Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Oven Frosted Cake


Frosting has long been my Achilles heel, and so I was thrilled to discover this recipe which promised an easy solution.  And it does, sort of, if you think half-melted, half-toasted marshmallows constitute a proper frosting.  It may not be proper -- or pretty -- but it's really good, especially the day after it's baked, when the marshmallows become even creamier.  The cake beneath is excellent, with its delicate flavor and melt-in-your-mouth crumb.

Oven Frosted Cake is the perfect midwinter treat, as it satisfies the craving for toasted marshmallows in a most delicious way, allowing one to get just a tiny taste of summer on a dreary January day.

This couldn't have been easier to make.  Mix the butter and sugar, and add the eggs.  You'll think the whole thing is ruined at first (I did), because it looks curdled.  But carry on.


With just a few minutes in the mixer, a satiny batter will appear.


Pour or spoon it into the pan.  It is very thick, and you'll need to spread it out using a spatula. I used parchment to line the pan, but greasing and flouring work fine.


Cutting the marshmallows is most easily accomplished by using a small serrated knife.


Place them on the cake batter.


Sprinkle with brown sugar and nuts.


The finished cake, below.  I warned you that it is not pretty.




Oven Frosted Cake

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour a 9 x 12 inch pan.

For cake:
1/2 C shortening (butter)
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 C milk
2 1/2 C flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

For frosting:
About one bag of large marshmallow, cut in half
1/2 C chopped nuts
1/2 C brown sugar

Method
Cream butter and sugar.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside  Add beaten eggs to the butter mixture, followed by the milk, flour mixture and vanilla.  Mix until just combined.  Pour into a 9 x 12 pan.

Place cut marshmallows atop cake batter, arranging in rows.  Scatter nuts and brown sugar on marshmallows.

Bake for 40 minutes.




Sunday, January 27, 2013

Date Nut Bars


What, no butter? I couldn't imagine what this date nut bar recipe would produce: it has no butter and only five tablespoons of flour.  I began with more than a bit of trepidation and ended as a very happy baker.  These are delicious -- a 1940s version of a granola bar, albeit without the granola -- and easy-ish on the waistline.

The recipe, written in a composition book, is from a large collection of Amish recipes I purchased last week on eBay in an rather intense bidding war.  Like many recipes of its time -- perhaps the lack of butter was a result of food wartime food rationing? -- this recipe features dates and nuts quite prominently, not that there's anything wrong with that!

The mis en place, below: the dry ingredients and dates and nuts are simply mixed into....


...the beaten eggs.


The batter is quite sticky, but I used an offset spatula and my latex-gloved hands to spread it in the cookie sheet.


After about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, it transformed into the cake below.


When it had cooled a bit, I cut it into small squares. (All the imperfect squares belong to the baker.)




These were wildly popular at work.  Guess it was a slow sugar week.




Monday, January 21, 2013

The Urban Myth of the Fabulous Chocolate Cake


Now, I like a good urban myth as much as the next person and this one has had so many incarnations as to be part of our national folklore.  It goes like this:  A midwesterner enjoys a meal at a fancy restaurant in a big city* and, after tasting a fabulous dessert, asks the waiter for the recipe.  The waiter complies, and then the unsuspecting diner receives an exorbitant bill for the recipe.  Determined to exact revenge, she (for it's always a woman) vows to share the recipe with everyone she knows.

The myth -- or some version of it -- has been traced back to 1948 when  the Waldorf Astoria Hotel "charged" a patron $25 for a red velvet fudge cake recipe. (A modern day  incarnation is the $250 supposedly charged by Neiman Marcus for a cookie recipe.)  It's easy today to distribute these recipes via the internet.  Before that, women relied on the recipe card.

I found the card pictured above -- a c. 1960s variant on the urban myth --  in a recipe box in my collection and just had to see if it lived up to the $100 supposedly charged for it. Executive summary: It's pretty good, but not the chocolate cake of my dreams, as it has nuts in the batter, an ingredient I think best in brownies, not cake.  Still, it went over quite well with all of my tasters.  Of course, they got it for free.


This is a very simple cake to put together. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or a bowl placed atop a pan of water) before adding it to the butter mixture.  There is a lot of sugar in this recipe, but it is not too sweet.


You'd think that for $100, they'd tell you what size pan to use, instead of the cryptic "Put in loaf pan"  in this recipe.  I wasn't sure what to do, as in the old days, loaf pans did not necessarily mean loaf pans for bread.  So I compromised and put most of the batter in an 8 x 8 pan (lined with parchment, otherwise grease and flour the pan, another glaring omission from the recipe).  The rest I put in a glass loaf (as in bread loaf) pan.  Next time, I would use a 9 x 12 pan.


The frosted cake.

