Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Orange Pourover Cake

Even if you're still full from Thanksgiving, life -- and baking -- must go on.  And there's no better recipe to continue with  than this delightfully easy and delicious Orange Pourover Cake -- the perfect bridge between the pies of Thanksgiving and the cookies of Christmas.  Plus, who couldn't use a little citrus about now (especially a friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with scurvy -- and no, he lives in 21st-century New York City and not aboard a 19th-century clipper ship.)

What's so good about the cake is the combination of walnuts, chopped dates and the orange glaze, making the cake not only delicious, but kind of festive too.

Mix the batter up and then

spoon it into a greased and floured tube pan. Don't worry if the batter seems scant; it will rise during baking.

Remove from the oven, and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out.  I had to bang the top a bit lot to release it.

While the cake cools, begin the orange glaze.

Next, take a long skewer and pierce the cake all over, then pour the glaze atop the cake.  Keep it on a rack with some foil or newspaper underneath to catch the drips.

Production notes:  I substituted unsalted butter for the shortening and baked it at 375 F (as my newfangled digital oven does not have a 370 F option) and had to cook the glaze longer than ten minutes for it to reduce to 1 1/3 cups.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Seven Traditional-with-a-Twist Thanksgiving Desserts

Many years ago, while visiting a friend, we got to talking about the upcoming Christmas holiday. When I asked if she was planning a big holiday feast, she said not really, that she didn't think holidays "are just about the meal."  It was at that moment that I realized I had the opposite opinion -- all holidays are just about the meal, and really, little else. Raising our family in a Jewish-Catholic home, we celebrate all the holidays -- Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Passover, etc. without ever setting foot into a church or temple.  What distinguishes one holiday from another is the food.

Almost everyone would agree that Thanksgiving IS about the food.  And it's all about tradition, but let's face it, tradition can get a bit monotonous.  So today, I bring you a compendium of traditional-with-a-twist Thanksgiving recipes, almost all of them from handwritten recipe cards from the collections of early to mid-20th century American households.  (Just click on the titles to access the recipes.)

Apple Dumplings
A novel, but still traditional, apple pie alternative.

Pumpkin Pie Squares
For when you want the taste of pumpkin pie, but don't want to fuss with a crust.  This recipe also serves about 20 (as opposed to eight, like a pie).

Pumpkin Pie with Cream
A light and custard-y take on pumpkin pie.

Southern Spoon Corn Bread
A truly delicious side dish for your Thanksgiving table.

Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread
A lovely hostess gift and wonderful repository for any leftover fresh (or frozen) cranberries.

Creole Praline Pecan Bars
The most delicious alternative to pecan pie.  Not from a hand-written recipe, but it is old. And southern.

Perfect Pecan Pie
The best traditional pecan pie recipe out there. Modern, but delicious.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Southern Spoon Corn Bread

Despite the title of this vintage recipe card, I doubt this is a true southern spoon corn bread. But I have no doubt that it would be a delicious addition to anyone's Thanksgiving table this year.  True spoon bread is to be eaten with a spoon and is more of a souffle than a bread (at least according to the trusty internet).

This corn bread may look like typical corn bread, but it is very, very moist -- not typical at all of traditional corn bread. And despite the fact that it contains no corn, something about its texture fools the palate into thinking otherwise.  It also tastes fairly sweet, surprising since only a small amount of sugar is called for.

So if you want to add something new to your Thanksgiving meal this year (and who doesn't?), let's get started. This couldn't be easier to make.  Add boiling water to cornmeal and let it sit until cool.

Next, add the buttermilk, egg yolks, melted butter and the dry ingredients.

Blend together and then fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Pour into a pan.  This is where it gets tricky.  The recipe cards says to use a pan where the batter is less than two inches deep.  Having had my cup batter runneth over recently, I opted for a 9 x 12 pan. My guess is using a smaller pan would result in the corn bread having a more pudding-like texture (and probably require a spoon to eat).

