Monday, December 31, 2012

A Cake Bakes Best of 2012

There were so many noteworthy dessert discoveries this year (rescued from the early 20th century, of course), but I managed to whittle the list to a baker's dozen.  So, in no particular order, I present the best of 2012.  (To get the recipes and more pictures, just click on the recipe names, the ones highlighted in red at the first words in each description.) Here's to a sweet new year.

Toll House Cupcakes 

Toll House Cupcakes  were the sleeper of the year. These are so unusual and so delicious, it's hard to imagine that they fell out of favor. Careful, though, as you may create a cadre of addicts.  Your friends and family will request them again and again.


Lemon Chiffon Pie
Lemon Chiffon Pie is so light and ethereal that it's hard to believe that just three simple ingredients -- sugar, eggs and lemons -- are responsible for this masterpiece.  Make chiffon pie part of your new year.


Barney's Brownies
Barney's Brownies can literally be put together in minutes.  They will disappear just as quickly, guaranteed.   Brownies so delicious, you'll be amazed there's no butter.


Elaine's Anise Cookies
Elaine's Anise Cookies are perfect at Christmas or any time of year on account of the flavor, the texture and most of all, the perfect little cookie caps that form in the oven.


Ritz Cracker Meringue Pie
Ritz Cracker Meringue Pie is an unusual dessert that's a mid-century American version of the French dacquoise.  You'd think that crackers would form the crust, but no!  They're folded into the filling, creating a wonderful new way to experience this salty and buttery cracker.


Old Fashioned Molasses Cookies
Old Fashioned Molasses Cookies because I know you want one right now with a tall glass of milk.


The $28 One-Step Pound Cake
The $28 dollar One-Step Pound Cake, so named because that's how much I paid for a recipe box that contained only one fabulous recipe -- this one.  It's easy and everyone should have a delicious pound cake recipe in their repertoire. 


Cinnamon Crunchies
Cinnamon Crunchies were a favorite among co-workers this year, and they are a very discriminating bunch.  These three-layer treats are way more than the sum of their parts.


Rhubarb Custard Pie
Rhubarb Custard Pie is the perfect way to celebrate spring, no strawberries needed. Plus the pie is even more delicious the next day.


Lemon Crunch
Lemon Crunch is a personal favorite, and what happens when a 1950s housewife takes a traditional lemon bar and ramps it up with coconut for the added crunch, a welcome flavor and texture note.  


Apple Dowdy Cake
Apple Dowdy Cake is a wonderful autumn and winter cake, made extra delicious by the caramel-praline glaze.  Plus, what a great name!


Passover Woodchucks
Passover Woodchucks are another addicting treat you won't find on everyone else's table.  No need to wait for the holidays because walnuts, dates, sugar and coconut are always in season.


Cake
Cake made the list because this basic (and delicious) yellow cake is the building block of all manner of desserts, from Boston Cream Pie to upside down cake (pictured here) to coffee cake. It's like the little black dress of the kitchen and who doesn't want one of those?


Grandma Jean's Challah
Grandma Jean's Challah is very good, though there are many richer challah recipes around.  I like the bread, but I love the serendipity of its discovery even more.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sunday Morning Waffles


In our instant-oatmeal pop-tart world, it's nice to take a break on Sunday morning to have a real breakfast and there is nothing better than a batch of homemade waffles.  Simple, direct, wholesome and delicious, especially with a big pat of butter and real maple syrup.  (Since 98 percent of us plan to start a diet on January 1, take advantage of the final few days of indulgence now!)

Aside from the requisite waffle iron (the only single-use appliance permitted in my kitchen), all the other items -- flour, baking powder, eggs, etc. -- are kitchen staples.  Waffles are fairly easy to make; the only tiny bit of  difficulty (and it's not that difficult) is separating the eggs and beating the whites to stiff, but not dry, peaks.

You'll want a hand mixer to whip up the eggs.  Beat the whites first, rinse the beaters and then beat the yolks.  (Whites won't beat well if there's even a speck of grease (or yolk) in the bowl or on the beaters; yolks are much more forgiving.)


Carefully fold the whites into the batter...


until it's uniform in color, below.


