Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Peach Cobbler Redux


Before peach season is but a memory, I wanted to make another peach cobbler and did so recently at the request of my friend Zane who was craving the dessert.  It was to be eaten at her Upper West Side apartment with her friend, the legendary Anne Mendelson, considered one of the country's most knowledgeable food historians, the author of two acclaimed books, Stand Facing the Stove, the story of the authors of the Joy of Cooking,  and Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages and a contributor to Gourmet and  The New York Times.


Anne Mendelson with peach cobbler pudding.
The pressure was on.  I was a bit intimidated to be baking for such a food world luminary and decided to use a more modern (read: tested) recipe.  Just a few days earlier I was gifted with a wonderful southern cookbook, The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman, which contained a batter-based peach cobbler that was appealing on many levels, not least of which was the fact that the peaches didn't need to be peeled for this recipe.


The peach cobbler was a snap to prepare.  Really simple. But you know how you can do everything exactly right and make one strategic mistake at the very end that torpedoes all the good that came before? That's what happened to my cobbler.  I pulled it from the oven at about midnight and I was way too tired to stay up for it to cool in order to cover the pan, so I cheated and just covered it while still hot and went to bed.  Big mistake, for the foil (as Anne kindly explained the next afternoon) caused the heat to build and "steam" the cobbler.  So we ended up eating something that was more like pudding than cobbler.

But, it was delicious.  Delicious enough for me to make again. I brought the next batch in to work, and left a note:  Tell me if it's worth the calories.  Everyone thought it was.

Aside from its deliciousness, this is one of those special recipes where magic happens in the oven.  In this case, the batter rises above the fruit creating a cake that encapsulates the peaches.  See below.

Batter in the pan.  No mixing necessary!


Peaches put atop the batter.

With a sprinkling of brown sugar, the cobbler is ready for the oven.


Hot from the oven.  The batter has risen above the fruit.

This cobbler is different than the more common biscuit type cobblers, in that it is batter-based and, at least the second time, around tasted like a wonderful moist cake studded with slices of peaches.  I'm going to make this for Zane and Anne next year for sure.

Meantime you can watch for the debut of Anne's new blog -- the reason for our afternoon meeting was a lesson in blogging which we managed to fit in between eating the sweet and savory Chinese dumplings Anne brought (her new book is on Chinese food), the lovely dinner Zane made (chicken and couscous tabouli) and the cobbler.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wicky Wacky Chocolate Cake


Who could resist a cake with this name?  Not me.

And so, one morning before work last week, I whipped this up.  The most difficult part was deciphering the faded and smudged script on the handwritten recipe.


I think the "wacky" part of the name comes from the unusual method, which involves melting the shortening, cocoa and water before mixing it with the dry ingredients.  This cake couldn't be easier to make (I still got to work on time that morning) and it was delicious.



The original scanned recipe is below, and below that is my interpretation.


Wicky Wacky Chocolate Cake

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
2 tbs. cocoa powder
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix sugar and flour.  Heat butter, cocoa and water in a sauce pan until boiling point.   Pour hot mixture into dry ingredients and add the buttermilk (into which you've mixed the baking soda), egg and vanilla.  Mix well and pour batter into a greased and floured 8 inch square pan.  Bake about 20 minutes until a toothpick poked in the center of cake comes out clean.

Wicky Wacky Frosting

1/2 stick butter
2 tbs. cocoa powder
3 tbs. milk
1/2 pound confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened or sweetened)


Put butter, cocoa and milk into a pan.  Heat until it begins to boil. Remove and add sugar and vanilla.  Mix in coconut.  Pour over hot cake and then sprinkle with nuts. Enjoy!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fresh Raspberry Pie and Delayed Gratification


Why is it whenever I see a clean kitchen, I feel compelled to step in and mess it up?  That's what happened last night when, not a minute after DH finished doing the dishes, I began pulling out all my pie baking supplies -- rolling pin, flour bin, butter and more.  





