Category Archives: Baking

Millionaire’s Shortbread and Poor Man’s Almond Bark

What is “Millionaire’s Shortbread”?   I learned of this three-layered bar on a recent trip to Scotland and England.  It is shortbread, naturally, with a middle-layer of caramel, topped with a rich layer of chocolate – rich enough for a millionaire, of course.

For me, it is fitting that this is a Scottish specialty, as I associate Scotland with both shortbread and millionaires (think of JD Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, who were 19th-century “Robber Barons” in the US).   This is a dessert sumptuous enough for one of the great Scottish castles, Eilean Donan:

Of course, England is home to many castles and manor houses, too, including Chatsworth, once home to the dashing Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire:

Even the sheep of Chatsworth are lucky enough to cavort on ancient steps!

But the nearby Haddon Hall still has a very regal Lord Edward Manners (is his daughter Miss Manners?):

Promotional brochure for Haddon Hall

 

Perhaps Lord Manners politely indulged in a millionaire’s shortbread or two in his lower garden:

For the chocolate failure, rescue, and the recipe…

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My Grandmother’s Swiss Roll – A Scrumptious and Retro Dessert: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 19

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye” – why are these lyrics,  foreshadowing the Von Trapp family’s clever escape into Switzerland from Austria – stuck in my head?  It is due to my grandmother Jessie’s retro Swiss roll, the last of the 19 recipes of hers I discovered earlier this year.

While I vaguely recall a jelly roll – or Swiss roll – my grandmother had made, I associate this more with the commercial, sometimes chocolate-covered, individual “pastries”, filled with all sorts of artificial ingredients.  This recipe has just five staple ingredients (one being the jam for filling), so it really does not have much in common with those preservative-laden “treats”.

Being in a Swiss state of mind, I was pleased to have found photos Jessie took while in the Swiss Alps:

Jessie's husband, Louie, (my grandfather) in Switzerland, mid-1950s.

 

 

Jessie's daughter, Natalie (my mother) met her parents in the Alps for a visit.

 

Perhaps Jessie did not take these, but it is odd that she is not in either of them – or any others – and she liked to pose for photos.  My mother was working as a civilian employee of the US army near Stuttgart in the mid-1950s.  On one of their trips to Europe, my grandmother and grandfather decided to check up on my mother, meeting in Switzerland (my grandmother refused to set foot in Germany or Austria after World War II – my last two posts will give you a clue).

However, there is a photo of Jessie dancing in Florida in the 1950s, which I thought went well with this post:

 

Was Jessie (in white jacket) doing her own Swiss rock-and-roll here?

 

While this recipe is simple, with few ingredients, it does require attention and meticulousness in preparing the pan and rolling up the cake.  Jessie was very particular and specific about what she liked, so that fits with this recipe well.

It reminds me of a lunch she and I had, right around 1970, not too long after my grandfather had died.  We were at a restaurant near the University of Chicago’s Law School, and it was summer.  My grandmother ordered iced tea.  When it arrived, she sent it back because there wasn’t enough ice:  “You call this iced tea?  It’s barely got any ice!”  Then she sent it back, as there was too much ice:  “What do you expect me to do?  Remove these ice cubes myself?  Why bother going out to eat?” she said to the patient waiter.  Finally, the third time, she said, “Where’s the lemon?  I can’t have iced tea without lemon!”  The frustrated waiter complied, and Jessie had her tea exactly the way she liked it.

For a description of Jessie’s Swiss roll – and the recipe….

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The Anatomy Of A Cupcake

With all the attention to cupcakes of late, there is little on cupcake forensics.  I will dissect a birthday cupcake for you.


Sometimes, certain recipes, foods, or food combinations, for that matter, get in one’s mind and do not go away.  On the very informative instructional site, A Feast for the Eyes,  I recently had come across Debby’s recipe for Chocolate Bliss Cake.  I really liked the idea of an easy five-minute version of the classic seven-minute meringue icing (thank you, King Arthur Flour, for this simpler version!).  I thought it would go well with Debby’s moist chocolate cake – which included my favourite addition of coffee – and a chocolate buttercream filling.  While I am a big fan of chocolate cake with the icing of the same flavour, the contrast of a light, marshmallowy meringue icing is a treat for both the senses of sight and taste.

However, I also had been thinking about chocolate malt since I read Geni’s recipe for Chocolate Malt Cake on the engaging blog, Sweet and Crumby.  Chocolate and malt – as in Whoppers, Maltesers (NB:  this site prevents visitors under 12-year-old from exploring these chocolate-malt treats further…), chocolate malted milk balls, or a thick chocolate malted ice cream shake – are an irresistible combination.  Chocolate complements many other ingredients to star in desserts, e.g., coffee, mint, peanut butter, and raspberry, to name a few of my favourites.

