L.A. Times Culinary SOS: Buttercake Bakery’s Marble Cake

buttercake

I so badly wanted to dislike this cake.

After reading the ingredient list, looking over the some-what complicated instructions, and spotting the calorie content per serving (so unnecessarily provided at the end of the recipe), I had that feeling I often get when I’m shopping for clothes — that I hope nothing fits so that I don’t have to buy anything.

Unfortunately, all of my negative energy did not help produce an inedible, underwhelming, unmemorable cake. Quite the contrary. This cake is incredibly delicious and irresistible. I wake up every morning thinking about it — thus far, the cake has gotten better and better with each passing day.

I’ve had this LA Times Culinary SOS recipe recipe tacked to my fridge for the past two weeks. I have to admit, I had serious doubts. I am so often disappointed with the recipes that call for a pound of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 4 eggs, etc.— it’s the recipes with yogurt and applesauce and olive oil that are so pleasantly surprising — both delicious and light or relatively light at least. Now, I’m sure some of you magicians out there could cut some of the butter or sugar in this recipe without compromising the flavor, but I encourage you to try the recipe once as is. I omitted the chocolate chips, which are unnecessary given that the recipe calls for the making of a cocoa syrup, which imparts a wonderful chocolate flavor.

Buttercake Bakery’s Marble Cake

Total time: 1½ hours
Servings 12 to 16

2½ cups sugar, divided
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup light corn syrup (I used brown rice syrup)
2½ teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (room temperature is ideal)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips (optional — I did not use them. This cake really doesn’t need them.)
powdered sugar for dusting

1. In a small saucepan, whisk together ½ cup of the sugar, the cocoa powder and syrup with ½ cup hot water. Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add ½ teaspoon of vanilla off the heat and set aside.

2. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and lightly flour a 12-cup bundt pan. (I never flour anymore — it always burns for me. I coated the bundt pan with cooking spray.)

3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), cream the butter with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated, then whisk in the remaining vanilla.

4. Whisk about a third of the flour mixture into the batter, then a third of the milk. Continue whisking in the flour mixture and milk, alternately and a little at a time, until everything is added and the batter is light and smooth.

5. Gently fold in the chocolate chips. (I really think the chocolate chips are unncessary, but that’s your call.) Divide the batter into thirds. Pour a third of the batter into the prepared bundt pan.

6. Whisk the chocolate syrup with another third of batter, then pour this into the bundt pan. Pour the remaining third of batter over this, lightly swirl the batters with a wooden skewer or knife to give a “marble” effect and place the pan in the oven.

7. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back lightly when touched, about an hour. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Invert the cooled cake onto a serving platter and dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Weekend Baking II: Open-Face Plum Cake

plums

I’m really liking my Sunday morning routine. I get up a little before Ben, find something to bake, and whip it up, or at least have it in the oven, before Ben wakes up. This tradition is now in its fourth week running, and this Sunday I’m planning on making a recipe for a marbled coffee cake printed in the culinary SOS column of the LA Times food section two weeks ago. The recipe is based on Buttercake Bakery’s moist butter bundt cake. I can hardly wait to try it. Maybe I’ll use that cathedral bundt pan I have failed to use for three years now.

Anyway, about this plum cake. This recipe appeared in a Martha Stewart Living issue last summer, and I have had it filed in the back of my mind ever since. Last Saturday morning, when Ben and I found ourselves in San Diego at the City Heights farmers’ market, I found the perfect reason to make this cake: baskets of plums — filled with at least 20 or so — selling for $4. We picked up some peaches, avocados and two red snapper fillets as well before heading home. The plums — sweet and juicy — however, turned out to be the prized purchase. I used ten in this cake, but plenty remained for Ben and me to snack on all week. I ate the last one this morning.