My mission wasn't to fling around some flour (though that happened too), but to prepare a fresh raspberry pie asap. That's because we had harvested quite a crop of red and yellow raspberries at a U-Pick farm the day before and, as gorgeous as they are, the instant they're off the vine they begin to degrade.  I knew I had to act fast.



Finding a vintage raspberry pie recipe isn't that easy.  Because it takes so many raspberries to make a pie, recipes usually feature another fruit like peaches.  Also, fruit pie making in the old days (when women baked daily and ready-made pies weren't as available) didn't require a recipe -- prepare a crust, mix whatever fruit you had with some sugar and thickener (tapioca, flour or cornstarch), fill and bake. What could be simpler? 



But the c. 1955 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, my mother's go-to cookbook, came to the rescue.  I didn't weigh the berries, but used about 4.5 cups.  


I can't show you a slice or tell you how it came out.  That's where the delayed gratification part comes in.  Because instead of putting the pie in the oven, I put it in the freezer to be served at my Rosh Hashana dinner in about two weeks.  


I'm pretty confident it will be good, because once before I prepared four raspberry pies, froze them, and then baked them whenever I needed dessert.  That was years ago, when my son was only six and had just received a Playstation -- a Godsend that kept him busy for HOURS (unheard of for him!) allowing me to prepare not only the pies but two loaves of bread!  (Lest all you parents out there scold me for outsourcing parental influence to a game and nurturing an addiction to same, at age 21, my son no longer plays video games.)


Anyway, last night I made just one pie, and after carefully wrapping it, I placed it next to our freezer's most prized possessions and legacy from my children's growing-up: two snowballs from the Blizzard of 1996. 


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Two Bad Ideas from United Fruit Company


Banana republics, of course, and this savory sautéed banana recipe.  I just found this perfectly preserved specimen in a c.1940s recipe scrapbook in my collection.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Calling Dr. Freud


I baked a chocolate birthday cake for my mother on July 22nd, her 81st birthday, which she was celebrating in Brooklyn, a slightly more happening place than Akron, where she lives.  I didn't even let the 95+ temperature stop me. (Did I mention we don't have air conditioning?)

I chose the recipe carefully, from a c. 1934 Hershey's Chocolate Cookbook I've had since forever.  I've kept track of it through a dozen moves in three states.  BUT, when I got ready to scan the recipe for my blog post, the book just disappeared.


I turned my house UPSIDE DOWN trying to find it, but all I have to show for it is a very messy house. I so wanted to share this recipe with my readers -- it's a simple, delicious, old-fashioned chocolate cake, filled with raspberry jam between the layers.  I paired it with a chocolate buttercream frosting, for my mother loves chocolate only second to her children.



And since it was her birthday, I let her choose from among my vast sprinkle collection; she selected two that I purchased at Le Bon Marche's Grand Epicierie in Paris last year.  I may have my issues with her, but I always admire her good taste.

We -- DH, DD, DS and I -- all celebrated my mother's birthday with dinner at a Park Slope restaurant, followed by dessert at home.  But instead of sharing the recipe with you, all I can share are the memories.  One day, I'm certain I'll find the cookbook and I'll hear my mother's voice:  Oh, Susie, if your head weren't attached you'd lose that too!


Bee and her birthday cake


Monday, August 16, 2010

Cake with Candy


Did you know that there is a whole genre of baking with gumdrops?  I didn't until I discovered a hand-written 1952 recipe called Yummy Gum Drop Squares, which led to some internet research revealing all manner of cakes, cookies and squares adorned inside and out with gumdrops.

These I had to try, for I love candy.  Almost as much as DH does.

Adding to the appeal is that the recipe card is signed by the collector, a Sharon Malone, and attributed to a Mrs. Cates.   I always think of these recipes as even more valuable, that someone thought enough of it to "claim" ownership.


The problem was, I had never even seen the orange slice candy called for in the recipe, so months went by and I just put the recipe aside.  And then, one day while visiting my mother-in-law who had just moved to an assisted living facility ("the institution," as she calls it) in New Jersey, I stopped by a 7-Eleven and there, right at the cash register, were bags of orange slice candy!


