[ED.: Janelle – domestic queen of her own little patch of Saskatchewan – is back as a guest blogger with today’s post.]
Every cook, whether a domestic god or goddess or a professional chef, has those few sacred cookbooks they cannot live without. My love of cooking started in earnest when I learned to bake. I went through a period of time early in university learning to bake everything and would spend free time at Value Village scouring the shelves for vintage bake-ware. I bought every foodie magazine I could afford to buy. Soon I was baking cookies as gifts for Christmas. I cooked mostly from magazines, following the trends. There were a few cookbooks on my shelf. Now, I bake for a family and I rarely use a recipe for muffins, cookies and pancakes. When I do need a recipe, I turn to trusted cookbooks. Magazines are just for fun.
The one “baking thing” I still get really excited about is baking a cake. A really great cake. My heart still goes a flutter when an issue of Gourmet (RIP) or Bon Appetit shows up at the grocery store with a big, glossy, tall cake on the cover. This December issue of Fine Cooking is a great example. I love how the food stylists and photographers can make a cake look like a . . . work of art, a monument if you will. But – and there is a but – I have always disliked the perfection that I know I will never attain in my own kitchen. Its not that food porn has made me feel inadequate in the kitchen, I just do not like my food too perfect. The Canadian foodie read “Stanley Park” by Timothy Taylor explains my position perfectly:
” . . . in the world of food you could be a Crip or a Blood, but you had to choose sides. . . .Crip cooks were critical. They fused, they strove for innovation, they were post-national. They call themselves artists. They tended to stack things like mahi mahi and grilled eggplant in wobbly towers glued together with wasabi mayonnaise, and were frequently suspicious of butter. . . . Blood cooks were respectful of tradition, nostalgic even. Canonical, interested in the veracity of things culinary, linked to “local” by the inheritance or adoption of a culture, linked to a particular manner and place of being. Blood cooks liked sweetbreads and pot-au-feu. Bloods ate tacos, bratwurst, borscht. They used lard and as much foie gras as they could get their hands on. . . “
Oh, I’m a blood alright! [Ed: Wait until you see J’s post on roast sucking pig, coming up in a few weeks!]
Which brings me to my absolute favorite cook book. It is very tiny, red, hard cover and has absolutely no photographs. It is full of butter, eggs, chocolate, over-the-top recipe titles and exclamation points!!!! “The Birthday Cake Book” by Sylvia Thompson with Illustrations by Brooke Scudder is my little baking treasure.
How this little tome can be so thorough and helpful is truly amazing. Every single cake I have baked from this book has brought smiles to ganache smeared faces and made me new friends. ‘Tipsy Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Cake with Peach Sauce’, ‘ Dobos, Queen of Tortes’, and ‘Fresh Ginger Gingercake Frosted with Glossy Chocolate and Studded with Chocolate-Dipped Fruit for a Crowd’ are just a few. This weekend my “baby” Graeme turns three and I cannot wait to see his face when he bites into the ‘ Peanut Butter Cake with Scrumptious Chocolate-Peanut Butter Frosting’. I don’t care it will be the furthest thing from a magazine cake what with the tiny John Deere tractor and baler spitting out marshmallow bales on the top “field”. The best thing, no matter how you decorate a cake from this cook book, is it’s perfection. Perfect because you made it for someone with love.
I have never liked the fine crumb of rarely purchased bakery cakes. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cake Bible” is a great reference if you want to understand cake chemistry and basic ingredient ratios, but her cakes always turn out to be what I call a “Safeway Cake” with lots of icing and tiny crumbs all over your plate so now I use that cook book as a reference only. I like a cake with a moist, not too fine crumb. The kind of cake your Mom or Grandmother would make. Perhaps I grew up eating too many pound cakes! My family’s never fail “One Bowl Chocolate Cake” is one of those cakes. You can dress it up or dress it down. You can sprinkle or smother it with a liqueur of your choice, decorate it with some garden flowers and fresh fruit or turn it into a Black Forest extravaganza. And it does very well for decorated cakes that require cutting and shaping (like trains and butterflies). The recipe card for this one is bent, smudged and looking well loved.
One Bowl Chocolate Cake
**ALL INGREDIENTS MUST BE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE**
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/4c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup of soft butter
Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then beat in the remaining ingredients with an electric mixer. Bake in two buttered and floured 9 inch cake pans at 350F for about 40 min.
PS – If I wasn’t sure of my Blood status, my recent purchase of 9 pounds of butter at Costco this morning should be proof enough. TIme to get started on the 500+ Christmas cookies – right after Graeme’s birthday/Grey Cup party. Go Riders!