclosure: I am not a fan of peanut butter cookies at all, mostly because of their crumbly texture, but found these absolutely addicting!)

Mix the peanuts in at the end.

Using your hands, roll into one-inch balls. I always wear gloves for this task, but there's no need to.

Press the cookies down with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in water and then sugar. I skipped this part, just sprinkling sugar on the cookies, and the results were not as good.

Bake until the bottoms are medium brown.


Production notes: I used all butter and light brown sugar. Do not overbake, as they harden while they cool. These don't spread much on the sheet, so you can bake a lot at one time.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Impossible Pie

What if you could create a luscious coconut custard pie simply by blending together some common ingredients? Impossible, you say?
It is possible and that's the beauty of this vintage recipe called, appropriately enough, Impossible Pie. It's truly simple and quick and foolproof, a wonderful shortcut without using any real shortcuts (i.e., processed ingredients that wouldn't be found in your grandmother's pantry).

The mis-en-place is below. You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen.

Blend everything together, except the coconut, which is added at the end.

Pour into a greased pie plate and bake in a preheated oven.

And voila!

Production notes: I followed this exactly, and made sure the butter was very soft, Place the filled pie plate on a larger tray before baking, to prevent spillage in the oven. There was a crust at the bottom, but because I didn't use a metal pie pan, it wasn't as pronounced as it could have been. I also baked a few minutes longer than recommended, as the pie seemed rather jiggly at 45 minutes.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Overnight Cold Water Buns


You know that saying, everything looks better in the morning? That is certainly the case for these poorly named but absolutely delicious rolls. Overnight Cold Water Buns, while requiring a bit of planning, greet you in the morning with their rich, buttery and brioche-like goodness.  

Yeast-risen baked goods take time, and it was fairly common in the mid-20th century for housewives to make dough the day before in order to have the waiting time occur overnight. This recipe dates from about 1945.

Begin with yeast (even though Michael Pollen in his Cooked series on Netflix does not believe in commercial yeast).  Yeast is your true friend -- no matter how much (within reason) you abuse it or ignore it, it almost always comes through. Just make sure the water you soak it in is pleasantly lukewarm, about 110 to 115 F.

When it begins to foam and bubble, it's ready. The only way your true friend will fail is if the yeast is too old (dead), or the water you add is too hot.  If it fails to "grow," the simply start with a new package of yeast.

Mix in the butter, flour and and other ingredients. Put the dough in a bowl to let it rise.

My dough was too I added some flour late in the game. (I should have added it during the mixing phase.) It was still too sticky, but the end result didn't suffer.

Put some dough in greased muffin tins.

I decided to go with the muffin tins when I realized the dough was too sticky to maintain the bun shape.

Let them rise overnight on the counter.

So the buns did form a loaf instead of maintaining their individuality. No problem in the end -- it was delicious sliced and used for French toast!

Production notes: I didn't begin these until after 5 p.m. (instead of the 3 p.m.instruction) and still had plenty of time. I added the recommended 7 1/2 cups of flour and it wasn't enough. Next time, I'd add more flour. I used two sticks of softened butter. I formed the rolls and left them sitting on the counter as instructed, and baked them the next morning in a 400 F oven.  Even though these are called cold water buns, there's no cold water in them!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Chocolate Chip Bars

The name of this recipe -- Chocolate Chip Bars -- sounded so pedestrian that I'd passed over the vintage recipe card many times while searching for something to bake.. But last week, I finally read it carefully and discovered that it was rather unique, not the bar-cookie-shortcut for traditional chocolate chips that I'd imagined.

Instead, this recipe yields a delicious, moist (almost gooey) chocolate-coconut filling that is light, sweet and and unusual. It's crispy top, moist interior and buttery crust create a bar cookie that's worth the effort.

They are reminiscent of the famous Toll House Cupcakes, but are much easier!

Start by making the crust, a simple mixture of butter, flour and brown sugar.

Place the mixture on a cookie sheet. I lined mine with foil, so the whole thing could be easily lifted from the cookie sheet for ease of cutting at the end.

Using your hands (I always wear latex-free gloves), press the dough into the pan. Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, begin the filling by mixing the ingredients together.

