In a Perfect World…

FullSizeRender - Version 2“In a perfect world…” I find myself falling back on that phrase a lot lately. Been having a bit of an internal whine-fest, stomping around grumpily because it feels like things are more uphill slog than downhill jog these days. So when my days are less happy than sad, less confident than scared I try to think of what that “perfect world” might look like. Doesn’t necessarily make things better, but it does help pass the time and brighten my mood on long hikes when I’m cranky and whining to squirrels.

Of course the obvious perfect world requests that no one would get sick, suffer loss, hunger or fear always apply. So would the perfection of always being near enough to loved ones to score a hug whenever needed. There’d always be more than enough of whatever is lacking – money, time, love, laughter, peace. But what if you dove in deeper? Here’s just a few ideas I’ve come up with lately:

In a perfect world;

  • calories would magically reduce when butter, cream or bacon are added to a dish;
  • every swipe of my debit card would immediately be replenished (with 25% interest) from Donald Trump’s campaign fund account. And yes, I’d go on a shopping spree. BIG one;
  • Kardashians would still do stuff, but no one would watch, or care;
  • differing views on politics, religion, or sports would be well reasoned and discussed with respect toward all opinions, and if that could not be accomplished things would just be settled with a dance-off.
  • the only polar icecaps melting would be the one in the back of my freezer, and;
  • every day at around 4PM, there would be kaffee and kuchen.

I grew up in a world not necessarily more perfect, but one that often included the calm late afternoon break of caffeine and something sweet. As a kid who loved any break involving food, that world seemed pretty perfect to me. Call it afternoon tea or kaffee und kuchen, it was the time when the world slowed a little and you could recharge your battery before heading into the rest of the day. My grandmother was a firm believer in kaffee und kuchen. Actually, my grandmother was a firm believer in dessert after every meal, but I seem to remember afternoon kuchen the best. If you were lucky enough to stop by her home around 4, you’d likely be sitting in front of a cup and saucer of white porcelain with tiny blue flowers, a slice of cake on your plate, and the most pressing stress you’d have to deal with is deciding with or without whipped cream. With, always.

So I suggest in today’s imperfect world of too much information, too little respectful reasoned debate, and a 24/7 technology stream attached to the end of our hands,  that we reinstitute kaffee and kuchen time. No technology, just cake and conversation. I’m betting the world won’t end if we all took an hour break in the late afternoon. It might even make it just a little bit more perfect.

File Sep 10, 10 42 59 AMSince most of us don’t have the time in our busy worlds to bake a cake every day I’m sharing one that can last a few days, provided you don’t leave a knife on the plate for hungry passersby.  The inspiration for this cake was a recipe for Farm Apple Cake I found in Bon Appetit magazine many years ago. Heavy on the butter and eggs (1&1/2 sticks butter, 4 eggs), this cake is dense but not overly sweet, with fruit both mixed in the batter and sliced on top. It also has no leavening in it other than the air whipped into the butter and the eggs as they are added, giving it an almost velvety rich texture, and a bit of a crispy meringue-ish top.

File Sep 10, 10 46 23 AMI’ve adapted the original recipe to pears instead of apples (thus the name change) since that’s what I had on hand, upped the spice a little and subbed cognac for the Vin Santo the original recipe used. It’s perfect for afternoon tea, makes a great morning coffeecake, and since Rosh Hashanah begins this evening, would be a lovely addition to any sweet New Year celebration.

ORCHARD PEAR CAKE (Adapted from Bon Appetit, Farm Apple Cake,1998)

Makes 8-10 servings

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp orange or lemon zest
  • 2 cups plus 1 tbsp sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp Cognac
  • 1 medium pear, peeled, quartered, cored, cut into 1/3 –inch pieces
  • 2 pears, peeled, quartered, cored, thinly sliced

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously butter 10-inch springform pan. Dust pan with four, tap out excess.

 File Sep 10, 10 45 53 AM File Sep 10, 10 45 22 AM

Whisk flour, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and citrus peel in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups sugar, beating until mixture is well blended and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended. (Don’t worry if it looks a little curdled – it will smooth out when the dry ingredients are added.) Mix in all but 1 tbsp flour mixture, then cognac. Toss 1/3-inch pear pieces with 1 tbsp flour mixture in small bowl; add to batter.

 File Sep 10, 10 44 50 AM File Sep 10, 10 44 21 AM  File Sep 10, 10 43 54 AM

Transfer batter to pan. Place sliced pears in overlapping rings atop cake. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar.Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, covering loosely with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Run a small knife around cake to loosen. Release pan sides; cool. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome; store at room temperature).

