Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chocolate Eclairs and the Jewish Deli

Memory is a tricky thing; a story in today's New York Times says that "Memory is not so much a record of the past as a rough sketch..."  And I was recently quite unnerved when I discovered that my clearest, most vivid childhood memory (of my mother's white blouse catching fire as she leaned against the gas stove) didn't actually happen. Which makes me wonder if we really used to buy chocolate eclairs -- that very French pastry -- from the glass case at the late great Lou & Hy's, Akron's only Jewish deli.

In any event, I've loved chocolate eclairs from the time I was a child. (If I'm remembering correctly.)  They are not easy to recreate at home, as there are three separate components -- the pastry, the custard filling and the chocolate ganache.

But I decided to tackle the dessert, for the light, almost hollow pastry is prepared quite differently from all other pastries. Called pate a choux, the butter and flour mixture is cooked first on the stove top.  Eggs are added and only then it is baked in the oven.   I can't imagine who invented this unusual this pastry but it was popular among home cooks in the early 20th century -- there are many recipes in my collection, most of them labeled "puffs" or "cream puffs."

There's not a chocolate eclair among the cards, though.  Instead, the cream puffs were dropped in heaps on the baking sheet, baked and then sliced open before filling with cream (or whatever).

So, even though I've posted a vintage cream puff recipe below, I'd advise my readers to use a more modern recipe when attempting chocolate eclairs.  I used the vintage cream puff recipe, but followed recipes for technique, etc., on Martha Stewart and on Grace's Sweet Life, a wonderful new site I recently discovered.

The first step is to make the filling -- I chose a modern recipe, in part because I have a lot of vanilla beans, and vintage recipes don't use them.  I doubled Francois Payard's vanilla pastry cream published by Martha Stewart.  The mise en place for this delicious concoction is above.

While this is cooling in the refrigerator, make the pastry, below, by cooking butter, water and flour on the stove top until it pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Remove from the heat and add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each.

Fill a pastry bag and, using a plain round tip, pipe the dough into one-inch by four-inch mounds.

When they emerge from the oven, stick a wooden skewer in each end to create a bit of space for the filling.

Then, fill your pastry bag with the cooled pastry cream and squeeze it into the pastry.

When this is complete, make the chocolate ganache and dip each eclair into the chocolate, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. 
And then enjoy, for you've earned it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leaf Lard (or Pork Fat for Pastry)

My mother-in-law Lucy refers to some people as having a clear head, and she doesn't mean that their thinking is clear.  Rather, there's a clear space where the brain should be.

I'm sure if she knew I'd spent my Sunday evening rendering two pounds of leaf lard she'd consider me among the clear headed.  But once she tastes the pie crusts I plan to make with the finished product (pictured above), I don't expect any complaints, for pie crusts made with leaf lard are really, really good.

The gift of lard.
It all started early Thanksgiving morning when my neighbor Elizabeth rang my doorbell (actually knocked on the window, as our doorbell was stolen) and handed me two pounds of leaf lard, the prize lard found near pigs' kidneys.  Her gift was to thank me for sharing my baking bounty with her family.  (And now, I see a pie in her future.)

The cubed lard starts out like this, above, and after a few hours, looks like this, below.

There are plenty of websites with detailed lard rendering instructions, but basically you cut it into one-inch chunks, place in a large saucepan with a bit of water and let it render, or release the fat, slowly over a low fire.  Strain through a cheesecloth and then refrigerate.  While one can buy rendered leaf lard at farmers markets, if you do it yourself you get not only the lard, but the crispy cracklings, which are delicious.

The cracklings.  Don't know exactly what they are, except delicious.

One of my Thanksgiving pies from this year.  Next year, the crust will be even better because
 it will be made with home-rendered leaf lard.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gingerbread Waffles

If you want to perfume your house with the aroma of gingerbread (and who doesn't want to do that) while simultaneously making an amazing worth-the-calories breakfast, do try this c. 1950s gingerbread waffle recipe.

These have so much flavor as to render maple syrup unnecessary, but as you can see in the photo above, tradition dies hard in my house.

Unlike more modern versions that call for a lot of extras (like pumpkin puree), this has just a few simple ingredients; you probably have most in your pantry.  And, after the butter is melted, they're all just placed in one bowl and mixed together.

I use an electric waffle iron, well heated and sprayed with PAM.  The first waffle is the test waffle, and always reserved for the cook ( in our house DH makes the waffles).

