Monday, August 31, 2009

Savannah Chocolate Chewies

I have a rather unusual hairdressing arrangement. Robin, who cuts my hair, has moved down to Slidell, but she comes up once a month or so to my friend Randolyn's house to cut everyone's hair. Randolyn has a lot of extended family and friends who show up for this event, so there are usually 5 or 6 people hanging around, plus dogs and Randolyn's adorable grandson Gus. We take turns sitting on a barstool, sometimes drinking a glass of wine or a G&T, while Robin cuts and colors and works her magic. Robin always gets a check, of course, but I also always bring baked goods to share around. And so, since tomorrow is haircut day (think I'll get me some bangs), I decided to do some more baking--this time the Savannah Chocolate Chewies.
I could tell that I've made this one before because it had a comment: "Not bad, but not great." Wow, that was inspiring. I could tell why: 1 cup of powdered sugar to 1 egg white. I'm not a huge meringue fan, and these are awfully sweet, even though I dialed back the sugar a bit. But still, they're good enough that I had to stash them away to keep from nibbling :-).
A week or so ago I made French toast that called for 3 egg yolks, and I was smart enough to freeze the whites. I felt pretty smug about that, I have to say. I suppose that you'd have two egg whites left over from the coffee cake, too. But other than making sure you have egg whites, there's nothing to this recipe--it came together before the oven had preheated. I've got them stored airtight now to protect them from the, um, humidity, and I hope that the crowd at Randolyn's will enjoy them. (Yes, Claire, I'll save you a few as well...)

Here's the recipe I made:

Savannah Chocolate Chewies

8 oz. pecans (I used an entire bag of Trader Joe's Dry Roasted Pecan Pieces, which I highly recommend)
3 c. (12 oz.; I used about 10.5 oz) powdered sugar
2/3 c. (2 oz.) cocoa powder
1 T. instant espresso (Maida calls for 1 t. but I thought more would cut through the sweetness)
2 T. flour
Pinch salt
3 large egg whites
1/2 t. vanilla

Heat the oven to 350; line two cookie sheets with parchment. If you aren't using the TJ's pecans, chop your pecans rather fine. Then put the egg whites, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of the mixer and sift in the dry ingredients. This may not be necessary, but I decided to avoid lumps, especially since my instant espresso was looking distinctly clumpy. Then turn on the mixer to low until the dry ingredients are incorporated. I was sure this would never happen, but it did. Then crank up the mixer speed and beat the stuff for a full minute. Take the bowl out of the mixer and stir in the pecans. That's it! Now scoop out the dough, one teaspoon (a dessert spoon) at a time, onto your parchment-lined sheets--I think I got exactly 2 dozen cookies. Maida says to bake these one sheet at a time, but I have a convection oven and it's hot outside, so I put in both sheets and baked for 13 minutes. They should look all dry on the outside. These cookies will never win a beauty contest. Let them cool on the paper for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool. After you've nibbled a few to test the optimal temperature, store these airtight and vow to give them away at the first opportunity.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Alicia, you're right about two things: sugared strawberries are better, and it's really hard to say goodbye to a daughter. Oh, one more thing: that saying about getting only as much as you can handle--not sure I can buy into that one, either. Actually, you're right about many things...except raisins. Raisins are good.
I proved that once again today when I made the Cream Cheese Coffee Cake. OK, I'm totally out of order, but I really needed a project today, and I always make something special on Saturday mornings, so this fit in perfectly.
This really is quite the project, even though it wasn't that difficult. It just takes a really long time. Claire and I didn't have "breakfast" until about 11. Good thing I had cut up that ginormous melon I got at Whole Foods yesterday (making lemonade from airport lemons)--that tided us over nicely. Got up at 6:30, made dough (which comes together really fast in the food processor), and let it rise while I went to The Evil Empire (7:30 on Saturday morning is a great time to go there!) to buy cream cheese and other necessities. Got home, started laundry, did some dishes, and then Claire was up in time to make the filling for me. She did a great job with that. The directions for making the braid weren't all that clear, and even though I usually don't need pictures in a cookbook, some line drawings would have been helpful. Nonetheless, we rolled out the dough and brushed on the apricot jam and spooned on the filling and braided it up. I even used a ruler to cut the dough strips! Then another hour to kill--editing and laundry and dishes and trying to avoid the reality of a too-empty house. Finally it was time to bake that sucker. I hadn't noticed that you were supposed to shape the dough on the aluminum foil. Fortunately, I had formed it on a silicone rolling mat (thanks, Dad and Sharmyn!) that was oven-safe, so I could just transfer that baby to the baking sheet. I then made a little foil shield around the coffee cake to protect against leakage. If Julia hadn't taken the one operating camera to France (which was a good thing, mind you!), I could have shown you how that looked. But there was actually little to no leakage. And it really did "look spectacular" and "taste sensational". I made just half the recipe, but hardly dare say that there's one little end piece left. Let me just say that I only had three thin-ish slices. Don't know where the rest went (do you, Claire?)...
Verdict: it's a keeper. The dough is really nice to work with--rolled out easily and didn't give me any trouble at all. The filling was just right, and it looked pretty darned professional. If I can figure out how to upload cell phone photos, I'll show you just how good :-). In the meantime, here's the recipe I made:

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake


3 T. (1.5 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c. warm water
1 egg
1-1/2 c. (7.5 oz.) flour (I used about half white whole wheat and half all-purpose)
2-1/4 t. (1 envelope) instant yeast (I have a jar of bread machine yeast in the fridge)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. sugar

Mix together the water, butter, and egg in the measuring cup. Put the dry ingredients in the food processor and buzz until they're mixed. Then open the feed tube and pour in the wet ingredients. Process that for one minute. Mine formed a ball first, then got soft and mushy. It turned out OK, though. Then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for 1 minute. Put the dough into a greased bowl, cover it, and let it rise for a couple of hours. While it's rising, get your cream cheese out of the fridge to soften.

1-1/2 t. water
1-1/2 t. rum
1-1/2 t. sugar
1/4 c. (1.2 oz.) golden raisins
1 8-oz. block cream cheese, room temp.
1/4 c. (1 oz.) powdered sugar
1 egg yolk (save the white!)
1/2 t. vanilla
grated rind of about 1/2 orange
about 3 T. apricot jam (don't mix this into the filling!)

Put the water, rum, sugar, and raisins in a microwave-safe bowl; cover and zap for 1 minute on high. Let that sit and cool while you mix together the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, vanilla, and orange rind. When that's all nice and smooth, beat in the raisins.
If you have a Silpat or something like that, get that out. Flour it lightly and turn the dough onto that. Roll it into about a 12-inch long rectangle (maybe 12x8? I didn't measure...). Face the dough lengthwise, if that makes sense. (See? A picture is worth a thousand words!) Then mark about 1-1/2 inches on each side of the dough--these are the parts of the dough that will form the braid, and they need to stay "naked" for now. Brush the apricot jam onto the middle of the dough, then cover that with cream cheese filling. Now mark the bare dough at one-inch intervals, and cut it into strips, so that you have a sort of fan pattern on both sides. Now fold up the top and bottom like a burrito, and then carefully fold each strip over the filling, alternating to make a braid. If it looks good and the filling is covered, you're in good shape. Now cover the masterpiece and let it sit on the counter for another hour while you tend to your business. I bet you could also refrigerate it overnight, let it sit on the counter, and then bake it up in the morning. So anyway, shortly before your hour is up, preheat the oven to 350 and mix together
The egg white you saved
About 1 T. milk.

