Sunday, February 5, 2012

One last post

This is just to say so long and it's been fun. Two and a half years, give or take, and 195 recipes. I've made all the recipes you see here, and none of them looked as good. Six different kitchens, not counting "guest star" kitchens. Forty-three pounds of butter--yes, I counted. A few dismal failures, a few recipes that were on the "meh" side, and a lot of really delicious recipes.
I learned a lot about baking and about myself as I went through this blog experience:
  • I could bake twice a week and not gain weight. However, it took iron will in terms of portion control, not eating dough, and moving baked goods out the door. Also, moving to France and walking everywhere probably didn't hurt.
  • Baking made me a more social person.  Let's just say I'll never be an extrovert. I think I'm introverted and shy. But sharing all these baked goods helped me tell people I liked them without having to tell them. And I probably attended and created more food-sharing events because of the blog.
  • I will never win a photography award. See below for the overwhelming evidence. I use a better camera now, and I've done some messing around with the "food" setting and photo editing, but I'm a bit too impatient to fiddle with lights and settings. 
  • Baking for this blog has made me stretch and learn as a baker. There were some recipes that I would not otherwise have made because they were too fussy or sounded disgusting or involved a pound of butter. But I gritted my teeth and made them, and generally I was glad I did.
  • Baking for this blog has shown me that I don't know it all. I like to think I know better than Maida because I have done a lot of baking and reading about baking. And sometimes I'm able to get away with some tweaks in method or ingredients. But often the recipes I've deemed "failures" are ones in which I've made changes or not followed the directions. If I were a real food blogging professional, I'd make several versions to test whether Maida was really right. But then I'd have even more baked goods sitting around staring me in the face. No, thank you.
  • Baking on this blog has, on balance, been good for my sanity. These last 2.5 years have had their share of upheaval, what with our many moves and changes and culture shock. Telling myself and my family that I "need" to bake twice a week has given me that calming space in the kitchen, where the butter and sugar and flour do their thing no matter where the kitchen is.
My daughter Julia suggested I throw a party to celebrate the end of the blog and bake all our family favorites from the cookbook. I'm not sure that's in the cards, but if I could invite all of you and my friends who have supported me in this endeavor, these are some of the recipes I'd make for you, by section of the book:

Pies: Date Pecan Pie. It's sweet and chewy and nutty, topped with boozy whipped cream. And it's one of Julia's very favorite things to eat.

Cakes with Fruits and Vegetables: Prune and Apricot Pound Cake. Buttery cake, sweet-tart fruit, crunchy nuts. Easy and good.

Chocolate Cakes: Williams-Sonoma Chocolate Cake. This is one of the top five recipes on the blog in terms of hits, and there's a good reason why: it's everything a plain (moist, chocolaty, rich) chocolate cake should be.

Other Cakes: Miami Beach Sour Cream Cake. A classic pound cake with an almond twist. The first cake I baked in France. I still want to try it again with my Kitchenaid.

All the yeast pastries in the book, but especially the Cream Cheese Coffee Cake (Claire's favorite) and Carol's Crescents. But really, all of them. Maida has a particular genius for yeast-based goodies--she even mentions that this cookbook was originally conceived as a "yeast book". Her doughs are always so easy to work with, and always succeeded for me, whether in my giant Mississippi kitchen or in the tiniest, most rickety kitchen in Pontlevoy. 

Muffins, Cupcakes, and Tassies: The Pecan Tassies, hands down. I wish I had a plate of these right now. Like the yeast pastry chapter, this was a really strong chapter.  

Shortcake, Cobbler, etc: This was hard to choose: I liked but didn't love all of these recipes. But I'm going to give it to the Blueberry Crumble because I love streusel.

 Mousse, Flan, Puddings, etc: This was a chapter I struggled with, from overly rich chocolate pudding to overcooked flan. However, the Apricot Bread Pudding was an unqualified success. The Bread Pudding with Peaches, not surprisingly, was equally popular.

Cheesecakes: I loved all the cheesecakes, but my favorite was the Chocolate-Brownie Cheesecake. Of all the American desserts I made from the book, this one seemed the most deliciously over-the-top American.

Brownies: Again, I loved every single recipe, but I'm going to narrow it down to two: Cristina's Brownies (top) (giant, thick cocoa brownies) and Hershey's Brownies (bottom) (triple-chocolate icing. Need I say more?).

Chocolate Cookies: Another tough call, but I'm going to say Chocolate Whoppers, or the Cookies that Made me Famous at Work.

Other Cookies: the Eight-Layer Cookies. Never before have I made something that looked that professional and tasted that fabulous at the same time.

Fresh Fruit: Not my favorite chapter. Lots of fruit coated in raspberry sauce, which is fine in its way, but... We all really loved the Blueberries and Cream, though.

Ice Cream: This was before I had the picture-taking thing down (don't laugh), so no photo, but I loved the Spago Caramel Ice Cream.

Candy: The Texas Truffles were awfully popular, but I preferred the Brownie Truffles. Brownies, dried apricots, more chocolate, nuts. Wow.

And finally, Sauces: we all loved the Goldrush Sauce. I know at least two family members who ate it with a spoon, by itself.

Of course, if my blog readers came to the party, I'd want to bake a few of their favorites. Thanks to Google Analytics, I could easily determine the top five recipes people have looked at, and some ideas why:

#5: Williams-Sonoma Chocolate Cake (see above) This is a great cake, and I'm hoping that's why so many people have found their way to it. I think it's also possible that Google throws this one up when people type in "Heatter" and "chocolate cake"

#4: Emilio's Cheesecake. This is just a popular recipe. Not a week goes by when someone doesn't come looking for this recipe. It is a really great cheesecake that feeds a crowd.

#3: Kentucky Cake. This is also a great recipe, but the reason most people seem to look at this post is for the above picture: "cake one candle". Not sure why, but people are out there looking for (better) pictures like this.

#2: Cowtown Chocolate Cake. This is another one that pops up in the search terms a lot (also, see Williams-Sonoma Chocolate Cake). It's a really good chocolate cake (and even better frosting). Maybe someday I'll actually make it as a layer cake.

#1 Chocolate Sponge Cake. The Internet can't seem to get enough of my failed attempt at rigging a tube pan. While this is some very good cake, the fact that this recipe gets twice as many hits as any other can only be explained by my very lame engineering. You're welcome, people out there.

So now I shelve my Maida Heatter book. I'll miss seeing her smiling face every week, but I'm looking forward to baking from a variety of sources and moving back into the 21st century in terms of baking trends and technology. And I have a new cookbook blogging project, once again to force myself to stretch a bit and maybe also, by some miracle, improve my photography. A group of friends and friends-of-friends is cooking through Cook This Now! by Melissa Clark, so my butter consumption may be going down, and it looks as if I'll be eating a lot of greens, which is probably a good thing. So goodbye, enjoy the recipes, and hope to see you at the new place. It's been fun.


  1. Nice retrospective. I'm sure you had tears in your eyes when you were writing this. Great job Maria.