Bette Aaronson, the woman to whom this recipe is credited, has been making this recipe for more than 30 years. I can understand why. It takes only minutes to prepare; it’s delectable; it’s elegant; and it’s versatile: Apricots, nectarines and peaches, it has been noted, can be used in place of the plums. I’m guessing then that pluots, plumcots and apriums would also make acceptable substitutes. I can’t believe Martha didn’t make that clear. Also, I have halved the recipe — I thought a 9-inch cake for each Ben and me seemed a little excessive — but the original recipe, if you care to see, can be found online: Open-Face Plum Cake.


Open-Face Plum Cake
Adapted from a recipe printed in a summer 2007 Martha Stewart Living
For the recipe doubled, which was how it was printed, visit the Martha Stewart Living Web Site.

Yield = 1 9-inch cake, serves 10

¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3/8 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon
¼ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small egg or ½ a large egg
6-10 plums depending on the size, halved and pitted
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pans

Confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Butter a nine-inch round cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the 3/8 cup sugar, milk, oil and egg. Fold into the flour mixture.

2. Pour batter into pan. Arrange plums, cut side up over batter.

3. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar and sprinkle over the plums. Dot with butter. Bake until tops are dark golden, plums are soft and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool.

4. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Rosemary-Goat’s Milk Gelato & The Chino Vegetable Stand

strawberries

Sometimes I like to test my husband’s taste buds. Here’s an example. The other night, Ben was pacing around the kitchen after dinner looking for some more food. “Can I make you a bowl of cereal?” I asked. Sure, he said. So, I filled up a bowl with a mixture of Kashi Heart To Heart and Barbara’s Shredded Oats, sliced in a banana and poured in the milk … goat’s milk that is. I gave Ben the bowl then returned to the couch.

I could hardly contain myself. “Do you notice anything different?” I asked.

“Yeah. What am I eating?” Ben asked.

“Goat’s milk,” I said. “Do you like it?”

“I prefer cow’s milk,” he said. “In my cereal that is.” Ben is such a good sport.

Now, the reason I had goat’s milk on hand is because I had been craving Capogiro Gelato, particularly the rosemary-goat’s milk flavor. Since I haven’t found a gelato shop near me yet, I decided to make my own. I picked up a quart of goat’s milk at Henry’s Market one day and set to work. I followed a recipe I like for vanilla gelato in Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano cookbook. I steeped the rosemary for about 30 minutes, tempered the egg yolks, chilled the mixture and then froze it in my ice cream maker.

The result? The gelato had a very nice texture, and the flavor was, well, shall I say, unique? The rosemary was a little too powerful. I’ve written the recipe below with a much shorter steep time.

I don’t know how Capogiro does it, but one trait I love about their rosemary-goat’s milk gelato is its pure white color. Some of their gelatos are made with eggs, some are not, and they’ll tell you if you ask. I forget if their rosemary gelato contains eggs or not. Also, I have asked many times how gelato differs from ice cream, and I never seem to remember the answer, but this is what is coming to mind: Gelato is churned more slowly. Gelato is more intensely flavored. And, according to Mario Batali’s cookbook, gelato is lower in fat.

I should note, too, that the rosemary I used came from the Vegetable Shop at the Chino family farm in Rancho Santa Fe. I have heard so much about this stand from friends living in Del Mar, and over the weekend, I finally got to see it. I picked up the most beautiful produce: two bunches of mizuna; two bunches of Swiss chard; two bulbs of green garlic; and a pint of the strawberries pictured above and below, which lasted about five minutes in my apartment. They were so sweet! They sort of tasted like grapes. The man at the stand called them “French” strawberries. Yum.

Oh, and next week, stay tuned, I have five more muffin recipes to share with you. I’m seriously up to my eyeballs in muffins.

Rosemary-Goat’s Milk Gelato
Adapted From Mario Batali’s recipe for vanilla gelato in Molto Italiano (Harper Collins, 2005)
Yield = 1½ pints

2 cups goat’s milk
½ cup sugar
one sprig rosemary
kosher salt
7 egg yolks

1. In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk with ¼ cup of the sugar, the rosemary and a pinch of salt. Bring the mixture just to a boil, making sure the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat, remove the rosemary and discard.