Pick up the Silpat and move it carefully onto a baking sheet. Uncover the dough and brush it with the egg white mixture (Maida wants another egg yolk for that purpose, but the white worked fine for me). Then roll up some long strips of aluminum foil into "snakes" and surround the braid with them, as a kind of side support. Now put it in the oven and let it bake about 25 minutes, until it's gorgeous and golden brown. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Maida says to let this cool to room temp, but we had it very warm and it was delicious. It's also delicious at room temperature. This should really serve at least 4, but it did quite nicely for 2.

Friday, August 28, 2009

My favorite dessert. Maybe.

Since Tuesday, I've been thinking about how I would feel if my 13-year-old daughter was leaving to go to school in Paris for a year. It has been hard to let my 16, almost 17-year-old daughter board a plane by herself to go visit colleges with her grandfather. I don't think I could handle it. But supposedly, life never gives you more than you can handle (a saying I have not really believed since, oh, about August 2004). But what an amazing adventure for Julia. An amazing opportunity, an amazing child, an amazing family.
In addition to all this introspection, it has been a VERY busy week for me. Although I was super busy at work on Wednesday, all could think about in my off moments was how much I was looking forward to Strawberry Shortcake for dessert. Strawberry Shortcake is my very favorite dessert of all time. Everything about it is perfect. I love strawberries. I loved freshly whipped, lightly sweetened, cream. And I love biscuits. The only thing that comes close to Strawberry Shortcake is a really amazing fruit cobbler -- in my book. When I think of Strawberry Shortcake, I think of the Poky Little Puppy's brothers spying a strawberry growing, realizing that they are going to have Strawberry Shortcake for dessert, and running, roly, poly, pell mell, tumble bumble, home -- where they are sent to bed without dessert. I would be the brothers -- not the Poky Little Puppy who actually gets the dessert - because I love Strawberry Shortcake so much.
But life, as always, gets in the way. Ran home from work. Started dinner -- some weird spaghetti "pie" thing I was trying (which turned out pretty good). While waiting for the water to boil, I figured I had time to start the shortcake. I realized, immediately, that I had only bought 2 pints of strawberries, and not the 3 the recipe called for (because I apparently don't know what a "pint" of strawberries is). Got the strawberries washed and hulled and chilling in the fridge. While working on a couple other things having to do with dinner, I mixed together the shortcake ingredients. In an effort to conserve dishwashing, I measured the milk lazily into a huge measuring cup. This was a big mistake. My shortcake dough was wet and sticky and impossible to manage -- but I didn't have time or energy to fix it because I realized IT WAS TIME TO PICK UP SAM. So I just took my wet, stick, impossible lump of messy dough and threw it into the pans -- spreading it out the best I could and ending up with seemingly more dough on my hands then in the pans. Washed my hands, threw the shortcakes into the oven, barked a bunch of incomprehensible instructions at Natalie, and ran out the door.
When I got home, I found that Natalie had finished making dinner, and had pulled the shortcakes out of the oven as instructed. Unfortunately, the recipe directions state that you are supposed to be doing a whole bunch of things while the shortbread is baking, because you are supposed to attack the shortcake as soon as it comes out of the oven. I had no such luxury. I had a kitchen which was swamped with dirty dishes (this recipe makes more dirty dishes than any we have made so far + I had dirty dishes from my dinner recipe). I had hungry kids. I was hungry. So I threw the garlic bread in the oven and considered the next step.
According to Maida, the second the shortcake comes out of the oven you are supposed to take it out of the pans and butter it so it has a nice, buttery sheen all of the tops. Instead, I threw ice cold butter on top of the shortcakes and put them in the oven with the garlic bread. A few minutes later, the butter was melted and I brushed it all over the top of the warmish cake. While I was doing this, I rapidly sliced the strawberries, which were all over the maps as far as size goes because I didn't have time to worry about uniformity. Forgetting completely that I only had 2 rather than 3 pints of berries, I poured in the entire 12 ounces of strawberry jam, so the berries were a nice gloppy mess. It looked more like strawberry compote than the berries traditionally adorning a Strawberry Shortcake. I didn't even have time to think about the cream -- just stuck the beaters in the freezer for later. I assembled the shortcake per Maida's instructions, and left it sitting on a plate.

Now we had a little time. Ate dinner, washed the mountains of dishes. Attacked the whipped cream. Like Maria, there was no way I was going to whip 2 cups of cream. I whipped 1 cup. But I had not frozen the bowl, it was about 100 degrees in the kitchen, and the cream did not want to set AT ALL. I finally got it to extremely soft peaks. And we were finally ready to dig in.

I was in too big of a hurry to pose the pictures or make sure that Natalie got the most artistic shots. But it looked so yummy.
And it really was yummy. Natalie, Cassandra and I all had pieces. Sam apparently doesn't like Strawberry Shortcake. I can't believe that. How can you not like Strawberry Shortcake? And Pete has to "be in the mood" for dessert. He is almost never "in the mood" for dessert. But the three of us devoured ours. And guess what? It was really good! The shortcake was super light and fluffy and I didn't notice any bitter flavor from the 4 teaspoons of baking powder. I'm thinking my messy dough was probably a good thing because it was so messy I couldn't even think about over mixing or over handling it -- I just had to deal with it. The cream was perfectly sweet and soft enough that you could mix it into each bite. My only complaint was the berries. I think the best berries for Shortcake are when you slice the berries, sprinkle a little sugar over them, and let that macerate for a little while so the flavor of the berries shines through. These berries were quite sweet and tasted like what they looked like -- strawberry compote. I don't have anything against strawberry compote, but I don't want it on Strawberry Shortcake. The whole point is to showcase the berries!
Natalie, Cassandra and I devoured 3 more pieces for breakfast. Fruit and biscuits -- perfect for breakfast. And I brought the other two pieces to work to share with Ben and Deb, who both declared the Shortcake super yummy.
Strawberry Shortcake. Still my favorite dessert. But maybe not Maida's recipe. I'm feeling very blasphemous by saying that.
Bonjour Julia. Tell your mom to ship you goodies. I'm sure it doesn't cost THAT much to ship slices of cheesecake, packed in dry ice, to France . . .

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Indian Pudding: Maybe I'm a Yankee after all...

Some Southerners have an irritating habit of calling anyone "not from 'round here" a Yankee. To me, a Yankee is someone from the Northeast, so I don't believe I qualify. But if enjoying Indian Pudding makes me a Yankee, all righty then. Or should I say "yup."?
Alicia described the process of making this stuff so well that I don't need to add much. One thing that possibly made my Indian Pudding a bit better than average is that I used this fancy stone-ground corn meal. Upscale corn products--only in the South.
I had Julia photograph me pouring the milk over the porridge. That was kind of fun. And I baked sweet potatoes at the same time as the pudding. But you could also do some chicken broth or stew or chili or Julia Child's Boeuf Bourgignon if you felt like it, I believe. Three hours is a long time--in that time I wrote a blog entry, made dinner, ate dinner, cleaned up after dinner, had a long phone conversation, and probably a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. Fortunately we're having a spell of cool weather, so I didn't feel too guilty about leaving the oven on. Still, this would be much better as a cold-weather dessert.
Changes: I put a piece of vanilla bean in when I was cooking the cornmeal, because that's how I roll. Otherwise, by the book. And my cornmeal didn't stick to the pan. Maybe I didn't cook it long enough...
Verdict: I tried this the first time shortly after I had read Alicia's blog post, so that might have colored my reaction. I had it hot with hard sauce and vanilla ice cream, and I was ambivalent about it. I'm not so big on the milk crust, and the pudding had separated and suffered in its creaminess. Claire had a taste and asked if she could have some for breakfast the next day.
That's when the pudding really shone--straight from the fridge. The hard sauce wasn't all melty like it was with hot pudding, but the texture was nice and it tasted (tastes) good. The girls both had big bowls after school today. They hate raisins, true, but I found that the long cooking kind of melted the raisins and made them hard to really distinguish. Are you using golden raisins, Alicia? We all felt it tasted like something familiar. Claire said rice pudding and Julia said pumpkin pie. I think they're both right. Nothing wrong with either of those desserts!
I'm not so sure about the hard sauce. It's not as good as Granny's, or at least the consistency is different from the one I remember. The girls love it because "it tastes like frosting."
So anyway, if you're looking for a dessert that eats like breakfast but you can put brandy butter and vanilla ice cream on it, this is the dessert for you!