Pour the filling atop the crust (I cooled it first) and, using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon, move it to the edges so that the crust is entirely covered.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is nicely browned.

Cool, and using the foil, lift the entire cake from the pan and onto your counter.  Cut into serving portions.

Below is the original card. And below that, I've typed the recipe and added some production notes.

Chocolate Chip Bars

Preheat the oven to 350F
Line a cookie sheet with foil so that it extends over the edges. I used a quarter sheet pan, approximately 10 x 12.

Bottom crust
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/2 c.) room-temperature butter
2 tbls. brown sugar, packed

Mix well (I used a hand-mixer). Pack into a cookie sheet, flattening so it reaches the edges.
Bake for about 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool slightly.

3 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2/3 t. baking powder
1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 c. flaked, sweetened coconut
1 c. chocolate chips

Beat eggs in a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer) very, very well, until almost light in color.
Add the rest of the ingredients -- except for the chips and coconut -- and combine.
Add the coconut and chips; combine until mixed.
Pour the mixture atop the crust, using an offset spatula to coax to the edges so that the entire crust is covered.
Bake about 20 - 25 minutes until the top is brown, darker than golden brown.  The toothpick test won't work well -- the interior should be somewhat gooey.

Cool, move to a flat surface and cut into squares.
Day one, the bars will be gooey; after that, they will not be so gooey, but still delicious!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Master Cake Recipe: Apple Cake and Pineapple Upside Down Cake

In scratch baking, there are shortcuts and there are loopholes. Many don't work, but this recipe is an exception.  With a single and simple cake batter, the home cook can create two different cakes in under an hour.  And therein lies the beauty of this "master" cake recipe.

Master Cake Recipe, handwritten in a 1920 cookbook owned by one Marie Bevenetto, is a true culinary building block. This simple and delicious white cake can be used as a base for many other desserts.  Marie suggests -- and provides recipes for --  Apple Cake, Upside Down Cake and Boston Cream Pie. I made the first two with great results. Marie labeled the apple cake as "very good" and the pineapple upside down cake as "excellent." My tasters (work colleagues) deemed them both excellent.

The ingredients are basic (with the exception of orange extract; I didn't have any so just left it out). Below is the mis en place for the cake batter.

After mixing the batter, which took all of ten minutes, I got started on the apple cake by slicing one medium apple very thin.

I poured half of the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan. The batter is thick, so use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to push it to the edges.

Place the apples on the batter.

And sprinkle on some cinnamon and  sugar. I used white sugar, though brown sugar would also be good.

I set the apple cake aside while I lined a 9-inch round pan (just greased, not floured) with pineapple slices, and filled the empty spaces with brown sugar and chopped walnuts.

I placed the batter atop the fruit, and again pushed the batter to the sides of the pan.

Below is the master recipe cake, along with the two variations I made. I've typed them out below, with the method I used.

Master Cake Recipe (for Apple Cake and Pineapple Upside Down Cake)

Preheat oven to 350F
Grease and flour 8 x 8 pan
Grease 8 or 9-inch round pan

2 eggs
1 C. sugar
2 C. flour
1/3 C. melted butter
1/2 C. water
1 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1 t. orange extract (can sub extra vanilla instead)
1 t. baking powder

Beat eggs in a mixer.
Add sugar gradually, beating after each addition
Combine flour, salt and baking powder.
Add flour and water alternately to the egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.
Add butter, vanilla and orange. Mix until combined.
Bake in two layers, or use for the cakes below.

Apple Cake

In a greased and floured 8 x 8 pan, place 1/2 of the master cake recipe batter.
Smooth batter so it reaches the edges.
Place thinly sliced apples on top of the cake.
Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon
Bake in 350F oven about 25 minutes.
When cool, slice in the pan and serve plain or with whipped cream.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

In a greased 8 or 9-inch round pan, place whole pineapple slices to cover the bottom.
Fill the center of each pineapple and any empty spaces with 1 teaspoon brown sugar and some chopped walnuts.
Place 1/2 of the master cake recipe batter atop the fruit and smooth it out so it reaches the edges of the pan.
Bake in a 350F oven for about 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and place a plate over the top. Flip to release the cake.