Join me on my delicious journey revisiting American home cooking in the era before convenience foods became popular (1919 to 1955), as I bake and cook from old cookbooks and recipe cards of home cooks purchased at estate sales in Akron, Ohio, and other exotic locations.
Top 100 Cake Blog
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Easy Chocolate Cake
This is truly the easiest chocolate cake ever, and surprisingly delicious. It's fun and different to make -- you've heard of a one-bowl cake -- well, this is a one-saucepan cake. Yes, it's all mixed on the stove top.
In an essay entitled "The Low-Tech Person's Batterie de Cuisine" in Home Cooking by the late great Laurie Colwin, she writes that fancy (or a lot of) equipment isn't needed to turn out wonderful home-cooked meals. (Who needs a food processor when you have a knife?) This cake recipe, probably from the 1940s, is proof of that. It requires just a saucepan, a fork (to beat the egg), a spoon to stir the batter, a measuring cup and a baking tin.
Start by cooking the milk, chocolate and butter. Add the sugar and cool. Then add the egg and dry ingredients. Stir and pour into an 8- or 9-inch cake pan. (Or you could divide the batter to make a layer cake.)
When it is done baking, let it cool. You can slice off the "dome" as I did. A nice way to get a flat top (and taste-test the cake -- we gave it an A).
I was rushing when I made this cake because I was bringing it to a friend's house just an hour after I began the preparation. I whipped up some vanilla frosting quickly and, because the cake was still warm when I had to frost it, left the sides unfrosted so that the heat would have an escape route. I added some sprinkles so no one would notice.
I followed the recipe exactly, baking it in an 8-inch pan. (Not sure what a utility pan is.) I used unsalted butter and Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate. Because I didn't have any whole milk on hand, a combination of skim milk and half and half was a nice substitute.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Mamma's Dutch Pound Cake
This is a long way to get to Mamma's Dutch Pound Cake (but not nearly as long as the 900-page novel). This is a wonderful pound cake, made using a nontraditional method, but is quick, easy and delicious.
Begin by mixing the flour, butter and sugar "like pie dough" which means cutting cold butter into the dry ingredients. Using a food processor makes fast work of this task. Beat the egg and add in the dry ingredients.
I made half the recipe and, following the instructions on the card, baked it in a "nut loaf pan." Being lazy, and not wanting to create another dirty dish, I lined the pan with parchment paper. Alternately, grease and flour the pan.
Bake for about 50 minutes. (The DH helped himself to a slice before I could take a photo of the entire cake.)
Below is the recipe card (and below that is the method I used).
Mamma's Dutch Pound Cake
Preheat oven to 350F
Prepare a loaf pan (line with parchment or grease and flour)
2 c. flour
1/2 c. butter (one stick)
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
1 t. baking powder
1/2 to 1 t. almond flavoring
1 t. salt
Cut cold butter into flour and sugar.
Beat the eggs and add the dry ingredients. Mix.
Add the milk and flavoring (I used vanilla because I didn't have almond).
Bake about 50 minutes
I made a confectioners sugar icing (just mix some confectioners sugar with a liquid -- milk or lemon juice and spoon it on) to fancy it up a bit.
Monday, August 19, 2013
"Just Cake" and Easy Caramel Frosting
Just Cake is just that: A plain and simple (and very good) yellow cake. I fancied it up a bit with Quick Caramel Frosting found in the same recipe box, the perfect complement to this cake (though chocolate would also be nice). A slice of this beauty can transport you to a Manhattan dinner party, c. 1950 or, baked in a sheet pan, to a post-World War II backyard barbecue when life seemed (at least to our modern eyes) less complicated. (Recipes do reflect their era. It's no surprise that these one-bowl cakes were commonplace in the mid-20th century, while today we have thousand-ingredient desserts sauced with gastrics and presented in tower formation.)
Below is the entire mis en place for the cake. (I cheated a bit, adding some salt and vanilla, not pictured, so as to hide my deceit.)
Preheat the oven, prepare the pans and mix up the batter. Place into the pans and ...
using an offset spatula (preferred) or the back of a spoon or regular spatula, smooth the batter until it reaches the edge of the pan. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
When the cakes are cool, turn them out from the pan. If they have a small dome on top, place a serrated knife horizontally and cut the tops off so the cake top is flat and even. The cook must eat the trimmings. I believe it's the law.
Next, begin the caramel frosting. Melt the butter and add the brown sugar. Cook for two minutes, then add the milk. Let cool and add some confectioners sugar.
Original recipe below, and below that, is my interpretation.
1 c. (two sticks) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 c. all purpose flour
3 t. baking powder
1 c. milk
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350F
Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Mix flour, salt and baking powder; set aside.
Beat butter. Beat in sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time.
Add 1/3 of the flour and blend. Alternately add the milk and flour, ending with the flour. Add vanilla.
Pour into pan and bake about 25 to 30 minutes.
Cool about ten minutes and remove from pan.
I followed the frosting recipe exactly, but at the end added more milk and confectioners sugar to ensure I had enough to frost the cake.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Despite the fact that farmer's market tables beckon with fresh local fruit, somehow a two-pound box of incredibly sweet and addicting Medjool dates found their way into my shopping cart at the grocery store. To stop myself from eating the entire box, I decided to try one of the dozens of date recipes in my collection. So many of the recipes said to use "one package of dates" and, having no idea how much was in 1940s or 1950s package, I searched for a recipe with a more specific quantity. (Dates may be homely, especially compared to a glistening peach, but don't let their appearance deter you from trying them.)