If you are a devotee of chocolate malted milk balls, the chocolate-malted buttercream is reminiscent of the crunchy filling, with a different texture, of course.  I found it to be quite addictive, which I must admit, at this point, in this cupcake anatomy lesson.

In the  midst of these cravings, my friend Kip happened to mention that it was Jim’s birthday (which I should have remembered as he is precisely 12.5 years older than I am!).  A birthday cake on this island can be a bit of a challenge for those who do not like to bake, as there is one bakery – closed for holidays, at the time – and one baker who makes sumptuous cakes with impressive decorations, which are priced accordingly for major special occasions.  And Kip will be the first to confess to not being a baker, though she is a marvelous cook.   So I told Kip that I would bake something to celebrate.  I wanted it to be visually impressive, as Jim is one of the top professional photographers in Canada!

Initially, I had planned to bake a cake, but the image of Hostess cupcakes I had seen in the US recently kept making me think of filled cupcakes, an undertaking I had never attempted before.  As I have been in a more reflective state with my series on my grandmother, Jessie, I was thinking recently of a cupcake from a neighbourhood bakery of my childhood, which was a chocolate cupcake, filled with a white marshmallowy-buttercream centre, and iced with a dark chocolate frosting.  Thus, the Chocolate-Malt-Meringue Bliss Cupcake came into existence.

For the technique and the recipe….

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Brown Sugar Cookies – Speedy, Simple, & Superb: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 16

The easiest recipes are often the best.  This four-ingredient recipe, from my grandmother’s recipe files, which I recently discovered, is quick, straightforward, traditional,and toothsome.


I am a big fan of brown sugar, especially dark or demerara, so I was glad to have found this recipe, among my grandmother’s hand-written and typed cards.  While it is not the brown-sugar-beurre-noisette cookie which ranks among my very favourite cookie recipes, this version is much faster and a classic shortbread or sablé.  I remember well my grandmother’s tubular aluminum cookie press, which made fancy beribboned butter cookies.  I can picture only the plain melt-in-your-mouth white butter cookies, which Jessie often adorned with glacé cherries.

In thinking about brown sugar, I thought about “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and jazz, which Jessie liked.  This led me to think I might find a picture of my grandmother Jessie at the Stork Club in New York City (I remember she had matchbooks from there but no such luck in the photo realm).  At various nightclubs, Jessie liked the many-layered and coloured liqueur drink, the “pousse-café” (she unfortunately pronounced this confection-concoction as “pussy café” – I kid you not…) , with layers of brandy, green chartreuse, white crème de cacao, crème de cassis, yellow chartreuse, and grenadine, as Wikipedia describes one variant, though there were many other versions.  This depends on the specific density of each liqueur to float on top of the previous one.  It was all the rage in the early 20th century.

Jessie and Louie - cocktails at a race track press club, 1950s

For the description of the cookie and the recipe …

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Double Your Fight Against the Dreaded Green Squash’s Invasion: Zucchini Bread – Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Loaves

When I think of zucchini, I think of other foods, which have super-powers.  For instance, the classic “B” movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes comes to mind.  Then there was the “Eggplant That Ate Chicago.”  Or else I think of the Blancmange which ate Wimbledon, on Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  As with the tomatoes, eggplant, or blancmange, zucchini will take over, if you give it half a chance.  Do not turn your back or  close your eyes for a millisecond.  Be afraid…very  afraid of this green garden menace.

I do not grow my own zucchini, as I know that I will benefit from others, whose gardens are overflowing with the squash.  On my island within a matter of days, I received one zucchini as a party favour, if you will, at the end of a dinner party (how can one say “no, thank you”?) and then a phone call from a neighbour who was trying to unload her excess.  I accepted the second offer, too, as there were a couple of cucumbers thrown in to make it irresistible.

Now I know to wait until August for the largesse of zucchini.  This year, however, was the first when I finally decided to finally try zucchini bread.

In addition to using two of the three aforementioned squash I received, I wanted to finish up some light sour cream in the fridge.  America’s Test Kitchen’s New Best Recipe (ATK) had an attractive option for zucchini bread.  The ATK version makes one loaf, though it uses yogurt instead of sour cream.  Despite their warning that sour cream made their loaves too heavy and rich, I went ahead with it anyway.  ATK – like the zucchini-zombies – could not scare me away.

