Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Three Ingredient Lemon Chiffon Pie



Lemons, sugar and eggs.  That's all it takes to make this beyond delicious lemon chiffon pie.

As folks were raving about the pie last week, I couldn't help but show them the mise en place, below.



But, and I do mean BUT, it's not as easy to prepare as it may seem.  A friend, upon seeing the picture, asked: So you just mix it all together?  Not exactly, and this recipe proves there's no free lunch in baking.  Three ingredients might mean easy shopping, but not necessarily easy baking. (But having said that, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks is Recipes 1-2-3, a fabulous three-ingredient cookbook by the brilliant Rozanne Gold, who I was lucky enough to meet when she volunteered as a cake contest judge at Henry Street Settlement in May.)

Now, let's get to work.  I promise, it's worth it for this wonderful, light and sweet-tart confection.   (The last lemon chiffon pie I made was even more complicated and quite a disaster if you weren't wanting pie soup.)

First the eggs must be separated.  Then the lemon zested and juiced.


The yolks are beaten, then the lemon juice, zest and sugar are added, and the mixture combined and placed in a double boiler (or just put the mixing bowl atop a saucepan of simmering water) and cooked until thick, stirring all the while.  Meantime, you've beaten the egg whites, adding some sugar to form a meringue.  Combine the two mixtures and place in the pie crust you've made and pre-baked.  Easy, right?

Below are just a few of the steps, illustrated.
First, the egg yolks, lemon, and sugar on the stovetop.


Cook about ten minutes until the mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat.


Add the meringue and fold in.


Prepare and pre-bake your pie crust before starting the filling.


Pile the filling in the pie crust.


Watch the oven carefully.  It browns quickly, even in a 325 degree oven.  Enjoy. This pie really does elicit oohs and aaahs.  So much so, you might forget all the work it took to make it!



This recipe, credited to Mrs. Eloise Nicholls, appears in Mrs. Osborn's Cakes of Quality, c. 1919, a copy of which I found at a yard sale in the Adirondacks and prompted me to start this blog.  And this pie is truly one of the treasures from the past.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Peanut Biscuits -- Pure Genius!



On Saturday, I had a genius in my house.  His name was Kerlan and, in just a few minutes, he repaired my oven and saved my sanity. My oven had been unreliable for months (leading to a lot of sobbing over failed cakes);  the three previous repair techs sent by appliance company were flummoxed.  Kerlan didn't fix the problem with the tools he brought or by fussing with one of the five computers in the oven (who even knew ovens had computers?).  He did it by thinking:  using logic and reason, he arrived at a hypothesis that made sense.*

This is a long way to get to these excellent and unusual peanut biscuits, but after Kerlan left, and upon his advice, I began testing his theory by baking. And baking some more.  First up were savory peanut biscuits -- easy and delicious.

You'll need to chop up some peanuts.  I used my brand new knife, a life changing purchase, that I got from Cut Brooklyn.  Even bakers need good knives.


If you like crunchy peanut butter, you will love these biscuits.  They would also make a fine addition to the school lunchbox, something I haven't packed up in many years (and don't miss doing at all, thank you very much).  The recipe, hand typed in Mrs. Grace Osborn's Cakes of Quality book, dates from the early 1900s.

The biscuits deliver a double punch of peanut flavor, from both the peanuts and peanut butter.


The recipe calls for eight teaspoons of baking powder.  I kept count by placing each in a separate area atop the graham flour, below.


This makes a very sturdy dough, which is a good thing because you need to roll it out.  I used a bit of extra flour to insure it didn't stick to the rolling surface.


Below, positive:


And, negative:


This dough is fabulous raw. Do try some before baking.


 After baking, let them cool on a rack, though no one will mind if you have one hot from the oven.


The best way to enjoy these biscuits is by creating a new twist on the PB & J.  The biscuits serve as both the bread and the peanut butter -- just add jelly.  I was lucky enough to have a jar of delicious homemade jam given to me by the fabulous food stylist Cyd McDowell who, if she was in my kitchen on Saturday, would have made this (and all the other photos) look much better.


The recipe is below.
Some production notes: I used graham flour, which is pretty easy to find these days in those Red Mill displays.  I assume that "entire wheat flour" is similar to what we today call whole wheat flour.
I found it difficult, if not impossible, to dissolve the peanut butter in cold water, so I combined the two in my standing mixer and let it rip.  And then I added the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture.  Worked fine.
I set the temperature at 400 degrees and baked them for about 11 minutes each.



*For those interested in the denouement of the oven story:  So, my oven would work sometimes, and completely fail others.  In fact, the only time it was guaranteed to work was when the repair techs were there (which made me feel like I was being gaslighted even though the oven is electric). Kerlan heard my tale of woe and figured out that the oven door was not shutting properly, even though it looked like it was shut.  This would explain why the oven worked only intermittently, i.e., when the door happened to shut correctly, the oven would attain and hold its temperature, but when it didn't, that would explain why it would stall at say 183 degrees and never heat up to 350.  And because the repair techs always made sure to shut the oven door completely, it always worked perfectly for them.  Kerlan ordered new door hinges, but in the meantime, I'm just mindful of the oven door and make sure it's completely closed.  Problem solved, case closed.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Mother's Chocolate Birthday Cake


I subscribe to the theory that people don't really change; instead, we just become more like we are.  And so I found myself in Akron a few weeks ago, along with my brother, both of us there to help our mother Bee move into the independent living place with the French name just a few miles from her house.