The cake and frosting recipe below.  I realized too late that I used just one square (one ounce) of chocolate for the frosting, but it was perfectly fine.



*The big city is usually Chicago or New York, reinforcing yet another historical American belief that large cities, unlike their rural counterparts, are filled with sin and corruption.

Pecan Rolls


You know those basketball size pouf-y pecan rolls dripping with syrup so viscous and sweet that you need both a moist wipe and an insulin injection to continue your morning? These old-fashioned pecan rolls are NOT those.

Instead, these simple and small-ish rolls -- they're made in cupcake tins -- are not overly sweet and the pecan-syrup topping does not overwhelm.  A good thing indeed, as you can have your roll and eat it too (and still have more WW points for the day).

What I really like about this c. 1935 recipe (noted in a handwritten cooking school composition book) is that the rolls are made from a master "raised sweet roll" recipe.  I love these culinary building blocks. If you master just a few essential recipes (as our foremothers did), you have the tools to create a variety of baked goods by adding some cinnamon here, some nuts there, etc.  My grandmother did this.  With her basic bread dough, she would make challah, hardtack (a flattened bread, not really hard but that's what we called it), onion rolls and more.

So, pecan rolls anyone?  The dough is very forgiving and very easy to put together. You can make it ahead, and keep in the fridge until you're ready.

First, Scald the milk and add the butter.


Add the foamy yeast into the butter-milk mixture.


The dough is very easy to work with.


The recipe instructs one to rolls the dough and cut into rounds to form balls.  If I were to make this again, I would skip this step and simply pinch off small pieces of the dough.


Place the pecan-sugar mixture in the cupcake tins.  I used regular size and mini cupcake tins.


Place the dough on top.



You can prepare everything the night before, leave in the refrigerator or on your counter (if it's not too warm in your kitchen) and move to a warm place to let rise in the morning before baking.  I also doubled the recipe, figuring that the more pecan rolls the better.






Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

Can't decide between chocolate pudding and chocolate cake?  No need to with this old fashioned two-desserts-in-one concoction. It's basically a brownie that, while in the oven, creates its own hot fudge pudding, perhaps a mid-century precursor to the chocolate lava cakes that were all the rage a few years ago.

It has a couple of steps, but is still very easy to make.  You'll need to take a trip to the store, however, unless you keep a can of evaporated milk on hand.

Below are the dry and wet ingredients.  You start out making the sauce, in bowl at right.


While the sauce is cooking, prepare the main batter and pour (or spoon -- this is a thick batter) into the baking pan.


Next, pour the liquid sauce over the batter.  You'll be sure at this point, that the recipe is not correct, but forge ahead.  Place in the oven and wait for the magic.


This cake-like dessert will emerge from the oven.   The sauce is at the bottom.


I followed the directions exactly, but I didn't sift the flour, or resift it.  Except for angel food cakes, sifting never seems worth the trouble. (In the old days, people sifted flour to remove debris and insects; these days, fortunately, that's no longer necessary.) I also served it room temperature, at work the next day, and it was delicious.





Sunday, January 6, 2013

Soft Gingerbread


So many vintage recipes for gingerbread are preceded by the word "soft" that it makes me wonder, is there such a thing as "hard" gingerbread?  In any case, this version is flavorful, delicious -- and soft.


The recipe is from a composition book, owned by one Ida Mai Van, and filled with notes she took during a 1935 cooking school course. My friend Loretta found this book among some family papers and gave it to me years ago.  I made a couple of cakes from it that were so disappointing, I put the book aside. But I recently reopened it and discovered a treasure trove of wonderful recipes and the more I look through it the more I discover.  First impressions did not mean much in this case.

Below is the mis en place for soft gingerbread, except there are two sticks of butter, not one.  (Maybe that's why it's soft?)


Because this recipe, like so many others from the 1930s (and 1940s and 50s), is merely a list of ingredients (presumably everyone knew the method for cake, gingerbread, cookies and everything else), I've written the instructions at the end of the post.

Cold winter days just call out for warm gingerbread; it's perfect for breakfast, tea or dessert.

Mix the butter and sugar, then add the eggs.

After you add the molasses, the batter may appear curdled.  Don't worry about it; it will smooth out as you proceed.


After the dry ingredients are added, the batter is very thick, but once the hot water is mixed in, it will be thin enough to pour into the pan.



This recipe makes a lot of gingerbread, ideal for sharing with coworkers.



Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9 x 12 inch pan.

Have the shortening (I used butter) at room temperature.  Mix the baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt and flour in a small bowl.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and mix well.  Add molasses and mix.  Add dry ingredients and combine (but do not overmix).  Add hot water and mix.  Pour into prepared pan and bake about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool and cut into squares.  A lemon glaze would be nice, but this gingerbread is delicious sans sauce.