Meantime, heat up your waffle iron and spray it with Pam (or similar).  Pour the batter into the iron.  Close and after a few minutes, voila!  You can end 2012 on a high (and sweet) note.


This recipe is from a vintage recipe card signed by Leota Peterson.  When I was scanning it, I discovered a waffle recipe by Edith Sheldon on the back.  Edith's recipe actually looks a bit richer (and better).  Well, there will be plenty of time in 2013 to try that, especially after I've fallen off the old diet.

Production notes: You need not sift the dry ingredients, just stir them well in a bowl.  Add the milk, egg yolk and melted butter and mix.  Now, fold in the egg whites.


Note Edith's higher butter and egg content, which would result in a richer, eggier (a good thing) tasting waffle.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Peppermint Patty Flourless Chocolate Cake



Breaking (sort of) from my tradition (and mission) to bake only from vintage recipe cards and original source cookbooks, I bring you this impressive and delicious cake from my Christmas gift (thanks, Alyssa!), a wonderful new book called Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.

I made it at the request of my children for our family Christmas dinner, and I'm glad I did; it was a huge hit. And looked better than my usual "homemade" looking confections. (It does taste like a peppermint patty, btw, and I should know, having eating a two-pound bag of them during a recent visit with my mother.)


It's not super easy to make, but certainly worth the effort.  Basically, it's a flourless chocolate cake topped by a layer of peppermint flavored white chocolate ganache and then a bittersweet chocolate ganache.
Unlike many other recipes in the book, it's not actually a reformulated vintage recipe, but the author's ode to the popularity of peppermint flavored cakes in general, which gained popularity in the 1940s and 50s.

I'm paraphrasing the recipe below, but I do encourage you to buy this fabulous cookbook.

The cake must be prepared the day before you plan to serve it.

Cake
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
1 tbls. vanilla extract
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 c. plus 2 tbls. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350.
Prepare a 9 inch springform pan by lining the bottom with a parchment paper circle.  Do not grease.

Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks on low speed and slowly add 1/2 c. sugar.  Turn the speed to high and beat until thick and fluffy, about six minutes. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until frothy, then slowly add the remaining 2 tbls. sugar, whipping until the whites hold medium soft peaks.
Carefully fold the whites into the chocolate batter.
Pour into the prepared pan, and place in the middle of the oven.
Bake about 45 minutes until the top is cracked, loses its shine and is firm to the touch.  The center can still be wiggly.

Filling
8 oz. real white chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. peppermint oil or 1 tbls. peppermint extract

Place the chocolate in a small bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it begins to simmer, but not boil.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and cover with a lid for five minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla and peppermint.

With the cake still in the pan, pour the white chocolate mixture on top.  The cake should have a depression in  its center, and the white chocolate should fill it.  Place it in the refrigerator overnight, covered with plastic wrap.

Run a knife around the edge and remove the sides of the pan.

Chocolate ganache
1/2 c. heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Place chocolate in a small bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan until it begins to simmer. Pour over chocolate and cover with a lid for five minutes.  When it's still warm, pour over the white filling.

Top photo, courtesy of my wonderful and talented brother-in-law Bob LaRosa.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Barney's Brownies

 
Say you have a house full of dinner guests and just as the main course is finished you realize, yikes, you forgot dessert.  If that ever happens to you, as it did to me last week, fear not.  Just excuse yourself for a moment and whip up these fabulous brownies.  

This recipe is from the kitchen of Dottie Barney, who may be the daughter of Dot (see Graham Cracker Cookies); both recipe cards were found in the collection of Olive Facey.* What's so unusual about these brownies is that they are delicious despite the fact that they contain no butter!

I made these last week, following our family holiday latke-eating Christmas tree-trimming party, the perfect celebration for our Jewish-Italian clan.  I was so focused on frying latkes, that I did not sufficiently focus on dessert.  But I literally put Barney's Brownies together in just a few minutes (hence, no time for production photos).  And it took just a few minutes for them to be consumed.  


The DD and her boyfriend Josh licking the bowl.


The finished cake.


The DD and DS, with their significant others, enjoying the brownies, despite the fact they had consumed about 50 latkes each. And rumor has it that Josh at seven brownies. (Oh, to be young again!)


Line the pan with parchment or foil so you can lift the finished product whole from the pan.  This makes cutting and serving them a snap.


