Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brownies (Best Recipe)


A new study from the University of Cambridge touting the health benefits of chocolate sent me right to the kitchen last night to whip up a batch of brownies from a recipe in Olive's collection.  The recipe, attributed to one Babe Gregware, is labeled (Best Recipe), so I just had to try it, health benefits or not.


The verdict?  Excellent, very chocolate-y brownies.  DH called them "old-fashioned," quickly adding "not in a bad way."   They are not exceedingly sweet and have a lovely, fudge-like texture that hold together much better than more modern versions.   The recipe didn't specify what size pan, so I used a 9 x 12 one, thinking that because of the four eggs, they would rise.  But they didn't, yielding a thin brownie.  I do think this recipe would work well in an 8 or 9-inch square pan if you want a heftier brownie.

Whenever chocolate is the star of a recipe, as it is in brownies,  I suggest using a high quality product (like Scharfenberger or Valrhona) as opposed to Baker's.  The result is well worth it and, after all, it's for your good health, so splurge a little.




Sunday, August 28, 2011

Two Zucchini Cake Wrecks


While Hurricane Irene was "raging" outside, inside my kitchen I experienced a natural disaster of another sort. Not one, but two, cake failures.

Both were for zucchini cakes.  Never a fan of serving vegetables (in any form) for dessert, I nonetheless relented when I found two seemingly good, and intriguing, recipes in Olive Facey's collection.

The bottom half of the cake *finally* released from the pan after much banging and maneuvering.

The top half clung to the pan.
In fact, one of them was quite delicious -- it just didn't release from the pan, a "fancy" bundt pan I had purchased at a garage sale.  Even though it was non-stick, I went the extra mile to grease and flour it, so as to insure a smooth release. That pan is headed for the recycling bin, just as soon as we scrap every last bit of cake out!

(Failures like this probably deters a lot of people from baking --you can do everything right, but make one mistake (like choosing the wrong pan) and all effort seems for naught.  But that's not the case, because each mistake is one you'll never make again.  And most times, you can eat your mistakes and sometimes even serve them!)

Serving an intact cake with the orange glaze I had made (fresh-squeezed orange juice with confectioners sugar) dripping down the cake's crevices would have been the perfect send-off for evacuees DD and her boyfriend.  They had stayed with us during the storm, and were just about to go back to their apartment when this came out of the oven.  But, despite its unappealing appearance, everyone loved it -- even DD's boyfriend who told me he does not like zucchini cake.  If only I had used my tried and true aluminum bundt pan, this story would have had a happier ending.


And it almost did.  I had them wait a few more minutes, while I took cake #2 out of the oven.  It looked ok at first, but then the center of the cake sunk deeper than a tropical depression.  Plus, despite the promise of a really interesting flavor (ginger and orange peel), it just wasn't that great. And oddly, even though there was just 1/2 cup zucchini in this cake (as opposed to two cups in the other one), it had a much more pronounced vegetable taste, not always a good thing.  Still, I've saved it and hoping the flavors will develop into something delicious overnight.



Both recipes are below. The first one is definitely worth another shot.





Drizzle Biscuits


There's nothing drizzle-like about these traditional baking powder biscuits, except that I made them this morning during the "Drizzle of the Century," as we're now calling Hurricane Irene's descent on New York City.



But these are so good and so easy to prepare, that there's no need to wait for a storm to make them.   The most difficult part --cutting the butter into the flour -- is easily accomplished using a Cuisinart.  But even if you don't have one, you can do it the old fashioned way:  using two knives or even your fingertips.  The idea is to quickly incorporate cold pieces of butter into the flour until it's a crumbly mixture, a process that makes the dough quite tender and flaky when baked.

I happened have a biscuit cutter, but you can simply cut out the biscuits using a drinking glass, as the c. 1950s recipe suggests.


This recipe makes about ten biscuits, or more, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter, or drinking glass.




These were a big hit, especially among the evacuees (DD and her boyfriend) we were sheltering during the storm.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lemon Cake Pie, Competitive Baking and Zelda Fitzgerald


Lemon cake pie is a pie for cake lovers. Its traditional pie crust is topped with lemon custard which is topped with a thin layer of lemon cake.  This is one of these real kitchen magic recipes:  One just pours the batter into an unbaked pie crust and the discrete layers form during baking.