Here's what I made.
Indian Pudding

2 T. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. nutmeg--freshly grated, of course
1/4 t. salt
5 c. milk (I used whole. I wonder if you could go 2% or lower)
1/2 c. (2.5 oz.) cornmeal
1/4 vanilla bean, scraped (optional)
2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter
1 c. maple syrup (this is when it pays off to buy in bulk!)
1/2 c. (2.5 oz.) golden raisins

Mix together the sugar and spices in a little cup and set them aside. Microwave 3 cups of the milk until it's hot, about 3 minutes on medium-high power. In a large saucepan, mix together the cornmeal and 3/4 cups (cold) milk. You should have 1-1/4 c. cold milk lurking around still. Gradually add the hot milk to the cornmeal mixture, throw in the vanilla bean if you're so inclined, then put that over medium heat and stir it for a long time until it's somewhat thickened. Maida says 20 minutes, Alicia says 10, and I didn't keep track. Probably closer to 10. While that's cooking, preheat the oven to 350, grease a baking dish, and find a big pan you can put the baking dish in (for that water bath thing). I went ahead and put water in the big pan, even though that's technically cheating. I hate pouring boiling water into a dish in the hot oven. Go figure. But I digress. Take out the vanilla bean and throw your sugar mixture, butter, maple syrup, and raisins into the cornmeal mush. Mmmm...mush! Pour that into the greased baking dish. Then get out a big spoon and pour the milk over the spoon, as you move the spoon around, into the dish. You're basically trying to float the milk here. Then very carefully put the whole shebang into the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. When that goes off, turn the oven down to 300 and go about your business for another 2-1/2 hours. During that time, take the other half stick of butter out of the fridge, because you'll want to make hard sauce:

Hard sauce
1/2 stick (2 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch salt
1 c. (4 oz.) powdered sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
1 T. cream
1-2 t. rum, bourbon, or brandy (I used Courvoisier. Don't tell Sami.)

Dump all this into a bowl and whip it with the electric mixer until it's fluffy and frosting-like. Try to restrain yourself from eating it.

OK, when the pudding comes out of the oven, I recommend waiting a long time before consumption. Maybe put it in the fridge overnight and have it for breakfast. After all, it's whole grain, dairy, and fruit!
Serves about 8, I think.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake Nostalgia

I knew I couldn't write this post until I had the Indian Pudding in the oven. So it's in the oven, and judging from Alicia's post, we're really going to love it (or at least the hard sauce :-)). Remember the Dripithy that Granny used to make? Yum--I'm very excited about that.
But yesterday we were having people over to grill out, and Indian Pudding just doesn't go with the old backyard BBQ, I thought. So I "cheated" and went to the next recipe: Strawberry Shortcake! How American is that? And this is the "real" shortcake with the biscuits, not the spongecake.
This was one of my favorite desserts when I was a kid. Mom would make it with Bisquick drop biscuits, which she would split and butter (actually margarine--shudder), and then layer on the sliced, sugared strawberries and the whipped cream (sometimes Cool Whip--shudder). And we snarfed it down--it was especially good with those farm-fresh Modesto strawberries. Even the Cool Whip couldn't ruin those delicious strawberries!
So I was feeling good about making Maida's strawberry shortcake, which I'd never made. Her deal is that you make two big separate biscuits, which you layer with fruit but not cream and then serve with more fruit and whipped cream on the side. Makes for a rather dramatic presentation individually, though it looks a bit plain on the cake plate.
Let's see, how did I deviate? I added a bit of whole-wheat pastry flour (because I do, in fact, have five different kinds of flour in my big freezer) and some vanilla to the biscuit dough. I also used 2 lbs of strawberries and 1 lb. of raspberries in the fruit because Sam's (yes, Sam's--deal with it) had much nicer raspberries than strawberries overall. I also used some raspberry eau de vie instead of Kirsch because we had it. And I put a bit of that raspberry eau de vie into the whipping cream as well.
The verdict? Everyone was delighted, and the cake is pretty much gone, but I wasn't that thrilled. I found the shortcake to be bitter. I think 4 teaspoons of baking powder for 2 cups of flour is a bit over the top. And I would use raspberry jam instead of strawberry jam next time--I don't really like the cooked-strawberry taste of strawberry jam. What I would have given for some of Mom's yummy freezer jam...
So, you tell me--is my nostalgia overcoming my good taste, or is this just not the end-all and be-all of strawberry shortcake?

This is the recipe I made:

Strawberry Shortcake

3 lbs. strawberries, sliced (or 2 lbs. strawberries and 1 lb. raspberries)
2 T. Kirsch or whatever fruity liqueur you have around
12 oz. (1 cup) strawberry or raspberry jam

Go ahead and get the strawberries sliced and ready before you make the cake. Also, measure out the jam into a microwave-safe bowl.


2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour (part whole-wheat is OK)
4 t. baking powder (I would try 1 T.)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 c. (1.2 oz.) sugar
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, in small dice
1 egg
1/3 c. milk
1 t. vanilla

Heat the oven to 450. Grease two 8-inch cake pans (consider lining these with parchment; my cakes stuck). Get out the food processor and give the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar a buzz. Then pulse in the butter until you have coarse crumbs--not too much. Mix the egg with the milk and vanilla and pour that in; pulse until it holds together. Press the dough into the pans and bake for about 10 minutes or until they're nice and golden. Cool on racks.
While the shortcakes are baking, melt the jam in the microwave for about 1 minute on high. Add the Kirsch to the strawberries/raspberries and give that a toss.
When you're ready to eat dessert, and you shouldn't wait too long after you take the cakes out of the oven, mix the jam and the Kirsch with the strawberries. Then whip some cream:
1 c. heavy whipping cream (Maida says 2, but the 6 of us couldn't even finish 1)
1-2 T. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
1-2 t. Kirsch or what have you
Whip that with an electric mixer until it reaches the consistency you like in a whipped cream.

OK, now put this together (see photos above). Put the ugly, cracked cake layer on your cake plate and cover with about half the fruit. Put the better-looking cake on top. Meh. Then get your dessert plates out. Cut a slice of cake, put it on the plate, and surround it with fruit and cream. Much better. Repeat for however many people are eating, and devour. This will probably serve 8. Maida suggests this for brunch, in which case it would probably serve 4. What--it's fruit and biscuits, right?

I really love hard sauce

But I'm not so sure about Indian Pudding. Maida says that people who were brought up on Indian Pudding, or even those who have eaten it for the first time, can never get enough. I'm pretty sure I can get enough.

It was very interesting to make though. It was kind of like making grits or oatmeal. You scald some milk, pour it into a milk/cornmeal mash, and then cook it on the stove. Maida said to cook it for 20 minutes, but I stopped after 10, because it was already getting really thick. And even though I was stirring like crazy, the cornmeal/milk stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan and made it so I had to scrub the pan for about 20 minutes with steel wool when I was done. Grrrr. After all that stirring, the cornpone looked like this:

And then you add a bunch of stuff to it like an entire bottle of expensive maple syrup and a huge handful of hideous raisins, who lurk horribly in the depths of the Indian Pudding like little dead eyeballs.

