Friday, July 30, 2010

Emergency Room Cake


There are two kinds of people (well, maybe more but please bear with me. After all, this is a baking, not a psychology, blog).

One type of person thinks that lightening will strike them, that they will be a passenger on the one airplane that crashes this year, etc.  The other type assumes that everything will be fine.

I tend to fall into the latter group, but sometimes am persuaded otherwise.  That's what happened a few weeks ago when I awoke with a painful cramp in my calf.  The pain got worse over the next few days, but I assumed it was a muscle pull that would get better eventually.  However, several people whose opinions I normally trust (including DH who "diagnosed" me from the Bahamas) convinced me that I might have deep vein thrombosis.  "At your age, I'd be worried about a blood clot," said Josh, DD's charming (really!) boyfriend.

So off I went to the emergency room, but not before enlisting the assistance of a doctor friend whose efforts both reassured me and made my ER experience easy --- a piece of cake, if you will.  (Of course, I didn't have a blood clot.)

This is a long way to get to the lemon cake pictured above, but I wanted to thank the doctor and what better way than with a cake?

I didn't have a lot of time, or room for failure, so I decided to go with a more modern recipe.  At first, I planned to make the Persian Love Cake (below) but I knew that the high humidity on cake-baking day would torpedo any chance of success.


I settled on the Glazed Lemon Cake from the first Silver Palate Cookbook,  c. 1978, which I thought would guarantee a delicious result.  But, it was just ok (though the doctor declared it a "masterpiece") and I felt obligated to embellish it with a lemon curd (basically lemons, sugar and egg yolks cooked to make a custard) and some fresh berries.

From now on, I'm sticking to pre-1960 recipes and ignoring the advice of well-meaning friends.








Friday, July 23, 2010

Peach Cobbler = a Day at the Pool



To escape the heat and humidity which seem to have taken up permanent residence in New York, DH and I graciously invited ourselves to the beautiful Connecticut house where our friends Karin and Jim have lived since they moved from Brooklyn more than a decade ago.

A day of swimming in their spectacular gunite pool, sipping Jim's ambitious signature cocktails on the deck and feasting on Karin's delicious cooking --what could be better?




Of course, I'd bring dessert.  But because of circumstances I should have controlled, but chose to ignore, I only had an hour to make something.  I spied a basket of juicy peaches from the farmer's market, found a do-able recipe in The Settlement Cook Book, turned the oven to 350 degrees and began -- my version of ready, set, go.


Since I had insulted the biscuit by substituting (and raving about) a one-egg cake for my strawberry shortcake this spring, I decided to give the lowly biscuit another chance here.  These were excellent -- easy to make, delicious and very satisfying.  Biscuits have officially recouped their lead role in the fruit dessert world.


But even before I made the biscuits, I began the task of peeling the peaches.  The easiest way is to drop them into a big pot of boiling water for just a minute or so.  Fish them out with a slotted spoon, let them cool a bit and their skins should slip right off, revealing their beautiful, glistening flesh.

So this had all the makings of a really good dessert, but it just didn't work.  The problem with baking is that so many things can go wrong.  I used a pie plate when an 8 inch square pan would have been so much better.  I added too much butter (yes, Virginia, it is possible); it didn't blend in and instead turned into a thin layer of fat atop the fruit.  The fruit to biscuit ratio was a bit off, and there didn't seem to be any relationship between the biscuit and the peaches.  They were like next door neighbors who just waved, but never embraced.


But, Karin and Jim (above) certainly seemed to enjoy it, though they have a long history of being very diplomatic eaters indeed.  Like the time I served cod stew, filled with bones, because the cod I was pan roasting just fell apart. Let's just say that they endured many meals that fellow blogger Paula Bernstein of Undomesticated Me would instantly recognize. We won't even mention the time their daughter Nicole said, after dinner at our house, "She went to culinary school and she's serving us CHILI!"

That's what good friends are for. They stick around even through the bad times (and bad meals).
But do try the biscuits!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Huckle Buckle: A Dessert AND a Sex Position!


Desperate for new-old recipes, I bought a couple of filled-to-the-brim recipe boxes on eBay and, when they arrived last week, I began the task of sorting through all manner of recipe material culture: small booklets; recipes clipped from magazines, newspapers and the back of boxes; and my favorites -- recipes jotted down on scrap paper or hand-written on recipe cards, many in a beautiful script so rare these days.


One card among the dozens jumped out at me, mostly for it's unusual name: Huckle Buckle.  I figured I could substitute blueberries for huckleberries, but upon careful reading of the recipe I realized it was missing so many instructions (amount of berries, what to do with them, some reference to "warming" that made no sense), that I decided to employ Google.  I mean, how did we ever live without this instant access to information?