2. Meanwhile whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until the mixture is pale yellow. Ladle some of the milk into the eggs whisking constantly. Repeat until half of the milk has been added to the eggs. Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. DO NOT BOIL. When the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, remove pan from heat and strain into a shallow vessel. Do not second-guess yourself: When the mixture thickens, it is done. (I returned mine to the heat and it curdled. Too stubborn to start over, I strained the mixture through a very-fine chinois. It seemed to work — the gelato did not taste eggy at all. Try to avoid having to do this, however.)

3. Place vessel in the refrigerator until cold.

4. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately or freeze until ready to serve. Once frozen, let sit at room temperature until ready to serve.

Dark Chocolate & Plastic Bulls

darkchocolate

A few months ago, Martha Stewart Living magazine reported the results of a study conducted in Europe regarding chocolate. Now I can’t remember the exact findings, but the blurb read something like this: To maximize its antioxidant powers, chocolate must be consumed on a regular basis. In other words, eating an ounce of chocolate a day (it could have been two ounces a day) is more beneficial than, say, eating one large chocolate bar every Sunday evening.

In any case, what I got out of the article was this: I should eat chocolate every day. And now, I do. And this Chocolatour bar pictured above, made by Chocolove XOXOX in Boulder, CO is one of my favorite brands. When I lived in Philadelphia, I purchased these bars by the half-dozen every time I stopped by Joe Coffee Bar. I have sampled nearly every variety Joe carries including a spicy Chilies and Cherries in Dark Chocolate, but ultimately I prefer the simple, dark chocolate.

Now, I must be honest. I’m a real sucker for labels. I swear I continue to buy this one bottle of wine, Sangre de Toro, at the San Clemente Wine Shop only because a little plastic bull hangs from the cork. A small herd of bulls now greets Ben and me every morning at the breakfast table.

But seriously, have you ever seen a more beautifully wrapped bar of chocolate? The Chocolove bars even come with a romantic poem tucked inside.

I should note, too, that Chocolove bars are Fair Trade in every way but name. Just as many small farms cannot afford to pay for Certified Organic status, many chocolate, coffee, tea and nut companies cannot afford the Fair Trade licensing fees. These bars can be purchased on-line and from a number of large markets including Whole Foods and Target. Around here, I have seen them at Henry’s Market, but a number of other shops including Ralph’s and Mother’s Market are listed on the Web site as well.

Last year, in preparation for Valentine’s day, I made a slew of festive, heart-shaped desserts. Well, I guess only three, and they are all pictured below, along with some other appropriate treats for the season, if you are so inspired.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Two Heart Tarts for Two
Linzer Cookies
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Boozy Chocolate Truffles
Coeurs A La Creme

Very Cute Seals & Cookies

sealcookies

One time it took my dad 7 hours to drive from New Haven, CT to Philadelphia, PA. Was there traffic, you may wonder? No. How then could it have taken so long? Well, he arrived to Philadelphia proper in about 4 hours, but then spent the next three hours driving around the suburbs, an area he had visited several times, trying to “follow his nose” to his hotel. He was exasperated (who wouldn’t be?) to say the least, when he finally called me from his hotel room explaining what had happened. Our dinner reservation, planned for 3 hours earlier naturally, had long been cancelled, and we decided to meet for breakfast instead.

Yesterday, I felt a little bit like my dad. After spending an hour or so exploring downtown San Diego, I felt a little hungry. I called my friend — the same friend who swears it never rains in SD — who recommended a few lunch spots, one being the Living Room located in La Jolla. I had been to La Jolla once before, and so, like my dad, did not need directions. I headed back on I-5N, got off the exit for the La Jolla Parkway and headed west. The area looked familiar, but one wrong turn led me heading North, so far North I ended getting back on the 5 heading south, so far south I had to get off and turn around to head north. I wanted to scream. I contemplated pulling into the In-N-Out — a place I’m still dying to try — located right off the exit, but decided, like my dad, I could persevere for at least a few more hours.