This is a delicious, lemony confection, a true winner or so I thought until -- for the second time this summer -- my pie failed to take a blue ribbon at a pie contest.  But I stand by this pie and encourage you to try it at home.


This vintage recipe -- and the only pie in Olive Facey's collection -- calls for ingredients (pictured above) commonly found in American pantries.  A little research revealed that this unusual recipe may have originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch.  (Olive's son Stephen explained that while his mother loved pie, she didn't love making pie crust.  I can totally relate.)


Zest the lemons before juicing, and if you have a pilot light atop your oven, it's the perfect place to melt the butter.  The recipe calls for butter the size of an egg -- I used four tablespoons, or half a stick.


The most complicated part of the recipe (aside from making the pie crust) is beating the whites and yolks separately, then folding the whites into the yolks.


Below is a small lemon cake pie I made as a test before attempting the 9-inch pie for the competition, pictured here because I failed to photograph the larger (and much better looking) version.


The pie contest was part of the Jazz-Age Lawn Party held last weekend on Governors Island, a short ferry ride from Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.  It was a beautiful day and the setting was lovely and I was shocked to bump into this whole subculture of people who embrace (in dress and music) an era whose heyday was nearly a century ago.  You can see DH's excellent photographs of the costume party here (or check The New York Times tomorrow or Sunday -- Bill Cunningham was there taking pictures, too.)


One of the joys of competitive baking  is meeting the other contestants and they just don't come more charming than Lee Chappell who made two of the most gorgeous pies I've ever seen (and generously told me the secret to making candied lemons).  This photograph below does not do them justice.  One is a lemon pie with lavender and the other is a plum pie made with several kinds of heritage plums.  He won for his third pie, a strawberry rhubarb.


My humble (but really, really good) pie is below.









Friday, August 19, 2011

Soft Dutch Cake: The Anti-Fruitcake


Soft Dutch Cake is the opposite of fruitcake: a moist, very soft cake whose white crumb is studded with gorgeous pieces of fresh fruit.   I used sugar plums and apricots, but the recipe says "any kind of fruit," not even specifying if one should use fresh fruit or how much.  But I love stone fruit, so thought I'd post this recipe before its all-too-short season comes to an end.


I bought this beautiful fruit at the Lower East Side Youthmarket, a farm stand operated by GrowNY and staffed by graduates of Henry Street Settlement's Young Adult Internship Program.  Folks on the LES get farm fresh produce and the youth get business experience -- how perfect is that!  (The stand is open Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. in front of the Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street.)



The fruit glistens like jewels in the batter.  As it bakes, the batter rises up and surrounds the fruit, hiding it until one cuts into the cake, revealing the delicious surprise.



Like many of the hand-written recipes in my collection, this lists ingredients and doesn't give a method, so I just mixed all the dry ingredients together first, and then added the softened butter, milk and the egg (which I beat lightly before adding).  After mixing these wet and dry ingredients together, I poured the batter into a 9-inch cake pan and placed the slice fruit atop the batter.  Next, I followed the instruction to mix sugar, cinnamon and butter together and then dotted the batter with this mixture.

Recipes like these -- flexible, fun and easy -- show that baking is as much an art as a science.  And you can create all sorts of different cakes, based on the fruit you choose.  Do try this at home.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Gift of Olive's Recipes



Ever have a Christmas morning where you received one incredible present and everything else faded away as you reveled in that spectacular gift?  I missed out on that -- we celebrated Hanukkah at my house.  But I finally did have my Christmas morning last Thursday night at the Essex Bar when my friend Stephen handed me an enormous shopping bag.

Inside were five recipe boxes filled with hand-written recipes (mostly desserts!) and all manner of vintage cook books and pamphlets.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  And, everything else faded away as I pulled out one fabulous card after another, and book after book of intriguing recipes.  Even my blood orange cosmopolitan sat undisturbed at the bar.


All of these treasures belonged to Stephen's beloved mother, Olive Facey, who died in May at the age of 97. I am honored to get to make her recipes (and hope some of them bring back some taste memories for Stephen!).

What amazing recipes she collected!  Just the titles on the cards make me want to whip out my Kichenaid:  Barney's Brownies, He-Man Toll House Cookies, Chinese Chews, Kiss Pudding, Raisin Puffs, Date Squares (original old recipe), Grapefruit Pudding #2, Orange Zucchini Bread, Cottage Pudding, Brownies (BEST RECIPE), Chocolate Bark, Polvorones Mexican Wedding Cake, Scotch Shortbread and so much more.  I love her note on the Scandinavian Cookies recipe card: These are little jewels to grace your table.

