Tag Archives: Baking

Pie is the New Cupcake?

The New York Times pronounced that pie is the new cupcake. Pie to Cupcake: Time is Up prompted serious reflection on my part on the State of Desserts.   Has the cupcake’s moment in the sun finally passed?

At first, I figured I had featured more cupcakes than pies on IslandEAT. However, I was wrong.  Perhaps pies really have overtaken cupcakes.  Perhaps I am a more of a victim of trends than I care to admit.

In the pie-versus-cake(cupcake) debate, I discovered that I have posted three pie recipes to two for cupcakes.  My first post for either was about my rather unsuccessful effort to recognize National Pie (Disaster) Day:

Blackberry pie, fresh from the oven

But, close on the heels of that pie,  I made cocoa-cayenne cupcakes with citrus-cream-cheese frosting (or, cupcakes, 2 x C3):

Pie v. Cupcakes – Where do you stand? Continue reading

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Double-Chocolate Double-Malt Frosted Brownies: Recycling and Reusing Recipes

Are you a die-hard chocolate-malt lover? If so, these chocolate brownies are for you.

For a few months now, I have had what my late grandmother Jessie used to call a “yen” for chocolate-malt (Jessie had a great brownie recipe, too).  I blame my chocolate-malt fixation on Geni of Sweet and Crumby, after her post on a famous chocolate malt cake from a diner in Pasadena.

Geni’s post prompted me to adapt her chocolate-malt buttercream frosting;  I used it as a filling for a cupcake, topped with a quick meringue icing from King Arthur Flour’s site via the tantalizing “Chocolate Bliss Cake” from Debbie’s instructive site, A Feast for the Eyes. The InterTubes seem perfect for reusing and recycling, if not reducing in this instance (and you can forget about that last one in the context of double-chocolate-malt iced brownies).

Recycling and reusing are not new to me.  My first “official” job was working for a recycling centre part-time while in high school, for the minimum wage of $2.65/hour.  Despite the low pay, there were perks, such as finding and reading a wealth of publications during slow times (not to mention the shocking revelation of a vast variety and quantity of unmentionable magazines – at least for a 16-year-old, back in the pre-InterWeb days of the 1970s).

More recently, I worked for a world-wide conservation organization, whose recognizable logo is an endangered black-and-white bear – have you guessed it yet?  At one teleconference, I offered that the well-known campaign “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is not a triumvirate of equals, rather it was a hierarchy.  That is, first, we should reduce consumption before reusing or repurposing things.  If those two are not possible, recycling is the next step.  I had said this in a discussion on how to best engage people in daily activities around conservation. The campaign of the “Three Rs”, dating back to the 1970s, was one to which people now give little thought about the components.  “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” are so well-known that rarely do people reflect on the better and best options within the trio.

At the risk of a Holden-Caulfield-esque accusation of a “digression”, this will be the last time I reuse photos from my recent trip to England and Scotland, with a vague attempt for food-related pictures.  In the charming Cotswolds town called “Broadway” (where the neon lights are not brighter, as neon does not exists in Broadway), the Horse and Hounds pub made a quaint subject for a photo:

In nearby Bath, the Sally Lunn Bun is famous.   I imagine it is no longer baked in the “faggot oven” (!?!) which I had in my previous post.  The light and tender rolls lent themselves to both the sweet (clotted cream and lemon curd) and savoury (Welsh rarebit) courses we sampled:

Near the impressive Exmoor National Park, the medieval village of Dunster had many dining options, including the very good Stag’s Head Pub (background), where we enjoyed a fine local dinner.

Sheep dot the landscape throughout the Lake District and provide the basis for many a Sunday roast in the UK (not to mention the inspiration for this unusual side “dish”, which I discovered linked to my post on Yorkshire pudding and German pancakes, just last week!).

