Category Archives: Cakes

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

No-Bake Icebox Whipped Cream Zebra Mocha Cake: Cool, Quick, No-Need-for-heat Summer Indulgence

Have you ever heard of zebra pie?  I am not sure what the name is for this fantastic fast dessert.  A close friend of mine, MHS, always referred to it as such back in university days.  MHS loved her mocha desserts, so I thought of the variation in today’s post while recalling her appreciation for cookies and coffee.  While MHS – who is very smart and knowledgeable about desserts – called it “zebra pie”, I really think it more appropriately falls into the icebox-cake category.  So I have renamed it.

At its most basic, there are just two ingredients:  store-bought chocolate wafers (for an unpaid plug, Mr. Christie in Canada or Nabisco in the US) and either non-dairy whipped topping – to which I say, “No, thank you” – or whipped cream – yes, please!   Usually, I whip heavy cream with vanilla extract and a bit of sugar.  However, I had just read about a mocha-whipped cream topping a molten chocolate cake in a recipe somewhere lately (who can recall? – so many blogs, so many cookbooks, so little time).

The “zebra” comes from the vertical stripes of the cake.  I guess one should not really have a tan-coloured whipped cream for a true zebra, but this cake is so delectable that one can overlook the zebra-who-has-been-running-around-grazing-on-the-dust-on-the-veldt look from the coffee-infused whipped cream.

Sometimes I have no idea what these cats are up to....

A fawn and doe are the attraction.

About as close to a zebra as one can get on this island....

So much for observing the zebra- substitute (Jinja's dirty paws almost make her a mocha zebra).

Besides some old horses on the island, the closest to a zebra around here is a young spotted fawn wandering around our property.  George and Jinja seemed to be monitoring it for suspicious behaviour, so I had to include the GKPs (“gratuitous kitty pictures”) in this post.

For the simple directions and the recipe…

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Hot Fudge Pie: What Would Jessie Dish? Week Six

What exactly is hot fudge pie? Before I baked this dish, I was not sure about this week’s recipe from my grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered files.

One thing for sure was that my grandmother liked hot fudge, chocolate, desserts, and sweets, in general.  I recall that she enjoyed a good hot fudge sundae, frequently with coffee ice cream, at the old-fashioned ice cream parlours, which were once common across Chicago.  She liked the Ting-a-Ling, very close to her last residence, a near-north-side condo.  I imagine Jessie visited many of the south side institutions, e.g., Cunis’s, Cunag’s, Gertie’s, or the original Dove Candies – which has become a superstar of the American-commercial-high-end-ice-cream-bar-and-chocolate scene.  When I visit Chicago, I do try to make it to Margie’s Candies, which still serves a traditional hot fudge sundae, featuring their home-made ice cream, in huge white plastic scallop-shell dishes.

In Key West, Florida in the 1950s, Jessie wrote about what happens from eating too much hot fudge pie and such (on the reverse of the above photo).

The hot fudge sauce at these ice cream parlours came in a small stainless steel pitcher (the size of a small creamer), always served very hot and separate from the sundae, with its whipped cream, chopped pecans or other nuts, and, of course, a cherry on top.  It was a revelation to see how a sundae-eater consumed the hot fudge sauce:

  • all in one pour on top of the sundae,
  • poured judiciously and intermittently as he or she ate the ice cream and whipped cream,
  • poured onto the spoon to coat ice cream, one bite at a time, or,
  • in the most audacious move of them all, drunk from the pitcher itself.

These techniques indicated one’s personality, we speculated.

Oh, right, this post is not about hot fudge sundaes. (I do promise to write-up a classic recipe from one of my cookbooks, Lost Desserts, by Gail Monaghan, which features a very special recipe for hot fudge sauce from a Los Angeles eatery, with the perfect viscosity and a truly profound chocolate-fudge flavour).  The hot fudge pie in question is a bit perplexing, as it is neither a pie nor a cake nor a brownie; it is in between a chocolate molten lava cake (the dessert of the 1990s), a self-saucing chocolate cake (very big in the 1970s), and a very moist brownie (timeless!).

For the hot fudge pie recipe… Continue reading

Individual Impossible Bundt Cakes or Chocoflan: Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate Flan-Cakes


I remember hearing in management meetings at one job that men generally need to hear the same thing three times from other men and an amazing seven times from women.  While I do not know if this is strictly true, I came across the recipe in this post three times before making it finally; however, the sources were both women and men – for whatever that is worth in this equation.

First, I watched Rick Bayless prepare ChocoFlan a couple of years ago on Mexico One Plate at a Time.  I always enjoyed going to his restaurants, the first few years they were open in Chicago, when I still lived there.  I never met him or even recall seeing him at Frontera Grill or Topolobambo, but I made sure to watch his television program whenever I can, as he is intelligent, funny, and unsurpassed by any chef specializing in the many diverse regional cuisines of Mexico. (When I wrote that, I was wondering if people might think, “Tostados, burritos, tacos, enchiladas, salsa, and guacamole – are those the diverse regional cuisines?”  Or, “Is chimichanga a region?”  Of course, I quickly realized that you, my dear sophisticated readers, would never think that!!).

