Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Easy Way Out via 1928

'Any one can Bake,' according the cookbook of the same name from 1928, released by the Royal Baking Powder Company.  One of the more recent acquisitions to my cookbook collection, this is really a little gem.  I love the photos, table setting guides, and the recipes are pretty easy and straightforward.  I really could have made something a little more involved, a little more elaborate, but I opted for biscuits.  There is a recipe for a coffee cake that completely caught my attention, because who can turn down a good coffee cake?  But after the decadence of the brownies I made over the weekend, I thought it best to stay away from another indulgence of cake.

Biscuits are always a good pick in my book.  While they may be easy to make, I don't think they're always easy to be successful.  You can have 'okay' biscuits, 'good' biscuits, and 'awesome' biscuits.  I'm going to put this in the 'good' category.  A little flaky with a decent rise.  I halved the recipe and did use shortening.  I may have rolled them out too thinly, but honestly, once they were baked, split, and topped with a fried egg...they were fabulous.

Baking Powder Biscuits
Adapted from the Royal Master Recipe for Baking Powder Biscuits
Makes 6

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp shortening
3 fl oz milk

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Add shortening and cut in with pastry blender or forks.  Gradually add milk to make a soft dough.  

Roll dough out of about a half-inch thickness and cut out with biscuit cutter.  Place biscuits on cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, until they are golden.

Serve warm with plenty of butter.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Wait! Stop What You're Doing!

Maybe you're a lot like me and think brownies are only ho-hum, not too special, you know...brownies.  Then you find yourself invited to an Oscars viewing party and you want to bring something.  You have no idea what you're going to make, other than something dessert-ish.  Then you're reading through your blogs feed and come across the latest post from Luisa Weiss, aka The Wednesday Chef.  She's writing about something called Boston Brownies from a German baker named Gerhard Jenne.  Brownies with cranberries in them.  Cranberries.  You think of your deep love of cranberries and think how right it is to combine the two.  And she's raving about them.  Raving...over brownies.  And there you have it.  You know what you're taking to that Oscars viewing party.

But that's not quite all of it.  You decide to use the Special Dark cocoa.  After the brownies are baked, still warm, fresh out of the pan, onto the cutting board where you're cutting them into their little squares, getting them ready for their party debut, you have to try a little piece to make sure they've turned out okay.  You bite into it.  You get a burst of cranberry as your teeth sink into the deep, dark chocolate.  And you find yourself holding onto the edge of the counter and saying to yourself...oh, fuuuuuddddggggeeee... (But it's not really 'fudge' that you're saying.)  It's that kind of brownie.  And you think to yourself....'Why don't I make brownies more often?'

Dark Chocolate Brownies with Cranberries
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef's adaptation of Gerhard Jenne's recipe
Makes One 8x8 inch pan (about 16-20 brownies)

3 eggs
175 grams sugar (1 1/3 cups)
175 grams butter (6 1/4 oz)
150 grams chocolate, preferably dark, mine was 64% (5 1/3 oz)
175 grams flour (1 1/3 cups plus 1 tbsp)
4 tbsp cocoa powder, preferably Hershey's Special Dark
1 tsp espresso powder
1/4 tsp salt
175 grams cranberries (6 1/4 oz)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper.  Chop the chocolate into small pieces.  In a small bowl, add flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt.  Whisk and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk eggs and add sugar, whisking until combined and frothy.  In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, then turn off heat and add chocolate, stirring until chocolate melts.  Add chocolate mixture to eggs and sugar, whisking until combined.  Gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.  Add cranberries and stir into batter.  Pour batter into pan and bake for 25-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Cut and serve.

Notes:  I followed Luisa's example and weighed the ingredients this time around.  I have a little kitchen scale that I got for $5.00.  It does the trick.  Regular cocoa will work just fine in this recipe, but I urge you to seek out the Special Dark.  It takes the fudginess to a whole other level and when you get a bite of the dark cake and tart cranberry, it is just magic.  Seriously.  You can use frozen cranberries, but the batter will seize as you're mixing the fruit in.  Luisa does mention this, also noting to work quickly, but I don't think I worked quickly enough, so a good 60-70% of my batter was a big seized lump.  But...I figured it would melt as it warmed in the oven, so I didn't worry too much.  Saying that, while Luisa says to bake for 25 minutes, mine baked for 40 minutes, maybe a little more (I also forgot to set a timer).  I'd bet the longer length of time is because for the first 20 or so minutes, I was obsessively opening the oven and spreading the batter over the pan as it gradually warmed. advice?  Thaw your berries and make sure they're room temperature.  Unless you want to deal with seized batter.