Because this is a family blog, I can't really discuss the alternate meaning of Huckle Buckle as revealed by my internet search, but let's just say it involves a sexual position that requires the extreme flexibility of, say, a yoga master. (Here's where everyone leaves my blog to search, so I've decided to provide the link for you.  Must be over 17 to click.)


This reminds me of the time Nick, my friend Mary's son, had to do a paper on beavers.  You can imagine what that search turned up -- stuff that a fifth grader could never use in the classroom!

Anyway, despite the porn allusion, the poor instructions and everything else, this recipe ROCKS!  The buckle is beyond delicious -- something about the sweet and crunchy crust and the bit of the tart berries is almost magical.

As DH said, when he took a bite: "This is better than the sex position."  As if he ever had a huckle buckle!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sausage Cake: Don't Lick the Bowl!


Yes folks, I discovered not one, but two Sausage Cake recipes in my collection.  As in raw pork sausage.  As in no fighting over who licks the bowl.


I wanted to bake something from the c. 1940 Chambers stove cookbook I purchased recently at a flea market and that I had been looking for for nearly 15 years, ever since I got my Chambers stove.  But disappointingly, the recipes all seemed so pedestrian -- until, that is, I turned the page and found this treasure.



I never thought I'd see "sausage" and "cake" next to one another, but here it was.  And I was intrigued. The cake was easy, if weird, to make. I'm used to softening butter and measuring sugar, not removing casings from sausage.  I probably overbaked it, because I just couldn't imagine that all that sausage could cook through in just 40 minutes.


The next day, when I put the cake on the conference table at work, I had the foresight to scribble on a Post-It:  Not Vegetarian. No one at work could guess cake's secret ingredient, although one rather non-adventurous eater literally spit it out when told of the sausage.

Sausage cake takes the one-pot meal concept to a whole new level: main course and dessert all in one! It's really quite efficient as I discovered the next morning when I had a big slice for breakfast figuring that it was like eating eggs, sausage and a muffin, all in one.

I followed the recipe in the Chambers cookbook, but cooked it with the gas turned on -- Chambers' big claim to fame was "cooking with the gas turned off," saving energy and freeing the cook from the responsibility of tending to a hot oven.  I'm pretty fearless, but I've never mustered the courage to turn the gas off, trusting that what's in the oven will finish cooking with the ambient heat.

The other sausage cake recipe in my collection is from the Indiana Rural Letter Carriers' Auxiliary Cookbook, c. 1977, and included a broiled icing (below) made of brown sugar, coconut, butter, nuts and cream. I added that to my cake, figuring if the cake didn't work out, we would certainly enjoy the topping.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Six Months

That's how long it took me to share this link (showing me and DH being interviewed on tv!) on my blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pull-Apart Kuchen: No Knife or Fork Required


Merde!  Pardon my French, but that was the first word to escape my lips when I awoke with a start at 5 a.m. this morning and realized that the cake I made last night was probably cemented in the pan because I chose sleep over waiting for it to cool to remove it from the pan when it was still lukewarm.

I rushed down the stairs and with a couple of prayers and my trusty offset spatula, I managed to get the kuchen out in one piece.  Which is ironic, because it's really not one piece to begin with, but a series of balls of yeast dough baked together in a tube pan.  And one literally pulls it apart and eats it with their hands -- no knife and fork required.


Pull-Apart Kuchen, also known as Monkey Bread, is an interesting twist and presentation on your basic cinnamon bun. It was a family favorite when I was growing up, and is beloved my family-members-by-marriage.  We still talk about the time my brother-in-law Mitch single-handedly devoured an entire kuchen (it serves 12) at a family event.  I was flattered, he being the son of an amazing cook who, until her death last year, made marzipan (and everything else) from scratch.


This is an easy, albeit time-consuming recipe best made (like all yeast doughs) during periods of low pressure which enhances the rising of the dough.  Creating an assembly line (above) to form the dough balls, dip them in melted butter and then in a cinnamon-sugar mixture makes quicker(er) work of it. Below, is the dough before the first rise, and the "cake" after the second rise, ready to be baked.



The recipe I used is the one my mother used, and is from the Beth El Congregation Cook Book in Akron, Ohio.  I recommend making it, if you're looking for something fun, delicious and unusual.  And who isn't looking for that?



Monday, July 12, 2010

Colton Harris-Moore and Grandma Jean


I never thought there would be a connection between the 19-year-old "Barefoot Bandit," above, and my Eastern European grandmother who died a few years ago at 100, pictured below with some of her great grandchildren.  But if Colton hadn't been captured in the Bahamas yesterday after two years on the run, right now you'd be reading about my grandmother's famous sugar cookies.


