Monday, January 31, 2011

Caramel Dumplings


Never heard of these?  Me neither, which is why I had to make them immediately.
Caramel dumplings are exactly what they sound like: flour dumplings simmered in a caramel sauce.  This is truly an inventive dessert; everything about it is unusual, or at least I've never even read about anything quite like this.

The first step is to melt sugar in a saucepan to caramelize it.

I imagine that this dessert is a home-grown and beloved family recipe, one borne of economic necessity or perhaps invented one night when the kids were clamoring for dessert but the pantry was bare: no eggs or chocolate, and just a bit of milk and butter.  Its ingredients are simple kitchen staples -- flour, baking powder, a bit of butter, milk and sugar.  In the recipe box where I discovered this, I found not one, but two recipes for caramel dumplings:  the well-used original (many of the words are obscured with smudge marks) and a more recent hand-written copy.

Don't worry if your sauce hardens when the additional sugar and water are added.  It will all smooth out.



While the sauce is cooking, make the dough (above) and then just form into balls and drop into
 boiling sauce (below).  Don't be distracted by the fact that they almost look like meatballs or matzoh balls.



So how did these taste?  Almost exactly like you'd expect.  They were very good, and the 
sauce was excellent.  DD and boyfriend Josh stopped by for dinner and they quite
enjoyed these -- Josh even put a couple on some noodles (below)!






The original recipe above, with the newer copy below.  



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Cookie Address



Ok, I'll admit it.  I didn't watch the State of the Union Address last night, but I did commemorate the occasion in a sweet way -- I baked gingerbread men cookies in the shapes of an elephant and donkey.


I received these Democratic and Republican Party cookie cutters from my friend (and former boss) Lyn, who planned to give them to me prior to the November 2010 election.  But our dinner kept getting postponed and, by the time I received them in December, I thought I'd have to wait a year to try them out.  But, since there always seems to be a partisan conflict in the news, I didn't have to wait that long.

And because Obama evoked Eisenhower in his speech (thanks NPR!), talking about our current "Sputnik moment," I figured this would be the perfect time to use this c. 1955 recipe for gingerbread men.




This batter is very easy to put together (use butter instead of "shortening"), very spicy and very delicious.   But, it's very sticky, making it difficult to work with, kind of like some politicians.  Even my French Silpat, which I bring out in situations like this, didn't release the dough easily.  A sheet of parchment worked better, as a platform for rolling.



Having said that, I'd still recommend these cookies.  Just be sure to refrigerate the dough at all times, except when rolling it out.

The dough before the dry ingredients are added.  Gorgeous, isn't it?




Just dump the dry ingredients right in the mixer.


Cutting these out evoked memories of Congress kindergarten.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Park Slope Honey Cookies


I love when worlds collide, like last week when I made Honey Delight Cookies from a c. 1915 recipe and used honey harvested from my neighbor's c. 2010 beehive.


Today's constant buzz to eat locally grown and produced foods was not a movement, but a way of life, for many of the women whose recipes I use.  Back then, most food they consumed was local and naturally the exotic, imports like dates and bananas, held high appeal.


These honey cookies are indeed delightful, as their name suggests.  They are simple to make (though they call for the separation of eggs and the beating of the whites -- typical in a cake but unusual in a cookie).

There's no mistaking these cookies for store-bought with their rustic appearance.  And for such small and easy cookies, they  pack a lot of flavor; both the honey and the lemon are quite pronounced, which is a good thing.


The honey I used could have been even more local -- from my own garden.  Two summers ago, I considered hosting a beehive (after being contacted by a couple of beekeepers), but DH would have no part of it.  (See his blog post here.) I also discovered that beehives do not make good neighbors after Vicki, who lives next door, told me she was allergic to bee stings.   So for the moment, I must rely on the generosity of my neighbors Robert and Marcy to keep me supplied with "down the block" honey. Which is absolutely delicious, by the way.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hot Cross Buns...in January?


Have you ever been shocked to discover that everyone else seems to know a common fact (embarrassing examples below), but that fact has somehow evaded your brain?   It's almost as if you were absent from school the day that particular thing was taught, and never had an opportunity to learn it again.
That's why I made Hot Cross Buns in January -- I was absent from school the day everyone else learned that these are a Good Friday-specific baked good. (Also, in my very weak defense, I'm a Hebrew school graduate.)

At top, hot cross buns in "bun formation"

It all started when Kristen Brown of the Park Slope Patch stopped by one morning last week to do a story about my blog.  It was too early to serve cake, and who can resist a sweet bread hot from the oven?  I found a recipe for hot cross buns that sounded good, and I was especially anxious to follow the instruction: "Put on a sheet in bun formation."  As if bun formation was part of everyone's knowledge base!

