Tuesday, March 20, 2012


  Last week, in honor of our tenth anniversary Hub and I decided to throw a dessert party on Saturday after services. I gave myself the goal of 12 cakes in 3 days. I ended up with 11 and a batch of cookies.
 To me, those three sugar covered and flour dusted days were as mellow as a pat of room temperature butter.  It was just the right time to lose myself in a world of sweetness and spice and all things nice. Sometimes when things are starting to get sour and bitter and hard and brittle it's nice to make it over as sugary and rich, soft and smooth.
The sunday before the Shabbat Sugar Party, I went through all my baking and dessert cookbooks and magazines. I hoped to try one of the cakes in Rose Berenbaum's aspirational cake bible, but I think her cakes are so magnificent that they need to be the prima diva of the event, not crowded out by 10 other lovelies. Besides I was going for quantity as well as quality and her cakes are an investment in time, which unfortunately is something you can't pick up at the supermarket.
 I ended up with a cross-section of cakes and desserts from my post-it fringed gourmet mags. The Pecan Caramel Tart came from one of those baking booklets that slows you down at check-out when you're at Stop 'n Shop. It was very well-received, particularly with the gents.  A  crisp and buttery shortbread cookie crust served as stage for  crunchy caramel glazed toasted-pecan topping.
Next up was a Maple Mascarpone Cheesecake, the slightly-tart-totally-smooth maple flavored cheesecake was baked atop a beautiful walnut butter crust. I think I will adapt this recipe for Passover purposes, since there is no flour or any verboten items in this wonderful dessert. Garnished with a scattering of toasted chopped walnuts on top, the two layers of warm nuttiness both enhanced the warm flavor of the maple syrup, and balanced out the sweetness, not to mention, added another pleasing texture to the cake.
I wanted to try a new Carrot Cake recipe, so I decided on a Fine Cooking Sweet Cakes recipe for Carrot Cake with Classic Vanilla Frosting. To be fair, this was my least considered and regarded recipe. I didn't have the right amount of carrots, I added ground cloves when it probably should've been ground ginger. The frosting, which allows what is basically a healthful baked good, into the cake bakery, was pretty good. A little too sweet for my taste, not enough cream cheese tang due to the equal amount of butter. I think I'll go back to my original.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake. So uncomplicated and simple, yet so profound and beautiful. The small pineapple we received for Purim, had plenty of time to ripen and get heavy with sweet juice. I cut it into eight 1/2 inch slices, removed the tough core. And lay them over a base of sweet brown sugar syrup, spiced up a bit by some ginger mixed in. The coffeecake batter was smooth, creamy, and gentle with just a hint of ginger spice mixed in at the last minute with the buttermilk. After it baked for enough time to make the pillowy coffeecake surface light golden yellow I let it cool. And then with some anxiousness I flipped the baking pan onto the serving platter. It came off (mostly) without a hitch, and what was revealed was an edible Van Gogh composition . The pineapple rings shrunk slightly and looked like sweet sunflowers. The brown syrup background was at the center of the pineapple petals. Gorgeous, especially since Hub and I spent our real anniversary weekend in Philly, where we were lucky enough to take in an exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum, of Van Gogh.   I was so impacted by the obvious amount of strained effort Van Gogh made. He tried hard to be a great artist. Always working to improve and learn more. Toiling  to get better. Trying to be healthy and sane. Trying to figure out how to be a painfully sensitive person in a harsh world. Eat more cake.
Two Layer Peanut Butter Pie, was my zen meditation of the week. Nothing insists you be more present and in the moment than making pudding from scratch. You have to stir, stir, stir, and if you get sidetracked by a telephone call or by checking your email, it will scorch, and leave a black layer on your saucepan that is a bitch to remove. Better to just focus on the pudding for 5 solid minutes. And the second effort was totally worth it. Half of the pudding was mixed with peanut butter chips, the other half with semi-sweet chocolate chips. After more stirring I had two separate yet equal pudding flavors. First the chocolate pudding was spooned over a crispy crust made from crushed peanut butter sandwich cookies and butter. It was followed by the peanut butter pudding, and then a fluffy layer of white whipped cream with salty pops of chopped peanuts. I never even got to try it. It was gone twenty minutes in
Lemon Meringue Pie: I hate you. Ok hate is too strong a word. I resent you and your sour ways, which you cover up in gobs of fluffy super-sweetness. I am not faultless in your lack of success. Fine Cooking this month features a beautiful slice of pie that boasts fluffy cloudlike topping and bright sun-yellow filling. They promised to reveal the secret to Lemon Meringue Pie. And here's the spoiler: It's just not worth all the effort. I scrimped on the meringue. I just didn't feel like standing around making marshmallows for the full 11 minutes of beating time. So this little tart repaid me by falling flat. The rich yellow gel poking ungracefully through the flat white layer.