Then I had to figure out which baking pan to use for baking. I buttered and decided against 2 pans before I decided on a silicone cake pan. I'm still not happy with that choice of a pan. But it couldn't be too large or too deep.

After scraping this cornmeal mush mixture into the pan, then you pour scalded milk carefully all over the top of the mixture. This forms a "crust" on top of the pudding which is actually pretty tasty. But it is kind of pain to make, because if you try to pour the milk, it just sinks into the mush. You have to use a spoon and carefully pour it over the pudding so the milk just rests on the top. When I was done with this laborious process, the pudding looked like this:

Not very appetizing looking.

And then the most fun part of this recipe. It goes in the oven for THREE HOURS! Nothing bakes for three hours except maybe turkey.

During that three hours, I had time to: 1) work out -- including weights, calisthenics, and a series of 10-second sprints closely monitored by my coach, Cassandra; 2) eat breakfast; 3) take a shower and get dressed; 4) encourage Sam and Cassandra to get dressed and eat; and 5) leave for the mall. Wait -- it was STILL in the oven when I left for the mall. I just asked Pete nicely to take the pudding out when the timer went off -- which was about an hour after I left for the mall. At that point, we had already been through Macy's and were trying unsuccessfully to go to Limited Too (which apparently had gone out of business.)

When I came home, the pudding looked like the picture at the top of this post. Everybody wanted to try some, but we needed to eat something healthy first.

When it was finally time to dig into the pudding, I realized to my delight that this is supposed to be eaten with hard sauce. I love hard sauce! It makes everything taste better. So I whipped up a batch of hard sauce, and we spooned up the pudding:

I don't think I can really describe this. Maida says it is "soft, creamy, cozy, a delicate flavor, a heavenly texture." It is soft. I guess it's creamy. I don't think I would describe the texture as heavenly though. I guess the closest thing I can compare this to is bread pudding, except bread pudding is more firm.

Maddy liked it. I thought it was ok. I hated the raisins in it. It reminded me of the delicious rice pudding my mom made that she ruined with raisins. We have leftovers. Any "people who were brought up on Indian Pudding" out there? I hear you can "never get enough." We have had enough.

Except for the hard sauce. I'm not giving that away.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

But where's the butter???

My kitchen is small. I'm not complaining. It is very functional. But it is small. I intend to take photos of my work space for our future huge audience to look at and think, "How does she make such delectable treats in such a small workspace?"

In order to make the kitchen open to the rest of the house, thus making the house much more friendly, a wall containing cupboards was removed. And the pantry was removed to make a better space for the refrigerator. So where many people (including my sister, I'm sure) have a large pantry where they can store a multitude of supplies, my "pantry" consists of one drawer and one narrow 4 shelf cupboard.

So I don't have 3 types of flour and 5 kinds of sugar and buckets of nuts and chocolate. I buy what I need, in the smallest quantities I can buy. Not very economical, I know. But it makes sense for me.

But butter is different. We love butter. Well, I should say that Maddy, Cassandra, Sam and I love butter. When Sam eats a piece of bread, the butter is often larger than the bread. She can afford the calories. The rest of us really can't. I buy butter every time I go to the store. And since we started this blog, that was an excellent decision, because it has been all used up. Last time I went to the store, I bought TWO POUNDS of butter -- because there was a special.

I came home after a long day at work and went right to work on this week's recipe: Banana Carrot Loaf. I grated the carrots (3 medium carrots less the frequent bites I took out of them to get the grating over with). Did you use a food processor for this task Maria? I didn't and I think I had carpal tunnel syndrome at the end of the grating. I buttered and sprinkled the loaf pan with bread crumbs. No spray for me. If you've been reading carefully, you will understand why: a) no pantry, thus no room for spray; b) I love butter. I carefully sifted the dry ingredients. This is a recipe where I feel that Maida failed in her usual over-exuberance of instruction, because she didn't say we were supposed to sift the dry ingredients together. As Maria noted, cocoa and baking soda clump like crazy. I steamed the raisins (in an ill-fitting sieve over a pot which contained not quite enough water -- it was not a very successful venture). Yes, Maria, I used raisins. I will save my raisin discussion for another post.

And then I noticed the horror of this recipe. It doesn't contain butter!!! Here I was, with 2 pounds of butter in the fridge, and a recipe with no butter requirements. I thought about just melting some butter and using it instead of the Canola oil, but I actually did have Canola oil, and I'm trying to stick to Maida's recipes. Disappointed, I poured the oil into the mixing bowl. I felt like I was making mayonnaise.

About 45 minutes after putting the loaf into the oven, the house smelled amazing. I wish I was making it again tonight, since I made Tilapia for dinner and the house smells like fish. Yuck. I really wanted to eat some of the cake/bread/loaf when it came out of the oven, but I wanted to capture it on film.

This is a very tasty sweet bread. It is moist, and spicy, and has a faint chocolate taste. I sliced it all up, wrapped each slice carefully in cellophane (like the Brownies) and gave all but a few slices away. All recipients were grateful for the cake, with comments such as "Yummy" and "Awesome."
I only have one criticism. It would have tasted better with butter. I think I'll toast one of the remaining slices tomorrow morning and butter it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Banana Carrot Loaf

Classes start tomorrow, so I figured I had better get my banana carrot loaf baked right away. Since it was clean out the refrigerator night, I could dedicate my cooking time to baking. There were a lot of dirty dishes (carrot grating plus banana smashing plus raisin steaming plus flour sifting plus dough mixing), but the recipe wasn't hard, and we just scarfed down a good third of the cake without trying. No pictures--I couldn't make it pretty for the camera.
Cakes like this can make me nervous, because all that fruit and stuff can make it too wet and heavy and "healthy tasting." Healthy tasting is good for a salad, but usually not so good for a cake. And I courted this problem by doing Heidi Swanson-like stuff like subbing in half white wheat flour and using part walnut oil for the canola oil. But no worries: this is no lightweight cake, but it's got just the right texture--moist without being soggy. (By the way, did you know the word "moist" is one of the most-hated words in English? I guess these people don't bake...)
As I mentioned, I made a few changes: I used half white wheat flour. I ran out of canola oil, so I used a couple of tablespoons of butter, a couple of tablespoons of walnut oil, and the rest canola. The walnut oil gave it a nice nutty edge without being too much. I bet coconut oil would be really good in this too. I also added a glug of vanilla just because I love it. But I left in the raisins. Which makes me wonder--are you still a raisin hater, Alicia? Are you going to leave the raisins in your banana bread and in your Indian pudding? Do your kids eat raisins?
Julia, after she had just inhaled about a piece and a half of this, complained that the raisins took a perfectly good cake and made it "all health foody." Raisins, she proclaimed, suck the life out of grapes. A girl after your own heart. I found that steamed golden raisins were delightful in this. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste.
Finally, another plug for weighing. I find that it's so much more convenient and accurate than measuring for things like carrots and bananas. Fortunately, the Cake Bible has weight equivalents for almost everything. Take the carrots. My cup of grated carrot (3.5 oz.) came from one large-ish carrot, when Maida calls for about 3 medium carrots. It would have made a huge difference if I had used 3 of my carrots! And since I only had frozen bananas, it was a lot easier to weigh out 8 oz than it would have been to thaw and mash until I had a cup.

