November 30, 2009

Cake vs. Pie

Cake or Pie? The all-important question. I'd always fancied myself a cake person, but this Thanksgiving, it took exactly one heavenly apple pie to doubt myself.

Upon further reflection, however, it seems to me that cake will always occupy a slight edge over pie in my heart. And with that, I leave you with a cake-related passage:
"Every time I come she prepares a nursery tea of bread and butter, cut very thin, and jam, followed by Battenberg cake. This is ready on a trolley in the kitchen and all I have to do is wheel it into the sitting room, while Miss Morpeth raises the kettle in one careful hand - a red hand, with almost anatomically blue veins - and pours water which has boiled once or twice, so great is her anxiety for me to hae come and gone, in her mother's china teapot. When she is settled in her chair, and she has asked me her ritual question - 'Would you like your cake first or your bread and butter?' - and the business of teacups and plates is settled, and later, when she has lit up her cigarette with the gold lighter we all gave her when she left, we turn to the matters of the day."
--Look at Me, Anita Brookner
Battenberg (Battenburg? I see it both ways.) cake is a sponge cake that, once cut, displays a pink and yellow checkered pattern. But it gets even better -- the whole thing is blanketed in marzipan! Doesn't it just scream, 'LOOK AT ME'? Oh, Ms. Brookner is so smart. I wonder if she enjoys this cake. Or does she simply associate it with lonely old women like Miss Morpeth? Also found this recipe for a day when I'm not feeling lazy. When will that day come?

November 29, 2009

Sweet rewards

"He was looking at me expectantly, holding his cookie a few inches above the cup, and the bottom third of the cookie, which was stained a darker tan from the coffee, was beginning to decompose, threatening to fall off into the liquid below. It seemed heartbreaking, it seemed unbearable, that I was aware of this and he was not.* It seemed heartbreaking that he liked the taste of a sugar cookie dipped in coffee, that it was a treat to him. The small rewards we give ourselves--I think maybe there is nothing sadder."
--Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld
Just what is so very wrong or heartbreaking about enjoying a sugar cookie dipped in coffee? Such rewards, small as they may be, lay the foundation of a happy, healthy mindset. Alone, they are not able to ensure happiness, but surely they serve well enough to fill in the cracks.

True, that the things we do for ourselves can seem so very small at times. But think about this sort of thing too much, and we will only end up as dissatisfied and unpleasantly whiny as the protagonist of Prep. I don't think any of us want that.

*" parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else)..." -- Rainer Maria Rilke's "For the Sake of a Single Poem"

November 23, 2009

One egg, two destinations

It has always pained me how my baking habits have required me to use ample amounts of whole eggs, eggs that could have otherwise been scrambled and consumed immediately. But guess what -- while doing some extracurricular research about the chemistry of baking, I found an excellent article that seems to suggest that things don't have to be this way. To my fellow egg and dessert lovers: You can have your moist cake and eat your egg-white omelet, too. Yippee!
"The proteins in egg whites force out moisture when they’re heated. The result: puffy but chalk-dry pastries. Egg yolks, on the other hand, lend richness and moisture to baked goods."
Oh yes. I see a lot of experimentation in my future. For example, I am reminded of an earlier incident...while making chiffon cake at a friend's place a few weeks ago, the recipe, true to chiffon form, called for the yolks to be mixed into the batter separately from the whites. The whipped whites were to be folded in last in order to add volume and lightness to the batter. I couldn't help wondering what that gloriously thick, yolk-filled batter would have tasted like if we had baked it right then without adding the whites. Would it be moist and deliciously rich? Or too dense for its own good? I'm eager to find out for myself someday.

November 19, 2009

Small, dark and tasty

Chocolate chunk cookies, candy corn, cocoa krispies, coffee, cones (of the McDonald's variety), cake...what is it with me and my inability to resist foods that start with the letter C? Except coconut, of course.

In my opinion, chocolate chunk cookies beat out chocolate chip cookies any day. Dark chocolate chunks? Even better. The recipe below interested me because it called for dissolving the baking soda in hot water. Why? Just one of many mysteries to ponder in this strange world of ours. These turned out to be some downright delicious cookies, so I won't question it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't question. I simply eat. Whatawaytolive.

Only chocolate chunk cookies would exhibit such a beautiful underbelly.

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(Adapted from a random All Recipes recipe)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp hot water
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 dark chocolate bars, broken up into chunks - I used Trader Joe's brand

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter and two sugars together until airy and smooth. Then beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water and add to the butter mixture. Add the flour and chocolate chips and stir until uniform.

