Monday, October 31, 2011

Loaf Bread Apple Pie


Curious about this unusual recipe?  I was too, and wondered:  Was this something brand new, an alternate to the usual crisps, crumbles, cobblers and pandowdys, bettys, buckles and grunts?  The answer: Yes.   But, to my mind (and taste buds) although perhaps not *quite* as good as the other batter-topped fruit desserts, the ingenuity behind this creation is impressive.


The good news is, you probably have everything you need to make this; the entire mise en place for the recipe is pictured above.  The better news is, it's easy and delicious and does taste like apple pie.  The most time-consuming part of it was melting the butter.  And for those who think pie is too much trouble, Loaf Bread Pie isn't -- so long as you can cut a slice of bread.


Slice up the apples, and sprinkle them with cinnamon and nutmeg.


Arrange the bread slices on the apples, and pour the mixture of melted butter, egg and sugar over the whole "pie."


It doesn't look great when it emerges from the oven, but cut a piece -- I used two bread "slices" per serving -- and it looks fine when plated.  And no one will ever mistake your dessert for store bought.


DS's friend Andrew, a very enthusiastic eater, took a break from playing pool in our basement to sample a slice.  He really liked it, especially the contrast between the crunchy bread topping and the cooked apples.  After Andrew had his fill and, not wanting to devour the entire dessert myself, I called on my neighbor Elizabeth, mother of two teenage boys, who happily took the *pie*  off my hands.


I suspect the recipe, below, was one of those created by a housewife who wanted to make an apple pie, but lacked either the time or ingredients and so came up with this gem, proving once again that necessity (and a sweet tooth) is the mother of invention.



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Slip Sliding Away: Chocolate Soldier Cake


The past few weeks have not been easy.  I've had some bad news, some uncertain news and no news (which I don't think is good news).  So to lift my spirits, I decided to make what promised to be a fail-proof three-layer chocolate cake.  After all, the recipe is called Soldier Cake (implying a certain reliability, right?) and is from a 1935 cooking school (meaning it's tested, right?)  Let's just say that next time I'll be having the wine, thank you.

This was a bit of a disaster from the get-go.  The frosting turned to hard (albeit delicious) fudge, burning out the motor on my trusty hand-mixer.  To salvage it (as the three cake layers were waiting patiently on the counter), I heated the mixture, transferred it to my Kitchenaid mixer and began adding butter.  Only I wasn't as patient as the cake layers and too late realized that the butter was simply melting into the frosting and not adding the texture it needed.


Forging ahead, I simply frosted the cake with this mixture and crossed my fingers.  That's when the fun began.  The layers starting shifting, such that DH urged me to videotape the movement, which culminated with a section of the cake sliding off the cake stand, falling to the counter below.


Undeterred, I cut a slice.  And lo and behold (not that I should have been surprised), something happened such that the cake had several white spots where some chemical reaction (which I'll investigate) occurred, marring the pure chocolate surface.

In the end, DS and his friends each had a big slice.  There were no complaints (not that I expected any from a bunch of 22-year-old hungry young men)  Of course, I too had a slice, and it was pretty tasty.  Although this cake was the triumph I'd imagined, it made me laugh out loud.  And what's better than that?  

The Chocolate Soldier Cake class was taught on April 1.  Hmmm....
Anyway, this goes to show that things aren't always as they appear and that published recipes are not necessarily better than those hand-written by housewives.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Candy Apples


If October isn't National Candy Month, then it should be.  And second only to candy corn as the season's most delicious sweet are candy apples.

These are really easy to make, and by doing so you can select the apples to use, thereby controlling the best thing about the treat, which is the contrast between the sweet hard candy coating and the juicy tartness of the apple.

I made these, not from an old recipe in my collection, but from a more modern one.  I can't share this fail-proof recipe, but you can get it just like I did, by visiting betterbaking.com, the wonderful site of Marcy Goldman, where you can purchase this recipe and many, many others for a very reasonable price. (The recipe is called Big Red Candy Mountain Candy Apples, listed in the Miscellaneous Baking section.)

Although I failed to take step-by-step pictures, I can walk you through the process. After washing and drying apples, insert a wood skewer into the stem end of each and start cooking the sugar, corn syrup and water over low heat.


After a while, it will come to a boil.  Stick in a candy thermometer and let the temperature reach 310 degrees, a process that is painfully slow.  But you're free to move about the kitchen and straighten the silverware drawer or whatever.  You just need to check the temperature every once in a while.


Add the red food coloring after you take the pot from the fire and dip the apples in the mixture, letting the excess coating drip off  back into the pan.  Have a parchment lined cookie sheet ready so you can place the dipped apples on it.



At the end, you'll end up with a mess of candy coated utensils, above.  But you'll also end up with a tray of glistening candy apples, below.  And you won't even need to go to Coney Island to get one.  Though if you do go, stop at the classic Williams Candy Shop for a wonderful candy apple (a visit there on Sunday inspired this post) and other treats that are perfect all year round.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

He-Man Toll House Cookies


If regular old Toll House cookies are a bit too weak for you, then by all means try He-Man Toll House Cookies.