This is the recipe I made:

Banana Carrot Loaf

1 c. (5 oz.) golden raisins
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted white wheat flour
1 T. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t. salt
2 large or 3 small eggs
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) dark brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
3/4 c. salad oil (or 1/2 cup salad oil plus 2 T. melted butter plus 2 T. walnut oil)
1 cup (8 oz.) mashed ripe banana
1 c. (3.5 oz.) grated carrots

Heat the oven to 350; spray a loaf pan. Put the raisins in a microwave-safe bowl, add a tablespoon of water, cover, and zap for a minute on high. Let that cool. Sift together the dry ingredients (I would do the sifting because cocoa and baking soda both like to clump) and set them aside. Now crack the eggs into the big bowl of the mixer and beat until they're combined. Add the sugar, vanilla, and oil and beat until that's all well incorporated. Now add the banana, carrot, and raisins, and again beat until incorporated. Finally add the dry ingredients and stir that carefully until it all comes together. Pour that into the prepared pan and bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted all the way down comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for about 15 minutes, then unmold and let cool on a rack. Give it at least an hour to cool before you slice into it, inhale it, and complain about raisins.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

They are just so perfect . . .

We had a lazy day today -- I think I'm almost done knitting the scarf I started at the Grand Canyon in April (this is why this isn't a knitting blog). So I figured this would be a good day to make the Brownies. It did not turn out to be a good day to EAT the Brownies. While I was out buying bananas for the next recipe, I spied a self-serve frozen yogurt shop and immediately craved plain tart with fruit -- and devoured it.

Like Maria, I have made All-American Brownies so many times that I never have to even glance at the recipe. They are always perfect, they make a small-ish batch, and they only get the saucepan and a rubber scraper dirty. I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that Maria found the extra bowl needed in "Brownie" Schrumpf's Brownies objectionable, because I seem to recall that she likes to use every single bowl in the house to make something. Hmmm. Maybe it's different when you have to wash your own dishes?

I made the recipe just like Maida wrote it. I melted the chocolate using my "double boiler." I know I can do it in the microwave, but there is something very soothing about watching chocolate slowly melt in the double boiler. And I used the full 2 cups of walnuts, putting them in the Brownies. Since I was over-stuffed from the plain tart with fruit, I was able to freeze the brownies after taking them out of the oven. And I used a tape-measure and toothpicks to cut the Brownies into 16 perfect rectangles. Cassandra would approve of that - she uses a tape measure to cut potatoes so the squares will be even!

Pete was the photographer this time -- he got to use his brand-new SLR, so the photos are very artistic.

This picture has crumbs -- the fault of the food arranger (me) rather than the photographer. They look delicious, don't they? But I'm . . just . . .not . . . hungry. So I wrapped each of the 16 very large brownies carefully in clear cellophane, packed them into a box, and they are sitting patiently on the counter waiting to be distributed to friends, family, co-workers, and the guy who sells buckets of balls at the driving range. Wrapped like that, they look too perfect to eat.

I'll bring them on our hike tomorrow. I'm sure that after a couple of hours of hiking, they won't look too perfect to eat!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Brownies! How could you go wrong?

Don't worry--nothing did go wrong!
This was a great brownie recipe--simple, straightforward, super yummy. There have been a lot of brownie recipes on the Internet lately with a *lot* of fancy chocolate and technique (I like Bridget's comparison of some of them). This is just a straightforward brownie recipe with unsweetened chocolate and "only" 1 stick of butter. Not that there's anything wrong about that!
My go-to brownie recipe is Maida's All-American Brownie recipe, which is a one-bowl recipe. Actually, the recipe on the box of Baker's unsweetened chocolate is pretty similar to that. In a one-bowl recipe, you melt the chocolate and butter together in a big microwave-proof bowl, then add vanilla, sugar, eggs, and flour (and nuts/chocolate chips/whatever). So easy, it's hard to understand why people use mixes.
So I was a little peeved to see that the "Brownie Schrumpf's" recipe involves one extra bowl--the one used for melting the chocolate. The recipe also takes somewhat longer because you cream the butter, sugar, and eggs. I was worried that this would lead to the brownies being cakey and dry, but no worries. They were moist and fudgy and yummy.
Note that I use the past tense. I believe we have two more brownies on a plate, but I sent the rest with our exchange student as she moved into the dorms today. If it's true that brownies are, as Maida says, "the best way to win friends and influence people," then Marjorie should have a lot of good friends very soon. Were you able to influence people with your brownies, Alicia?

Here's the recipe I made:
Brownie Schrumpf's Brownies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped coarsely
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
scant 2 cups sugar (13 oz.)
4 large eggs (I used 5 small)
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 c. (4 oz.) coarsely chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 350 and spray a 9x13-inch pan. Melt the chocolate in the microwave (2 blasts of 30 seconds). Cream the butter with vanilla and salt until it's soft and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat that for 2-3 minutes (this won't get that fluffy due to the high sugar-to-butter ratio). Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated and scraping down the bowl in between each egg. Beat in the chocolate, and then beat in the flour just until everything is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle nuts on top of half the brownies (this gives people a choice between nuts and no nuts, and it also gets the walnuts nice and toasted). Bake for about 25 minutes, but check after 20 minutes. The toothpick you put in the brownies should come out with a few crumbs attached to it. Mine came out dry after 22 minutes, but my brownies were not. Whew! Cool the brownies, and if you have patience and you want the brownies to look perfect, freeze them for a while before you cut them into perfect little squares. If you're like me, wait for the brownies to be barely firm enough to cut, and then go to it. I made a lot of little brownies--probably more than 32. And now they're all gone. I hope they perform their social function!

Repent Sinner!

YOU SHOULD HAVE MADE THE WHOLE CAKE! Sami is right and Julia is right! (And Claire is right about the frosting -- it is really rich). And see -- if you had made the entire cake, you would have had a magnificent, show-stopping masterpiece to serve your guests rather than a crumbly novelty cake. I suspect it was crumbly because: (a) your oven is too hot (see Apple Pie pics) and (b) you need to learn to read recipes. I know -- you just think you know everything there is to know about cooking and you don't need to read no stinkin' recipes. I read them over and over again before I even start. Probably more because I forget everything I read about 2 seconds later . . .
I did forget to tell you what kind of chocolate I used for the frosting. The semi-sweet was Ghirardelli Semi. The milk was plain old Hershey's.
Man, I'm looking forward to the Brownies already. I'm stopping by Michael's on my way home tonight to buy cellophane. I'm going to individually wrap them and shove them into my purse. Maybe I can get the guy at the counter at the driving range to give Natalie an extra bucket of balls or something useful like that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chocolate what? Cake

