Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Chocolate Pudding


Here's a five-minute Easter dessert sure to please children and adults.  This old-fashioned chocolate pudding can literally be put together in minutes with everyday ingredients -- milk, chocolate, sugar, salt, butter, cornstarch and salt.

This is a godsend for those pressed for time, like me.  At our house, we're celebrating both Passover and Easter tomorrow (the DD calls it Peaster), so between the brisket, the chicken soup and ham, I was looking for a really easy dessert.

Chop one square (one ounce) of unsweetened chocolate.  Melt it in 1/2 cup of milk.


Heat the remaining milk in a two-quart saucepan and add the melted chocolate mixture.  Next, add the dry ingredients (which you've sifted together).  Cook until thick -- it took less than five minutes.


Pour into small custard cups.  The recipe says five, but I filled just four.  I guess in the 1940s, when this recipe card was written, portion sizes (and the average American weight) were much smaller (and lower) than they are today.  Refrigerate until cold.


Now, the fun begins.  Form nests using sweetened coconut (like Baker's) and fill each with three jelly beans. I used the Jelly Belly brand, but any will do.



This recipe card is from one of the very first boxes I purchased in Akron.  I always avoided this recipe, since it was thickened only with cornstarch and lacked eggs, which add richness.  If you want to really guild the lily, you can use this richer pudding recipe, though this simpler one is quite nice, and easier on the waistline.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Fabulous Passover Treats


Passover is all about freedom.  And, of course, food.  At the Cake Bakes household, we're having an Easter and Seder mash-up next weekend (due to scheduling conflicts poor planning on my part) but meantime, I'm delighted to share the best of our Passover baked goods, two of which I made tonight.

Matzoh Buttercrunch
Pictured at top is the amazing matzoh buttercrunch, an addicting treat sure to torpedo diets everywhere.  It actually is a derivative of a very old American dessert (caramel and chocolate atop soda crackers), but baker/writer Marcy Goldman updated it for the holiday.  Click here for the recipe.



Farfel Muffins
Farfel muffins are a favorite of my family of origin.  Unfortunately, I've never been able to create the same texture that my grandmother achieved year after year.  But they're still quite good and I'll keep on trying.  Click here for the recipe.



Matzos Cookies 
Next up are Matzos Cookies from The Way to a Man's Heart: The Settlement Cookbook, an unusual and delicious drop cookie.  Click here for the recipe.





Thursday, March 21, 2013

Perfect Passover Sponge Cake



I've achieved sponge cake nirvana.  This is a light and moist sponge cake -- so delicious that you won't even notice the lack of butter and flour.  It is the perfect Passover dessert.

After my two recent failures, I was especially pleased that this cake was a success. The recipe, handwritten on a page of an old calendar, was given to me by Arthur Schwartz who inherited it from his mother.  In addition to the wonderful texture, the cake has a lovely citrus note from the lemon and orange zest and juice.

It's important to begin with room temperature eggs.  If you've just arrived home from work and your eggs have been in the fridge all day, no problem.  Just place them in a bowl and cover with warm water for a while while you prep the other ingredients.


Chop the nuts (or chocolate) and zest and juice the fruit.


Measure out the cake meal and potato starch.


Beat the yolks for a long time ("beat yolks good" says the recipe) until light in color, then add the sugar and beat the mixture even more until the yolks become very light in color.  (Do not let the sugar and eggs sit in the bowl without mixing, for the sugar will "cook" the eggs and you'll end up with small bits of scrambled egg.) Mix in the citrus and the dry ingredients.


When this is finished, turn your attention to the egg whites.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  I always add some cream of tartar at the beginning to avoid overbeating the whites. While separating the eggs, one of the yolks broke and some got into the whites.  I carefully spooned it out and, as you can see below, didn't have a problem.  (Egg whites can be finicky when fat or grease gets in the mix.)


Carefully fold the whites into the batter, using a large spatula. Combine until there are no visible white streaks.


Pour into a 10-inch tube pan.  No need to grease the pan, but based on my previous cake fail experiences, I put a round of parchment paper on the bottom for added insurance. (Not sure it was needed.)  Smooth out the top and pop in the oven, which you've preheated to 325 degrees.  You should preheat the oven for at least 20 minutes to ensure it reaches the proper temperature.


