Monday, October 25, 2010

Polenta Fig Almond Upside Down Cake - what more is there to say?

 Bastardized version of a Martha recipe from one hundred years ago. We call it The Damn Polenta Cake, bc I badgered Andrea for it for so long that she finally sent it to me with the words, The damn polenta cake is yours!

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Rule

Dear Elise,
This is the rule:
No apple sauce in apple cake!
If you need to use applesauce in an apple cake, know that it will, at best, be "apple bread." And, as such, it should never be frosted.
I made a Fuji Apple Spice Cake. Rave reviews on Epicurious. And I'm still working on that spice cake. I was excited. It was going to be my birthday cake, it was going to be my community picnic cake. Luckily it was neither.
It called for apple sauce and I ended up with apple bread. It would be all right if that's what I wanted, or at least what I expected. It would be all right if I could slice a piece off, pop it in the toaster and slather it with butter. But it is in layers and heavily frosted. So it's not all right, it's gross.
This is the problem. Well, these are the problems. #1 apple sauce is not a complexly flavored food. It is one dimensionally bland and sweet. Trust me, those both exist on the same dimension. Not even that far apart on that dimension. When you add it to something, when you use it as an ingredient, it enhances the bland sweetness of what ever you are making. #2 apple sauce is wet. When added to something, used as an ingredient, it makes that thing wet. Not moist, that would be a good thing, delicate, tender, moist in a full and dreamy way. No we are talking wet. And dense. And heavy. #3 apple sauce was always the go-to fat substitute in low fat baking. So I have bad associations to that texture and mouth feel. And even though this cake has plenty of fat, I don't like it, but I constantly want more, just as with low fat baked goods. I keep eating it as if somehow there will be satisfaction, if not from the experience then perhaps just from surfeit.
So my apple cake, for which I had so much hope, is like a frosted muffin sold at the Unitarian Universalist bake sale.
And I still don't have my spice cake.
At least we have a rule.

love, Margaret

Expensive Preserved Food

Hi Marg,

Last month I got swept up in the whole "preserve your own local, organic food" movement that seems to be sweeping the written word world lately and bought a case of tomatoes. I read - online, in books, in magazines - about the merits of canning versus freezing, dehydrating versus slow roasting and settled on canning. Largely bc our freezer is quite small, though also in part bc the jars look so pretty.

$30 worth of tomatoes and 4 hours later, I had 4 jars of canned tomatoes.You do the math, I'd prefer not to.

 Part of what took so long was squeezing the juice out of all the tomatoes. I strained it into a bottle and it was amazing. Really wonderful tomatoey flavor, and very pretty too.

I haven't cracked open a jar yet, am actually saving that for a dark January afternoon, but every few days I open the cupboard door and admire my four jars.

love, Elise

Sunday, October 10, 2010

marble cake

Dear Elise,
Spiced marble cake to be exact. I have been eying the recipe for years. I am still looking for the elusive spice cake of my far-fetched dreams. I have never made this one, a Maida Heatter recipe, because she wants you to use something called the New Cake Pan, supposedly available from Bridge Kitchen in NYC. Bridge Kitchen has moved to NJ and their web site doesn't offer anything like a New Cake Pan. But I recently purchased Tish Boyle's The Cake Book and she offers the most useful chart. She lists cake pans by size and then tells you how many cups of batter each will hold. No more trying to remember how to calculate the area of a circle and then trying to remember what Pi is. MH needed a 14 cup pan, and Tish reassured me that my tube pan would be ample for that. So I embarked on the marble cake.
Some marble cakes want you to make one batter and then divide it in half and do something extra to one half. Not MH. She has you make two completely separate batters. This is ideal if you really feel like baking, and you aren't in a hurry and whole hours spent mixing and measuring and losing time to the steps is just precisely how you want to spend your rainy afternoon.
I mixed and folded and greased and floured and eventually baked, and it wasn't under or over baked. It was moist and dense and it aged well. Unfortunately, the dark batter called for half a cup of dark molasses. I should have known better. If something calls for a half cup of dark molasses, you should save your money and not bother to add any other flavorings, because the molasses would overpower gasoline, never mind a teaspoon of cinnamon.
If you really like molasses, go for it. But if I were to make it again, I'd bump up the spices, bump up the almond extract in the light batter and use golden syrup in place of the molasses.
The tube pan worked like a dream. But my elusive spice cake is still living with the snipes.
Love, Margaret