Here's how a party works around here. We have an exchange student from France staying with us for a few days. We found out that another friend also has a French exchange student, so we agreed to get the two girls together for dinner. But then our friend knew some other people with exchange students, so we invited them as well. Then I ran into another friend on campus and invited her family and exchange student. And then I ran into another friend at the farmer's market and invited him.
So what began on Wednesday as a dinner for 8 rapidly became a blowout for 20 on Thursday. But we find that if you invite the right people, you end up with a lot more food and booze making it into the house than you're going to need for all those people. Our refrigerator runneth over...We also had lots of kitchen help--at one point there must have been about six people cutting up tamales and making cheese plates and setting out fruit and frosting my cake. William, who frosted my cake, is welcome to come any time I make cake. He is 100 times more skilled than I. Again, I wish my camera were functional :-(.
Right, the cake: the cupcakes were pretty much gone, so I decided to make what I thought would be our next dessert: Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake. Aside from it having sauerkraut in it, it did look like a good cake for a crowd: a big 2-layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I figured that the strong coffee and chocolate flavors in the cake, plus the pound of chocolate frosting, would offset any "ickyness" associated with the sauerkraut. After all, you have to be careful when you're cooking for Frenchies...
By the way, I still don't get the point of this recipe. The sauerkraut doesn't enhance the recipe; in fact, the recipe seems designed to mask the sauerkraut's taste. Was the origin a sauerkraut recipe contest? It's a mystery to me.
I made the cake pretty much to the letter, except for using about half and half dark and milk chocolate in the frosting. I was able to make the cake when no one was home, so no one could see the sauerkraut going into the cake batter. I pretty much had to avert my eyes as well, and that addition also kept me from licking the bowl, which is probably a good thing. Unfortunately for my bowl-licking propensities, the frosting had no sauerkraut in it.
Results: The cake was quite crumbly. I wish my camera worked so that you could see all the crumbs on the plate. One layer cracked and needed a lot of frosting to glue it together. But it's moist and chocolaty, and the frosting is really yummy (it's pretty much the same frosting as for the last cake). There's only about a quarter of the cake left over from last night, and no one said, "ew, what's in this cake?" So I would say it's a qualified success: not so bad for a novelty cake.

Here's the recipe, in case you have leftover sauerkraut:

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake
2/3 c. (4 oz.) drained packed sauerkraut
2-1/4 c. (9 oz.) sifted flour
1/4 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 c. (1.5 oz.) Dutch-process cocoa
10 2/3 T. (5.3 oz.) unsalted butter, room temp.
1 t. vanilla
1-1/2 c. sugar (10 oz.)
3 large eggs
1 c. cold, strong coffee

Heat the oven to 350. Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment circles and then spray and flour them.
Rinse the sauerkraut and drain it. Squeeze it, but "don't overdo it." Pulse it in a food processor until it's in pretty fine pieces but not a purée.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa.
Beat together the butter and vanilla in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Then gradually add the sugar and beat about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each until it's well incorporated and scraping down the sides between each. Then alternately add the dry ingredients in three additions and the wet ingredients in two additions. Make sure it's all smooth, taste it now, and then remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the sauerkraut.
Divide the batter among the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for about 22-25 minutes, "until the tops of the cakes just barely spring back when pressed lightly with a fingertip. Do not overbake." (I think I did overbake; thus the crumbliness). Cool the pans on a rack for a few minutes, then invert onto the rack. Let the cake cool completely.


16 oz. chocolate, some milk and some dark (I used most of a Ritter Sport milk bar, a Hershey's Symphony bar, and a Ghiradelli 60% bar)
1 c. sour cream

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a big microwave-proof bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and microwave for another 30 seconds. Stir until everything is melted. Add the sour cream and beat by hand or with a mixer until smooth. Find someone to frost your cake for you, and use it (the frosting) right away.
Serves about 20 people, if you cut your pieces small enough.

Oops, you're supposed to refrigerate this! Maybe that's why it crumbled? I really should read my recipes. Must find room in fridge...

Forgive me, Maida, for I have sinned...

(something's wrong with my camera; this is the only picture that worked)

I was really impressed by your layer cake, Alicia! It looked great, and I'm sure your lucky recipients were thrilled to get some of it! I, however, was not ready to shell out for extra cake pans and such, and I haven't signed up a cake-eating crew yet, so I scaled this down. Wayyy down...I made a 1/4 recipe and turned it into cupcakes.
Let me tell you--this was not a popular decision among the family. Sami actually took his cupcake apart and then layered it for "the proper effect." I wish I'd gotten a picture of that. Julia informed me that it "wasn't the same." And she's right. But even so, these were darned fine cupcakes. Claire even told me that she wanted the same cupcakes for her birthday (the girl thinks ahead--her birthday's in April!) but with vanilla frosting--"the chocolate frosting is too rich, Mommy." OK, so three voices of complaint. So maybe next time I would just halve the recipe and make a two-layer cake.
The only other change I made was to use more dark than milk chocolate in the frosting (a matter of preference). What kind of chocolate did you use, Alicia? I found Ritter Sport on sale, and then I had some Milka semisweet left over from vacation. I think that chocolate had melted and cooled about 5 times before I used it. I also left out the walnuts. Actually, I was going to put walnuts in a couple of the cupcakes, but I forgot. I think they would have been good, but I have a lot of nut-haters in the family.
What Maida and Alicia point out is that when you're not out buying cake pans or looking for a clean pastry bag, this is a really easy recipe. Once the butter is soft, the batter is made by the time the oven is preheated. The frosting (which I made in the microwave, even though I have a double boiler) can be done before the cake is out of the oven. And it's really good--it's a model of the classic yellow cake with chocolate frosting that so many of us have had for our birthday cake. It's tender, buttery cake with really rich chocolate frosting. How could you go wrong? Well, you could subvert the original intention of the author. At the end of the recipe she writes, "Now, how about that? I salute you." I had the feeling I was getting the finger :-).

Here's the recipe I made:

American Chocolate Cupcakes

1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 t. baking powder
1 tiny pinch (1/16 t.) baking soda
1 tiny pinch salt
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 t. vanilla
a few drops almond extract
scant 1/2 c (3.3 oz.) sugar
1 large and 1 small egg (1-1/2 large eggs)
3 T. milk

Heat oven to 350 and line 9 muffin cups with papers. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda (which you could probably leave out), and salt in a small bowl. In the big bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter and extracts, then slowly mix in the sugar. Let that beat for 2-3 minutes. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated after each addition. That should take another 2-3 minutes. Then very carefully add the flour in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions (so 1/3 flour, beat for a couple of seconds. Scrape down, add half of the milk, beat for a couple of seconds. Repeat until everything's gone.). You should have a nice smooth batter, which you will enjoy licking from the beater. Spoon this into the muffin cups and bake for about 15-18 minutes until they're golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on racks.

Frosting (really a sour cream ganache, if you want to be picky about it)
4 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3 oz. milk chocolate
Tiny pinch salt
1/4 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (4 oz.) sour cream

Break up the chocolate and put it into a microwave-proof bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and microwave another 30 seconds. It'll be mostly melted but a little clumpy. Just keep stirring and it'll be OK. Get out your hand mixer and add the salt, vanilla, and sour cream to the chocolate and beat it at low speed until it is "as smooth as satin." It really will be. Let it sit on the counter for an hour or so and then go to it. I just swirled mine on with a butter knife. I wish I'd had sprinkles.
Makes 9 delicious cupcakes that everyone will love if you don't tell them it was supposed to be layer cake.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

American Chocolate Layer Cake, Part Two

Part Two is all about lack of equipment. I used to have the right equipment. Maybe it's just because I'm getting old, or have moved a few times over the past few years, but I seem to have lost, misplaced, or given away a lot of the tools of the trade.

Poor Pete spent the entire day yesterday at the hospital waiting for his mother to be discharged. Doctor didn't even arrive to discharge her until 4:00 p.m. After leaving work and picking up the kids, I took Natalie and Cassandra to the driving range to hit an $11 bucket, while Maddy and I went off for a long walk along the Sweetwater Trail. When we got home close to 7:00, Pete had just arrived home from the hospital with his mom and dad. While he put Mom to bed for a while to wait out the traffic, I ran into the house to make dinner. I looked longingly at the pile of cake layers and chocolate waiting there for me, but turned to the ingredients for chili and cornbread. Got Maddy on the cornbread, threw the chili ingredients into the pot, and then ran out to pick up Sam from soccer practice.

