Thursday, September 30, 2010

As American as Swedish Apple Pie

Hot from the oven, with a slightly caramelized top.

Last Saturday I embarked upon a baking frenzy, spending the entire day in the land of butter, flour and sugar, and at the end, I had one devil's food cake, 24 apple muffins, 16 cubic inches of gooey date pudding and this treasure -- Swedish Apple Pie. (Of course the downside to a day like this is that the dry cleaning wasn't picked up and the week's groceries weren't purchased, but those are the sacrifices one must make.)

I peeled the apples for this recipe but I'll bet you don't have to.
In many ways, this recipe was the sleeper among the bunch.  Easy as, well, pie.  Unusual in texture and, if you like your desserts very sweet, absolutely delicious.  It's perfect for the fall, especially if you end up with pounds and pounds of apples from a visit to a country orchard.

The unbaked pie.

The name, Swedish Apple Pie, is a bit of a misnomer; the only thing pie-like about this sweet treat is that it's baked in a pie pan.  It's more like a very moist cake with a slightly caramelized topping.  The only problem with this is that, like the date pudding, it's a bit homely on the plate.  It doesn't hold together in a wedge shape when removed from the pan but if you overlook its appearance, close your eyes and take a bite you can get a little bit closer to heaven.  Or maybe Sweden.

The slices weren't gorgeous, but they sure were tasty.

The recipe, from a box I purchased on eBay, is attributed to Gladys and the card was in pristine condition, having been protected in a plastic sleeve.  (I'll bet Glady's living room sofa was encased in a plastic slipcover too.)



Monday, September 27, 2010

Date & Nut Pudding


This Date & Nut Pudding is the kind of old-fashioned comfort dessert that's perfect after dinner on a cool September night.  It has it all --  a sweet and richly complex pudding beneath a nutty cobbler-like topping.


What sealed the deal for me was that this recipe, discovered in a recipe box I got on eBay, is written on the back of an envelope!  My entire life has been planned on the back of envelopes; even our major kitchen renovation was designed on one.  Seriously. And if I were a more organized sort (the type who never has to resort to using the back of envelopes) I would be able to find that envelope -- I know it's here somewhere.


Another appeal of this recipe is its unconventional technique -- boiling ingredients for the pudding, cooking the   liquid in the oven while the topping is  prepared, and then spooning that mixture atop the liquid.  Also, it's idiot-proof and takes about six minutes to make.  And DH and I were recently in Ohio Amish country, where we dined at Mrs. Yoder's Kitchen in Mt. Hope, and I had a wonderful Amish date pudding there, a dessert often served at Amish weddings I'm told.

I had all the ingredients on hand, having wisely purchased dried dates instead of Cake Mix Ice Cream at the bodega the night before.  It's pretty amazing just  how many of these old recipes call for dried dates and buttermilk and how few (read none) ever use ingredients like vanilla beans or fresh ginger.

The topping spooned on, this is how the pudding appears before baking.
This is a homey (and homely) dessert, not a good choice for dinner parties as its appearance won't wow guests.  Of course, that didn't stop me from serving it, with freshly whipped cream, to my friends Karin and Jim who stopped by last night after we all had dinner at Ghenet, an Ethiopian restaurant in Park Slope.

Not a show stopper, but delicious nonetheless.

Karin and Jim enjoying dessert.

A few production notes:  I halved the recipe and used an 8 x 8 inch square pan.  The pudding was quite runny at first but firmed up  after a night on the counter.  If you plan to serve this right away, reduce the amount of water to three cups.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cake Batter Ice Cream


I just discovered this last night in my local bodega (only two years after it was introduced).  First cookie dough, now cake batter.  What's next -- raw pie crust ice cream?  Actually, that sounds pretty good.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Apple Muffins the Old Fashioned Way


Next Sunday is Apple Day on Orchard Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side and yours truly will be there representing my place of employ, Henry Street Settlement.

We'll be distributing literature about our social service and arts programs, along with some exciting give-aways -- pens! tattoos!  magnets!  And the first twelve visitors to our table will get a homemade apple muffin from a recipe in The Settlement Cook Book published in 1901 by a Milwaukee settlement house.

