Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Monday, December 27, 2010

Molasses-on-Snow (Day) Candy

The candy is translucent when held to the light.

Fresh snow, like the 20 +  inches that just landed on New York City, can conjure up images of sledding, shoveling and snow angels.
But for me, it means just one thing: A rare opportunity to make Molasses-on-Snow candy, a delicious treat whose essential ingredient is fresh, virginal snow.  This candy, made popular by the Little House on the Prairie books, is a lot of fun to make, especially if you have a couple of young children around to watch the magic.

Pie pan filled with virginal snow.

Subway service is suspended and our street is still not plowed (can anyone say snow day?), so I ventured outdoors this morning to fill two pie pans with snow.

Two of the candy's three ingredients: molasses and brown sugar mixed together.

Next, I mixed 1/2 cup molasses and1/4 cup brown sugar together in a medium saucepan, turned on the fire and let it cook until it reached 245 F.  (If you don't have a candy thermometer, you can drop a small amount of the syrup into a glass of cold water.  When it forms a firm ball in the water, it's done.)

Stir often to prevent burning.

Once the mixture reaches the right temperature, retrieve the pie pans of snow (which you've either kept outdoors or in the freezer) and transfer the candy mixture to a glass measuring cup.

Pour the candy syrup on the snow in any pattern you wish.

Pour the hot candy syrup over the fresh snow in any pattern you wish.  Let it set for a few minutes until the candy hardens.  Remove from the snow, break into bite size pieces and praise the snowfall.

Candy as modern art.
Laura and Mary (illustrated by Garth Williams) from the Little House Cookbook (from which this recipe is adapted. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

One Baking Day Left Til Christmas

These Creole Pecan Praline Bars are addicting, delicious and, while I didn't find the recipe on a hand-written vintage card, are from a very old New Orleans recipe,  according to Maida Heatter, a fabulous pastry chef and cookbook author, and whose recipe I've adapted here.

While not strictly a Christmas treat, these beauties look lovely nestled in a tin filled with cookies, candies and other holiday sweets.  They're easy (if tedious) to prepare and are an simple way to impress friends, family and gain weight.

I used to make a big tray of these every week for a local cafe, and I must warn that placing individual pecans precisely on the expanse of bottom crust can conjure up images of The Yellow Wallpaper.  Call a friend or listen to NPR while doing this task; your mental health will thank you.

Right out of the oven, the tray is a field of pecans and sugar.

Creole Pecan Praline Bars

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 t. sald
2 c. packed light brown sugar
4 c. all purpose flour
about 4 cups of large, unbroken pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350.  Line a half sheet pan (app. 13 x 17) with aluminum foil, with some extending beyond all edges.
Beat butter til soft in an electric mixer.  Add salt and sugar, beat.  Add flour and beat for a minute or so until the ingredients form tiny crumbs that will held together when pressed between your fingers.
Tun the mixture into the prepared pan.  With your fingers/hands spread to form a level layer, then press down firmly to form a compact layer.  (I used a straight-sided drinking glass as a rolling pin to even it all out.)
Next, place the pecans halves on the crust, flat side down, all in the same direction.
Now, make the topping.

3 sticks unsalted butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar

Put both ingredients in a saucepan with an 8-cup capacity, and stir over high heat with a wooden spatula until the mixture comes to a hard boil all over the surface. Continue to stir over the heat for 30 seconds.
Remove from heat and pour the hot mixture all over the pecans, trying to coat the entire surface.
Bake for 22 minutes.
Remove from oven, let cool and then refrigerate until cold.
Lift the bars from the sheet pan and lay on a flat surface to cut.
Enjoy.  Watch the pounds creep on, they're that good.

You can cut them into mini squares or make them larger.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sugar Cookies

I love sugar cookies -- they're simple, direct and satisfying.  Every Christmas I make a batch of these delicious cookies from a Martha Stewart recipe.

The dough takes about five minutes to put together.  Rolling out, baking and decorating is another matter entirely. Have some company in the kitchen or call your mother to pass the time and before you know it, voila! a gorgeous batch of homemade cookies.

My idea of a starry night.