By the time we had all eaten, and Pete was finally on his way to his sister's house with Aurelia and Pedro, Senior, it was 8:20! And I discovered the first piece of missing equipment -- a double boiler. For melting chocolate, this is an essential tool. Otherwise, the chocolate just burns. Reviewing the options, I threw a bunch of water into the stock pot, threw the chocolate into a saucepan, and made an enormous double boiler. It worked beautifully, and soon I had a saucepan full of . . . ONE POUND OF MILK CHOCOLATE and 12 OUNCES OF SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE. Hmmm. One pound butter + one pound milk chocolate + 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate. I don't even want to THINK about the calorie content. Once that was melted, I threw in an entire tub of sour cream (the large size -- and yes, I used full fat sour cream just to add a few thousand calories more to the cake). Frosting is done and Maida was right -- it is really pretty special frosting. Creamy and lucious looking.

Stuck my brand-new cake plate (at some point, I had about 10 cake plates -- what the heck happened to them all?) on my brand-new cake turntable (never had one of those before, but it's super cool) and started the frosting process. The layers stacked evenly -- no Leaning Tower of Pisa here! But when it came time to do the final frosting I discovered another critical piece of equipment missing -- my favorite, expensive, frosting spatula. It is a special frosting spatula -- about 12 inches long by 2 inches wide with a curved top and an angle -- and is the only spatula that really works to frost a cake. I searched high and low and could not find it. So I used an ordinary spatula and a knife to frost the cake. Boo hoo. The cake turntable did make it 100 times easier and I highly recommend this piece of equipment. Although I cannot understand why anybody would pay $160 for one when the $19 I bought worked fine. When everything was said and done, the frosting was lumpy and bumpy and not at all smooth and beautiful, and the cake looked like this:

Now it was ready for the ring of Hershey's Kiss-size rosettes around the top. Except that all of my pastry bags were yucky looking and the one decent sized one I had failed immediately -- it squirted out a slug-shaped frosting tube onto my cake. So I tried to make one out of a plastic bag, with similar results. So, until I buy new pastry bags, my cake remained blissfully plain. But enormous.

Here it is on the Blue Minton:

Huge. That was the thinnest slice I could cut and still be able to remove it from the cake. And none of us was able to finish a slice that size.
Poor Pete didn't get home until 1:30 a.m., so his verdict isn't in. The rest of us declared the cake tasty but incredibly rich. I cannot imagine what it would be like without the walnuts, because they cut the richness.
I now have half of this cake left. Pete told me this morning that I have to eat all of the rest of it. Ha! I'll find somebody willing to eat this delicious, enormous, masterpiece. While carrying one quarter of it into the building this morning, I had several people literally drooling in the elevator.
My final verdict on this recipe: Maida is right -- if you are going to a very large party, or have a small army to feed, this is your cake. I would not suggest it for any party where there are fewer than 20 attendees. While it takes time to make, it is not difficult (assuming you have the right equipment . . .) And it is quite tasty (but rich and loaded with calories).
Can't wait to see how Maria modified this one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

American Chocolate Layer Cake: Part One

Maida describes this cake as "the most stupendous of all chocolate layer cakes. . . . enough for a very large party or a small army." Well gosh, I don't have any large parties planned, and certainly don't have a small army to feed. But I can't wait to finish this cake. This is a project. And since I'm doing it during the week -- the week filled with work and taking Natalie to the driving range -- I've gotta make this cake in parts.

So last night I made the cake layers themselves. There are FOUR cake layers. I only had two pans -- so I had to run to Michael's to pick up more pans. To take the cake layers out of the pans, I needed 5 racks. I only have 2. Next purchase -- 3 more cake racks. These four layers have one stick of butter a piece -- you do the math. My poor stand mixer could barely get through the mass of butter . . . I mean batter . . . in the bowl. Per Maida's option, I threw walnuts into half of the batter, so that when the cake is done, the nut-filled layers will alternate with the buttery-plain layers.

The beautiful cake layers are now sitting patiently on the dining room table waiting for me to frost them. I'm hoping Kitty doesn't get to them. Or Pete -- who offered graciously to finish the cake for me. I couldn't tell whether he meant that he would eat it or frost it. He is, however, going to buy me a cake plate solid enough to handle this monstrosity.

Monday, August 10, 2009

About that apple pie . . .

Dear Maria:

Maida was interviewed some time ago, and I found this interesting tidbit in her interview: "What is the quintessential American dessert?Why change what everyone says? It's apple pie. I think the saying that something is "as easy as pie" is ridiculous. I think pie is the most difficult dessert I know! It's much easier to make a soufflé which people think is difficult but it isn't. A pie is difficult. You have to be awfully good and on top of that you have to be lucky."

So I guess we are both awfully good and both lucky. Because I think our pies look beautiful!


Apple Pie U.S.A.: The PERFECT Apple Pie -- with NO changes

Ok fine. You got to post first. But I was busy. I didn't even get to take my pie out of the oven! And since I was relying on Natalie to take the pix, and she was with me when it did come out of the oven, I didn't get the magnificence of the pie when it first came out. But man, we had NO trouble getting rid of this pie. It's gone. Sorry girls. It's gone. Maddy and Natalie each ate two pieces last night, with Cassandra, Pete and I each at one slice, and Pete and I devoured the rest when we got home from whale watching. I didn't feel guilty one bit, because I had thrown up every single thing I ate at least four times during the day, so the apple pie is the only thing that will be sticking to my ribs.Yes,Maria, I look at Maida's recipes, think to myself: "Wow, that's a lot of butter. That's a lot of steps, That's a 3 page recipe. I can change this and it will be the same." But I didn't change it. That's not completely true. I changed it a little. I didn't have enough regular sugar, so I had to use half raw sugar. And for the same reason, I had no sugar to dust over the top, so I used cinnamon sugar -- which was a magnificent substitution. But other than those two changes, I did everthing . . . exactly . . like . . . Maida.

Warm day. I froze the bowl. I froze the bowl with flour in it. I froze the Crisco. Crisco. Not some awful trans-fat free Crisco substitute. I used a pastry blender. But then, I love using pastry blenders. I used ice water. I sprinkled and tossed, sprinkled and tossed, sprinkled and tossed. I made TWO crusts. Cassandra meticulously measured my circles to ensure they were exactly 12" in diameter. I laboriously cored and sliced the apples and THEN peeled them, because I find that is the only way to get every speck of peel off the apple. I did use super cheap crappy Granny Smith apples and wished every second I had good apples (apple pie in August probably wasn't a good choice for first recipe.) And I put butter all over those apples. But that second crust just wouldn't fit over the apples. I channeled Julia and talked in a squeaky voice about how it didn't matter what it looked like in the kitchen. Then pulled crust off of places and put it in other places and made some semblance of a decent looking pie. So this is what my pie looked like before it went into the oven:

Pretty ugly. No fluting at all.

Then I used the foil screen for the baking -- which I left Pete in charge of, because I had to go out to the mall to try to find Natalie "cute" golf clothes. Ha! To dream the impossible dream.

When we got back, this is what we found:

BE-A-utiful! Yes, it had sunken a bit. But it was still a spectacular pie, the entire house smelled like apples and cinnamon (and was about 90 degrees because we don't have AC), and I also kept the oven clean by remembering, at the last second, to shove a cookie sheet in under the pie. Thank god!

Pete and I had to immediately leave for a party, and I was so sad to leave that pie. Natalie took care of the first slice photography.

Only thing I would have changed is I would have put the pie on the Blue Minton china . .

When Pete and I got back from the party, less than half of the pie was left. And now, despite the fact that we were gone from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., the pie is GONE!

Pete wants Boysenberry Pie next. Maida doesn't do Boysenberry. But her Blackberry Pie is the most stained, disgusting cookbook page in any cookbook I own.