For the shortening, I used butter and melted it before adding it to the other ingredients.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Perfect Pecan Pie

Who Needs Corn Syrup? 

A repost from last year, and it's not too late to bake it!  I'm about to leave work and whip up one of these babies:

Thanksgiving, at least at my house, is not the time for the joy of discovery, but for the pleasure of the familiar. It's all about tradition and so every year we have both pecan and pumpkin pie (and also fallen chocolate soufflee cake for the family pie haters).
The pecan pie recipe I use is one by American food writer extraordinaire, outlaw cook John Thorne.  And I like it so much, I'm sticking with it, instead of trying one of the several in my hand-written recipe collection.
Lyle's Golden Syrup is an excellent replacement for corn syrup.  
Ever since corn syrup became the devil a few years ago, everyone has been looking for a viable replacement for this key ingredient in pecan pie. These discussions are all over the internet and can occupy one for hours on end, until you manage to pull yourself away from the computer, right before mental exhaustion prevents any baking at all.

But never fear, for in the midst of one of these discussions, someone posted this beauty from John Thorne. I've never looked back.  And you won't either.  It uses Lyle's Golden Syrup, a delicious sugar syrup made in England, but increasingly available here in the US.

My Pecan Pie

1 well-packed cup full-flavored brown sugar
Scant 2/3 cup golden syrup
2 T dark rum
4 T unsalted butter
3 eggs
1/4 t. salt
2 cups broken pecan meats
9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large saucepan, heat the brown sugar, golden syrup and butter to the boiling point.  Stirring constantly and scraping back any foam that clings to the side of the pan, let this mixture boil for about 1 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool while, in a separate bowl, you beat the eggs until creamy.
When the boiled syrup has cooled somewhat (don't let it get completely cool), beat in the eggs, salt and pecans.  Pour into the unbaked pie shell and bake for about 50 minutes.   If the crust browns too quickly, make an aluminum foil "crown" and place it atop the crust.

Fine tuning:
Adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of heavy cream into the filling before baking makes for a richer, lighter texture.
For a sweeter, lighter pie, add more sugar and fewer pecans; for a denser less sweet pie, add more pecans and use less sugar.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Old-Fashioned Apple Dumplings

Want a novel, farmhouse-esque and dare-I-say adorable apple pie alternative this Thanksgiving?  Try old-fashioned apple dumplings.

I don't know why apple dumplings fell out of favor -- or perhaps this home-grown dessert was never in vogue. And when was the last time you saw them on a restaurant menu?  (Cracker Barrel DOES NOT count.)

Recipes are rare.  Perhaps their simplicity -- peeled apples encased in pie dough -- defied the recording of ingredients and instructions. I couldn't find even one recipe in my collection of hand-written cards and only two published recipes (below), one from a 1952 pamphlet "250 Superb Pies and Pastries" and a 1955 Gold Medal baking retrospective.

These homey desserts (although they were commonly served as an entree in 1900) are easy to make -- certainly easier than apple pie.  Simply peel and core apples (choose those recommended for pie, not applesauce), fill the cavity with a combination of butter/sugar/cinnamon, encase in a very thinly rolled pie crust, pop in the oven and voila -- a luscious result.  You can make a sauce with them, or not.

Top picture shows one "naked," below is one with a sauce, which you serve on the side or pour over the entire dumpling.

Growing up, I considered baked apples a wonderful treat. Had I only known that they could be encased in buttery pie dough my entire childhood may have changed.  This year, I hope to influence the lives of both adults and children -- I'm serving these for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lemon Chiffon Pie (and Soup)

There are so many ways to tell this story.
1) What do you do when life gives you a bowl of lemons and a perfect pie crust?  Why make lemon pie, of course.   About a week ago, a major women's magazine descended on my house to photograph some baked goods from my blog.  The story will appear in March.  Meantime, they brought some additional items prepared not by me, but by a professional food stylist in case of emergency.  There were a few of those, but when all the magazine folks departed, I was left with a number of goodies, including a pie crust and a bowl of lemons.  So I made a pie.

2) What do you do when you're invited to a fabulous penthouse apartment party in Manhattan and you're asked to bring dessert?  Most people would bring a tried and true pastry, but not me.  I decided to make said lemon pie and bring it.  Only, on the car ride from Brooklyn to upper Manhattan, my pie transformed from the gorgeous dessert that left my kitchen into quite a mess. Pie soup, if you will.

