The end of the year is coming fast, and November has been crazy! I had a quick visit to Philadelphia to meet up with my sisters for a happy family event. We packed in the activities, as we always do. Our mother was not one to sit still, and she trained us to be the same way.
I really like cake, plain simple unfrosted cakes. I could take or leave birthday cakes or other layered cakes, but I always enjoy a pound cake, a Bundt cake, or any kind of one layer cake. A simple glaze or a dusting of powdered sugar makes them complete, no fussing required. For Howard, I think it’s all about the frosting as he never gets excited when I make a cake, so they are usually relegated to occasions where I’m having just my friends over or bake something to bring somewhere else.
My favorite bakery cake is the Vanilla Bean Pound Cake made by Hi-Rise Bakery in Cambridge. They are regulars at the Lexington Farmers’ Market and, in season, I treat myself to a slice about once a month. The genius of their cake is that it’s soaked in vanilla-infused simple syrup, making the outside crust magical. Eating an end piece with its extra crust is just heaven. I’ve never made it myself, but here’s the recipe.
Right before I left, I made David Lebovitz’s Bay Leaf Pound Cake, the first November challenge recipe for Cook the Book Fridays. I did NOT need a whole cake. I had nowhere to bring it that week. So, I minified it. I made one-third of the recipe (dividing by the eggs, of course) to fill one small loaf pan – a personal pound cake.
This cake is a little different than a traditional pound cake recipe because rather than creaming the butter, the butter is melted. In this case, the butter is then infused with bay leaves to add some depth of flavor. A couple of bay leaves are also set on the bottom of the pan to add more bay flavoring.
We are also instructed to squeeze a line of soft butter on top of the cake to enhance a decorative crack. It could be because of my smaller pan, but that didn’t happen on my cake.
The final touch was an orange glaze. The cake’s predominant flavor was orange. Even with the infused butter and extra leaves, I didn’t notice the bay flavoring at all. Overall, this was a lovely cake, small enough for me to eat a daily slice for a few days. It wasn’t interesting enough to make again, though I did enjoy it while it lasted.
The second recipe for Cook the Book Fridays is Panade de Butternut (Butternut Squash Bread Soup). To read the C&C (comments and concerns) post for this recipe, it wasn’t getting a lot of love, so I was a bit wary.
The recipe took a bit of advanced planning. David recommends homemade stock for this one. We were finishing up a whole chicken, so that was easy enough with a carcass on hand. I’ve been making stock in the slow cooker for the past few years which is so simple. Sourdough bread was also required. My sourdough starter needed a workout this week, so I managed to bake my own loaf to use. Stock? Check! Bread? Check! I was ready to go.
This panade is a layering of caramelized onions, toasted sourdough bread, sliced butternut squash, chopped thyme and sage, and grated cheese doused with the homemade chicken stock. I halved the recipe for our household. I must have sliced the bread too thickly because there wasn’t nearly enough to fully cover the pan for even two layers, and the recipe called for three. That means I had three layers of squash and just two of bread, which was fine.
As the panade baked, the bread absorbed all the stock, so the result was more like bread pudding than soup. It also reminded me of a lighter version of the filling for a stuffed pumpkin I’ve made. Whatever it was, it was delicious! All the flavors of fall combined into one hearty dish. It would be a wonderful alternative to stuffing for the Thanksgiving table. On the downside, if I’m being honest, even though I really liked it, in my opinion, it was a lot more work than it was worth.
Judge for yourself! Recipes for both the pound cake (page 296) and the panade (page 163) can be found in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. My friends from Cook the Book Fridays made these too. You can find their reviews for the cake here and the panade here.
I LOVE casseroles! Surprisingly, I didn’t discover them until I became a college student and cooked in my dorm with other people and the wide variety of home cooking recipes that we shared. I’m excluding all forms of baked pasta from the category of casseroles as my half-Italian mother was a master of lasagna and baked mac-and-cheese.
As I learned many years later, when asking why she didn’t make casseroles, there were two reasons, one from each of my parents. The first was that my father did not like leftovers. Casseroles being a creative way to reuse leftovers, he was onto that game. The second was that my mother didn’t like her food mixed together. Most of my childhood meals are what I call “three position dinners”: meat, starch, and vegetable, arranged separately on the plate. I had no idea that this was my mother’s preferred way of interacting with her dinner.
I love my food mixed together. One reason is probably because I don’t like to eat that much meat. With it mixed with vegetables and other ingredients, I like to think it’s less noticeable to other people eating what I cook.
Pot pies are a favorite. Good in any cooler weather season, a pot pie is my favorite vehicle for post-Thanksgiving leftovers. The turkey, vegetables, and gravy all get a second life. I’ve always topped a pot pie with pastry or biscuits. In this French version, Chicken Pot Parmentier, a dressed-up pot pie filling is topped with smooth mashed potatoes. It’s kind of like a potpie-Shepherd’s pie mashup, but the filling can’t disguise its Francophile leanings: a dash of wine, a handful of chopped tarragon, miniature onions.
As any casserole requires, I tweaked the ingredients to work with what has on-hand. I didn’t have an open bottle of wine, so used sherry. I had leftover turkey breast, so used that instead of chicken. I couldn’t find pearl onions at the grocery store but used cute little Cippolini onions that they did have. I also quartered them because they seemed too big relative to the diced carrots and celery.
There were a few standout takeaways from the recipe. First, simmering the vegetables in the broth to be used for the velouté sauce was a genius nod to simplicity. I also loved the flavor the wine added to the sauce. The egg yolk added to the mashed potatoes added extra structure that worked well.
This week we weren’t eating many meals at home, so I made only one-third of the recipe (always divide by the eggs) and made two individually-sized Chicken Pot Parmentiers. They were adorable and just the right serving size for each of us. No leftovers from the leftovers!
I’d definitely make this again, full-size or maybe divided into more individual servings, depending on my mood. Chicken Pot Pie amped up a notch or two into French comfort food. This is a winning recipe.
Want to make this yourself? You can find the recipe on page 166 of David Leibovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. Want to know how other renditions turned out? Follow the links of my fellow home cooks from Cook the Book Fridays here.