When the cake is done, invert it until cool. (My pan has "legs" but if yours doesn't, simply place it atop a wine bottle.) Then turn upright and run a knife around the outside edges to loosen the cake from the pan.




I shared the cake with the ladies at Henry Street's Home Planning Workshop, below, where Ruth Taube, second from left, has been teaching knitting, sewing and crocheting to neighborhood residents since the 1960s!  She's in her late 80s and still going strong.


The recipe is below.  I used about one cup of chopped walnuts.  Next time, chocolate!  The "cake flour" refers to cake meal, available this time of year.


I'm lucky enough to work on Manhattan's Lower East Side, home of the Streit's matzoh factory and snapped these pictures (exterior of the shop, Passover cake mixes and matzohs hot off the press) when I purchased the cake meal there.  




Monday, March 18, 2013

Not Another Cake Wreck!



Oops, I did it again.  Only worse.  This mess is *supposed* to be Arthur Schwartz's family's sponge cake, one that both his grandmother and mother made every year for Passover.  So I can't blame the recipe.

I was thrilled when, a few months ago, Arthur handed me a folder filled with handwritten family recipes. For years, I've cooked and baked from recipes Arthur posts on his own blog, FoodMaven.com; all have worked beautifully and so I was especially excited to bake from his own family recipes.

It started out just fine. Below is the mis en place.  Just four ingredients -- eggs, sugar, lemon and potato starch.


The first disaster occurred when I poured the batter into the nine-inch removable bottom tube pan that I had purchased at a flea market.  As the batter leaked from the bottom and onto the table and floor, it became all too clear why the pan cost only $1.



I quickly transferred the remaining batter into a solid tube pan and crossed my fingers.  (And tossed the flea market "find" into the recycling pail.)

The cake rose beautifully in the oven and the aroma was so good that even the DS, home for the night, remarked on it.  After 40 minutes, the cake seemed done so I removed it and, as per the instructions, inverted the pan until the cake was cool. That's when the "fun" began.  Unlike my most recent debacle, where the inverted cake (still warm) fell onto the counter with a thud, this one wouldn't budge. Using one knife to loosen the cake from the pan, and another to bang hard on the top, I attempted to release it, creating so much noise that the DH rushed downstairs to check on all the kitchen commotion.

It finally did release, but in five easy pieces.  And the top of the cake had a weird, rubbery texture, something I'd never seen and hope never to again.


What went wrong?  A couple of things. Not having the right pan, for starters.  And, looking back, the whites didn't whip well.  I used the Kitchen Aid instead of an electric hand mixer (my go-to for this). There was some liquid remaining in the bottom of the bowl and, while the whites were stiff, they seemed to lack volume as I was folding them into the yolk mixture.  I also think it could have baked a bit longer. And maybe, just maybe, I'm not meant to make sponge cakes -- this isn't the first struggle I've had with them.

Here's the recipe, written in Arthur's mother's beautiful handwriting. The "Mom" refers to her mother.  I may try it again or, more likely, make another from Arthur's collection. Though the pieces of cake that I salvaged were very, very good. Light-as-air texture and a wonderful lemon flavor. Too bad the rest of the cake was heavy-as-lead.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring Blossom Cake Fail



I'm quite ready for winter's end, and thought I'd I do my part to hasten the arrival of warmer weather by baking Spring Blossom Cake. Let's just hope that God, wherever she is, has better luck.  My cake was a total fail.

It was disappointing on so many levels -- uneven appearance, poor taste and texture and, not to mention, the waste of time and three farm-fresh eggs.

All looked promising in the beginning. I mixed the eggs, lemon and flour, and folded the meringue into the batter.


But when I remove it from the oven and turned the pan upside down to cool (as per the instructions), the cake plopped out of the pan and on to the counter. (Forgive me for not photographing that hot mess -- I was so shocked that I forgot).

