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So, the more I thought about this cake blog, the more I thought of the memories I associate with cakes. Or rather, with certain cakes. We’ve talked about birthday cake, for instance (I’m still scarred that my mother does not have one single obligatory birthday cake picture of me).
Was your family the kind that always had dessert with dinner? Ours certainly wasn’t. A dessert usually appeared with the Sunday roast, though. I remember my mom, the best penny-pincher around, made this “cheesecake”; basically squares with graham wafer crumb, fruit and jello (remember those frozen strawberries that used to come out of that can thingy?), one block of cream cheese and whipped cream. It may not have been “authentic”, but we loved it and asked for it over and over again.
Speaking of birthdays, my brother used to ask for a black forest cake every year. Not the original, damned fine black forest cake that you can get in Germany. Noooo, the Safeway version. All sugar and fake icing. Eck.
And when is a birthday cake not a cake? Jimmy’s favourite birthday “cake” is pecan pie. Oooh, speaking of Jimmy, did I mention that my first birthday with him, he made me a cake? No wonder I married the man. It was a chocolate kaluha cake. He went over to our friend Debbie’s place to make it, and she claims to this day that he got cake batter on the ceiling of her kitchen. This is the best part, though: he put money in the cake! How fun is that? Debbie also helpfully inserted a condom right before Jim iced it (he had no idea), and then she called him every day asking, “have you finished the cake yet?” She finally had to confess; we were sort of done with the cake and ready to throw it away.
So, again I find myself waxing on about food memories, but let’s face it; many of our best memories involve food.
For tonight’s cake, admonished by Yvonne to not even consider buying one, I decided on this Epicurious recipe for spongecake (for the principle reason that it only used four eggs). Except that Jimmy and I are trying to cut back on the fat, at least a little, so I decided to pass on the rum milk syrup and all that stuff. So basically, I took the spongecake recipe, eliminated the cinnamon and added the zest of one lemon, and substituted some of the milk for the juice of one lemon. Then I just served it with macerated blueberries (with lemon juice) and whipped cream (before you give me grief about the whipped cream, look at the rum milk syrup again).
The cake never seemed done. I poked and poked it and it never really bounced back, but I took it out after 10 extra minutes so it wouldn’t be hopelessly dry. Of course it fell a little. * sigh * But it was actually… quite delicious!
Okay, hats off to Yvonne. The spongecake I made bore absolutely no resemblance to the yellow-died greasy crap you buy in the store.
Yet again this American Food Holidays list astounds me with the sheer illogical timing of things. Peach Cobbler Day? In mid-April? Wtf? Peach cobbler is a SUMMER dessert. It is sitting on porch swings on covered porches and hot, humid, sticky days redolent with the heavy, sweet scent of flowers and dry grass, it is the sound of dragonflies skimming across the reeds and the slightly muddy yet fresh smell of your hair after you’ve been for a dip in the pond. It is Huckleberry Finn, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, Clara, Calpurnia, Celie (why do they all of a sudden all have “C” names) and every other hero and heroine of the Deep South. And none of that happens on April-freakin-THIRTEENTH!!!!
I don’t get it.
I do, however, get cobbler. It is one of my favorite “I-don’t-really-have-a-sweet-tooth” desserts because it’s basically just fruit with a very slightly sweetened biscuit dough baked on top. It is also a most excellent conduit for whipped cream – and everyone must know by now how I feel about that. I found this great article in the Washington Post about cobbler, wherein Kim O’Donnell, the most excellent author, quotes from the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink in America, Volume 2 (I really have to get my hands on this mighty tome):
“Without the resources of brick ovens…colonial cooks often made cobblers — also called slumps or grunts — and their cousins, pandowdies, in pots over an open fire … In these types of pies, a filling made of fruit, meat or vegetable goes into a pot first; then a skin of dough is placed over the filling, followed by the pot’s lid. As cobblers cook, the filling stews and creates its own sauce and gravy, while the pastry puffs up and dries.”
If you do it right, the pastry on top actually sucks up some of the juice from the filling below and gets slightly doughy – just enough to have the texture of a biscuit taken fresh out of the oven and smothered in butter. If you do it wrong, the pastry will be rock hard and crumbly and take about 10 glasses of milk to wash down your throat.