After the cookies have cooled, just mix up some confectioner's sugar with a small bit of milk (or lemon juice) in a shallow bowl to create the frosting.  Keep mixing it until it's smooth and creamy. I find it easier to hold each cookie carefully on the edge and dip it in the frosting, rather than spreading it with a knife, but you can frost the cookies either way.

While the white frosting base is still wet, add some sprinkles for decoration.  No need to be as obsessive as I am -- carefully placing tiny holly- and ball-shaped candies atop each cookie with a tweezer! This design was created several years ago by my uber creative daughter, so I like to carry on the tradition, even if it means staying up til 2 a.m. to finish.  But I do think it's worth it -- see how festive they look, especially with a silver dragee added for sparkle.

Here's a link to the recipe I use.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Macadamia Nut Toffee - The Crack of Christmas Candy

I'm taking a short break from vintage recipes to bring you a collection of tried and true holiday treats while there's still time to make these.

First up is macadamia nut toffee, the most addicting candy ever.  Is there anything more delicious than the buttery flavor of macadamia nuts, especially when they're embedded in a dark, caramel flavored toffee?

These treats only have four ingredients -- heavy cream, sugar, nuts and corn syrup -- and they do seem like so much more than the sum of their parts.  Get our your candy thermometers and create!

Macadamia Nut Toffee
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 2/3 c. sugar
2 3/4 c. macadamia nuts, crushed (freeze them first and hammer them)

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or, if you have a marble slab, oil it lightly with neutral vegetable oil. Have a sheet of parchment and a rolling pin standing by.

Stirring the candy.  Don't be tempted to turn up the heat, even if it takes a long time to reach 284 F.

Combine the first three ingredients in a heavy saucepan large enough to hold four times the volume of these ingredients (otherwise it will boil over).  Bring to a boil over slightly hotter than medium heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar.Continue boiling without stirring until the mixture turns a pale golden color, and from this point give it your undivided attention.  Stick the candy thermometer in the pan.  Using a wooden spoon with a flat edge, stir occasionally at first and then constantly as the temperature approaches 260 F. Keep boiling and stirring until it reaches 284 F.

Rolling out the candy.  It stiffens up quickly, so you have to work fast.

Turn off the fire and dump the nuts into the pan, stirring vigorously as the mixture will stiffen quickly.  When well combined (gotta work fast), dump the whole mass onto the prepared cookie sheet or marble slab.  Place the sheet of parchment over the toffee and roll it out with the rolling pin til it's about 3/8 inch thick.  Let cool completely and break into irregular shapes.  Store in an airtight container, well hidden, lest the Christmas candy crack addicts discover them and they all disappear.

The sheet of candy, cooling on the marble slab.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Cake Bakes Makes the 2010 Park Slope 100 List!

Very pleased to report that ACakeBakesinBrooklyn was named to the 2010 Park Slope 100 list compiled by pioneer blogger and journalist extraordinaire Louise Crawford for her blog, OnlytheBlogKnows Brooklyn.

She wrote:  "This is the fifth  annual alphabetical list of 100 people, places and things that make Park Slope such a special place to live. 100 Stories, 100 ways of looking at the world."

So at the risk of engaging in Blogrolling in Our Time (for those of you who remember the late, great Spy Magazine), I'm linking the list here.   I'm also wondering if this is an example of something I overheard recently: In the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Budapest Coffee Cake

Even though I recently made two coffee cakes, I just had to make this one for a friend who was giddy with excitement about winning an all-expense paid trip to Budapest next month.

This recipe is from a c. 1973 book confidently entitled A Collection of the VERY FINEST RECIPES ever assembled into one Cookbook.

And this coffee cake is extraordinarily delicious, which is a good thing on account of all the butter and sour cream in the recipe, along with the rather complicated instructions, for this cake has layers of cake batter and nut filling.  Many coffee cake recipes instruct that the nut mixture just be sprinkled over the top of the cake.

The four layer Budapest coffee cake

Unfortunately, it was so good that my friend single-handedly ate half of the cake in about ten minutes and now he can't fit into his Speedo for the swimsuit competition in Budapest.  But as an avid reader of my blog, he'd be the first to say, it was worth it.

Creating the layers by alternating the nut mixture and the batter was a challenge.