Production notes: I used melted butter for the fat, and supermarket buttermilk for the sour milk. I misread the recipe and used three eggs instead of two, which may have accounted for the extra moistness.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread

Are old recipes better than modern ones?  Is gingerbread made from a 100-year-old recipe tastier and more authentic than one conceived last year in the test kitchen of Saveur?  Many of us share a fascination with the past (culinary and otherwise), viewing what came before through a lens that often obscures any difficulty and struggle. Even though I'm probably guiltier than most, trying to uncover and discover forgotten tastes of years gone by, I do think that what we eat (and what we cook) reflects the era in which we live, much like theater or really, any of the arts, do. But there's something to be said for those recipes that endure, passed down through generations or, in the case of this cranberry bread, disseminated more widely via flea markets and estate and eBay sales.  

Cranberry Bread (Grandmother's Famous) is truly a treasure from the past.  And perfect for the Thanksgiving table, or the morning after.  Cranberries can be frozen (just add frozen to any recipe), so it's a good way to use up any leftover berries. It's fairly simple to make, not overly sweet (typical of older recipes) and really delicious. And it's so festive-looking, a moist yellow cake studded with the bright red berries.

The orange zest and juice and the cranberries give this bread its wonderful flavor profile (though I'm sure grandmother squeezed her own orange juice).

This bread is made rather unconventionally. The butter is cut into the dry ingredients (think pie crust method) which I did in the food processor, and then the wet ingredients are blended in (done in the Kitchen Aide).

Pour into a prepared pan.  I used one of those new-fangled baking sprays, which is a combination of fat and flour. Alternately, simply grease and flour the pan.

Bake longer than you think is necessary, at least an hour. Remove from the oven and let cool somewhat on a wire rack before turning the bread out to finish cooling.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, except I accidentally bought dark rather than light raisins. And I also did not chop the cranberries, a tedious and unnecessary task. To prevent the cranberries and raisins from sinking to the bottom of the batter, lightly flour them before adding. This would be excellent if you substitute the raisins (I am not a fan) with a cup of chopped walnuts.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Madeleines and Souvenir: Eat and See, Respectively

The DH and I often judge theater not only on the immediate pleasure of the performance, but also by how often we think about the experience in the days and weeks that follow. And because the actual event is so fleeting. usually just a couple of hours, it is the resonance of memories that are the most enduring, and significant.  Last week, on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Swann's Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, we saw the American premiere of Souvenir at Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center The show -- a wildly inventive interpretation of Proust's masterwork (involving memory, jealousy, a harmonium and Bruce Springsteen, among others) --  is thoughtful and surprising and funny. I can't stop thinking about Bush Moukarzel's brilliant performance and the intimate staging and the poignancy of the experience. (I'd see it again, but a large part of the enjoyment are the elements of surprise in the show.  But I encourage you to get your ticket the minute you finish reading this post. Details are here. And a photo below.)

I was so moved by Souvenir that I am deviating from my blog's mission (baking exclusively from 20th century handwritten recipe cards) to bring you a modern recipe of a classic French cookie (actually a small sponge cake), the madeleine.  Madeleines and Proust are synonymous; he used the sweet to illustrate the difference between intellectual and emotional memory, in what has become perhaps the most talked-about passage of any he wrote. (You can read it here.)

I've been fascinated with memory ever since I discovered that my most powerful childhood memory (of my mother's white blouse catching fire as she leaned back against the gas stove) never happened.
I'm not the only one interested in memory.  The charming and prolific novelist Laura Lippman has a memory project, which she told me about during a taxi ride in Guatemala. (I don't remember the details of that, but I do recall her speaking impressive Spanish to the driver, and sharing that John Waters performed her wedding to David Simon, of Treme fame.)

This is a long way to get to these wonderful madeleines.  I made them this afternoon, took a bite and was instantly transported to the 57 minutes of theater bliss that is Souvenir.

Madeleines are really, really simple to make. The most difficult part is getting a madeleine pan -- essential for baking these into their classic shell shape. However, Julia Child wrote that they can also be baked in scallop shells, which for me were more difficult to procure than the madeleine pan (available at Bed, Bath and Beyond).

Start by zesting a lemon.  Do invest in a microplane -- though not essential, it will make this task (and possibly your entire life) much easier.

Mix up the ingredients in a large bowl.  Fold in the flour carefully.

Spoon into your madeleine pan.  Don't overfill as I did for most of these.

One characteristic of the cookies -- almost as essential as the shell shape -- is the bump that forms on the top of the little cakes.  This is made easier, or more likely to happen, by refrigerating the batter for a couple of hours prior to baking.