Finally, at the very northern edge of the Lake District, the town of Cockermouth is “open for business”, after ravaging floods last year.  The downtown was very colourful and featured a pleasant restaurant called Carlin’s, where we dined one evening:

For the review of the brownie and the recipe…

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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

MandelBread or Mandelbrot-Delectable By Any Name: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 12

I have absolutely no recollection of this recipe from my childhood. As part of my grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered files, “mandlebread” is a fantastic recipe.   Either I had never eaten this cookie or simply cannot remember it.  For a child, perhaps it is too hard as cookies go? Mandlebrot does not go as well with milk, say, rather than with tea – ugh for most kids – or coffee – double ugh.  It is also devoid of chocolate, so I might not have cared for them, obliterating the memories of one try from my mind.

The recipe is very specific with its directions and was a breeze to follow –  with one odd exception: “nuts”. “Mandel” is “almond”, so I suspect Jessie just knew to use them – rather than other favourites of hers, such as pecans or walnuts. A mandelbrot, or, mandelbrodt, is an middle-European counterpart to biscotti, made typically with almonds (“mandel”, in both German and Yiddish, “brot” meaning “bread”).  Mandelbrot has made a bit of a comeback in cookie-dom, along with the resurgence in world-wide coffee-culture (in this iteration, think Starbucks and free WiFi as opposed to Le Procope in Paris and “philosophers cafes”).

Around age 70, Jessie enjoyed the Mayan ruins in Mexico.

What I found amusing about this recipe is that I could not find a photo which somehow would correspond. So I chose one of my grandmother at the ruins of Uxmal on a winter getaway to Mexico around 1974. Jessie visited Israel right after Egypt a few years before her trip to Mexico (and I have used the one photo I have from that tour already) but never went to middle-European destinations (e.g., Austria, Hungary, or Germany, where mandelbrot once reigned supreme), so the Mayan setting will have to do!

Mandelbrot with flowers from our gardens (courtesy of CJM Floral Engineering, Inc.)

For the cookie’s character and the recipe…

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Sweet n’ Sour Cherry Pie: Simple Sassy & Super-Fast

Where do you stand in the current pie v. cake debate?  I have been noticing that there is a raging controversy regarding the respective merits of each iconic dessert category.

Risking the accusation of being wishy-washy, I refuse to opt for one over the other. I embrace cake for its chocolate, vanilla, mocha, caramel, and similar incarnations (though citrus and other fruit work well in cakes, too).  Pie highlights fresh fruit better, one can argue, yet there are exceptions,  e.g., chocolate cream, butterscotch, chess, and custard pies.

In the summer, I  tend towards pies and their fruit-based cousins, the grunts, slumps, cobblers, crisps, crumbles, pan dowdies, betties, tartes, and gratins (the last two hailing from the French side of the family).  But I will use berries I have picked and frozen for pies and their relatives during the winter.  I have been known to bake a cake or two in the summer for a special occasion.  So a seasonal delineation does not work for the pie v. cake battle in my kitchen, either.

I have always liked the idea of cherry pie, often much more than its reality.  As a child, I ordered it for its redness (my favourite colour) but, since then, I avoid it generally.  If I think there is any chance of a gloppy, gummy, artificially coloured, pre-made red filling, I will opt for another dessert. This is the sad state of cherry pie-dom in North American restaurants and bakeries, I hate to admit.  Pie should be a revelation, not a disappointment.

Sometimes life is just a bowl of sour cherries....

At our Saturday market last, I noticed a basket of gleaming sour cherries:  they were so bright and red and perfect that, on first glance, I thought they were the season’s first cherry tomatoes.  I had not known that our island had any of the sour cherries I had been fantasizing about lately, so I could bake a classic cherry pie.

So having purchased one punnit (or, basket, but I love this technical term), I decided to make a sour cherry pie. Later, I regretted not having bought more.  I needed far more than the eight ounces I had for even the most modest of pie filling recipes – beyond individual tarts, with which I did not want to fuss:  it is summer, after all.  I augmented the sour cherries with four ounces of sweet Lapin cherries I had on hand, from the Okanagan (fruit basket of British Columbia, since you asked). Then I decided on a top-crust only British-style pie I found in A Baker’s Tour, from baking guru, Nick Malgieri.  The juicy red filling I adapted from food-blogger-celebrity-diva, Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen.

