Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Chocolate Bark (Christmukkah Crack)

In 1985, Marcy Goldman created Matzoh Buttercrunch, a Passover confection that took the country by storm, and it remains the most popular holiday recipe. Marcy was inspired by a recipe much like this Chocolate Bark, though this recipe -- from the collection of Olive Facey -- is even simpler (and less caloric) than the modern day incarnation. But is just as easy and delicious. And infinitely more convenient, i.e., not everyone has matzoh year-round.

Chocolate Bark is simply a sugar-butter mixture poured over Saltine crackers, topped with chocolate and baked. Adding toasted nuts is optional. It takes just a few minutes to make.

Marcy substituted matzoh for the Saltines, as they can't be eaten on Passover. But following Olive's card, I used old-fashioned saltines.

To begin, line a cookie sheet with foil and then Saltines. You will probably need to break some to fill in all the spaces.

Next, melt a stick of butter over a low flame.

Add the sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves and it looks like this. 

Pour it over the crackers covering them as best you can.

Take the back of a spoon, knife or offset spatula to evenly spread, trying to cover every cracker.

Sprinkle chocolate chips atop the mixture. The amount is up to you. Place in a preheated 350F oven.

Bake for ten to 15 minutes. The chocolate chips won't be completely melted, so spread them with the same tool used to spread the sugar mixture. I even added more chocolate at this point, as I thought the layer was  bit too thin.  The chips will melt.

Sprinkle the top with chopped nuts. I used pecans, which I toasted in the oven while the bark was baking.

 Refrigerate until cold, then break up the pieces with your hands.

Unscientific observational differences between Chocolate Bark and Matzoh Buttercrunch: The buttercrunch has a much firmer base, as matzoh is not as soft as Saltines, but the salted crackers added a nice flavor note. Buttercrunch uses brown sugar, which adds a depth of flavor lacking in white sugar (but if you cook the mixture longer, that issue would be mitigated, as it would become more caramel-y), and it also uses double the butter, making it more caloric. Having said all that, upon sampling the bark this morning, the DH declared: This tastes exactly like matzoh buttercrunch!

Below is Olive's recipe card -- part of her collection generously given to me by her handsome son Stephen.  It appears to have been shared with her by Lorraine Allison.

Production notes: I followed this almost exactly, but I cooked the butter sugar mixture (which is not indicated on the card).  I used a 9 x 13 inch cookie sheet, and about 3/4 cups of chocolate chips. I baked it for 15 minutes.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

White Christmas Pie

What becomes of excellent old recipes? At the launch for Eight FlavorsSarah Lohman's hot new book about American food history, the lovely New York Times writer Melissa Clark said that, while bad recipes disappear, the good ones survive through generations. But, it turns out, sadly, some of the good ones die young.That seems to be the case with White Christmas Pie, a light-as-air delicious confection reminiscent of coconut cream pie, but lighter in texture.  

Perhaps White Christmas Pie didn't catch on because it's not the easiest of recipes. But ease of preparation isn't the only survival criteria (I'm thinking of  Buche de Noel here). A little internet sleuthing revealed that the pie was developed by Dixie Willson of Iowa and published in the 1952 Betty Crocker Cook Book.  The mid-century typewritten recipe card in my collection is nearly identical to the one I found online.

Dear readers, trust me. This one is worth the effort to make, and is the perfect dessert to follow a big Christmas meal. Or any meal, for that matter.  Let's get started.

First, make a pie crust,

Next, line the unbaked crust with parchment or foil and fill with beans, or similar, You'll want to bake it for about ten minutes like this, then remove the weights, pierce with a fork, and bake unlined for about another ten minutes....

Until the crust is golden. Set aside to cool.

Soften the unflavored gelatin in some water.

Add it to a mixture of milk, sugar, flour and salt that you've cooked and let cool slightly.  Beat until smooth.

You can see that I burned the milk-sugar mixture while cooking and, this being white pie, I poured the "virgin" mixture into another bowl to continue the recipe.