The candy was really good.  So good, that I ended up eating too many, that I didn't have enough for the recipe.  But I knew that I would return to visit my mother-in-law before long, and was able to get another bag of orange slices.

Not surprisingly, this recipe is part of a collection from Texas, where they sure like their sugar.  These bars are very sweet, but strangely addicting.  While they certainly wouldn't do for a dessert at a dinner party, as an after school snack, they'd be perfect.

If you make these, don't do what I did -- try to shred the candy in a food processor.  I ended up with one big gummy ball of orange sticky candy.  Instead, just slice the candy with a knife.  Sometimes the simple, old-fashioned way is best.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Best Red Velvet Cake in the World


After many requests, and blogging about this cake ad nauseum, I am finally posting the recipe.  It was truly just inertia that prevented me from doing so earlier.  I can't even say it was laziness -- after all, how hard is it to copy and paste?

Red on red; the batter after the food coloring is added.

My recipe is a (very) slight variation on one developed by Arthur Schwartz who posted it to his website, foodmaven.com, a few years ago.  It is a true crowd pleaser.  No matter how many other things I bake, I am constantly besieged with requests for this cake. This is the recipe I used when I baked and sold cakes to some local cafes for a few years. I hardly made any money, but the ooohs and aaaahs I got when I dropped off the cakes were priceless.

The "essential" wet (glass of wine) and dry ingredients.
Almost done!

Red Velvet Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus one tablespoon  cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons to 1 bottle red food coloring
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 cup buttermilk


Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa. Set aside.
In another mixing bowl,  beat the sugar and oil together until well blended. A standing or hand-held mixer works best for this.
Add eggs, one at a time, blending well between additions.  (Blend the last one in until the mixture is smooth.)
Blend in food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar. Scrape bowl down with a rubber spatula.
Alternately blend in flour and buttermilk , (starting and ending with the flour)  using about a third of each at a time and scraping sides of bowl a couple of times. Make sure not to overbeat or use the electric mixer on high -- this will toughen the cake.
Immediately pour into prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
On a wire rack, cool cakes in pans for 5 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely on rack.
Fill and frost.


Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (at room temperature)
16 ounces confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Milk, as needed
In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.
Add butter and continue to beat smooth and well incorporated with the cream cheese.
Beat in the sugar a little at a time, then the vanilla.
If frosting is too thick to spread easily, beat in cold milk a tablespoon or so at a time until of spreading consistency.
You can sift cocoa powder and cinnamon atop the cake, if you like.
Serve and feel the love.

Pinkalicious: A version with three layers and pink frosting.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Peanut Blossoms: Cookies by Special Request


On Sunday, we had a big family dinner, a "last meal," if you will for DS who is returning to Tulane soon to finish (and that's the operative word here) his senior year of college. As is tradition in our family, DS chose the menu: a mixed grill of fresh tuna, rib steak, chicken and zucchini.  But he didn't want any dessert.

In my mind, no meal is complete without a sweet ending, so I asked Josh, DD's sugar-loving boyfriend and,  before I could even finish the question, he responded: Peanut butter cookies.


The batter right before the egg and peanut butter were blended in.

I chose a recipe from my go-to children's cookbook, the c.1946 Cookbook for Girls and Boys by Irma S. Rombauer, who wrote the Joy of Cooking for us grownups.  A hand-written recipe in my collection for another version of peanut butter cookies, Peanut Blossoms, instructed the placing of a Hershey's Kiss at the center of each cookie right after it came out of the oven.  I did that on some cookies, put Peanut M&M's atop others and the remaining ones I baked in the traditional manner, with fork lines criss-crossing the top.

Traditional peanut butter cookies

Everyone loved these cookies, even DS who didn't want dessert in the first place.  Not being a fan of peanut butter cookies, I can't really comment.  They tasted a bit sandy to me, a texture I adore in the French sable, but didn't in this cookie.