The Mexican Hot Chocolate cake batter goes in first.

I saw the episode in July, 2008, when I looked up the recipe and saved it electronically for the day I would need a magical-preso-reverso-chocolate-cake-and-flan for a party.  So then I noticed the mini version on Krissy and Daniel’s fun site, The Food Addicts, and then I thought, the time is nearing when I will now  make a smallish version of the cake.  I checked out their original source from The Food Network, Marcela Valladolid.

After my recent foray into the Bundt-baking world, I remembered my mini-Bundt pans I had bought for a Dorie Greenspan recipe I have yet to make. So I looked up the recipe source Krissy and Daniel featured a week later (the third step) and decided to use most of Rick’s instead, given they were virtually identical and Rick’s descriptions were more detailed.  However, I did use Marcela’s flan ingredients (one less egg but four ounces of cream cheese, in order to use up the latter, sitting around in the fridge!).

Next comes the flan topping.

I adapted it by adding cinnamon and cayenne to make it into a “Mexican Hot Chocolate” version.  This adaptation I decided to do for a Moroccan-Indian dinner party, as the cayenne and cinnamon complemented spices in the dishes the hostess was preparing.  I suggest trying my version, if you like a more lively cake  – remember my “2 x C3” Cocoa-Cayenne Cupcakes with Citrus Cream Cheese frosting?

Impossible?!? The layers have switched places.

More on the fun of the Flan-Cake – and the Recipe
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What Would Jessie Dish? A New Wednesday Feature: Introduction to the Project and the German Pancake

My grandmother is just 16, at her high school graduation in 1920.

She could dish it up, but can I make it?

In helping my mother get ready to move into an assisted living apartment recently, I came across my mother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking.  She no longer wanted it, had not used it in many years, and said I should take it.  However, it was not it until I had returned home, when I discovered that the book had a 5” x  7” Manilla envelope containing a number of recipes from my late grandmother, Jessie.  She died nearly 20 years ago.  I cannot imagine that anyone knew whatever happened to these recipes.  So I was excited to have stumbled on this treasure trove.

There were nearly 20 recipes, half typed on 3″ x 5″ cards, with the others were written in her careful handwriting on various pieces of scrap paper (“Waste not, want not!” Jessie would implore, having lived through the Great Depression).  Most of the recipes are for baked goods (hooray!), and I do remember having eaten most of these dishes.  There are a few I am sure she did not make for me, so re-creating other recipes my grandmother made intrigues me as well.

I decided that it would be a fun feature on IslandEAT to prepare each and every one of the recipes, expanding or clarifying the directions, and assessing the results.   Many are in the short-hand of an experienced baker – and cook – who knew her technique well, so the steps are implicit – that is fine if you know the technique, of course, and, fortunately, I have developed a sense for baking over the years and am familiar with many similar recipes.

However, some recipes, especially the handwritten ones,  are completely vague and lacking directions – and even titles.   I will have to experiment to see if I can re-create what I think she had intended. What they all have in common is a no-nonsense, non-fussy simple approach with relatively few ingredients.  The recipes are primarily American or, in a few cases, European.  Some are still current and even in vogue, while others do seem rather vintage, e.g., “apricot mold”, which uses apricot jello and evaporated milk — not the kind of thing I generally make, but I am ready to try it.

From now until I have prepared all 18, I will feature a Wednesday recipe from the past, with a scan of the original recipe (and sometimes, the odd bits I have found on the reverse side), aiming to do this every week until the end of summer.  I expect to include some recollections of her, as she was a bit of a character, with a very good sense of humour, unusual turns of phrases, and quite the sharp tongue; Jessie was not afraid to ask – or ask repeatedly – for what she wanted or to let people know exactly what she thought.  I hope this summer project helps IslandEAT’s readers get a glimpse into her personality.

For more on the German Pancake and the What Would Jessie Dish? Recipe Roster

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A Lucious Tender Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake: Mysteries Revealed and Resolved on the Bundt Pan

Life is so complicated, isn’t it? Who knew about the controversy swirling around the origins of the Bundt pan/cake, meandering like a chocolate tunnel through a marbled cake?

Apparently, there are conflicting claims for the origin of both the cake and pan. The US introduced the so-called “Bundt” (derived from the German “bundkuchen”) in the 1950s. It seems that a group of women from a Minnesotan chapter of Hadassah, the Jewish women’s organization, approached NordicWare to manufacture this pan. I was very surprised by the Jewish connection.

I always associated Bundt cakes – made from mixes, of course – with their culinary cosmic twin, the Jello mould. Another association for me was the Bundt cake as quintessentially suburban, having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago. But this cake has a venerable history, long before its alleged invention back in the 1950s. It seems that the American addition of a “t” to the name is a valid claim for originality, as far as its orthography is concerned.

The history of the Bundt and the recipe Continue reading