Fortunately, before too long (well under three hours), I found myself sitting at one of the outside bistro tables at the Living Room, basking in the sun and sipping a very calming mocha, a drink highly recommended by my friend. My BLT arrived shortly after and I tucked in. Still flustered and famished from my journey up and down the 5, however, I forgot to photograph my delectable sandwich, and before I realized what was happening, I had devoured all but one bite of my potential blog entry. Alas!

After lunch, I took a quick stroll around Seal Beach, which I had seen once before but only at night. Seals are so cute! And very tired it seems. A few of them slithered (do seals slither? whatever they do, it looks exhausting) in and out of the water, but most of them lay motionless in the sand. Except for this guy pictured below. Every time the tide reached his underbelly, he arched his back, curling up his tail and head. I could have watched it all day.

In honor of my moment with the seals, I purchased a cookie, pictured above, from Girard Gourmet, another spot recommended by my friend. By this point, I had regained my composure and was able to snap a picture before tasting this yummy and very cute treat. Thanks Chu for a wonderful day in La Jolla!

World Peace Cookies

WPCookies

Before heading out on our eight-day road trip to San Diego, I thought I’d share a recipe I’ve made three times this past week, a Dorie Greenspan recipe for a cookie created by pastry chef Pierre Hermé. For the past year, a neighbor of mine has been on the quest for a good double-chocolate cookie recipe, and when I read the description for these “world peace” cookies on Smitten Kitchen, I had to try them myself.

And the first batch I made looked and tasted just as described: midnight-dark in color, buttery-rich in taste, sandy-textured, chocolaty, salty … delicious! When I made them a second and third time, however, the cookies came out completely differently — thin and crisp without that sandy, grown-up character of the first batch. Still delectable, just different. Very strange. I can’t explain the difference.

I have made some notes: For the first batch, I used a stand mixer; for the following two, I used a hand-held mixer. For the first batch I used parchment paper; for the following two I used a Silpat. For the first batch I used mini chocolate chips; for the second two, I used chopped bittersweet chocolate. Using Dutch process cocoa versus unsweetened cocoa powder doesn’t seem to make a difference — I used Dutch process for the second batch and unsweetened for the third, and the two cookies came out nearly identical. Having the oven temperature at 325ºF, as described, seems to be important: The third batch of cookies spread less than the second batch of cookies, which baked at a higher temperature.

So, I’m a little perplexed, but nonetheless believe the recipe to be a good one. Incidentally, in her book Baking From My Home To Yours (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), Dorie Greenspan explains why she calls these chocolaty delights “world peace” cookies: A neighbor of hers, Richard Gold, believes a daily dose of these cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Korova Cookies
Also known as “World Peace” cookies
Yield = 18

1¼ C. all-purpose flour

1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 C. (packed) light brown sugar

¼ C. sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt or ½ tsp. fleur de sel or ¼ tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous ¾ C. store-bought mini chocolate chips

Whisk the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, and mix just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen in 1-ounce portions for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ½-inch thick or that weigh exactly 1 ounce. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange six rounds on a baking sheets, leaving about one inch between each round.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Serve with milk after dinner or with morning coffee.

Boozy Chocolate Truffles

truffles4

I am currently sitting on the floor of my barren living room, on a carpet strewn with random bobby pins, pen caps and Styrofoam packing peanuts. Though no furniture remains, I’m hanging out in this dust-bunny-filled corner, drawn by my Comcast modem, still connected despite all the chaos. The movers, who have been working nonstop since 8 this morning, have about an hour — or so I’m told — more of packing to complete. I still cannot believe the truck parked outside 754 S. 10th St. will be on its way to California by the end of the day.