I usually make the recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook, but seeing as how I don’t have any fresh peaches handy (duhhhhhhhh), there was not a lot of point in following it religiously (like I ever do) since the whole basis of their recipe is fresh peaches baked in sugary/lemony goodness. So this is what I did (loosely based on the Silver Palate recipe, except for the pastry part which is almost the same and which I highly recommend, and taken completely without permission):
1. Preheat oven to 400º.
2. Take 3 cans of peach halves canned in fruit juice (not syrup – yech!). Drain. Arrange peaches in 10″ deep dish pie plate or other comparable baking dish. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp lemon zest and 1 tsp almond or brandy extract over them. Stick in oven while you prep the topping, or for about 10 minutes.
3. In mixing bowl of medium-ish size, sift (or toss with fork since you don’t have a sifter) 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. baking powder, 1 tbsp. sugar. Cut in 1/3 c. vegetable shortening until mixture has the texture of oatmeal. Realize you have some lemon zest left over so toss it in for good measure.
4. Lightly beat an egg. Mix it with 1/4 milk (preferably whole milk, not skim). Using a fork, gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
5. Pull the peaches from the oven. Drop the dough overtop in large spoonfuls trying to spread evenly(ish). Sprinkle another 1 -2 tbsp of sugar overtop and stick back in the oven for anywhere from 15 – 30 minutes. I left mine in for 30 ’cause I kept waiting for the sugar to melt like it does on a crème brulée, but it didn’t. Whatever you do, just pull it before you burn the biscuit topping. It should be nice and golden like mine was (and if only I had my stupid camera cord, I would show you – it’s coming – I promise!).
Now, I know I said peach cobbler is a brilliant conduit for whipped cream, and it is, but since I didn’t buy any because I am trying, trying to prevent my arse from getting any wider than it already has over the course of this blogging adventure, but mostly also ’cause I forgot, I whipped up my favorite summer fruit sauce instead:
1. Combine in a bowl: 1/2 c. plain yogourt, 1 – 2 tsp. honey (the runny kind), a pinch of nutmeg, 2 pinches of cinnamon. Whip furiously with a fork until all ingredients blended (seriously – you have to be fierce so that the honey doesn’t just lump up).
2. Pour overtop of fresh fruit, or cobbler as the case may be.
p.s. I promise, promise, promise I will have all the missing pictures up by the weekend!!!!
When I was a little girl I loved cream puffs more than almost anything. Almost as much as I loved pickles, pizza and Greek food. Every year for my birthday, from ages 2 to, oh, probably, 14, instead of birthday cake, I wanted cream puffs and that’s what I got. As I got older, we would go for Greek food at my favorite Greek restaurant and they don’t serve cream puffs. It was often a difficult choice for me – my favorite dinner or my favorite dessert? A conundrum for the ages.
What is a cream puff exactly? It is a large pastry made from choux paste and filled with sweet cream or custard. Profiteroles are a miniature version of the cream puff and usually filled with ice cream. They can be topped with a little icing sugar, chocolate sauce, or any other flavour sauce one wants, or just left plain. I like my cream puffs to be wee in size. That way, if there are different flavours, you can sample the whole variety. I’ve seen cream puffs or profiteroles filled with sweet whipped cream, chantilly cream, boston cream, vanilla custard, chocolate mousse, lemon curd, espresso cream, maple cream … the list is endless really. Of course, any of the cream based fillings can be flavoured with a variety of booze. Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least try.
Past Cream Puffs Worthy of Note:
Eva made me profiteroles once. For my birthday. She’s a grand friend. She knows me well. She filled them with a mango mousse sorbet. They were amazing.
Lemon curd filled mini cream puffs dusted with icing sugar sold at the now defunct patisserie wing of Bon Rouge Restaurant. We called them “Crack Puffs” ’cause we were addicted and went there every second lunch hour to buy some. They were that good.