Olive's recipes span the arc of a life -- and more.  In the boxes are cards that date from the 19th century, written in her mother's careful hand, and those that require the use of a microwave oven.  Many recipes are attributed to friends, their names recorded at the top of the cards.

Below is a picture of Olive, corsage in hand, taken three years ago on the wedding day of Stephen and his partner Jay in Massachusetts.  When the couple told her they were getting married, she hesitated for a few minutes -- only because she was trying to figure out what to wear to the wedding!

I never had the pleasure of meeting Olive, but I'm sure I would have liked her a lot.  And as I have the privilege of baking from her recipes in the coming months (and years -- she has a lot of recipes!), I have a feeling I'll get to know her.  They say when you cook from someone's recipe, they're right beside you in the kitchen.




Saturday, August 13, 2011

Two Peanut Butter Pies


I made two peanut butter pies today, one from a modern recipe and one from a hand-written vintage one.  The pies are a tribute to Mike Perillo, husband of food writer Jennifer Perillo, who died suddenly last week.  Jennie asked people to make a peanut butter pie, her husband's favorite, and share it with someone they love.  In an amazing show of support, hundreds of bakers made pies and posted on Twitter at #apieformikey.  Sudden death is often incomprehensible and the only thing to do is hug those you love tight.  And, perhaps bake a pie.


The pie pictured at top and above is from the recipe Jennie posted on her website.  This is a very creamy pie, though if you wait the three hours as suggested, your slice will look much better than the one above.  (I've pasted the recipe below.)

Pictured below is the pie from a vintage recipe, intriguing because it was jotted in pencil on the back of a personal check written (and never cashed) in 1958.  I found it in an old recipe box at a flea market in Pennsylvania.


This is a cooked custard pie in a regular pastry pie crust.  It is not as peanut butter-y as Jennie's, as it has only two tablespoons of peanut butter instead of the one cup she calls for.


I am not a fan of peanut butter at all, yet I found both these pies strangely addicting.  DH gave two thumbs up to Jennie's pie.  And then gave me a hug.



Jennie's recipe is below:

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie
Serves 10 to 12
8 ounces chocolate cookies
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup creamy-style peanut butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. 
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner's sugar.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.
Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream).  Fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan.  Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Bake a Pie for Mikey

    Social media creates some amazing communities and what's happening today in the baking/cooking sphere is an around-the-world baking event to show support for Jennifer Perillo, a food writer and mother of two young children in Brooklyn whose husband died suddenly last weekend. 
    Jennie is asking everyone to bake a peanut butter pie (her husband's favorite) to share with someone they love to honor his memory.
    Even though I've never met Jennie, I love this idea and will be baking two peanut butter pies this weekend, one from a vintage recipe and one from the recipe she has posted on her blog.  Her recipe looks like it will result in a spectacular confection.  What a lovely, loving tribute.


    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Chocolate Pudding, Under the Influence



    I had a little medical procedure yesterday that involved a lot of anesthesia and the last words I recall the doctor saying as I was leaving the clinic were:  Don't use any kitchen appliances for the rest of the day.
    But always one to defy authority, I turned on the stove to make old-fashioned chocolate pudding.


    Chocolate pudding is one of those childhood favorites that is now appearing on upscale restaurant menus, a nod to retro after decades of dishing out its fancier cousins: pots de creme, chocolate mousse and the like.


    I had my choice of two recipes; I chose the one with egg yolks, which add a lovely richness to almost everything.  (Of course, perhaps I should have listened to the doctor as I had to toss my first batch -- I didn't see the "or" between chocolate and cocoa on the recipe card, so I added them both.)


    This recipe calls for cooking the mixture over direct heat and then in a double boiler.  If you don't have one, you can simply jerry rig one, as I did, using two saucepans.


    This pudding is delicious -- and not too sweet at all.  In fact, there's just 1/2 cup of sugar in the entire recipe.  I used very high quality unsweetened chocolate (and not the cocoa powder, in the end).
    The other wonderful thing about stove top desserts like puddings is that the entire kitchen doesn't get hot, like it does when the oven is on.  And that's a good thing when you want homemade dessert and it's August in New York City.