Fold in the whipped cream.

Fold in the meringue.

Fold in the coconut.

Pour the mixture into the pie shell and refrigerate for several hours. I topped my pie with some toasted coconut for color.

The pie went like hotcakes at work; everyone loved it, and asked for seconds.

Here's the recipe that I followed, and below is the recipe written out in detail.

I’ve written the recipe out, for clarity. 
Soften 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water.  Set aside.

Whisk thoroughly in saucepan:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Stir in gradually 1 1/2 cup milk.  Cook over medium heat until mixture boils, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Add the gelatin mixture. When partially set, and cooler, beat until smooth. 

Blend in:
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring

Make the meringue:
Beat 3 egg whites until foamy, add 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and when almost stiff, gradually add  1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold meringue into the main mixture.

Make the whipped cream:
Beat  1/2 cup whipping cream until stiff. Fold into the mixture.

Fold in 1 cup moist shredded coconut.

Pile into cooled, baked pie shell. Sprinkle with moist shredded coconut.(Or spread coconut on cookie sheet and place in 350 F oven until golden, about ten minutes)
Chill several hours until set. Serve cold.

About the recipe's author:
Born in 1890, Dixie Willson worked in the Betty Crocker test kitchens at General Foods from 1942-1944. A prolific writer, she wrote songs, poems, advertising jingles, short stories, novels, children's books, radio shows and Hollywood screenplays. Her various occupations included elephant rider for the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, chorus girl in the Ziegfield Follies and critic for the Fox Film Company. She died in 1974.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Royal One-Egg One-Bowl Cake and Coffee Butter Frosting

There was a wonderful blog, Butter Me Up Brooklyn, the 2012 winner of  Saveur's best baking blog. Authored by the lovely Lillie Auld (we met when we did a food event together a few years back), the blog abruptly stopped in 2014.  (Lillie: where are you?) What I enjoyed best, aside from the imaginative recipes and writing, was its tag line: Baking Makes Friends. I've always subscribed to that theory, but could never express it as well as these three simple words do. 

Which brings me to this Royal One-Egg One-Bowl Cake. James, a porter at work, stopped by my office recently to tell me he had resigned, having purchased a house (for $10K!) in Youngstown, Ohio. James was always a big fan of my baked goods. So what better send off than to bake him a goodbye cake.

Trouble was, I had no time. Or so I thought, until I discovered this easy-as-pie vanilla cake recipe. And an equally easy frosting recipe.  It is a delicious old-fashioned one-layer cake; the recipe was probably originally from Royal Baking Powder, founded in the 1880s

Begin by sifting the flour, baking powder and salt. No one has a flour sifter these days, so just use a strainer, pushing the ingredients through with the back of a large spoon.

Add all the other ingredients except the egg into one bowl and beat for two minutes. Add the egg and beat for one minute.

Pour into a greased and floured nine-inch round cake pan and bake until golden.

While the cake is cooling, start the frosting.  Beat the butter and add the cocoa-sugar mixture.

It won’t look very good, but once you add the brewed coffee (at room temperature), it will smooth out.

Make sure the cake is cold! Never frost a warm cake.  Mine formed a bit of a dome, so using a serrated knife, I sliced it off and then shared that thin layer with a very appreciative DH.

Some beauty shots.

I thoughtfully sliced the cake for James, because I thought he'd want to share with colleagues. Turned out I was wrong and he ate most of it himself.

Full disclosure: The first time I made this cake it was a bit of a disaster. I followed the recipe: Used an eight inch square pan, greased (and not floured). The cake wouldn't release, but it was so good, I thought I'd try again.

My attempt to salvage the cake failed miserably, but at least I could eat my mistake.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, and it resulted in failure. Save yourself the heartache by greasing and flouring the pan, and use a nine-inch round pan. And be sure your butter is at room temperature, i.e., pretty soft.

This very simple frosting is from The General’s Cook Book, a 1961 collection published by the Women’s Board of Akron General Hospital.