(I hope my blog buddy, Jackie, of the hilarious, creative, and informative site,  I Am A Feeder, will comment on this alleged British-top-crust-only pie habit.  This makes me recall the 1970s farce, No Sex Please: We’re British.  Maybe it should have a sequel, No Bottom Crust Please: We’re British.)

For the pie crust and filling recipe… Continue reading

What Would Jessie Dish? Wednesdays – Week 3: Banana Muffins

Of the Jessie recipe file, this week’s banana muffin recipe was fascinating – well, to me – for three reasons:

1.  The “recipe” just listed the ingredients, baking time, and oven temperature, so I had to create the steps, from my knowledge of baking techniques – especially muffins and quick breads.

2.   I do not remember my grandmother Jessie ever having made these, so I could not compare my version to my memory – unlike last week’s brownies.

3.  The recipe was hand-written on the reverse of a sympathy-note form card.

The last item makes me wonder if Jessie wrote this recipe down some time after the late 1960s, when my grandfather died (in his late sixties himself).  He was a very well-known sports writer – he never would have called himself a “sports journalist” in the style today – and publicity man.  Grandpa Lou (or “Gooey”, as we called him, as a childish contraction of “Grandpa Louie”, I think) was a quirky self-educated newspaperman and sports promoter In fact, a character in the play (made into a movie four times!) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur,  The Front Page was based on him, I learned just a few years ago from my mother.

My grandfather "Gooey" is just 17 years old here.

My grandfather worked closely with Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey (I have a pocket watch from Mr. Dempsey engraved with an inscription to my grandfather on Xmas Day 1929, the day of the gift), and other high-profile boxers as well as horse-racers and many other sports figures and teams.

For instance, Joe Louis, who was one of the greatest boxers in history, received considerable yet discrete financial help from my grandfather, after Mr. Louis’s agent misappropriated or mismanaged his money.

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A Toothsome, Wholesome, and Whole-Grain Loaf: Peter Reinhart’s Multigrain Bread

Multi-grain bread with rasberry-tayberry jam and peanut butter

I was a strange child. When I was 12, I decided to become a vegetarian. I read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. I did not like the idea of eating animals, nor did I particularly enjoy meat, other than the occasional hamburger. So it was not much of a culinary sacrifice for me for the next ten years of vegetarianism.

Just sliced multi-grain bread

As I mentioned in earlier posts, we ate out often as a family. Back in the early 1970s, this presented challenges, with my self-imposed dietary restrictions. If my grandmother were along, she immediately – and loudly – would ask the wait person, “Young man {or “young lady”}, my grandson won’t eat meat. What do you have for him on your menu?” She made this declaration, as if I were unable to read the menu or ask myself about what I could eat. Often the response was “the house salad”.

The “house salad” was indeed a vegetarian option. However, it was never the sort of colourful, nutritious, and satisfying salad one can find at many restaurants today. The salad consisted of a wedge of the definitely not trendy iceberg lettuce, with a few slices of anemic-looking “cello” tomatoes. (The “cello” referred to the cellophane, which encased a trio of perfectly shaped medium-sized tomatoes sitting in a open-weave plastic basket, similar to the baskets for cherry tomatoes or berries today; this terminology always confused me in supermarkets, as my brother took cello lessons back then, but this “cello” was pronounced differently and had nothing to do with music.)

On such house salads, there might have been a slice or two of soggy cucumber or even a few rounds of carrot. If it were a better restaurant, sometimes a handful of very salty croutons decorated the dish. Often the salad had a thick layer of gloppy Green Goddess dressing, poured liberally from an industrial-sized jug of commercial dressing, no doubt.

Learning to bake bread and Peter Reinhart’s whole-grain bread recipe Continue reading