This nut mixture had an unusual flavor note, because in addition to usual suspects, it called for cocoa powder.

Layers in place,  fingers crossed, the cake is ready for the oven.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pecan Crispies -- The Atlantis of Cookies?

Want a simple-to-make, delicious-to-eat old-fashioned and, yet unusual, cookie?  Then try these pecan crispies.  For some reason, these gems didn't make the cookie hit parade. 

Is it because they lack the novelty of the chocolate chip, the homeyness of the oatmeal or the silly name of the snickerdoodle? We may never know, but that's no reason to let these almost elegant sweets -- with their wonderfully chewy (and first) and (later) crispy texture -- languish on a yellowed recipe card.

These were a snap to make (see instructions below) and quite well received both at work and at Michaels, the Park Slope hair salon where I spend way too much time and money, but always leave very happy and up-to-date on People magazine.  

John, left, the savior of my tresses, with colleague Armani, posing with pecan crispies.

I do hope some of my readers will take a stab at these "lost" cookies.  They deserve to be rediscovered and eaten in the 21st century.

Pecan Crispies (reinterpreted)
1 c. unsalted butter
2 1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. chopped  pecans

Mix softened butter with brown sugar and combine til light and fluffy.  Add eggs and mix well.  Meantime, combine flour, salt and baking soda, blend well, and add to butter mixture.  Combine.  Fold in chopped pecans. 
Drop from spoon on cookie sheet lined with parchment.  Bake at 350 about 10 minutes until very lightly browned.
The pecans should be chopped rather fine.

At first the dough will seem too soft, but it's perfect.  Really.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

In Honor of National Pastry Day: Cake Wrecks and Other Disasters


In honor of National Pastry Day, I'm reposting an item from January.

Being a fearless baker for many years, I've had my share of kitchen disasters. The recent gingerbread debacle was the latest in a long line of near misses.

Regarding the failed gingerbread: I'm certain that my Eastern European Grandma Jean (who died a few years ago at 100) would have found some way to salvage it (gingerbread meatloaf anyone?) But I didn't and have the pictures to prove it. (If I did save it, I could have used it in Gingerbread Pudding, a 1919 recipe from When Mother Let Us Cook, which is basically gingerbread served with a vanilla sauce -- an early, simple version of creme anglaise.)

One thing I've learned about baking is that it's not one perfect cake after another. In truth, it's all about recovery, not initial success. Years ago, in a dessert class, the chef instructor put a pecan tart into the oven. When he checked on it, he discovered -- to his horror -- that the filling was leaking at a rapid rate from the crust. Before I could cry out, "It's ruined!" he opened the oven and, with the calmest possible demeanor, began to scoop the filling (with a spatula) back into the crust, a procedure he repeated every five minutes or so until the tart was done. When it emerged from the oven, it looked perfect. I don't remember anything else about that class, but the lesson from that one tart looms large.

Now I've probably baked and frosted dozens of chocolate cakes, but the one I most remember was for an event at my daughter's school. I made the cake and frosting the night before and left the frosting in a pastry bag on my high kitchen counter; I planned to frost the cake after work. When I returned home the next day, the pastry bag was on the kitchen floor! Somehow my tiny five-pound dog had managed to defy gravity, leaping so high as to set a new toy poodle pole-vaulting record. I momentarily panicked; I had only 20 minutes to show up (cake in hand) at the school. While Midnight, the dog,  had gotten to some of the frosting, I could tell he hadn't touched a lot of it. After carefully transfering the "virgin" frosting to a new pastry bag, I began to pipe the frosting, but it was clear that I wouldn't have enough. A quick trip to the corner fruit store was my salvation. I simply placed some strawberries (and coconut) atop the cake and -- voila! -- a lovely presentation. (My dog was not nearly as thrilled.)

So here are some photos of some of my past "creations gone awry" and some divine salvations. Gingerbread overboard anyone? How about the angelfood cake that bedeviled me? (It simply fell out of the pan to the kitchen counter.) And the Christmas seven layer cookies (which look fine here, which is the point. You'd never know that I took the red cake layer out of the pan too soon and it fell apart. But a quick patching worked beautifully --one could never tell that they weren't perfect from the start -- the beauty of recovery.)