It all started when I discovered a scrap of paper with a list of ingredients in the back of a kitchen drawer.  I realized that they were for my grandmother's sugar cookies, cookies distinguished from all others by their unusual shapes -- diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades.  I wanted to make them, but didn't have the signature cookie cutters.


Enter eBay.  I immediately found a set of c. 1950s cookie cutters (how lucky is that?).  I bid and won handily for, as you might imagine, there wasn't a lot of competition for these.

I had them sent to DH's office in Manhattan because Brooklyn isn't exactly a place where the mailman can leave a package at the front door, if you know what I mean.

But last week, when the cutters arrived, DH -- a journalist who has been working on the Colton story for months -- was suddenly called to the Bahamas, where Colton had been spotted.  I waited patiently for his return.  But just hours after DH's plane landed in New York Saturday night, Colton was captured. So this morning, instead of going to his office to retrieve the cookie cutters, DH is on a plane headed once again for the Bahamas.

The lesson?  In the future, all packages will be sent to my office on the Lower East Side, because working for a social service agency, I'm pretty confident that I won't be taking any last-minute work jaunts to the Bahamas.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Two Children and Three Layer Cake




F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life, and Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again, but on Sunday I recreated a cake for my children that I last baked for them nearly two decades ago.  And both of them were home together (a rare occurrence) to witness and enjoy the result.

Of course, my children look nothing like the two Norman Rockwell-ish angels pictured on the cover of the Hershey's cookbook that contains the recipe for this classic Three Layer Gold Cake.   Not only are they much older, but much less innocent (note my son's rather prominent tattoo).

If I were one of those perfect mothers who organized family pictures in albums (as opposed to tossing them in big plastic bins that are taking over our basement storage area), I'd be able to post a picture of the first act of this story, the original cake and my young children who more closely resembled the two on the book cover.

But back to the cake.  Whatever your family status, I strongly support the baking of this cake. It's fairly easy and mighty impressive.


Like many cakes from the 1930s, this one involves separating the eggs and whipping the whites up in another bowl.  Kind of a pain, because one needs to either wash the beaters (for egg whites to whip properly, all the equipment must be squeaky clean), or have a second set at the ready, and it adds another step.  But folding them into the batter (pictured below) does make for a lighter, more delicate cake.


The original 1934 cookbook was updated (to include such "improvements" as margarine and no-stick pans!) and reissued in 1971.

Every recipe promotes Hershey's chocolate and cocoa.  But for the frosting, I decided to use unsweetened chocolate from Scharffen Berger, considered the best artisenal chocolate company in the United States since its founding in Berkeley, California, in 1996.  It was only just a few minutes ago, while writing this, that I remembered that Scharffen Berger was purchased by Hershey's a few years ago!
Ironic, no?  Delicious, yes!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Washington Pie for the Fourth of July


I wanted to make a July 4th dessert that was nothing like the clich├ęd concoctions that appear in mainstream womens magazines, predictably featuring an array of blueberries and raspberries arranged *just so* on a tart or ice cream cake.

Hence, I made Washington Pie. A simple and tasty alternative.

Washington Pie, a precursor to  Boston Cream Pie, is really a cake.  And it couldn't be easier to make because unlike most cakes, there's no frosting or filling to prepare separately.  The cake layers are spread with raspberry or apricot jam (hmmm....shouldn't it be cherry?) and the top is dusted with a fine layer of confectioners sugar. (Boston Cream Pie, also a cake, is filled with vanilla custard and topped with chocolate.)

This is a light and delicious cake, and was much appreciated by the ladies of Henry Street Settlement's Home Planning Workshop, led by the amazing Ruth Taube, 86, (below, pretty in pink, in a dress she designed and sewed) who has been teaching sewing, knitting and crocheting to Lower East Side residents for more than 40 years.


The workshop, located in the basement of the Vladeck Houses, a public housing project, hasn't changed much in 50 years.  Inside, ladies (and sometimes men) sit around two tables, or at sewing machines, busy at work on projects, while Ruth goes from person to person, teaching a technique here, solving a problem there, offering all manner of advice, not all of it limited to the needle crafts.  (Instruction and advice are free.) There's laughter, gossip, camaraderie and, almost always, cake or another sweet. I was thrilled my contribution was so well received -- this is a tough audience!



Topping the cake with confectioners sugar is easy if you use a strainer, pictured above, as it allows for an even coating.  This also works beautifully for topping a dessert with cocoa powder.

I found a few recipes for Washington Pie (also called George Washington Pie), but the one I used is from Tested & Tasty Recipes, a 1936 book complied by the Dorcas Class of the East Market Evangelical and Reformed Sunday School in Akron, Ohio.