Surprisingly, the day has gone smoothly. My sole concern now centers around the very large Tupperware sitting in my refrigerator filled to the brim with chocolate truffles. I went a little overboard this year, making over 300, in an effort to use up all the remaining chocolate in my refrigerator and pantry before the move. I emptied nearly every bottle of booze in my possession as well — Grand Marnier, Brandy, Marsala, even a splash of Sake. Sounds gross, I know, but a trustworthy friend enthusiastically described these as my “most impressive feat yet.” Now, I’m concerned because with nothing but a half-full jar of Sriracha, a few bottles of beer, and a tub of peanut butter remaining in my fridge, I could make a considerable dent in this chocolate stash tonight.

I have been experimenting with this Alton Brown recipe for almost a year now. These chocolaty confections have morphed from Derby Day Bourbon balls coated with chopped pecans and confectioners’ sugar to trendy dark chocolate truffles topped with gray salt and now back to their original incarnation, filled with booze, doused in cocoa.

Boozy Chocolate Truffles
Yield 35

10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup Grand Marnier, Brandy, Port, Marsala, whatever (seriously)
12 oz candy-making chocolate disks (dark), Merckens brand works well or Nuts to You’s dark chocolate disks
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

Place the bittersweet chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30-60 seconds, stirring after the first 30 seconds. Alternatively, melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over (not touching) gently simmering water.

In a small sauté pan or saucepan, heat cream, corn syrup and salt until simmering. Pour over melted chocolate mixture and let stand 1-2 minutes. With a spatula gently stir mixture until evenly blended. Pour the alcohol into the chocolate mixture and stir. Pour mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, preferably glass or Pyrex. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a truffle scoop (also called a #100 scoop) or a melon baller, gently drag the balled end across the surface of the chocolate. Release the ball of chocolate onto the cookie sheet and repeat until all of the chocolate has been scooped. These balls should look slightly mishapen. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least another hour.

Place the coating chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl. Fill a pot large enough to accomodate the bowl with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and place the bowl with chocolate over the pot being sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. After a few minutes, stir the chocolate with a heat-proof spatula.

Place the cocoa powder in a shallow vessel—a large Tupperware works well. Have a clean Tupperware ready for the finished truffles.

When the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Remove the chocolate balls from the refrigerator. Place a large stainless-steel spoon in the bowl and using the spatula push chocolate into the spoon to fill. Working one at a time, place one ball into the chocolate-filled spoon. Quickly coat the ball using a small spoon or fork, then transfer to the cocoa powder. Repeat with five or six and let sit for a minute. Gently shake the vessel back and forth until the truffles are coated, then transfer to the clean vessel.

Note: Toward the end of this coating process, you may need to place the bowl back over the water to gently warm the chocolate again so it more easily coats the chocolates. Just follow the same procedure as above—the key is to melt the chocolate slowly and to keep moisture out of the inside of the bowl. Keep the un-dipped chocolates cool in the refrigerator while you reheat the chocolate.

Once all of the truffles are coated, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you prefer to eat them at room temperature, remove them from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving.

Note: After the chocolates have chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours and are firm, taste one. If the cocoa-powder coating is too strong, try this: Place five or six in a strainer and shake until enough of the coating comes off.

Note: You may have left over cocoa powder and coating chocolate. You can store the remaining coating chocolate in the refrigerator and use for another project or use in a recipe for chocolate sauce or hot cocoa. The remaining cocoa powder can also be saved for hot cocoa.

Homemade Marshmallows

marshmallows

Every so often the Food Network offers some really good ideas. Last Sunday, I watched Tyler Florence make marshmallows, a food I never thought I would venture to make from scratch. But after seeing the two egg whites whip in the stand mixer until they tripled in size — until they nearly spilled out of the mixer — I had to try for myself. Plus, he packaged them in a cellophane bag tied with a festive ribbon and nestled the pouch into a basket with a jar of hot cocoa mix, his idea for a wonderful homemade Christmas gift. After tasting one of these sugary confections, I couldn’t agree more.