Before rising

And after

As with many yeast doughs, this was very satisfying to work with and yielded a terrific result if you ignore my kindergarten-style crosses on the top.  Next time -- which will be in the spring -- I'll use a pastry bag.
No one at work seemed to mind these out-of-season buns.  And one person (who was raised in a very Catholic home) proved even more clueless than me: When she saw the buns, she asked:  "Is it Lent?"   Come on, even I know that Lent is NOT in January!






Since you got all the way down here, the embarrassing examples are:
1) Until I was 25, I thought the phrase "all intents and purposes" was "all intensive purposes,"  a fact pointed out to me by my first editor in New York in a not very nice way.
2) While accompanying me as my "spouse" on a business trip to Washington, D.C., my former roommate returned to the hotel after a day of sightseeing to announce:  I didn't realize the Capitol and White House were two separate buildings.
And I'll post more, as I remember them.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Betty's Chocolate Cake and Gravy Icing


What a great cake -- easy, delicious and a total surprise, for I had made it only as a platform on which to spread my latest amazing discovery, gravy icing.


Gravy icing (also called white icing) is exactly the sort of recipe I hoped to find when I began my quest to uncover treasures from the past.  It's unusual, foolproof, delicious, fluffy, holds up on a hot summer day, in short, everything you want a frosting to be.

This discovery is especially welcome since frosting has long been my Achilles heel.  I've made classic buttercream, neoclassic buttercream, seven minute boiled frosting, Swiss and Italian meringue frosting, whipped cream frosting and so many more, but nearly all fell short in one way or another.  Too complicated, too grainy, too buttery (yes, that's possible), too unpredictable.  The list goes on.  I failed to find my go-to frosting --- until now.

The oddly named gravy frosting was born in the Depression and gained popularity for it's economy, ease of preparation and reliability.  Not to mention that it has the texture of beautifully whipped cream and a pleasing and not-too-sweet flavor.

Place the flour and milk in a saucepan.

Stir over a medium flame until it forms a paste.

The recipe is odd, calling for flour cooked with milk until it forms a paste (think old-fashioned white sauce). But trust me on, this.  It works and works beautifully. You'll never go back.  You must continue whisk or stir the flour-milk mixture until it forms the paste and let it cool completely.  And you must beat the frosting for a very long time -- a standing Kitchen Aid mixer makes easy work of this.  I used butter (not the Oleo and Crisco called for in the recipe) and it worked fine.

And when you make gravy icing, consider baking Betty's Chocolate Cake at the same time.  It may have started as a mere platform, but it turned out to be a really good cake.



Monday, January 10, 2011

Cake Soup & Magical Thinking


Doesn't Brown Sugar Pudding sound delicious?  I thought so, too, and decided to make it to bring to a dinner party Saturday night.

Boiling up the brown sugar, water and butter.

The recipe was quite unusual, which added to the intrigue.  I had never encountered this technique: boil up some brown sugar, butter and water, and then add dollops of cake batter atop the liquid and bake in the oven.


As I prepared this oddity, I had the sinking feeling it wouldn't work.  But you know when you're positive you failed a test, and then engage in magical thinking, i.e., praying that some miracle occurred and you passed with flying colors?  That's what happened to me.  Although the further I got into the recipe, and less confident I became, once it was in the oven, magical thinking took over.   I was hoping for some radical, pastry world rocket science physics-defying transformation in my oven.

The cake batter looked normal enough.

Ready for the oven.
But it what emerged from the oven was not some smooth and delicious Brown Sugar Pudding.  It was Cake Soup.  A crunchy cake layer floating on a soup of liquid brown sugar.  Although it actually tasted pretty good, there was no way I was going to take this soupy mess on the subway to a swanky dinner party in Chelsea.


This recipe card is from a filled-to-the brim recipe box that DH bought on ETSY and gave to me for Christmas.  It was full of promise, and nearly 150 recipes.  But now I'm a bit suspect, for the first recipe I made from the box  also failed.  Sweet Chocolate Cupcakes did taste good, but the batter cemented itself to the paper liners, making it impossible to eat the cakes without ingesting a bit of paper too.  That's the kind of fiber you don't want.

My sister-in-law Margaret (and A Cake Bakes enthusiast) who was visiting and witnessed these two disasters, put forth this theory:  As soon as the owner of this recipe box died, her family all said: Quick, let's get rid of Granny's recipes, she was such a horrible baker.