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  

Advertisements

It’s a springform….it’s a spatula….IT’S SUPERBAKER!!!

DSC04508

A superhero needs appropriate foot ware

I think in some strange parallel universe, I’ve become a superhero. Well, maybe not exactly a superhero. Whatever is sub of that. A semi-superhero? A demi-hero? Whatever it’s called, several times in the past month, good friends in mild to elevated degrees of culinary distress have summoned me to help save the day. Surely that’s the definition of hero, right? No, there wasn’t a giant rolling pin symbol projected into the night sky, nor red “bundt-phone” with a direct line to my oven. And other than a dishtowel thrown over my shoulder, I was cape less. But if a good friend calls with a houseful of guests in 4 hours and no dessert, or “Kaaa-rin” is called with mild urgency from the kitchen, SUPERBAKER springs into action.

When I’m invited to friends for dinner I’m not exactly planning on cooking.  But when it’s what you do, and everybody knows it, there’s no avoiding it.  I supposed it’s no different from being a plumber and asked to opine on a host’s leaky faucet. And my friends know as long as I’ve already been handed my glass of wine or cocktail, I’m happy to jump in when the need arises. After all, who doesn’t want to be a hero, and as one of the people eating, I’ve a vested interest in a tasty outcome.

Sure the cape of culinary superhero is a lofty mantle, but it’s one I was born to bear. My mother can make the best pan gravy you’ve ever had pretty much out of thin air. My brother can create delicious geographical phenomena and related topography from meatloaf. My dad could make a killer Sunday breakfast and clean out the refrigerator simultaneously. And of course, my grandmother was the Wonder Woman of potato salad. So if you need someone to run faster than a weeping meringue, leap tall souffles, or whip stiff egg whites with a single hand, look no further. It’s a springform….it’s a  spatula…IT’S SUPERBAKER!!!

  2014-08-04 13.52.24 2014-10-16 09.08.48

A few weeks ago, I was called into action when a dear friend needed a dessert for a Rosh Hashanah dinner she was hosting.  I immediately knew what I would make – an apple honey cake a friend had sent me from a favorite blog. But, it being fall in the land of orchards, my hostess in distress was tired of apples and pears, so my honey cake had to be free of both. Fear not kids! With SuperBaker on the job, the day would be saved! (Cue the dramatic music….)

Anyway, after a cup of coffee’s worth of time on the internet I found an intriguing version of the traditional holiday cake. It included a good hit of spice, some late season plums, and with a good glass of red wine in the mix too, how could it possibly be anything but wonderful. So here it is, courtesy of the New York Times and one of my culinary heroes, Melissa Clark.

Red Wine Honey Cake With Plums (Melissa Clark, NYT, 8/23/13)

Makes 10-12 servings

NOTE:  I didn’t make the plums as Clark describes in her original recipe. Instead I took about 2 cups of Damson plums, a few tablespoons of sugar (amount depends on the ripeness of the plums), a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a little pinch of cloves, and cooked it all over medium heat until the plums broke down and juices thickened a little. Serve the plum compote alongside the cake.

  • Grease or nonstick spray, for the pan
  • 300 grams all-purpose flour (2 1/2 cups), more for the pan
  • 10 grams baking powder (2 teaspoons)
  • 3 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon) 3 grams salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams cinnamon (1 1/2 teaspoons) 2 grams cardamom (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams ground ginger (1 teaspoon) 3 large eggs
  • 200 grams granulated sugar (1 cup) 1 1⁄4 cups olive oil
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons good quality honey, more to taste
  • 3⁄4 cup dry red wine
  • Plum compote to serve along with the cake (see NOTE above)

Place a rack in the middle of the oven; heat to 350 degrees. Generously grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan, including center tube.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. In another large bowl, whisk eggs well. Whisk in sugar, oil, 1 cup honey, the wine and the fresh ginger until well combined. Whisk in dry ingredients until smooth. (Ok, at this point you will likely get a little alarmed at the color of the batter. Yes, it’s sort of, well, armadillo grey. Don’t worry. I promise it will be gorgeous golden brown when it comes out of the oven. Trust me.)

Pour batter into pan and bake until springy to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes, then unmold the cake and let cool completely.

Recipe note: Measurements for dry ingredients are given by weight for greater accuracy. The equivalent measurements by volume are approximate.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