I always appreciate ATK’s rigourous experimentation with ingredients, technique, cooking times, pans, etc.  Their recipe stated that the subtlety of the zucchini can be lost, when many other spices are used, e.g., cinnamon or nutmeg, so they limit flavour-boosters to lemon juice to brighten the taste.  This approach works well, so I give them credit for their thoroughness, as always.

The only drawback, perhaps, is that it is rather time-consuming to shred/grate the zucchini, before draining in a strainer and drying it in paper towels after 30 minutes.  Even using a food processor, this is a bit of a long recipe – another reason to double the quantities and bake two loaves.  I strongly advise doing two at once, as the bread freezes well or lasts three days, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.

The bread has a fine crumb.  This is attributable to the yogurt, or sour cream, and the lemon juice.  I found the zucchini flavour to come through in a distinctive and pleasant manner, but it was definitely not over-powering.  The toasted walnuts add a crunchy textural counterpoint to the rich body of the bread, which really is more like cake.

For the doubled-up recipe…

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My Grandmother’s “Pan Cakes” Failure & Success: Neither Pancakes nor “Pan Cakes” – What Would Jessie Dish? Week 15

What are “pan cakes” exactly?  My late Grandmother Jessie’s recipe – from her files I discovered this spring – was truly perplexing.  This dish is one I certainly cannot recall ever having eaten.

Like some of my grandmother’s other recipes, this one is not much more than a list of ingredients.  Most confounding for me was the lack of pan size, which might have revealed a bit more, e.g., round versus square or rectangular.  The notes also have provisions for double the recipe.

However, what I found amusing was on reverse of the paper.  It is a recipe from a downtown Los Angeles address.  From a bit of Google-research, I could not find out what was at this address – a newspaper?  Magazine?  Television station?  Initially, I figured it might have been the Los Angeles Times, as my late uncle (Jessie’s son) and my aunt were close friends with the publisher and his wife, which leads me to think that Jessie would have been reading it on a trip to California, perhaps in the 1970s from the typeface used.  The recipe is a confusing one (read the “preparation” section) for some sort of seabass-asparagus terrine.  I think I shall skip trying this recipe, however….

Given the citrus in this recipe, I thought of Jessie and her time spent in Florida, which was far more than her trips to California.  My late grandfather was a sports writer and public relations specialist for sporting events, as I had described in an earlier post, and he covered the dog-racing season in Miami.

In this photo in Florida in the late 1940s, I suspect my grandfather might have taken the shot of my grandmother, mother, uncle, and my aunt (who had gotten a terrible sunburn and all was covered up here with a jacket and cap, on this visit which was right around the time they had gotten married).

For the cake failure then triumph and the recipe… Continue reading

My Grandmother’s Sponge Cake – So Last Century yet So Versatile: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 14

What is your association with sponge cake?  I really do not mean to ask such a  personal question right off the bat, but I had not given much reflection to the whole sponge-cake question.  Then I tried to re-create my grandmother Jessie’s cryptic recipe for sponge cake, from her recently discovered files.

Sponge cake falls into two broad categories:  the European génoise and Victoria sponge categories or the North American equivalent, which is a bit archaic now.  The génoise is a classic base for Italian and French cakes, not to mention other fine pastries of European pedigree, while the Victoria sponge is a traditional British base for birthday cakes and other celebratory desserts.  However, crossing the Atlantic, I am convinced that something was lost when this elegant cake made its way to the New World.  In the mid-20th century, industrial production did no favours for the cake’s taste and texture.

While I do remember Jessie’s sponge cake from a few family meals, its memory has been eclipsed by all the store-bought versions my parents would serve, invariably with chocolate ice cream.  These were 10” or 12’ square flavourless blocks, which looked as if they were uniform pieces of upholstery foam, just spray-painted golden-brown.  Does that sound appealing? They were, indeed, fluffy and light but devoid of any other distinguishing character.

Now Jessie’s version is filled with character – just like she was.  The photos below appear to be from the same spring-time holiday to the “northwoods” (Wisconsin? Minnesota? Northern Michigan?), in the 1950s, as my mother had written on the back of one of the photos.

As a cake made by someone of complex character, there is more to this sponge cake than meets the eye.  It can be a very light accompaniment to tea in the afternoon when served plain, complementing a green tea, orange pekoe, or mint tisane, for instance, for a more proper mood:

Or the cake would work well with fresh berries and syrup made from those berries (think blueberry, raspberry, or blackberry), for a more swinging outdoorsy combination:

It can also work well with ice cream and a liqueur for a more naughty treat:

For the review of the cake and the recipe… Continue reading