200 recipes -- two per week. One down. My family was able to dispose of it nicely, despite our obsession with weight.

I think this works great. I'll make the recipe EXACTLY LIKE MAIDA. I can comment on what I would change. You just feel free to change away.

What I would change about this recipe? Absolutely nothing. It was the most perfect apple pie I have ever eaten. And I've eaten a lot of apple pie.

Recipe 1--Apple Pie, USA!

Ha, I get to post first!
I love the way Maida describes this: "This is the traditional, old-fashioned, 'American as apple pie' apple pie. Once you have made it, you will glory in the spotlight, be thrilled with pride, and be in apple-pie-in-the-sky heaven." I love how enthusiastic she gets about her desserts.
One thing I noticed about this recipe is how much of it I skimmed over. Maida Heatter is an excellent writer for beginning cooks. I used to follow every direction of hers to the letter, and that was a good thing for me. Now I look briefly at the ingredients and directions and just go my own way. Same for you, Alicia? We should have our girls try out some of these recipes for us and give their feedback on the quality and clarity of the directions...
Another thing is that I didn't follow the recipe exactly as written. Are we going for full accuracy, or are we allowed to riff on these things?
So here are the changes I made: I made only a top crust, because the bottom crust is so often just a soggy extra 100 calories or so. Maybe you're better at bottom crusts than I am, but that's been my experience. I think for the next pie I'm going to make cut-outs and put them on top, like Mark Bittman does. For the crust I used half whole-wheat pastry flour, and I used that Spectrum stuff (non trans-fat shortening) instead of Crisco. I also cut down on the sugar in the filling, as I cut down on sugar in every Maida Heatter recipe.
Other than that, it was pretty much the same. Are we posting the recipe?
Here are my apples--three pounds of Granny Smiths (because a 3-lb. bag of Granny Smiths is $2.50 at the Evil Empire). They fill up that pie plate pretty much to the rim!

Now here comes the crust. There's a reason I want to do the cut-out thing for the next pie--this crust would not look pretty for me! I couldn't get it fluted or anything...And I chilled it properly and everything!

And as for the final results--well, it wasn't pretty. At least I didn't have to clean the oven--I put the pie on a Silpat on a baking sheet, but it didn't boil over too much. Probably the lack of bottom crust. No, my problem was that my convection oven was probably too hot, and even though I dialed down the baking time, I got distracted and didn't check on it in time.

Yep, burned and lumpy. But delicious! Did I forget to mention that? The crust was nice and flaky, and the apples held together but were still juicy. The filling tasted mostly of apples, not overwhelmingly of cinnamon. It wasn't too sweet and tasted great with a smallish scoop of ice cream. I would probably appreciate warm apple pie more if it weren't 95 degrees outsid, but this recipe is a keeper for sure.

Maria's Apple Pie, USA
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts

1/2 c. (2 oz.) sifted whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. (2 oz.) white flour
1/2 t. salt
3 T. (1.5 oz.) shortening, cut into little pieces--this is possible with the Spectrum
3 T. (1.5 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into little pieces
3 T. ice water

Whiz together the flours and salt in the food processor. Add the (cold!) butter and shortening and give that about 5 short pulses until the fat is incorporated into the flour in small pieces. Pour over the water and pulse again until the dough just barely begins to hold together. Put the dough on a piece of waxed paper and wrap it up, pressing it gently together as you wrap it. Chill the dough for at least an hour.
Roll out the dough until it's very thin and either trim it to fit the top of your pie pan, or cut it into shapes. Lay that on a cookie sheet on waxed paper and chill while you peel and slice your apples:
3 lbs. tart apples (you can buy apples in cheap 3-lb bags. I would use Granny Smith, Pink Lady or McIntosh. I would not use Gala or Fuji!!!)
3 T. flour
2/3 c. sugar (about 5 oz)
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. salt

Preheat the oven to 450. Get out a baking sheet, something like foil or a Silpat to protect it, and a 9-inch pie plate. Spray the pie plate with cooking spray if you want. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Peel the apples, quarter them, and slice each quarter. You should get at least 12 slices for each apple. Put the apples in a big bowl, and add the sugar mixture. Mix that with your hands until the apples are all coated. Then pour all that into the pie plate. It will be a tight squeeze.
Then get out your top crust and put it on. I just turned the paper upside down onto the filling and that worked fine. The cut-outs could be artfully arranged on top.
Put the pie pan on the protected baking sheet and put it in the hot oven. After 15 minutes, turn down the heat to 425, and let the pie bake another 30 minutes or so (check to see how it's doing after 30 minutes). The top should be brown, but not as brown as mine, and the filling should be all bubbly. Try to wait for an hour or so, then get out the plates, forks, and ice cream and dig in!

Good idea--can we do it?

So I'm the sister in the previous entry. I do read food blogs all the time, and have made feeble attempts at writing one, but I just got too lazy busy to keep it up. So I'm glad my big sister has thrown down the big baking challenge! I think a lot of people have forgotten about Maida Heatter, what with Dorie Greenspan and David Lebovitz and Rose Levy Beranbaum, but she really taught me (us both!) to bake. Well, she and Betty Crocker, but we don't want to go there.
Maybe we can dig up some biographical information about Maida. I just know from her books that she is from a famous broadcasting family, lives in Florida, and had a wonderful, doting husband like Julia's Paul. And that she's friends with everyone because she always carries brownies in her purse to give away.
Which brings me to the greatest challenge of this baking challenge for both of us, I think--giving this stuff away! We can both bake well--we have the techniques down, and I know my big sister has done the full-fledged buttercream food-styled cakes that I can't be bothered with. But we're both obsessed with our weight and can't be having cakes and pies and brownies sitting around the house. But it's not that easy to give away dessert anymore! Everyone is "on a diet" or whatever. Ugh. So as well as considering the apple pie we're making this weekend, I'm trying to figure out who besides me and my family is going to be eating it. With luck, I'll get to have fun baking and making some lucky people with great metabolisms very happy!

Why even start a blog?

I have to admit that I rarely, if ever, read blogs. The only blog that I regularly peruse is But here I am starting my own blog. Why? To show my sister that if I, a non-reader and non-writer of blogs, can start a blog, she can too.
Because I find the Julie/Julia Project so fascinating, I have decided to take my favorite cookbook and make every recipe from it. The problem was deciding which cookbook to use. I decided to make it a dessert cookbook -- because my family's non-meat eating habit makes any other type of cookbook difficult. But which cookbook? I love all my dessert cookbooks.

I was able to narrow it down to three:

Now each of these books has its merits. Rose Levy Berenbaum -- she is just so masterful at everything she bakes. Cookies, cakes, pies, pastry -- it's all amazing. But I'm afraid that after 2 years of pies, I will never be able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner again.

"Baking with Jim Dodge" was an impulse purchase I made years ago, and never regretted. I love everything that I have made out of this book. It is dogeared, covered in flour and egg drippings, and very well loved. And it has a great variety of baked goods so I doubt I would get sick of baking or eating the choices from this book.

Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts. Maida Heatter, the doyenne of desserts. The queen of calories. I have every single one of her dessert cookbooks, and love them all. This one is even missing its cover, its been used so often. This woman has made more desserts than I can even imagine. And just look at her!

See full size imageI couldn't find a full-length photo of her, but she's skinny! How is that even possible?

So I decided on Maida Heatter. I couldn't use one of her single subject books, since I would have the same problems as faced with Rose's single subject books. Thus, I made my decision: Her Greatest American Desserts book. 200 recipes. Pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, even candy.
I can't wait to start.