Homemade Marshmallows:
Adapted from Tyler Florence

This recipe requires the use of a stand mixer.
3 tablespoons powdered gelatin
2 cups cold water
2 cups sugar
2 egg whites
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted, plus more for dusting pan and marshmallows

In a medium sized saucepan soak the gelatin in the cold water. After the gelatin has softened, about 10 minutes, add the regular sugar, and gently dissolve over low heat, another 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in the sifted confectioners’ sugar. While the mixer is on low, slowly pour in the cooled gelatin mixture. Increase the speed and beat until white and thick. The volume should double (or triple) in size and should form between soft and firm peaks. (When the mixture fills nearly the entire bowl, it is ready.)

Coat bottom and all sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with confectioners’ sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture in and top with more sifted confectioners’ sugar. Leave out overnight or for at least 3 hours to set. The marshmallow should be light and spongy when set.

Loosen marshmallow from edges of tray and invert onto a large cutting board. Use a large knife to cut the marshmallows into cubes. Sprinkle each piece with more confectioners’ sugar.

Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix Baking Spree

rumbundtcake

Three-hundred sixty-four days a year, my mother suffers from make-it-from-scratch syndrome. On her one day a year liberated from this affliction, she spends a few hours preparing a Greek New Year’s cake (vasilopita), pulling from the pantry a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix and a box of instant vanilla pudding. She combines these two powders in a bowl, adds a considerable amount of rum – the secret, she says, to the cake’s moist texture – and before long has produced a beautiful rum bundt cake, the dessert of choice for our annual coin-hiding, cake-cutting, Greek ritual.

Introducing this old WASP recipe into my mother’s repertoire – one dominated by traditional Greek dishes like spanakopita and moussaka – was no easy task. My stepfather, the man responsible for accomplishing this feat many years ago, still gloats to this day.

Only after several attempts at making the cake from scratch (substituting for the powdered mixes a pound cake one time and a chiffon cake another) received unfavorable reviews, did my mother concede, vowing never to tinker with the recipe again, a pledge widely supported by the rest of the family. Moist and boozy with a sugary-buttery glaze, this cake – in its original incarnation – has been a favorite since its debut.

Although my adoration for the rum bundt cake has made me less skeptical than my mother of recipes calling for instant cake mixes, I still find myself calling home to consult the authority before opening the box. “Be sure to add vanilla extract or a splash of Bourbon,” she always tells me, adding, “you need something to hide that artificial flavor.” Rarely do I end up making the recipe.

A recent visit to Williams- Sonoma, however, unexpectedly inspired a prepared-mix baking spree, my arrival to the shop fortuitously coinciding with the presentation of a batch of freshly made pumpkin dessert bars. Spiced with cinnamon, double-textured like a lemon bar, these pumpkin treats instantly won the affection of all who sampled them. Much to my surprise, the recipe called for a box of yellow cake mix.

After successfully making the pumpkin bars at home, along with a pan of quick apple kuchen, neither recipe calling for extract or alcohol, I resolved never to look suspiciously at recipes beginning with a premade mix. Though I’ll never tell my mother, my recent discoveries have confirmed an inkling I’ve had for years regarding the legendary rum bundt cake: The secret’s in the box, not the bottle.

The rum bundt cake can be made in mini pans as well. This was a batch I made last year for the Greek New Year’s Cake. Last year, I made the cake from scratch — truthfully, it’s much better using the box!
Rum Bundt Cake

1 box yellow cake mik
1 pkg. instant vanilla pudding
½ cup rum
4 eggs
½ cup canola oil
½ cup water

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Mix all with an electric mixer for five minutes. Grease bundt pan and lightly flour. Bake for one hour.

1 stick butter
¼ cup rum
½ cup sugar

Meanwhile, combine rum, butter and sugar together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. When cake comes out of the oven, pour one-third of this mixture into the bottom of the cake. Let sit for 30 minutes. Turn cake out onto a cooling rack. Paint a layer of the glaze all over the cake. Let harden. Paint another layer. Repeat until all the glaze is gone.

Note: Tastes even better the second day.