Having said that, I would like to note that despite it's rather very runny consistency, the pie was devoured by the guests, for its flavor was terrific.

I'm posting the recipe (which I changed only by adding some lemon zest), and will get to work in the kitchen perfecting it.  Lemon chiffon pie has legs, and I vow to make them stronger.

Production notes:
Lemon chiffon pie is basically lemon curd with Italian meringue (heavy cream whipped with some sugar) folded in.   I forgot the add the butter (which is the entire reason I chose this recipe over several others, but whatever).  My fatal error, I *think* is that I didn't cook the lemon curd mixture long enough.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Wedding [Cake] at the Seaport

When I purchased this card at the Seaport Museum New York a few months ago, it was with great sadness, for mismanagement had caused the museum to close nearly all programs, save the gift shop.

Bowne and Co., the museum's historic letterpress print shop which created this card, was shuttered.  The historic fleet of ships was neglected.  Galleries were empty and education programs had ceased.

These things rarely end well, but remarkably this one did.  The Museum of the City of New York has taken over the seaport museum (and reinstated its original name, the South Street Seaport Museum), and is forging ahead to return the museum to its former glory.  Cheers to Peter Stanford, founder of SSSM; Susan Henshaw Jones, president of the MCNY, and all the folks at Save Our Seaport and Friends of Bowne.

This definitely has all the ingredients for a  marriage made in heaven.

For those who want recipes, here are links to two from The South Street Seaport Museum's cookbook pamphlet, printed in 1972, just a few years after the museum was founded to preserve the history of New York's port (which is more important in understanding the city's -- and nation's history -- than one might think).

Mocha and Spice Chest 3 Layer Cake:
Canada War Cake:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Squares

I'm a pumpkin pie purist, but there's real appeal in these over-the-top Pumpkin Pie Squares.
For one, you needn't mess with a pie crust and for less work, you can serve a lot more hungry family members at Thanksgiving.  The recipe says this makes 12 portions, but you can easily feed 20 folks, it's so rich and sweet.  The three-layer dessert has a flour, butter and oatmeal crust; a pumpkin custard in the center, all covered with a praline-like topping. (That's the over-the-top part.)

I found this recipe in a large collection from Missouri -- I suspect it dates from the 1950s or so. Back when a can of pumpkin puree was 16 ounces.  Nowadays, most cans contain just 15 ounces.  So while the "supersize me" movement continues in fast food, the "shrink me and hope the consumer won't notice" movement is happening at the grocery store.  But don't worry, because at least in this case, 15 ounces of pumpkin is fine in this recipe.

Prepare the crust first -- I used a food processor to cut the butter (oleo, called for in the recipe, is short for oleomargarine, but I wouldn't use margarine in this) into the dry ingredients.  Press the crust into the pan (I lined it with foil for ease of clean-up -- thanks, Mom!), using your fingers.

While the crust is baking, prepare the pumpkin custard.

You can create mosaics with the sugar and spices (before dumping them in the liquid), if you feel that creative urge take over.

I baked the center about five minutes longer than called for in the recipe, removed the pan from the oven and then sprinkled the topping over the custard.  Don't cut when it's fresh from the oven.  Let it sit awhile.  And then, dig in.  Delish!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cocoa Apple Cake

What a perfect, yet unusual, combination -- fresh apples, cocoa and chocolate.  And autumn is the perfect time to make this delicious cake, for apples are in season and chocolate always is.

Fresh apple cakes have been popular for decades -- I have about a dozen hand-written recipes in my collection, dating from about 1900 onward.  There are also a lot of applesauce cakes, a genre invented, I suppose, as a way to use the canned surplus from the apple harvest (and only recently co-opted as a way to bake with less fat, as in replace the butter with applesauce).

Out of all my recipes, I chose this one just out of curiosity: would this odd combo work?  The verdict: yes, and very well.  And even better the second day.

Let's get started.  Chop the apples into a small dice; don't worry if the the pieces aren't uniform.

This is a beautiful, smooth batter, until . . .

The chopped apples, nuts and chocolate chips are added.

The recipe, below, is unusual too.  In some ways, it's quite detailed (ingredient amounts, method) but then it fails to mention which cake pan to use (I used a 10" tube pan) or a baking time estimate (I baked it about 45 minutes).