The failed Sweet Chocolate Cupcakes, above.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Television Almond Pastry


One of my favorite Xmas gifts this year was the c. 1955 Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook by Gertrude Berg, based on the television character (You Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg) that she created and who I discovered *only* 60 years after the show aired.


The cookbook has a lot of fabulous recipes, but this one is really outstanding. Not only is it decadently rich and delicious, but it so perfectly captures the 1950s love affair with the novelty of TV.  Almond Television Pastry got it's name because it was made to be eaten while watching television (perhaps right after the family had finished their TV dinners).  Mrs. Goldberg said,  "My recipe is figured for six people looking at television for an hour.  For a two-hour show, double the recipe."


The television pastry made my own New Year's Day sweeter, when I enjoyed it while watching the Twilight Zone marathon.

Television Almond Pastry (Production notes follow)
1/2 pound butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground almonds
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 tsp. salt
6 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream butter and add sugar gradually, beating until thick and light in color.  Mix the almonds, flour and salt together.  Add alternately with one egg yolk at a time, until all have been added.
Grease a baking pan, about 8 x 10 inches and dust lightly with flour.  Pour mixture into it.
Bake for 35 minutes or until crisp and lightly browned.  Cut into squares while still warm.

Notes:  I halved the recipe, and made it in an 8 inch round pan.  Next time, I'll use a 9 inch pan.
If you don't buy almonds already ground, simply put whole almonds in a food processor and add a bit of sugar, which prevents it from turning into almond butter.  Process until fine.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Been There, Baked That: The Top Ten of 2010



When I began my sweet experiment -- baking from (mostly) hand-written vintage recipe cards -- one year ago today, I hoped to discover some hidden treasures from the past. And, I wasn't disappointed.  So without further adieu, here are the top ten baker's dozen bake-worthy recipes of 1900 to 1963 baked in 2010. (And a few honorable mentions.)

1) Date Crackers, aka Yer Darn Tootin', I Like Fig Newtons
The delicious, addicting sleeper of the century.
 http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/03/yer-darn-tootin-i-like-fig-newtons.html




2) Mrs. Duenwald's Poppy Seed Cake
An impressive triple flavor explosion direct from South Dakota  http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/06/poppy-seed-cake.html



3) Pre-Poppin Fresh, aka Ida Zepps Refrigerator Rolls 
Absolutely ingenious rolls  http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/01/ida-zepps-refrigerator-rolls.html





4) Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?
A rare and  truly seasonal treat (the sour cherries are available just two weeks per year) here http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/06/can-she-bake-cherry-pie.html




5) The Accidental Black & White 
A cake masquerading as a NYC's quintessential cookie   http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/05/accidental-black-white.html




6) Pull-Apart Kuchen
A fun-for-all ages sweet bread, no fork or knife required. http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/07/pull-apart-kuchen-no-knife-or-fork.html




7) Mrs. Johnson's Strawberry Shortcake
The cake that's so good, you'll never go back to a biscuit.
http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010_05_01_archive.html




8) Very Creamy Cheesecake
DH's top pick for the year.
 http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/11/very-best-creamy-cheesecake.html




9) Moonlight Chocolate Cake
Because this list wouldn't be complete without a yummy chocolate cake.  http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/02/moonlight-chocolate-cake-with-seven.html





10) Isn't it Good Norwegian Cake
Read about this decadent cake that's so worth the calories here http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/11/isnt-it-good-norwegian-cake.html



11) Lemon Cream Cake (and Dirty Martini)
A delicate, decadent,  delicious -- and foolproof -- cake.
http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/08/lemon-cream-cake-and-dirty-martini.html





12) Mocha & Spice Chest 3 Layer Cake
A beautiful and  unusual cake, which would be really good if you don't overbake it as I did. http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/01/birthday-cake.html




Honorable Mentions


1) Huckle Buckle
Because this is both a delicious dessert AND a sex position!
http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/07/huckle-buckle-dessert-and-sex-position.html





2) Boston Cream Pie
This is good, but not quite "there."  Still, this "pie" dressed as a cake deserves another attempt in 2011.
http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/03/boston-cream-pie-pie-in-cake-attire.html




3) Red Velvet Cake
This is on the list because it's the best red velvet recipe in the world, even though  it's not vintage.  Make it and impress your friends and family.  And no need to tint the frosting pink -- white is classic and lovely (I just couldn't find a picture with white icing).
http://www.acakebakesinbrooklyn.com/2010/08/best-red-velvet-cake-in-world.html