Last year I made mini cream puffs for Easter. It was my first time making choux paste. Amazingly, after all those many years of loving cream puffs, I had never actually tried making them! Shocking, right? Anyway, it was an adventure, to be sure. My beautiful Kitchenaid Professional stand mixer (wedding gift) upped and died in the middle of making the choux paste (thank goodness it was from Costco and they replaced it with a brand spankin’ new candy apple red better version – but that’s another story). Now, here’s the thing. To make choux paste, you first have to make what is essentially a big ball of roux, and then you have to beat eggs into it. This is not a task that a person wants to undertake by hand! But the batch was half done and there was no other choice. I discovered new muscles in my arms and shoulders that day. Reminded me of that time when I made risotto for 150 people in one giant pot. Such work is generally best done when assisted by copious amounts of vino.
Last Easter I learned that you should use wet fingers to pinch off the choux paste from the pastry bag (it is darn sticky) and that no one else in my family shares the same love of cream puffs as I do. Strange. I filled my Easter poppets with boston cream and with mocha whipped cream. Since it was pretty much just me eating them (and maybe a couple of others) I also discovered that cream puffs freeze brilliantly. Well, I can’t say that I discovered it. To be fair, Costco has known this forever and you can buy boxes of the little pleasure-filled buns without any effort at all. Of course, fresh homemade ones are better.
The National Cream Puff Day Batch:
At any rate, as much as I enjoy, love, adore cream puffs, I confess to being a tad daunted at the prospect of yet more rich bad for me food following on the heels of the Christmas holiday. This year was epic on the food front. We ate so much amazing food for every meal of every day that all I really feel like consuming at this point is raw vegetables and water. My rich food stomach is lastingly full! And seriously, how is a girl supposed to get herself off to a strong start for the New Year when she is forced to eat this stuff?
I made them anyway.
And I ate them too.
This time I used the Larousse recipe for choux pastry and learned that even greasing my non-stick cookie sheet doesn’t keep them from sticking. I had to use a paring knife to scrape them off the sheet and unfortunately mangled one or several. No matter, there were plenty left over. The mangled ones went to the dogs and my kid (who, lo and behold, happens to love them too).
I am actually quite a purist when it comes to my cream puffs, so I didn’t want to muck about too much. I just filled them with a lightly flavoured maple whipped cream and drizzled the smallest amount of chocolate over them for effect. Mostly it was for the picture. When given the option, I will happily use pieces of my choux pastry puffs to scoop up the whipped cream as though it were a veggie dip and the pastry was a carrot. I had planned to make a caramel rum sauce to go on top, instead of the chocolat, but my caramel-loving hubby is out for the night and after all the recent gluttonous festivities, I didn’t really feel up to making and eating a bowl of caramel sauce to myself.
Basic Choux Pastry Recipe for Cream Puffs:
1. Heat in saucepan 1 cup of milk or water (or milk and water mixed in equal parts), 5 tbsp. butter, 1 pinch salt and 2 tsp. caster sugar stirrin frequently until butter is melted.
2. Slowly bring to a boil and then remove from heat and immediately mix in all of 1 cup all-purpose flour. Return to heat and beat with wooden spoon until smooth and pulling away from sides of pan (approx. 1 minute). Do not overmix or pastry will be greasy.
3. Put into your mixer bowl and allow to cool slightly while you wash up from the previous two steps (this should be the right amount of time if you don’t have a dishwasher, otherwise wait another 5 minutes or so).
4. Beat in two eggs and then two more one after the other until the paste is smooth and shiny. To do this, I run my stand mixer on medium-high speed for at least two minutes.
5. Use piping bag (or ziploc with the corner cut off) to pipe blobs of choux paste onto lightly greased baking sheets (approx. 1 1/2 – 2 inches in size) and bake in pre-heated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes (or up to 25 minutes for larger puffs) to allow enough time for puffing up.
6. Remove from oven and break open immediately to prevent steam from making the pastry soggy. Cool completely on wire racks before filling with your filling of choice.
Maple Whipped Cream:
Beat together 1 cup whipping cream and 2 – 3 tbsp maple syrup until stiff.
Caramel Rum Sauce: if I had ended up making it, this is the recipe I was going to use. It’s a pretty standard recipe. I’ve made it before. It’s pretty tasty.
This concludes my entry for National Cream Puff Day. Stay tuned when I return to you on January 4th with National Whipped Cream Day (really the two days ought to be together). I’m off to roll my lardy arse into bed now.