He-Man cookies (perhaps created in the heyday of Charles Atlas, above) differ from the traditional Toll House cookies by the addition of rolled oats.  This wonderful recipe was one of many gems in Olive Facey's collection.


Like most cookies, these are a snap to prepare if you've let your butter come to room temperature.  If not, mixing will be difficult and may cause you curse out loud and wonder why you just didn't buy that package of Pepperidge Farm at the grocery store.


This recipe makes a very sticky dough.  You can use two spoons to form the cookies, or your hands, if you keep them wet.  I opted for non-latex kitchen gloves and using these made forming the cookies quick and easy.  I made medium size balls (think golf balls) and placed about six on each parchment lined cookie sheet, as they do spread during baking.


Baking these can be a bit tricky.  You'll want to leave them in too long, but trust me.  Take the cookie sheet from the oven before they look done (see above). Some magic happens outside the oven so that the cookies end up perfectly chewy and perfectly done (see below).  It's a leap of faith, but one worth taking.


I followed Dot's recipe exactly, except substituted unsalted butter for the shortening.  It makes for a much more flavorful cookie.


And is there a better way to package He-Man cookies than in some "purse" boxes?  I think not.



Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Cake Occupies Wall Street*



Baking for the revolution that's happening just a few miles from my house seems the perfect way to show support and a wonderful way to channel both my inner radicalism and inner Betty Crocker.
Plus, those occupiers deserve cake.


To feed more people, I opted to make a sheet cake, inspired by Marty Reimer, who baked for the revolution in Egypt earlier this year.  Commenting on my blog post, Egyptian Cake: When Politics and Pastry Collide, she wrote:
"i've been baking a sheet cake most days of the revolution and distributing it to my neighbors. every day i make a different recipe and call it something related to the revolution: "revolution cake," "tahrir cake," "curfew cake," "perseverance cake," etc."



The chocolate sheet cake I made (also called cookie sheet cake) is from one of my very favorite sources: the Indiana Rural Letter Carriers' Auxiliary Cookbook, published in Hope, Indiana in 1977, and given to me personally by the auxiliary president, Mrs. Howard D. [Katherine] Stewart, as she referred to herself.  Southern Indiana is also home to some of my most conservative friends (that's you, John Beach!), a real contrast to the occupiers of Wall Street.

This is an easy cake to put together and is baked, not in a cake pan, but in a 11 x 16 inch cookie sheet, aka, a hotel pan.  First heat the water, two sticks of butter (use that instead of the margarine called for in the recipe) and cocoa powder.


After a few minutes, the mixture will look like this.  Let it come to a boil before pouring it on the flour and sugar that you have waiting in a mixing bowl.


The cake bakes in just 20 minutes.  It's important to start the frosting about five minutes before you take the cake from the oven, as it needs to be poured over the cake while hot.



I didn't like the way the cake looked with just the frosting (the unfrosted cake is pictured above), so I put some sweetened shredded coconut on top.  It adds flavor, texture and an extra yum factor. The occupiers are going the extra mile, so I thought I should too.


*Credit to DS for coming up with the title of this blog post.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fearless Baking (and Living)


The best baking advice is often the best life advice:  Plunge ahead, do not overthink and jump off the cliff with joy (even if your eyes are squeezed shut).

Just as things can go wrong in life, baking is filled with its own landmines.
For example, do you know how many ways you can screw up a simple cake? 
It might not rise properly, the center might sink, the sides might collapse, the texture may be too tough or tacky.  It might also be crumbly, or too dry, or have tunnel-like holes or streaks of uneven color or its surface may be peaked or cracked.  The causes?  Oh, the baking powder was old or the butter was too soft (or not soft enough), the sugar was too course, the batter was over-mixed (or under-mixed), the oven was too hot (or too cold.) or the batter did not contain enough fat (or too much fat.) 


These are just a few pitfalls, all beautifully articulated in Great Cakes by Carole Walter, a lovely book that Rochelle, mother of my dear friend Jay, send me as a gift last week.  

Although I've created many a cake wreck and I'm grateful for Ms. Walter's trouble-shooting advice, I tend to not intellectualize baking.  If I thought of everything that could go wrong, I'd never turn on the oven.

And I learned another lesson in fearless baking last week when I saw a pie-making video featuring writer Joyce Maynard.   Instead of the beautiful and well behaved pie dough I expected (Joyce has been making pies for years), I was shocked to see a crust that was well, shaggy, and that frankly looked much worse than mine.  But where I saw imperfection, Joyce saw "future flakiness."  And she confidently put the whole thing together in a few minutes and you know it was going to be delicious.

It was 29 years ago today that DH and I jumped off the cliff with joy (and eyes squeezed shut) as we wed after knowing each other only a few months. And despite everything that *could* have gone wrong in marriage (but didn't), we're still holding hands.