Form into balls and bake for 10-12 minutes.

November 11, 2009

Halfway Decent Pumpkin Bread

Fall means many things to me...knee socks, daylight savings time, apple cider, Indian corn, and last but not least...pumpkin treats! (Including but not limited to pies, lattes, cakes, and quickbreads.)

With this in mind, I recently attempted to follow Alton Brown's pumpkin bread recipe, except I was far too lazy to actually shred a fresh pumpkin. Big mistake. Apparently laziness does not good eats make.

First, I discovered that I was out of oil, but no biggie: I substituted vanilla yogurt and crossed my fingers. However, not much later, I also found that I only had half the pumpkin I needed...and no suitable substitutions came to mind. Drat. I speed walked to the market and snagged another can of Libby's. Geez. The lengths I'll go to for pumpkin treats.

I had envisioned a perfectly moist, spice-laden loaf a la Starbucks, but instead I ended up with a beautiful crust atop a soggy mess that would not solidify, even 30 minutes past Alton's suggested baking time. ??!!

In retrospect, I can only conclude that I'm an idiot: canned pumpkin is much more watery than fresh grated pumpkin, and definitely more compact. I should have known that three cups of pumpkin sounded like a lot. And three cups of canned pumpkin probably amounts to even more than that. D'oh! Not to mention I guess I didn't even need to make that trip to the market. Double d'oh!

What a mess. At least the top half is still tasty and incredibly moist.

Recipe, as I plan to bake it next time, follows.

Hopefully More-Than-Half-Tasty Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe
2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
And last but not least:
3 cups shredded fresh pumpkin or ONE 15-oz. can of pumpkin

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients (except pumpkin) separately. Combine the mixtures and fold in the pumpkin last. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes (may have to increase baking time by ~15 minutes) until a knife comes out clean.*
*I strongly suggest making these into muffins: 325 degrees F for 30 minutes.

November 10, 2009

Not-so-transient pleasures

"Mrs. Manson Mingott had long since succeeded in untying her husband's fortune, and had lived in affluence for half a century; but memories of her early straits had made her excessively thrifty, and though, when she bought a dress or a piece of furniture, she took care that it should be of the best, she could not bring herself to spend much on the transient pleasures of the table. Therefore, for totally different reasons, her food was as poor as Mrs. Archer's, and her wines did nothing to redeem it."
--The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
She's the opposite of me; I'm thrifty about clothing because I spend most of my money on food. Food isn't a transient pleasure if you're always eating it — it's more like a permanently rotating source of joy. For us food lovers, a truly transient pleasure is a walk amidst the falling leaves of Central Park. They'll be gone soon.

Edith Wharton really is a good writer. I didn't realize this when I read this book at 16. What a difference five years can make.

November 8, 2009

Loser loaf

The loneliest slice of marble cake in the world.

Oh goodness. This made me laugh so hard when I noticed it yesterday. Poor little forgotten cake. I thought about rescuing it but decided to take a picture of its misery instead.

Speaking of funny things...malapropisms! Here's a good one:
"He's a man of few words, a startling percentage of them malapropisms. Lately, having amassed more money than he knows what to do with, he's begun dabbling in stocks and mutual funds, a subject he imagines I, a professor, must know something about. He shares with me his misgivings about the market's 'fuctuations.' Mr. Purty wears a hearing aid, and the conclusion I've come to is that he's been mishearing words and phrases all his life."
--Straight Man, Richard Russo

November 2, 2009

Superstar blondies

"A commercial painter paints flat; you can put your finger through. But a painter -- for example, an apple by Cezanne has weight. And it has juice, everything, with just three strokes. I tried to give to my words just the weight that a stroke of Cezanne's gave to an apple. That is why most of the time I use concrete words. I try to avoid abstract words, or poetical words you know, like crepuscule, for example. It is very nice, but it gives nothing. Do you understand? To avoid every stroke which does not give something to this third dimension."
--Georges Simenon
Concrete words are fine. Rhyme is even better. Nothing like a little good slant rhyme a la Lupe Fiasco...

I'm too uncouth / Unschooled to the rules / And too gumshoe

I'll tell you one thing, though: I am not gumshoe at baking blondies, even though I have only made them a total of two times in my life. Nosiree, I am awesome at it. The other night I baked them with dark brown sugar and they were excellently decadent. Almost like brunettes. Mmm. I think I would endorse cannibalism if all brunettes and blondies were this delicious.