What remained was modern (brownie) art.


I used cocoa powder instead of the chocolate, as I was rushing and didn't want to wait even a few minutes for the chocolate to melt.  I also did not use nuts (the DS hates them), and mixed the chocolate chips into the batter at the end.  I also used 1/2 tbls. of instant coffee granules (the Italian expresso kind) and added about a tsp. of vanilla, as I couldn't really read that ingredient amount well.


*This bit of family friend archeology is from Olive's son Stephen.  Dottie lives in Marblehead, Mass., near where Olive did.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Elaine's Anise Cookies


You can amaze your family and friends with these tasty (if you're a licorice fan) Christmas cookies, brought to you courtesy of my dear friend Elaine Winter, who shared her treasured family recipe.  

Everyone will ask, How did you get those caps on the cookies?  It can be our secret: they simply create themselves during the baking process.  

These are easy, albeit time-consuming cookies -- after they're formed on the cookie sheet, they must rest there for eight hours before baking which, incidentally, takes but 10 minutes. 

Elaine's mother Ruth and Gramma Millie (born in the U.S., but of German extraction) started their Christmas cookie baking (eight to 10 varieties!) right after Thanksgiving. They'd bake every night after the dishes had been washed.  "Such a delicious time of year," recalls Elaine who, even after she moved to Rome, would still receive huge boxes of cookies in the mail from her mother and grandmother.  She says there was some not-too-subtle competition about the anise cookies caps, whose were better...."Batches without caps my brother and I could eat right away -- they were deemed not good enough to save," she said.

Please, won't you try your hand at these unusual and delicious cookies?  The first step is to grind some anise seeds (though if you're too busy, you can dispense with the anise seeds -- the cookies get their real flavor from the anise extract in the batter).


Let three eggs come to room temperature.


Mix up the batter. You will definitely want to use a standing mixer for this, unless you have way more patience than me.


Although the recipe calls for dropping the batter by teaspoon onto the baking sheet, I found it more efficient to pipe them using a pastry bag and round tip.  The batter is a bit thin.  I sprinkled the cookie sheets with the crushed anise shortly before baking.




Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lemon Snow Cake


There are two kinds of people: those who will do back flips to "use up" leftovers in the refrigerator and those who will think about it for a moment, then surreptitiously toss out the item(s) in question, feeling guilt and relief simultaneously. Cookbook author Jane Brody, who clearly falls into the former category, once created a new bread recipe to use up the half-can of leftover tomato juice about to go bad in her refrigerator.  While I admire such resourcefulness, I too often toss rather than use.

However, when I found myself with a large bag of gorgeous Meyer lemons recently, I was determined to put them to good use.  And so, I made lemon snow cake from a vintage recipe card.


The "snow" of the name refers to the cake; there's nothing lemony about it -- it's a standard white cake (unless you choose lemon extract as the flavoring agent; I opted for vanilla). The "lemon" is contributed by the frosting and filling.  It's a delicious, old-fashioned cake, but it must be served in situ.  It cannot be moved much further than your kitchen counter, for the layers will start slip sliding away with too much motion.  Still, not such a bad thing to have a cake calling your name from such a close distance.

Make the cake layers first.  Cream the shortening (butter), sugar and eggs in a bowl.  Meantime, mix the dry ingredients and add then alternately with the milk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.


Whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Add a bit of cream of tartar to the whites to prevent overbeating.


Carefully fold the whites into the batter.


Spoon the batter into the greased and floured cake pans, using a spatula to spread the rather stiff batter to the edges.


Bake just 20 minutes (not the 30 called for in the recipe).


While the cake layers are baking, begin the filling by zesting and juicing the lemons.


Begin cooking the mixture in the top of a double boiler (or simply put a bowl on top of a saucepan filled with water).  Unlike modern-day lemon curds, this calls for cornstarch. If making this again, I might substitute a lemon curd from Martha Stewart for this more old-fashioned version.



After the filling has cooled in the refrigerator, spread it between layers and on top.



I found this recipe in a box I purchased last year on eBay.  The box had the Ladies Home Journal magazine logo on it, and was the perfect spot for a c. 1940s housewives to keep her cards in good order.