James, on his last day of work.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ma's Pie Crust (Or Apple Pie and the Jewish Immigrant)

One of the stupidest stock phrases has to be "Do something every day that scares you." I mean who wants to live like that and, furthermore, who has so many fears that they need to tackle one each day? Having said that, I do have a fear of piecrusts but, at the behest of my friend Hanna, I agreed to demonstrate apple pie making at next Sunday's Generation to Generation Festival at the Museum of Eldridge Street. Actually, I agreed to teach a cooking class that might have been led by a settlement house worker for new American immigrants, c. 1900. The apple pie was Hanna's suggestion.

But this isn't just any pie crust recipe -- it belonged to Hanna's grandmother Rebecca Simansky, a Lithuanian immigrant who baked old and new world recipes. Bubbie passed it on to her daughter Bessie Griff. As a child, Hanna recalls apple pie for breakfast at her bubbie's house in Portland, Maine, and her mother made a pie almost every week at her home in Waltham, Massachusetts. At some point, Bessie began substituting fruit juice for the water in the recipe, a tradition carried on by Hanna. This recipe is well traveled: Hanna has made it in France, Seattle, Indiana and New York.

I practiced Ma's Pie Crust last week. This is the simplest pie crust ever -- it's nearly foolproof and it tastes pretty darn good. It can also be made in five minutes. I have a lot of oil-based pie crust recipes in my vintage recipe collection, but was always afraid to try them because it didn't seem like they would work. (Hmm...another "fear" conquered!) It eliminates the work (and guesswork) of traditional pie crusts, in which cold fat is cut into butter by hand or machine with water added until it is "the right consistency."

A supervised five-year-old can make this. Start by mixing flour and salt in one bowl, and oil and orange juice in another. Whisk the liquid ingredients until creamy and pour into the dry ingredients.

Combine using a fork. I also used my gloved hands to mush it together.

Divide the dough in half, form a circle and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap.

I always put the pie plate on top of the dough to check for size.

While the dough is chilling, make the filling. I created a recipe (written below) based a number of old-time apple pie fillings, using flour as the thickener.  Peel about five large apples.

Slice about 1/4 inch thick.

Mix with flour and cinnamon.

Pour filling into the prepared pie crust.

Top with the other crust that you've rolled out. Crimp edges and puncture the top so that air can escape during baking.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack.


Hanna's mother created the original written recipe by following her own mother as she baked, trying to get the measurements correct, as Bubbie never measured anything. Hanna's original recipe card is below. Notice the word "ensemble," which puzzled me until Hanna explained that she had written it en route to Nantes, France, to study. While there, she lived with a family whose little son was so taken with her apple pies that he begged her to open an American bakery!

Concerned I wouldn't be able to read the card, Hanna provided the following typed "translation," which I followed exactly except for baking the bottom crust first. I also divided the dough before chilling.

Ma's Pie Crust by Hanna 

Sift together:  2 c. flour 1 t. salt

Combine in measuring cup:  1/2 c.  oil, 5 T cold water (I use cold orange juice).  Beat with fork until creamy and pour all at once over flour mixture.  Toss and mix with fork.  Cover with wax paper and chill for 20 minutes.

Put dough in between 2 pieces of wax paper and roll out for piecrust.  Cook bottom crust for 10 minutes at 475.

Susan's Apple Pie*
For 8 inch pie
Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare pie crust 

4 large apples (about five cups sliced)
½ to ¾ c. sugar
Lemon juice
½ to 1 t. cinnamon (depending on preference)
½ c. flour (approximately. But enough to coat apples)

Core, peel and slice apples. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
Add sugar (amount depends on sweetness of apples), flour and cinnamon.
Combine with apples until they are well coated.
Place in unbaked pie crust.
Cover with top crust, pinching sides.
With a fork, pierce the top crust in a few places.
Bake in preheated 375F oven for about 40 minutes.
Cool on rack.
*Pie filling is very forgiving.  You can make up your own, adding nutmeg, etc. or whatever.