May 19, 2009

Birthday Cake - an Old Family Recipe

For Michael's birthday this year I made him decide which recipe he would like (like always). He narrowed it down to two: Italian Creme Cake or White Cake with Chocolate and White Chocolate Mousse. He left it to me to make the final choice... I decided Italian Creme Cake. The recipe comes from his Step Great Grandma Maxine, and I thought it would be special since his mom used to make it. The cake is very simple. A white cake base with buttermilk and coconut, finished with a cream cheese/walnut frosting. Funny thing, the recipe calls for Oleo. Every time I see this word I want to giggle. Such a funny name for margarine. I'm sure it was a little different back when his great grandma was making it, but it is the closest thing we have now. I don't usually bake with margarine so it made it a little interesting. I even used it in the Icing recipe because I thought I should be true to form (at least on my first attempt). I thought of cutting the recipe in half but decided that halving 5 separated eggs might ruin it.... so I baked it in my 6" cake pans - one tiny cake for now, and one for later. The cake turned out well. The texture from the crisco and margarine was interesting. I would like to try it with butter just to see the difference. It was also very sweet! 2 C sugar! The combination of sugary cake with sweet frosting definitely satisfies your sweet tooth. Next time I think I will cut about half of it. Maxine must have loved sweets. The other thing I did differently was ice the cake without the nuts. I decided to toast them and layer them on top. The presentation was lovely and provided a nice consistent frosting with a crunch on top. I'm really glad that I have this recipe. I know Dana gets nervous that once we master a recipe her children won't come home (but we will don't worry!). I think it is important to continue a family tradition whether it be baking or movie night - fortunately for me it's baking. The Townsend's have instilled a great appreciation for food in their children and I hope to do the same someday. Cooking together as a family provides a wonderful bonding opportunity to allows us to overcome the boundaries of age. It also develops skills that seem to be secondhand to eating out. 

Italian Creme Cake 
2C sugar 
1/2 cup shortening 
1 stick of Oleo
5 eggs, separated 
2 cups flour 
1 cup buttermilk 
1 t baking soda 
1 t vanilla extract 
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut 

 Cream together the sugar, shortening, and butter. Add the 5 egg yolks one at a time. Add alternately the flour, buttermilk, and baking soda. Mix in the vanilla and coconut. Fold in 5 beaten egg whites. 
Grease and flour 3 - 9 inch cake pans, and bake 25-30 minutes at 325˚. (Alternatively you can bake the cake in 6" pans - about 1 C batter per pan - for 20-25 minutes). 

1 8 oz package Cream Cheese 
1 stick Oleo 
1 lb powdered sugar 
1 tsp vanilla 
1/2 C chopped nuts. 
The recipe says that if you wanted to use a loaf pan, increase the baking time to 45-50 minutes. 

Happy Birthday Michael, I hope you enjoyed your cake!

May 18, 2009

French Style Bread

Have I mentioned that I love bread? I used to love going down the bread aisle in the grocery store when I was younger. Squeezing the loaves to see which was best (before I realized the twist tie color was associated with the delivery day). Some things never change. The smell of yeast still moves me in a way, and there is really no other aroma that can compete. I don't buy bread from the grocery store anymore - you won't believe how many breads contain high fructose corn syrup and other random unnecessary ingredients. With an urge for health and saving money, we have turned to the bread machine for most of our bread needs. (Grace Baking Co and Acme Bread are our staples when we don't have any on hand). The bread machine can't make this loaf though - too big. The first time I had this bread was in college at my in laws house. My father in law has made it famous among his family and really anyone else who tries it. I made it once in college and had not tried until possibly four years later. I have made it twice now in the past few months with different results. The hardest part about bread making is consistency - in the dough itself and the outcome. There are a lot of variables - like kneading time, rising time, active yeast or dead yeast that contribute to the end result. I think Harvard has about 20 years on me, but I'm willing to put in the time to try and master it. Maybe he will give me a lesson when we see them again.... Anyways, the recipe is great and I welcome you to try it. Ingredients are simple, technique learned. The recipe comes from a great book I recently bought, Beard On Bread by James Beard. The contents are 100 of his favorite recipes that range from yeast breads to rolls, doughnuts, and quick breads. There are a lot of ethnic flatbread and free-form loaves I would like to try. My new goal will be to post a bread once a month. With all of this practice I may be ready for a bread-off against my father in law during Christmas! Recipe: French Style Bread Yields 2 Loaves 1 1/2 packages active dry yeast 1 T sugar 2 C warm water (110-115*) 1 T salt 5-6 C flour 3 T yellow cornmeal 1 T egg white mixed with 1 T cold water Combine yeast, sugar and warm water in a large bowl and allow to proof. Mix salt with flour and add to the yeast 1 C at a time until you have a stiff dough. Remove to a lightly fkloured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 mins, adding flour as necessary. Place in a buttered bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Punch down the dough. Turn out onto a floured board and shape into two long french style loaves. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal but not buttered. Slash the tops of the loaves diagonally in two or three places (you can also slash serving sized pieces) and brush with the egg wash. Place in a cold oven and set the temperature to 400*. Bake 35 minutes, or until well browned and hollow sounding when the tops are rapped. The bread is best just after it comes out of the oven, but since it makes two loaves I like to freeze one for later. It freezes well and you can warm it directly in the oven from the freezer. Just set it on a fairly low temperature and warm until middle is hot. You may want to keep the bread wrapped in foil to prevent further browning. Enjoy!