These Date Chews are a delicious, almost cake-like, bar cookie. And simple to make.
First, chop the nuts and pit the dates, the coat them in a bit of flour, which prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. You can buy unpitted dates, but I prefer to pit them myself.
Mix the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat the eggs and water and add in the dry ingredients. Stir just until they are incorporated. Overmixing produces a tough texture.
Add in the date nut mixture and stir. Pour into a prepared pan. You can either grease and flour it, or line it with parchment paper. I prefer the latter, as it creates a sling by which you can easily lift the entire cake from the pan. Not to mention, the pan doesn't need to be washed.
Cut into squares while still somewhat warm. It's essential try the first piece.
Production notes: I used all-purpose unbleached flour and did not sift it. Or resift it. I'm a lazy cook, but don't tell anyone.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Peach Cobbler Redux
While this is not the peach cobbler of my dreams, it's pretty good (and looks better in real than in the photo). It is not the traditional peach cobbler, made with biscuit dough (like the one I made here), but rather has a soft cake-like topping.
The time suck of most peach recipes is peeling the fruit. This is *supposed* to be easily accomplished by placing the peaches in boiling water for a few minutes and then slipping their jackets off. This technique only worked for some of them; most were peeled the old-fashioned way, using a paring knife, tedious work indeed.
Mix up the batter and pour half into the pan, in which you've already melted "one cube" of butter by placing the pan in the preheated oven.
Place the sliced peaches atop the batter. You're supposed to mix the peaches with sugar and lemon juice first, but I was on the phone while baking (not recommended) and consequently misread the recipe. I simply sprinkled the sugar and lemon juice atop the peaches, and it was fine. I also used a combination of white and yellow peaches.
Spoon the remaining batter on top.
Cool before cutting.
In addition to picking regular peaches, we also picked donut peaches which were delicious and seem to grow right on the branches. But I used only regular peaches in the recipes.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Enter the Pie Contest!
Attention New York bakers: You are invited to enter the first annual pie contest at the Old Stone House's Revolutionary Fair on Saturday, August 24th. I'll be judging, along with the lovely historic gastronomist Sarah Lohman. Grand Prize will be $100!
Click here for all the details.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Mom's [Apricot] Upside-Down Cake
And in the photo of a slice below, no one is the wiser. (Except, I guess, everyone who reads this.)
Upside down cakes are traditionally made in a cast iron frying pan. The cake is started on the stove top and then then pan is transferred to the oven. But since cast iron and I don't get along very well (I can never get them properly seasoned), I used a stainless steel frying pan.
While pineapple upside down cake is the mother of the genre, nearly any fruit can substitute. The vintage recipe gem I followed to make this cake calls for "any fruit" and, having purchased a box of apricots at the farmer's market this morning, that's what I used.
I wasn't daunted by the lack of instruction on the recipe card; that's typical of handwritten recipes. But when I read that the cake portion itself contains NO BUTTER, I expected failure. Instead, I reached nirvana. And you can too.
Begin by melting two tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch frying pan. Add a cup of brown sugar and mix well. Spread it over the bottom of the pan and turn off the heat.
Wash a batch of fresh apricots.
Cut each fruit in half. No need to peel them, saving a tedious step that must be done with peaches.
Place the apricots cut side down atop the brown-sugar-butter mixture in the frying pan.
Prepare the batter, which consists only of flour, sugar, salt, milk, one egg and baking powder.
Bake for 30 minutes in a 350F oven. When done, it will look like this.
Then, the terror begins, as you try to flip it onto a pan while bubbling hot. (Do not attempt this while you've got dinner on the stove, as I did. It adds unnecessary pressure to an already tense situation.) The beautiful antique serving plate I intended to use kept slipping, so I tried a smaller dinner plate about the same size as the frying pan, which seemed less terrifying.
The recipe is below. It is really, really good.
Production notes: For the topping, melt the butter completely before adding the brown sugar. For the batter, mix the dry ingredients first, then add the hot milk and combine. Beat the egg and then add it to the batter and combine well.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Spiced Nut Coffeecake
It was getting on near 10 p.m. one night last week and, wanting to bake something simple and cheerful (for baking is my antidepressant), I whipped up this tasty spiced nut coffeecake. Plus the DH loves cake with a crumbly topping.
This is simple and delicious, but not terribly spicy by our 21st century standards, the same standards that find cayenne pepper in brownies and salt in caramels.
Start by making the topping in a small bowl by combining the sugar, chopped nuts, spices and melted butter. Reserve while you prepare the batter, accomplished by mixing the dry ingredients and simply pouring the liquid ingredients on top. Mix until just moistened.
The batter will be extremely thick and you'll think it can't possibly be right. For some reason, it behaves as if it is a yeast dough, i.e., very elastic . But using a wooden spoon, or similar tool, become the boss of it and force the dough into the corners of the pan.
When it's spread out in the pan, sprinkle the topping on.
Production notes: I followed this exactly, and melted the tablespoon of butter before mixing it into the dry topping ingredients. I also used butter in place of the "melted shortening or salad oil" for the cake. The lines are typed very close together, causing the fraction ingredients to run into each other. The amount for the topping are 1/4 c. sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. For the cake, they are 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 c. sugar, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 egg, 3/4 c. milk and 1/4 c. melted butter. This is easy to overbake, so keep a close eye on it.
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