Category Archives: Baking

A Bit of Winter Sunshine {CtBF}

My mother was more of a cook than a baker.  Though she had a limited repertoire of baked goods, the things she made were delicious.  She was also a strict recipe-follower, so her baking was very consistent.  Her signature cake was a chocolate-chip cake that my sisters and I still make.  The other cake I remember her making frequently, starting in my teen-aged years, was Carrot Cake.  Her recipe was from the classic James Beard’s American Cookery  (now out of print).  As with her chocolate-chip cake, she baked it in a 13×9 pan and slathered it with cream cheese frosting.  Whenever I imagine eating a carrot cake, it’s hers I dream of.  It was a basic carrot cake with grated carrots, warm spices, and nuts.  There were none of the extraneous ingredients that carrot cake recipes often called for, like crushed canned pineapple or the dreaded (to me) shredded coconut.

As you might expect, Howard is not a fan of carrot cake.  That means I haven’t made one in decades.  I seldom eat it out, usually choosing something else because of the frequent appearance of those extra ingredients I mentioned before.  When I saw that this week’s recipe challenge with my friends at Cook the Book Fridays was the Carrot Cake from David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, I had mixed feelings.  However, on closer review of the recipe, I was reminded of my mother’s cake.  Just the basics.  The main differences between David’s cake and my mom’s (and James Beard’s) were few.  David’s cake is enriched by vegetable oil and buttermilk instead of butter and warm water.  My mom’s cake added grated orange rind.  Otherwise, they were very similar.

I didn’t want to make a whole cake.  Initially I thought I’d make half a cake as my friend Ro from Chez Nana ingeniously did, but I wanted to be able to share it more easily.  After looking up cake volume conversions, I decided to make cupcakes instead.  According to the handy chart I found, batter for a 9-inch cake pan would make 9-12 cupcakes.  Perfect!  Or so I thought.  The full recipe must make one massive cake.  I filled all twelve of the cavities in my muffin tin and had enough to batter left to fill a 6-inch cake pan as well.

The cake is quite easy to mix together with a whisk and a rubber spatula.  The resulting cake is moist and tender.  I used the stand mixer to mix up the mascarpone-cream cheese frosting.  I loved the tang of the frosting, and it is much less sweet than my memory of my mom’s frosting.  As you can see, I’m not the most talented froster.  I can’t remember the last time I made a layer cake.  When I make cakes, I usually leave them unadorned or sprinkle them with powdered sugar.

I shared some of the cupcakes and have been working my way through the single layer cake.  Though it’s a different recipe than the one I dream of, it came out just the way I like it, taking me for a delightful trip down memory lane.

While I can’t say carrot cake will make frequent returns to my kitchen, I did like this recipe enough to make it again.  Revisiting my mom’s recipe, I think adding orange rind to this recipe could only improve it.  I noticed she added nuts to the frosting AND the cake.  That might be an interesting variation as well.  And for minimal fuss, I would even try baking it in a 13×9 pan.

My Mom’s Carrot Cake Recipe in My Teen-Aged Handwriting

As a side note, David Lebovitz’s memoir l’appart has finally bubbled up to the top of my pile.  I bought a copy in December (and met him) when he came through Boston on his book tour.  I’m about halfway through.  It is very entertaining, though I doubt I would ever be able to face purchasing property or doing a home renovation in Paris.  I bookmarked a few of the recipes in the book to try.

If I’ve inspired you to try out David’s Carrot Cake, you can find the recipe on page 277 of My Paris Kitchen.  To see if my Cook the Book Fridays friends enjoyed their cake, follow their links here.

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Catchup Trifecta {CtBF} 

 

Argh!  My blog is so neglected.  It’s the time of year where I’m cooking all the time.  I’ve even kept up with the Cook the Book Fridays assignments.  Alas, I’ve become an expert procrastinator when it’s time to write a blog post.  So, without further ado, here goes.

Panisse Puffs

I was SO EXCITED to make Panisse Puffs.  I can remember leafing through My Paris Kitchen when it first came out.  That must have been around the time I made popovers for a rare participation in Tuesdays with Dorie because I had popovers on the brain.  It’s this recipe that tempted me to buy My Paris Kitchen.  Of course, I never made them.  When this recipe was selected for the Cook the Book Friday schedule, I finally had the motivation I needed, no excuses allowed.

Again, I marveled at how simple popover batter is.  A few staples whirred in the blender and it’s time to rock-and-roll.  The pan preheats along with the oven, so the pan is buttered and then filled with batter when it’s blazing hot.

The puffs puffed.  What they didn’t do is get all that brown.  I’ll admit that the glass window in my oven is not very easy to see through.  After 35 minutes, the puffs looked brown, but I think the baked-on splatters disguised the true color.  They also were stubborn about coming out of the pan.  I used a muffin tin because I don’t have a special popover pan, though I’m not sure it would have made a difference.

These looked much better in the pan.  After prying them out, my puffs were rather disfigured and deflated, no longer “souffléed”.  They tasted OK, but after years of anticipation, I was a little disappointed.

Soupe au Pistou

Typically, I don’t make hot soup in the summer.  Gazpacho, sure, and the occasional “other” cold soup, but little compels me to heat up the kitchen with or hang around to watch a simmering pot of soup.  For these reasons, I was ambivalent about making vegetable soup with pesto.  Trying to stay on schedule with the Cook the Book Fridays gang, I forced myself to soak white beans overnight and move ahead.

As crazy as it seemed to me, this really is a summer vegetable soup.  All the vegetables called for were part of my CSA share that week: carrots, zucchini, fresh sugar snap peas, and loads of basil.  The beans simmered while I chopped everything else up.  Vegetables were added in stages, depending on how long they needed to cook to tender.

While the vegetables cooked, I made pistou (nut-less pesto) in my mortar and pestle.  I’d never done that before, always using the power of the food processor instead of my own muscle.  The result was much rougher but pleasing when dolloped on top of the soup.

So, I was wrong to doubt the delight of a hot summer soup.  This one was delicious.  I’d even make it again with the vegetables of the week if the weather isn’t too hot outside.

 

Herbed Fresh Pasta

Another first.  Those of you familiar with tales of my bottomless (Mary Poppins-like) basement won’t be surprised to know that there’s a pasta machine down there.  I bought it decades ago at a now-defunct discount store for the bargain price of $15.  I must have made pasta a few times back when I first bought the machine, but I don’t think it’s left the basement since we moved to this house almost 25 years ago. (Packrat?  Are you accusing me of being a packrat?)

Pasta is not something I ever think to make myself.  It seems intimidating, especially when making the dough by hand rather than in the food processor.  I was home alone the night I made this, so I made a smaller batch.  Always divide by the eggs, so I made 1/3 of the recipe.  I used a variety of herbs from my garden and just followed the recipe.

No tools required!  I used my fingers to incorporate the eggs into the flour.  Once the eggs were absorbed, not all the flour was incorporated, so I kept sprinkling the dough with water until it all came together.

It rested for about an hour before rolling it into sheets and then cutting the sheets into strands.

I was surprised that the process was so easier than I expected.  I don’t intend to wait another quarter century before the next time I attempt my own fresh pasta.

I made a mélange of pea tendrils, sugar snap peas, and shell peas to top the pasta for a seasonal spring meal (at least, seasonal in June, when I made this).  Delicious!

Summary

You can find all the recipes in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen.  Panisse Puffs is on page 245, Soupe au Pistou on page 92, and Herbed Fresh Pasta on page 230.  My friends at Cook the Book Fridays were more timely in their execution, but go back and check out their posts for Panisse Puffs, Soupe au Pistou, and Herbed Fresh Pasta.