 Even though quite a bit of the cake remained stuck in the pan, I slid a spatula under the cake and carefully moved it onto a cooling rack, thinking I could fill the empty places with extra frosting. That is, until I tasted some of the cake stuck in the pan. It was not good.  Not sweet.  An odd rubbery texture.  There was no salvation, no promise of spring or anything else.


Of course, that didn't prevent me from eating way too much of that mistake (for research purposes, I told myself as I cut a third slice).


I flipped what remained upside down in order to cover it in plastic wrap and discovered that it looked fine.  Now if it had tasted fine, I would have been angry at myself for "ruining" the cake by cutting it.  Lesson learned: Sometimes, looking at something from another angle makes all the difference.


Here's the recipe.  Don't try this at home.



Monday, March 11, 2013

Oven Caramel Corn


In the time it takes to go to the store and purchase a box of Cracker Jacks, you can make your own homemade version, which is tastier and surely healthier and fresher than something made three months ago in a far off factory somewhere.

All you need is popcorn, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and baking soda.  The actual hands-on cooking time is but five minutes.  After the caramel is poured over the popped corn, it spends an hour in the oven.  And voila -- homemade caramel corn!

Pop some corn the old-fashioned way -- in a bit of oil on the stove top.  (I suppose you can use microwave popcorn, but I've always hated it, so I can't recommend it.)  Put it on a sheet pan that you've lined with foil or parchment paper.


Next, place the remaining ingredients (except the baking soda) in a saucepan and heat.


Cook the mixture for about five minutes, stirring all the while.


Remove the caramel from the heat and add one teaspoon of baking soda.  (Do not skip this essential step.) Pour the caramel over the popcorn and, using the wooden spoon, try to mix it in.  Don't fret about it; you'll have plenty of opportunities to repeat this step.  Every 15 minutes, during the one-hour bake time, open the oven door and mix the caramel with the popcorn.

Soon it will be done -- and delicious.  You can add peanuts at the beginning if you really want to replicate the Cracker Jack experience, and you can also add a small toy.  These days the "prize" in Cracker Jacks is likely to be a small sheet of paper featuring a history quiz -- I experienced this recently, a convoluted "game" with obtuse hints.  The answer was Susan B. Anthony which, despite having a master's degree in American history, I couldn't figure out.  If only I'd continued on to the Ph.D.  My advice -- put in a real toy.  No need to turn a fun snack into a learning moment.



Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Missouri" Dessert



One of the main reasons I blog is that it's a wonderful excuse to bake the interesting and unusual recipes I encounter. And this Missouri Dessert is among the most unusual.  Plus the recipe card has two notes at the top: "Mother" and "very good" which to me is like screaming "bake me now!"

And so I did.

I've only been to Missouri once, back in the days when I was a newspaper reporter at a daily in Indiana and a bunch of us from the paper drove to a journalism conference in St. Louis (after making the essential liquor store stop to stock up for the journey).  I don't recall much of the city except the arch, and our dinner that first night at windowed restaurant atop a tall building that rotated 360 degrees several times during our meal. "I feel like I've been spinning all day," said fellow reporter Lynn Hailey. Still recovering from the car ride (did we really finish a bottle of schnapps along the way?), we all agreed.

Now on to today's dessert.  St. Louis has a famous dessert, Gooey Butter Cake, but I'd never heard of Missouri Dessert. It's quite unusual -- a basic yellow cake, almost reminiscent of cornbread, topped with meringue.  Typical of early 20th century desserts, it's not overly sweet.

It's easy to make (and even easier to eat).  At the beginning, it appears that the cake batter has curdled.  But, if you continue, all will smooth out.



Pour the batter into a pie plate.


Cover the base layer with the whipped egg whites . . .


and carefully spread it so it reaches the edge of the pie plate, completely covering the base.


Bake until the meringue is a lovely golden color.


Missouri dessert has three layers -- the crunchy top, the smooth meringue beneath and the cake layer below.   (It would have had a four texture, if I'd only remembered to sprinkle chopped nuts on top.) Quite a result using only butter, sugar, flour eggs, milk, baking powder and salt.




Below is a photo of Lynn and I in front of the newspaper building, and at bottom is some of the newspaper staff at a holiday party, c. 1979.