May 11, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

We received some rhubarb in our CSA box along with some strawberries (they must have wanted me to make this dessert) and I really don't know of any other good use for rhubarb. I'm sure there are some, but baked with strawberries seems to be the best way to eat it. 
The crisp is actually a really quick and easy dessert to throw together. It is a double crisp with walnut ginger crumb and basic strawberry sauce that you spread over chopped rhubarb. I omitted the candied ginger in the crumb topping because I just don't care for it - and I added a little more powdered ginger to the strawberry sauce instead. The recipe also called for peeling the rhubarb and I consulted my San Francisco Farmers Market Guide for reasoning. They said you didn't have to, and that if you peeled the red stalks they would loose color. I left them as little 1/2" hunks and only tore off the skin if it didn't cut well (only a few pieces). Since it is a double crisp, you add half the topping to the bottom of the pan to form a crust (not up the sides though) and scatter the rhubarb across it and top with the strawberry mix. Then you sprinkle the crumb topping on and bake for about an hour. It really smells lovely while baking. 
It turned out really well. I actually have never cooked with Rhubarb, but welcome it in my next CSA box! I'll have to try something new. Serve it warm with some vanilla ice cream and you are in for a fantastic treat. As you may have noticed in my last post, I have been experimenting with different serving pieces and decided the martini glass was fitting for this one. Now I regret never using the Rhubarb that grew in my backyard as a kid - Mom what were you thinking! haha. 

May 3, 2009

Lemon Tart... almost

For my friend Rebecca's Birthday I decided to make her a Tart. She dislikes cake (which I just can't understand) and has a fondness for tarts that might beat the french. I have never attempted a tart before and was pretty anxious about it - especially since I was baking for the connoisseur of tarts. I put my faith in Dorie Greenspan and her cookbook to help me through it. There were a lot of recipes to choose from, but I thought starting with Lemon made sense (don't ask why). The crust is a basic tart dough - which I can handle - and the filling is a finicky temperature driven, whisking nightmare.... well, maybe not a nightmare but easy enough to mess up. I also don't have a blender and had to use my food processor for the butter emulsifying step. If only the plumber had not come to fix the slow drain, the tart filling might have turned out.... To sum up a long story, the plumber plugged in his tools in our ancient outlets and blew a fuse (which zapped my food processor and shocked my finger). Unfortunately, I could not complete the last step with the butter. And my food processor is dead. Thankfully our landlord will replace it. In order not to waste an interesting lemon creme I decided to try and make it into something a little sweeter and lighter. I whipped up some cream and added just a little bit of powdered sugar and vanilla. Raspberries are also a good addition to most lemon dessert so I added some of those too. I made a graham cracker crust and broke it into pieces for the base, added lemon creme, and topped with whipped cream and berries. Result: a very tart and sweet dessert... the kind that makes you shake your head a few times because of the sweetness. Maybe not a successful stand alone dish, but something that you might spread thinly on a slab of pound cake, toast, or really any other similar use for lemon curd. I make a coconut cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese coconut frosting that this would be delicious with. For now, Rebecca's dessert will have to wait (she was gracious and understanding with the food processor error). Luckily I have a tart dough waiting in the freezer for the right moment. Maybe after our vacation!

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