Happy baking -- the good news is, you can (almost) always eat your mistakes.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

You Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg. Want Some Coffee Cake?

Not that I'm obsessive, but I've spent every spare moment in the past few weeks watching reruns of a television show that aired from 1949 to 1956.  The Goldbergs, starring Gertrude Berg (who also developed, directed and wrote the show), takes the viewer into the Bronx apartment of Molly and Jake Goldberg and their two teenagers.

I'm transfixed by nearly everything in this show about Jewish tenement life, from Molly's charming Yiddish accent and malapropisms to the Eastern European food emerging from the mid-century kitchen  to the social interactions -- none of Mrs. Goldberg's lady friends are on a first name basis.  It's always Mrs. Friedman or Mrs. Kaplan.  Hence, the calls out the tenement windows:  Yoo hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.

This is a long way to get to coffee crumb cake, but it's exactly this sort of thing that I suspect Mrs. Goldberg and her friends would serve to one another at their coffee klatches.  After all, she's always asking her family or friends if they'd like a "snick snack."

So many baked goods are rooted in a time and place:  chocolate chip cookies for after school, layer cake at a birthday celebration, scones on Sunday morning.  And coffee cake when the ladies gather mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

Each of my recipe collections has at least one recipe for coffee cake, I literally had my choice of dozens, but I picked two to start.  Coffee cake is a homey cake, often served right from the pan.  It is forgiving, with its simple base and crumb topping, and it's one of the few baked goods where the home cook can truly improvise without fear, adding additional butter or nuts or sugar to the topping. And note that the first recipe (slice pictured directly above) takes the name literally -- one of the ingredients is 1 1/3 cups of coffee!


Mixing the batter for coffee cake #1.

 Using a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour for cake #1. 

Stirring the liquid ingredients into the dry for cake #2.

Finished product: Cake # 1.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Homemade Graham Crackers v. Carnal Lust

I got a hankering for these (graham crackers, not carnal lust) on Sunday, right after DH and I left the postmortem photography exhibit at the Merchants House Museum in the East Village and happened upon a hot new restaurant nearby.  Peels had the most amazing display of baked goods, among them house-made graham crackers.

I couldn't find a single graham cracker recipe in my collection. Graham muffins, check. Graham bread, check. Graham pudding, check.  But no graham cracker (or cookie) recipe.   Thank God for the internet, where I found a scanned copy of the c. 1896  Boston Cook Book with a recipe for Graham Wafers.   In my c. 1931 edition of that book, the recipe no longer appears.

Graham crackers are attributed to Sylvester Graham (1794 - 1851), a Presbyterian minister who believed that following his diet (a bland vegetarian, whole grain plan) would suppress unhealthy carnal urges, which he thought led to illnesses like epilepsy and consumption.  Whether he invented them or not is under dispute, but the coarsely ground wheat flour that became known as graham was certainly named for him.

Recipes for graham crackers first appeared in the 1880s, but then largely disappeared by 1900 when the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco) mass produced them.  Today they are made with bleached white flour and honey -- ingredients that would cause Graham to turn over in his grave.

But back to my baking experience. The dough was FABULOUS.  Really delicious and I ate most of it raw. The finished product? Well, just ok. You can make excellent graham crackers by following this recipe on the amazing Smittenkitchen blog. But because I wanted to remain true to the original concept (and use graham flour),  I sacrificed some flavor and texture.  In fact, upon tasting one today, a friend remarked that he wanted to take a few extra -- to exfoliate his feet! A bit of an exaggeration, I assure you. 

Below is the recipe [and my production notes]

Graham Wafers
1 pint white flour [2 cups]
1 pint Graham flour [2 cups]
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 saltspoonful salt [1 tsp]
Cold water enough to make a stiff dough.
Roll out very thin, cut in squares and bake quickly.

[notes: Preheat oven to 375.  Combine flours, sugar and salt.  Cut cold butter into mixture until it is well combined.  Add water slowly until dough stays together when held in your hand.  Roll dough thin, and cut. Sprinkle on some cinnamon and sugar.  Bake on parchment lined cookie sheets until lightly browned.]