Come early to get your muffin (which would go great with Workforce Blend Coffee, an artisenal blend created just for Henry Street and available for purchase by clicking the link).



These muffins hearken back to a time before ginormous, super sweet muffins ruled the planet.  Modest in both size and sweetness, these originals are still pretty big on flavor.  Simple, hearty and delicious.  And way less caloric than the modern versions.  So you can have your muffin and eat your cake, too!

For those of you who can't make it to Apple Day, I'm pasting the recipe below in the hopes that you will create a little time-travel magic in your kitchen and make these yummy treats.

(A few production notes: This technique (cutting butter into the flour) is reminiscent of biscuit-making and is very easily accomplished using a food processor or pastry blender.  And don't forget to put the sugar and cinnamon on top before putting it into the oven, as I did.  If you do forget, just pull them out of the oven the minute you remember, sprinkle the sugar mixture on top, pop them back in the oven and cross your fingers.) 



Monday, September 20, 2010

Say YES to Brown Sugar Cake

Brown sugar cake, topped with vanilla frosting and toasted coconut.
(For some reason, it didn't photograph that well, but in real life, it looked really good.

A few weeks ago, while at an antique mall in Akron (the spiritual home of A Cake Bakes in Brooklyn), I was lucky enough to find a metal recipe box that contained a few hand-written cards, several of them featuring just the kind of cake recipes that rock my boat.


And so, at the risk of sending my mother into apoplectic shock at the thought of having her kitchen messed up, I plunged ahead.  (My mother, legendary for her obsessive cleaning, has been known to whisk coffee cups into the dishwasher the moment they're left on a table unattended for more than 20 seconds.)

 It's hard to bake in someone else's kitchen, especially if it isn't well equipped.  At a garage sale, I bought two 9-inch round cake pans in excellent condition ($2 each!), and luckily I had purchased some cake flour at one of the bulk grocery stores that are found all over the Amish country, where I had spent the previous two days.  And for butter, I used the Amish butter that I had bought on a trip to Akron in May and forgot in my mother's freezer.


So, with all the logistical problems solved, I began baking.  I chose a Brown Sugar Cake from "Aunt E."  (This box has lots of interesting sounding recipes, "Doughnuts (Potato) and "Sweet Heart Dough Coffeecake."  Luckily my mother has a hand-mixer; I simply can't believe the strength and endurance required to mix cakes without this modern appliance.


The cake was delicious -- a crumb so wonderful and delicate that I want to go back to that bulk food store and buy 20 pounds of that cake flour, which was called "white velvet" and whoever named it wasn't kidding.
The cake was very easy to make -- I certainly recommend it!

 There were no frosting recipes in the metal box, so I decided to improvise, which turned out to be not such a good idea.  I mixed softened butter with confectioners sugar and beat away, adding a bit of milk.  I don't know exactly what happened, but it wasn't what I'd hoped for.  Not bad, just not that good.  What saved it was some unsweetened coconut flakes (also purchased at the bulk store), which I toasted in the oven and sprinkled on top.

My brother Steve and his wife Margaret (who many of you may recognize for her pithy comments on my blog) were also visiting my mother, and enjoyed the cake, as did my mother, who only asked me 24 times during the course of my cake making if I needed help cleaning the kitchen.

Margaret and my brother Steve, aka Mr. Wonderful

I hope some of my readers make this cake -- it's easy, delicious and quite impressive.  Just find a better frosting recipe.



Monday, September 13, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake in the World?


On Friday night, while accompanying DH on his photo-taking adventure at Fashion's Night Out in lower Manhattan, we came upon a small, oozing-with-charm storefront in Nolita with a bold name: The Best Chocolate Cake in the World.

So of course, I insisted that he stop photographing half naked models, so we could try a slice of this heavenly cake.


There were two choices, the "traditional" at 55 percent cocoa and a darker one at 70 percent, which is the one we had.

Was it the best in the world?  Let's just say it was fabulous, but it wasn't really what I consider cake (i.e., it was made without flour and baking powder) so it was more like a mousse.  Not a bad thing at all.  DH called it a high end Kit Kat bar.  I'd say it was way better than that.