My brother Steve (aka Mr. Wonderful, so named by my mother, a moniker his wife and I will not let die) hung flat screen televisions and oil paintings on the walls of Bee's new place, assembled furniture (which he had purchased and transported from his home in Ann Arbor after creating a complex computer generated 3-D floor plan), and otherwise performed a lot of necessary and wonderful tasks.  While he was doing all that, I baked a cake, helpfully messing up the kitchen of the house I was supposed to be packing up. (If you haven't already guessed, I was am the black sheep.)

This chocolate cake -- baked for my mother's 83rd birthday -- is really, really good and it couldn't be simpler.  (And I even managed to pack the Waterford and Llardro while it was in the oven.)

The recipe called for clabbered milk, easily made by squeezing some fresh lemon juice into milk and letting it sit until it thickens.  You can swap this out with buttermilk (and vice versa).


As often happens at family gatherings, there was some drama -- in this case, pastry separation anxiety.  One of the cake layers didn't release from the pan properly and things were looking grim.


But I simply (and carefully) removed the cake left behind in the pan and placed it on the larger piece (think edible jigsaw puzzle), while my sister-in-law wondered if  "cake glue" was available.  (It is, but you make it yourself by crumbling some cake and mixing it with frosting. However, you need to plan ahead and bake an extra layer to be used in this truly ingenious cake "spackle" that I learned in a class taught by cake genius Toba Garrett.


When it was all finished , the damage was well hidden.  See, you can't even tell that this cake ever suffered any trauma at all.  If only the human heart could be so easily repaired.  (Though I suppose chocolate can play a role in that, too.)


My mother quite enjoyed her birthday cake.  After leaving some for the moving men, I transported the rest by car to her new place. And then returned to finish packing with the realization that, while I'll never live up to the standards set by Mr. Wonderful, I might just beat him in a bake-off.



The recipe card, below.  And as this is simply a list of instructions, I included the method, which is one likely was used the author of this recipe.
For the frosting, I used a version of the Magnolia Bakery buttercream (I did not have my recipe collection with me) and added some unsweetened melted chocolate and brewed coffee for a mocha frosting.  Sweet, but good.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans.
Combine sugar and butter (in place of lard) and mix until light and fluffy.
Add egg and mix.
Combine flour, baking soda, and cocoa in a bowl.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk to the butter-sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.
Pour into cake pans.  Bake about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy (belated) Birthday, Julia Child!

I meant to bake a pear clafouti or chocolate almond cake to honor Julia, because in addition to being a terrific cook, she was a very, very fine baker. But life got in the way, so instead I bring you this terrific video from PBS.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympic Gold Cake with Fresh Lemon Icing


Quick, before the Olympics end in just a few hours, I present Gold Cake.  Now gold cake is not the gold standard of cakes. The name refers to its yellow color, derived from using only egg yolks in the batter.  (Silver cake -- not nearly as rich and in my opinion a second place cake -- uses only the whites.)


Unlike many people, I wasn't glued to the television during the Olympic games, though I enjoyed watching synchronized diving (who thought that one up?), the amazing gymnasts and am really looking forward to the closing ceremony performances.

I suppose the Olympics of baking has traditionally been the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but these days the sport is played out daily on all those competitive baking shows on television.

But I digress. This gold cake -- and there are many, many recipes for gold cake -- is really good.  The difficulty level is a 2.1 and the judges would surely give it a 9.5.  This is the perfect cake to make with all the egg yolks left over from that "virtuous" (no-fat) angel food cake you baked, or the more old-fashioned silver cake.

I decided to make cupcakes instead of a layer cake, and a limited edition (just half the batter) so I used three instead of the five egg yolks called for.  In baking, it's always best to round up.


Like most old fashioned cakes, this is simple.  And like many recipes in my collection, this was simply a list of ingredients.  I wrote out the method below.



The challenge with cupcakes is knowing how much batter to put in each cup.  It's probably better to under-fill rather than overfill because you can make up the difference with frosting.



For the frosting, I chose Fresh Lemon Icing from the very first recipe box I bought many years ago.  It's a cooked frosting and difficult to make (leading me to ponder who thought that up?).  It involves standing over a hot stove, which is probably why I waited so many years to try it (but doesn't explain why I tried it when it was 95 degrees and 95 percent humidity).



Because I was slaving over the hot stove, holding a bowl steady over a pot of boiling water, all the while whipping the egg white-sugar mixture, I didn't capture a photo of the process.  The final product is below.  It had a lovely lemon flavor and the consistency of  marshmallow fluff, but the sugar didn't completely dissolve.  This flaw was not visible, but it was a bit grainy on the tongue.  (That did not stop any of the Henry Street Settlement staff from eating every last cupcake!)


I used an electric hand mixer, but the recipe calls for a rotary beater.  I have a collection of these, and do enjoy their steampunk quality, but I truly can't imagine making this frosting using this old-fashioned contraption.  It took me 15 minutes aided by electricity; it would take double or triple that without.





Note (to continue the Olympic theme) that the recipe calls for Gold Medal Flour! Though I much prefer Daisy Flour or, when I can't get Daisy, then King Arthur.

Gold Cake method
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans.
Cream butter and sugar.
Add egg yolks, one at time, combining well.
Combine four, baking powder and salt in a bowl.  Add the dry mixture to the butter sugar alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
Stir in the flavorings.
Pour into pans (or cupcake tins).
Bake until done (center springs slightly when touched or a toothpick comes out clean, or both)
Frost with Fresh Lemon Icing or your favorite frosting.