It's like this...really...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fat Tuesday via 1914 Boston

Just in time to celebrate Fat Tuesday or what the Pennsylvania Dutch know as Fastnacht Day, this week's #tbt has everything to do with sweet batter, deep frying, and powdered sugar.  It's the last hurrah before Lent, one last opportunity to overindulge if sweets are what you're giving up for the next few weeks.

A well-worn, well-loved, and much used 1914 copy of 'The Boston Cooking School Cook Book' by F. M. Farmer provided this week's recipe.  You may recognize the cookbook by what most people know it as today, 'The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.'  Originally I was eyeing bread recipes, even more so when I came home from the deli the other night with a brick of fresh yeast, but on the sixth or seventh go-through of the fragile pages, I spotted the recipe for Fried Drop Cakes.  When I realized they were similar to donuts (without the yeast) and it was Fat Tuesday, there was no doubt this was the recipe to make.

The batter is easy to throw together, and once mixed, it's thick and sticky.  I suggest that you make them on the smaller size--using a teaspoon to drop the dough into the oil, instead of a tablespoon.  The first few larger ones I made, upon breaking them open, were still nothing but batter in the very center.  I don't doubt that the issues laid with me--a pan with not enough oil, and a pan with thin walls that kept the oil a little too hot, so they were browning quickly and I didn't want to burn them.  The smaller cakes were very good.  Chewy, cakey, and airy at once.

I'm not going to re-type the recipe here since I didn't stray from the original.  The skewer comes in handy to turn the frying dough, like flipping abelskivers.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

1861 Carrots in the German Way

I promised to start a Throwback Thursday series, where once I week I'll cook a recipe from one of my vintage cookbooks, covering each decade of the 20th century through the present.  Within a few hours of making this declaration, I discover that I have nothing to cover 1900-1910.  Granted, my 1914 copy of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook has copyrights from 1896 to 1914, but I'm leaving that book in the second decade.

What I do have is a 1968 edition of Beeton's Book of Household Management, which was originally published between 1859 and 1861.  Yes...we're throwing it back to the 19th century for the first #tbt!  The 1968 edition is a facsimile of the original 1861 version, it's small in stature--just about 5 x7 inches--and comes in at a whopping 1100+ pages.  The Table of Contents covers everything from the duites of a home's mistress, what is expected of the housekeeper, the arrangement and economy of the kitchen, and 'observations' and recipes for every game bird you can think of, boiled calves heads, and veal cake (promised to be a convenient dish for a picnic).

I began flipping through the desserts sections, but figured that with half a cake still in the fridge, I should probably opt for something that wasn't  a cake, cookie, or pudding.  Maybe something a little healthier, but not a venture into how to stew pigeons or roast a haunch of venison.

Vegetables seemed a safe route to travel and after bypassing 'Artichoke Pudding',' 'Potato Snow,' and a few other recipes, I settled on 'To Dress Carrots in the German Way.'  Honestly, I'm not sure what makes this the 'German Way'...maybe the nutmeg?  I don't use nutmeg too often and usually it's in sweets, but this...this is a great dish even after 150 years.

I'm going to spend a little more time in this book.  An explanation of the duties of the laundry-maid.  Advice on child rearing and dealing with infantile fits.  And where else would you learn about a mesurement called a gill?  (And then have to Google to find the answer.  It's a quarter pint!)

To Dress Carrots in the German Way
Adapted from 'Beeton's Book of Household Management'
Serves 2-4

3 medium to large carrots, washed and cut into short pieces
3 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tbsp parsley, minced
1 tbsp onion, minced 
1 1/2 cups veetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp flour

In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp of the butter over medium heat.  Add the carrots, onions, parsley, and nutmeg.  Stir to coat the carrots and cook until onions begin to turn translucent and carrots begin to soften.  Pour stock into skillet and simmer until carrots continue to tender.  In a small saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, then add the flour, stirring until mixture begins to brown.  Add the liquid from the carrots and bring to a boil for a minute or two.  Return stock to skillet and simmer until sauce reduces and thickens.  