Pumpkin Butter Dessert Squares

1 package yellow cake mix
½ cup butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 jar Muirhead pumpkin butter (This is the Williams Sonoma brand, but any will do. The jar was 13.5 oz.)
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Measure one cup of cake mix. Set aside. Stir remaining cake mix with the butter and one egg. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan. Mix the jar of pumpkin butter with the remaining two eggs and milk. Pour mixture over layer in the pan. Stir the reserved cake mix with the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon. Mix until crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the pumpkin layer. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into two-inch squares. Serves 24.

Note: Of the three recipes posted here, I would say the kuchen tastes the most artificial, a sour cream glaze giving it an Entenmman’s-like character. Best served warm with a cup of coffee, however, this kuchen is still delectable.

Quick Apple Kuchen
Serves 20-24

1 box yellow cake mix
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sweetened coconut
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large apples, peeled and sliced thinly
1 egg
1 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Combine first three ingredients together in a bowl. Mix with your hands or beat slowly with an electric mixer. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pat mixture into pan. Bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix cinnamon and sugar together and toss with the apples. Remove pan from the oven and top with the apple mixture. Whisk egg and sour cream together and drizzle over the apples. Return to the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Serve immediately.

Daley Toffee

toffee

Well, after spending hours in the test kitchen, sifting through recipes submitted for The Bulletin’s “Edible Gift Recipe Contest”, I found a winner — Daley Toffee, a family recipe submitted by Laura Daley of Mount Airy. Crunchy, sweet, chocolaty, nutty, buttery, this toffee is so yummy! And addictive. Almost immediately after breaking the toffee into shards and photographing it, I brought it into the office — mostly to get it out of my sight — where the staff polished it off … I received several e-mails that day describing the scene. I returned to work the next day to find the empty Tupperware sitting on my chair.

Before trying this recipe, I had never attempted making toffee, and now, I have no fears of candy making or of terms like “hard-ball” stage. Cooking the sugar and butter mixture until it reaches the hard-ball stage is the only tricky part of this recipe, but Laura’s instructions make the process painless. Instead of relying on a thermometer, which I find never to be accurately calibrated anyway, Laura’s method calls for testing the mixture by dropping a small spoonful of the mixture into a glass of cold water — it’s foolproof.

The toffee, as Laura notes in the recipe, makes a great gift for the holidays. Several years ago, I purchased a case of 100 brown stationary boxes from Usbox.com. Although this large case of boxes takes up nearly half our storage space in the basement, every holiday season I am so happy to have these clear-top boxes on hand. I have packaged biscotti and chocolate truffles in them for the past two years, and now I will pack Daley Toffee in them as well. For a nice presentation, use parchment paper as a base inside the box, wrap the box with a delicate ribbon, and tie on a simple tag describing the contents of the box. My favorite tags to use for gift giving are metal rim tags, which you can find at Staples or any office supply store. They sell packs of 50 for about $10.

Daley Toffee: A Family Recipe
Laura’s notes: This recipe makes a great holiday gift for those with a sweet tooth! It keeps up to 2 weeks if you put it in an airtight container.

1 C. salted butter 

1 C. sugar 

3 T. water (if tap, put through a Britta or use well or bottled) 

1 1/8 tsp. vanilla
2/3 C. ground pecans (or nut of your choice) 

4-6 oz. premium milk chococlate (bar form is easiest; can also do a dark chocolate but we think milk chocolate is best)

Directions:
1. Cook butter, sugar, water, and vanilla over medium heat stirring CONSTANTLY until golden brown — test for hard ball stage in cold water. It may smoke, but don’t worry.
2. Put half to 2/3 of the nuts in the bottom of a greased 9×9 inch pan. 

3. Pour the cooked butter/sugar mixture over the nuts. 

4. Wait a few minutes and put the chocolate on top — when chocolate softens, spread evenly and sprinkle remaining nuts on top.
5. When completely cool, break into pieces. Store in airtight container. 

NOTE: You can also use an 8×13 if you’d prefer a thinner version — in which case increase nuts to 1 C.