Josh with cookies.
I used "natural" peanut butter here -- the only ingredients were peanuts and salt -- because I figured that's what was likely used when the recipe was written in the 1940s. But a little research (the reliable internet kind, so take it with a grain of salt, or sugar) reveals that the first shelf-stable peanut butter (where the oil doesn't separate from the peanuts)  was introduced in the 1920s.  And it wasn't until the 1930s that peanut butter was listed as a cookie ingredient.   





Poor Clark!


I found this penmanship exercise in a recipe box I just purchased and it made me feel bad for Clark, having to write the date so many times and then being admonished by the teacher.
A boiled icing recipe, presumably written by Clark's mother,  is on the back, in a script the teacher would probably approve.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Grandma Jean's Cookies


You know when you hear something, and you're positive that you'll remember all the details so you simply jot down a few words, certain that you'll  be able recall everything when you need to? That's what happened when my Grandma Jean, shortly before her death, told me how to make her famous "deck of cards" sugar cookies.  How else can I explain these confusing, cryptic notes that pass as a recipe?  (I remember sitting at her kitchen table and taking these notes as she was talking.)


I made these cookies last week, after FINALLY receiving the vintage cookie cutters I ordered on eBay, which took more than six weeks to arrive from Canada.  It turns out that U.S. Customs caused the delay, not Colton Harris-Moore.


It took a leap of faith and a lot of guessing (how much orange juice? how hot an oven?) but they tasted pretty good.  However, I wasn't transported back to my childhood and my grandmother's kitchen where her cookie jar was almost always filled with hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.
Even DH thought I didn't quite get it right, though my co-workers thought the cookies were divine and devoured them in a matter of minutes.  Hmmm....maybe this IS worth revisiting.


Grandma Jean was a prolific cook and baker, whipping up breads and chicken fricassee and holiday meals for 20 at the drop of a hat.  If she wasn't in her home kitchen, she could be found in the commercial kitchen of her temple, preparing luncheons and dinners for events.  She baked well into her 90s, even making the challah bread for both my children's Bar and Bat Mitzvahs when she was nearly 100.

Grandma Jean and her five grandchildren.
She was also resourceful. As I was copying down the recipe, she told me that a while back my brother had asked her to make a pie.  Being an immigrant from Eastern Europe, she really had no experience with American pie crusts, but figured that a cookie dough would be a fine substitute.  I don't know if it was; my brother doesn't remember asking for or receiving a pie, nor does he remember giving DH some unsolicited "advice" at our engagement party, some um, "concerns" about marrying me.  Luckily DH didn't listen, and my brother swears he never said it.  And no one took any notes.





Friday, August 6, 2010

Lemon Cream Cake and Dirty Martini


In anticipation of our annual summer block party here on 11th Street, I made Lemon Cream Cake from the June 1957 Capper's Farmer magazine. I don't have the magazine, but one of "my ladies" -- those whose recipe cards and scrapbooks I bake from -- had clipped it for her recipe box.

Dirty Martini
But we (my cake and I) never made it to the block party on account of a late afternoon rainstorm (the invite said "shine only").  And when the skies finally cleared, I had plans to head to the Abrons Arts Center to see Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque, a documentary film on New York's neo-burlesque scene, followed by live performances by Dirty herself, Julie Atlas Muz, Bambi the Mermaid, World Famous "BOB," Tigger! and others, all MC'd by Mr. Murray Hill.

The show was superb, as was the after party at The Delancey, as was this cake. In fact, I'm burying the lede -- this cake is a real winner.  Next time someone asks what cake is my favorite, I might just say this one.

The ratio of ease to deliciousness is unmatched.  Anyone can make this cake -- it's really foolproof, and it's very impressive.  It uses heavy cream instead of butter, and I beg you please not to buy the ultra-pasteurized crap cream at the supermarket.  It's worth the money to buy sweet fresh cream at the farmer's market or from a local dairy.


Sticking with the cream theme, I used this lovely cream cheese frosting recipe, below, that was the perfect topping for this cake.
So what happened to the cake?  While my neighbors didn't get any (maybe I'll make it for our annual Christmas party), my co-workers at Henry Street Settlement sure weren't complaining about the Sunday afternoon rainstorm!


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