Caramel Cake. (This paragraph is to be read with a deep southern drawl). The true southern belle at the cotillion. It demanded time, quality ingredients, and lavish attention. And ultimately garnered the most adoration. The provenance of this recipe came from Saveur Magazine. The cover zoomed in on a slice of red velvet cake that was sublime looking, and after glimpsing the other southern layer cakes in the article, I knew that it would take me to the next level of cake baking. The Southern Layer Cakes unit, which was all about this caramel cake. First the light and fluffy golden yellow cake layers, I substituted buttermilk for milk, because when in the south... But it was the frosting, my sweet lord, the frosting! In a big stock pot, butter, vanilla, cream, and sugar and a pinch ot two of pink salt mingled and cohabitated and became one: Caramel. 45 minutes of steady stirring resulted in a warm soft pudding texture that dripped oh-so-lazily over the three light yellow layers, coyly making it's way to the cake stand platter like a southern belle making her way over to the most eligible gentleman in the room.
The new version of Chocolate Mocha layer cake was well received, but I prefer the mocha mascarpone chocolate layer cake from Bon Appetit. One of the three cake rounds broke so it only ended up as a squat looking two layer cake. It was pretty strong on the coffee flavor, which was a credit to this rather average cake.
My Chocolate Bundt is my old faithful, it pleases in a way that a good brownie pleases. It's just good- there's nothing show-stopping about it, although the thick chocolate glaze that collects at the bottom is ooey-gooey-yummy-in-your-tummy looking.
The Tres Leches cake was my sleeper favorite of the afternoon. A nice subtle white cake, poked periodically to allow the creamy rich combination of whole milk, evaporated milk, and condensed milk (tres leches) to soak in. Topped with cold lightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries, it was a strawberry shortcake with a bread pudding consistency.
And then there were the snickerdoodles...Sweet, slightly spicy, soft, circular snickerdoodles. Simple really. This will be my default cookie. Easy, uncomplicated, and they hold their shape nicely.

By the end of this baking adventure I was twitchin' like a kitchen timer. Between the lack of sleep, glut of sugar, periodic doses of caffeine, and the general adrenaline surge of a good absorbing project I was a bit...keyed up. But also revived back to engagement and interaction. It was a bit like a sugar defribrillator shocked me back into being.

Sunflowers Pineapple Upside Down Cake (adapted from BHG Holiday Baking)

1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
6-8 1/2 " slices of cored fresh pineapple
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease bottom and sides of 13x9" casserole pan
2. In medium saucepan melt 1/2 cup butter over low heat. Stir in 1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. ginger. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. Pour into prepared pan spreading evenly. Fit pineapple rings into surface of pan.
3. For cake: in a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and ginger; set aside. In a large bowl beat 1/2 cup butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs until combined. Beat in half of the flour mixture on low speed. Beat in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Beat in the second half of flour mixture. Spread batter carefully over pineapple slices.
4. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a woodpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Once cooled, loosen sides of the cake and invert onto a serving platter.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sour Times

What a year it's been, and I'm only in three weeks deep. But thick into the split pea soup that life feels like when it gets all muddled, foggy, and lumpy. Perspective is a thing of the past, it went out with 2011. This used to be a breezy lighthearted food blog that actually posted recipes, now it's a sour true confessional.
It's times like these that I am grateful that no one I know really reads this thing. My computer is the confessional screen, behind which I am faceless and unknown. It all comes rushing out, and then it is lost in a galaxy of words and a universe of humanity and all the conditions associated with that. I'm in a wholly wretched mess that is turning my head upside down and my guts inside out. It will be OK because there is no other way it can be. But there will be a stain.

Serving as a suitable distraction is the news that the Kiddles school is closing in June. I can't express my sorrow over this without sounding dismally uncool and fatally unironic, so I won't even try, and will instead suffer the slings of sentimentality. This little school in it's tidy little building felt like home the minute I walked through it's door with a pre-K aged Samwich. The warmth and family feeling that filled it's halls was obvious to everyone who visited. And being associated with their school helped me to let go of some of the bitterness and corrosiveness that I felt about school and teachers, which was a hold-over from my school days when I was plonked into a school that didn't know what the hell to do with me, so they just threw me away (figuratively speaking ). I actually joined the PTA, something I definitely snorted at in my pre- kiddles school days. I helped run the yearly plant sale and organized the dinner dance one year (poorly, I freely admit). I loved this sweet little Jewish school that emphasized the importance of the Golden Rule and acceptance and appreciation of all difference types. And now it is over. My kids are going to go to a new and bigger school and will have to adjust, and this is the one good thing that comes out of it. Life is all about adaptation, they might as well learn this sooner than later.

And then there's the book. When I conceived this book I had definite notions and ideas of how it would be. Existing perfectly in my mind it was to contain everything I wanted to say through words and flavors and pictures. It didn't take me long to understand that everyone else working on the book (coauthor, editor, publishing co. at large) had their own definite ideas as well, and that sometimes I just have to suck it up, because after all, who am I? I'm an unknown girl with some good ideas. It takes more than good ideas to publish a book. I recently lost the round regarding the book title, and that burned a lot. I don't get to name the baby, I feel like it's starting out with the wrong name. Regardless of any disappointment, I can't give up on it. I've got to fight right through, take the kicks when I have no other choices, and push through whenever there is an opening.
And I have to be grateful. Always be grateful for what I've been given, good and bad because from it I am growing and learning and adapting and becoming the person I am meant to be.
I end this True Confessions post with a recipe for Lemon Cake, because nothing is just one way.

Lemon Yogurt Cake
(adapted from Marlene Sorosky)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
juice from 2 large lemons (about 1/2 cup)
6 oz. greek yogurt, lemon flavor
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

Lemon Yogurt Glaze
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup lemon yogurt
1 tbsp. lemon juice

1. Grease a 12 cup bundt pan. Preheat oven to 350F
2. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in lemon juice and lemon yogurt.
3. In a smaller bowl stir together flour, aking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon rind. Mix on low speed until incorporated.
4. Spoon batter into bundt pan. Bake in oven for approximately 50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
5. Cool for a few minutes and then invert onto baking rack to cool completely.
6. For glaze: in bowl sstir together sugar, yogurt, and lemon juice. Spoon glaze over top of cake allowing it to run down the sides.