And careful about overbaking -- the ones below stayed in the oven a bit too long.

The recipe I used belongs to the wonderful Dorie Greenspan from her book, Baking, From My Home to Yours. You can find a version of the recipe here. One recommendation: I would set the oven at 350 F, instead of 400 F.  (See above for my reasoning.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Butterscotch Refrigerator Cookies

Butterscotch refrigerator cookies (and others of its genre, also called icebox cookies) are the original "slice and bake" cookies.  This rather brilliant culinary invention allowed one to have a secret weapon in the kitchen -- a roll of cookie dough in the refrigerator, ready to be sliced and baked into delicious, wholesome cookies on a moment's notice.  Any extras would make their way into the cookie jar, perfect for an after-school snack following a grueling day in fourth grade.

This vintage recipe is from a c. 1960s Arkansas collection I purchased recently on eBay.

Shall we get started? Simply mix up the dough...

and form it into rolls.

Place the rolls into the refrigerator (or icebox) for several hours or overnight, then slice the rolls into individual cookies.

This dough is so quick and easy to put together that I prepared it whilst awaiting the sugar mixture for candy apples to reach 310 degrees, which took an excruciatingly long time.  (I also read War and Peace and The Power Broker while waiting.)

Some production notes: I chopped the nuts very, very fine, since I thought that larger pieces might interfere with slicing the cookies.  That was probably unnecessary.  I also made most of the slices about 1/4 inch wide, not "very thin."  But you can slice 'em how you like them. Thin slices make a crispy cookie; thicker ones are a bit more chewy.  The oven temperature is high -- these bake very, very quickly.

These butterscotch gems were enjoyed both in New York City and Spirit Lake, Iowa, where my friend Jay brought some on a long-anticipated visit to his Grandma Dusty.  Can you believe she's 91?  (And thanks to those good Weggy genes, Jay's looking pretty good for 62.)  Photo by Iowa-visit-shepherd Stephen Facey.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pumpkin Pie with Cream

I am a pumpkin pie traditionalist* (the recipe on the can is fine by me, as long as the crust is homemade) but because so many others crave the next new thing, or something different, I present this super unusual pumpkin pie.  In fact, it's less a pumpkin pie than a custard pie beneath a thin layer of pumpkin custard and a slightly caramelized top "crust." (No one was more surprised than me when I cut into this beauty and discovered the layers.)

It's really, really good and would make a nice addition to the Thanksgiving table this year, if you aren't married to tradition (or to someone who is).

The recipe is old -- probably from around 1910 -- and appears in Mrs. Grace Osborne's Cakes of Quality, which you can read about here.  I've recently learned that Mrs. Grace Osborne didn't exist -- "she" was the creation of a married couple (Dr. and Mrs. C. Frank Porter) from Bay City, Michigan, who, along with their son, sold cookbooks ("written" by Grace) and baking supplies under that name.  (Mrs. Osborne appeared even before the other, more famous imaginary home cook, Betty Crocker, the latter making her debut in 1921.)

So, if you want to serve a pumpkin pie from a recipe more than 100 years old, start by mixing the pumpkin (canned is fine) and sugar.

Add the pumpkin mixture to the beaten egg yolks and then add the milk and cream, followed by the whipped egg whites.  Fold those in carefully with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter into an unbaked 9-inch pie crust and place in a hot oven.  The layers will magically form during baking.

The indentations in the top are where I inserted a stainless steel knife (not the "silver fork" suggested in the recipe) to check for doneness.

Cutting into the pie revealed the surprising layers. It's actually a four-layer confection: crust, egg custard, pumpkin custard and top "crust" which forms while baking.

Production notes:
First, while the pie was delicious and worked perfectly (if, indeed, this is the way it was supposed to turn out), I only made it once, and can't guarantee its success, so baker beware.  Having said that, I would make this again in a minute -- it's that good.

I preheated the oven to 450 F and turned it down to 350 F after 10 minutes.  Then I baked it for 35 more minutes.  There will be slightly more filling than can fit in a 9-inch crust, so you can use a 10-inch pie pan or even possibly go deep dish on this.

*A still traditional, but extra special pie, is Arthur Schwartz's Custard Pumpkin Pie, which I make when I have the luxury of time.  Recipe is here.