A perfect side for roast chicken or over a bed of rice.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Rebel Rebel

Hi.  It's February already.  I'm guessing it's too late to wish you a happy new year.  I inadvertently took a break from blogging in January.  I just wasn't feeling it.  I wasn't inspired.  It's not that I didn't cook.  I did.  But there were plenty of sandwiches for dinner and times where pasta was cooked 3 or 4 nights a week because it was easier than really thinking about what to cook.

And god knows my mood for too many days verged on...not pleasant.  I knew this year was going to start rough.  I wasn't wrong.  It's still rough.  But I'm back.  I've even decided to do a series of posts to coincide with Throwback Thursdays (#tbt), but instead of regaling you with photos of me in high school or in full Goth make-up from 20+ years ago, I'm going to cook a recipe a week from each decade of the 20th century to the present.  I was looking at all the vintage cookbooks I have and I want to get more out of them than occupying space on shelves looking pretty. The plan is to have a post ready for this week.  First, it will keep me writing (and my mind occupied) and secondly, I think it will be fun.

I was hoping to have a great story today telling you about my first foray into making meringues.  It's an easy confection to make, right?  Sugar and egg whites, right?  Maybe a pinch of salt and a little flavoring thrown in, right?  Three times I tried to make them last week.  Three times they were less than stellar, and I mean LESS THAN stellar.  The first two batches went right into the garbage.  The third batch I decided to go with to the end.  There was nothing light and airy about them.  They were flat and wafer like.  I could not get my peaks to stiffen.  I tried practically every helpful hint I found online and no success was to be found.  Don't fret...I'm not giving up, but they were not meant to be for this post.

What is meant to be for this post is a cake.  There's nothing really fancy about this one.  In fact, I even took out an ingredient that makes it a showstopper for most people.  I made a red velvet cake without the red velvet.  A rebellious move.  We all know the red food coloring doesn't add any flavor, it just makes for a dramatic presentation on that first cut, the deep ruby red against the stark white of the cream cheese frosting.  Oh, wait...I played with that part too.  Don't think I'm a red velvet hater.  I'm not.  I love a good red velvet cake.  Making this cake reminded me how great a cake is when you use cake flour instead of all purpose, how creme fraiche makes a truly kick-ass frosting, how happy an occasion it is when a cake turns out of its pan absolutely perfectly, and how beautiful a cake can be without a bottle of red food coloring added to the batter.

I've become a fan of making single layer cakes over the past few years.  It just seems more manageable to get through, especially for just one or two people.  Speaking of two people...this would be a totally lovely ending for a dinner-in Valentine's Day.

Velvet Cake with Madagascar Vanilla Creme Fraiche Frosting
Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe
Makes one 9-inch layer


1 cup + 2 tbsp cake flour (sift before measuring)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp espresso powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp white distilled vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 oz sugar
1/2 stick butter (4 tbsp), room temperature
1 large egg


1 8-oz tub of creme fraiche
1 tbsp butter, room temperature
2 tbsp confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla 

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour one 9-inch cake pan and set aside.  Whisk together in a small bowl the cake flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In another small bowl, mix the buttermilk, vinegar, and vanilla together and set aside.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and beat well to mix.  Gradually add both the buttermilk mixture and the dry ingredients, adding alternately to the creamed butter.  Beat until combined.  Pour into cake pan, spreading to edges, and bang the pan a few times to release any air bubbles.  Bake for 25-27 minutes until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Leave cake to cool on cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, cream the butter and confectioners' sugar until fluffy.  Add vanilla and  creme fraiche, mixing on low until combined, then on medium speed to whip.  Apply a thick layer to top and sides, being sure to cover cake.  Smooth top.

Notes:  The cocoa I used was Royal Mahogany that I picked up from the Spice Station in Silverlake (if you're in Los Angeles).  You can also order it online, though I'm sure this cake will be wonderful with any cocoa.  It would also be dramatic if you used black cocoa.  The espresso powder isn't necessary, but I like the oomph it adds.  If you don't have the espresso powder, but have brewed espresso or coffee, I'd add a tbsp or two to the buttermilk mixture.  I highly recommend seeking out the Madagascar vanilla creme fraiche from Vermont Creamery.  It's the perfect balance of sweet and tart and I love that it's loaded with specks of vanilla bean.