This shop is the first American outlet of a mini-chain based in Sao Paolo, Brazil.  If you're in the neighborhood, and by neighborhood, I mean anywhere in New York City, it is certainly worth a visit.  55A Spring Street, near Mulberry, NYC.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Amish Auction: Pies, Pickles and More

Produce (and baked goods) auction, Mt. Hope, Ohio, September 1, 2010
I knew there would be lots of pie in the Ohio Amish country, where DH and I vacationed last week, but I didn't expect the opportunity to bid on homemade pies (and cakes, noodles, breads, pickles, honey, jam and more) at a real-life auction, one of several held weekly in the small towns that dot the countryside.

My auction number

Actually, I missed the opportunity because by the time I figured out how to get a number (more complicated than you might think), the auctioneer had finished selling all the homemade bounty and had moved on to auctioning boxes of fresh vegetables and pallets of eggs.  (The livestock auction was taking place simultaneously in a nearby barn.)

I love the idea of all these Amish and Mennonite women putting up pickles and jam, baking cakes and breads and then bringing them, usually via horse and buggy, to produce auctions, like this one (pictured top) in Mt. Hope, Ohio.
DH took this picture of women bringing their goods to auction.

Later that day, we went to a more general auction, and while waiting to get a number (pictured above), I saw a few Amish women entering zucchini bread and pies into the auction.  We waited a while to bid on some baked goods, but the auctioneer (watch the 12-second clip!) had a lot of carnival glass and antiques to go through before he moved on to the food.  A return trip is in order.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Way Down Yonder I Baked a Paw Paw Cake


Paw Paws are one of the rare fruits that don't seem to be grown commercially; at least I've never seen them for sale.  
So to get a paw paw, you need a connection.  This year, a co-worker who has a paw paw tree in her backyard brought in a bunch of these exceedingly ugly fruits and, while they are delicious eaten out of hand, I took some home and turned them into cake.

Paw paws

I couldn't find a recipe for paw paw anything in my collection, but thanks to Google, had my choice of many -- or so I thought. But the eight paw paws I brought home yielded only  1/2 cup of pulp and most recipes called for at least one cup and often three.  

Paw paw pulp

Paw paws are compared to bananas and mangoes and are quite fragrant, though by the time they're ripe they look like they belong in the compost heap.  They are also filled with big black seeds, making harvesting the pulp messy and challenging. Despite all of these obstacles, the flavor is divine and the cake was a big hit among family and colleagues. I was especially pleased when I brought a slice to my new best friend Julie Mihaly who knew exactly what paw paws were and even called her mother (who used to pick them) to reminisce. (Please check out Julie's fab online magazine: http://boomunderground.com/)

Like everyone else, I had heard of paw paws, but wasn't quite sure what they were. My only reference was the Appalachian folk tune (some abbreviated lyrics below) and DH's constant refrain to my questions, "Have you seen my (choose one) book, glasses, purse?" which was "Why don't you look in the paw paw patch?"

Where, oh where, oh where is Susie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.
Chorus:
Picking up paw-paws; put 'em in a basket.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.
Come along, boys, and let's go find her.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch





Pawpaw Cake i
  • 1¾ c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ c. milk
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • ½ c. shortening
  • 1½ c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ c. pureed pawpaw pulp
  • ½ c. chopped pecans or hickory nuts
  • 3 egg whites, beaten stiff
Sift first four dry ingredients together. Combine milk and lemon juice and set aside to sour. Cream shortening, add sugar gradually, and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Then add dry ingredients alternately with pawpaw puree and soured milk. Fold in the beaten egg whites and the chopped nuts. Pour into two lightly greased and floured 9-inch layer-cake pans. Bake in a moderate oven (350o F) 35 to 40 minutes. Frost with:
Lemon Butter Frosting
  • ½ c. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • grated lemon rind
  • 1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. cream (approximately)
Cream the butter until fluffy, using an electric mixer. Blend in the lemon juice and a small amount of grated lemon rind. Add the confectioners’ sugar gradually along with enough cream to make a frosting of the right spreading consistency. Run the beaters long enough to make the frosting very fluffy. Garnish the top of the frosted cake with a grating of lemon rind.