Posts Tagged ‘Easy Cake Recipe’

Grandmother in my briefcase

Executive Pinstripe Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Executive Pinstripe Cinnamon Coffee Cake

My Mom has always spoken about her Grandmother’s baking in rapturous tones. This was once used for the forces of delightful evil against one of her sisters-in-law. As happens in many families, my Mother had a somewhat competitive relationship with her sisters-in-law. I’d like to say it was all in good fun, but if I did my pants may burst into flames.

So, please travel back with me to the early or mid nineteen-seventies, just outside of Boston. Nixon (or was it Ford?) was in The White House and…well, you don’t need that much detail, do you?

The sister-in-law who is the star of this cautionary tale made strudel for a family celebration and placed it upon a table fairly groaning with goodies. I don’t remember my Mother’s contribution to this horn of plenty, but it was likely one of the many Bundt Cakes she used to bake. (Pistachio Pudding Cake, a close relative of the legendary Harvey Wallbanger Cake, rings a bell, its green tinged mellowness a properly coordinated accessory to the avocado-colored appliances that were the order of the day.)

Sorry. Back to the strudel…as an instrument of torture, my Mother praised her sister-in-law’s strudel on high for all to hear. It was a trap, and her sister-in-law fell for it, hook, line, and phyllo dough.

The sister-in-law made the mistake of asking, “Is it as good as your Grandmother’s?”

If she had just left well enough alone, no one would have been hurt.

The answer to that ill-advised question? Therein lay the sharpened tip of the instrument of torture: “Hmmm, not quite like my Grandmother’s. Well how could it be? Her’s was…oh, but it’s wonderful though.”

The ability to explain the specific qualities of her Grandmother’s Strudel that made it so extraordinary seemed to elude my Mother that afternoon, a deficiency that tortured her sister-in-law with its every twist and turn.

The real irony is that the sister-in-law in question was not your typical mid-twentieth century homemaker. In fact, she was an entrepreneur who, with her husband, ran a popular retail business. That she threw herself into her kitchen with the same intensity she threw herself into her business is to me, in retrospect, both admirable, and perhaps typical of her generation.

Sister-in-law is long gone, but interestingly, my Mom still hangs out with the same friends she’s had since she was a young suburban Mother. Like some modern-day extension of the Diaspora, they have all migrated from chilly New England to the same warmer location down south and after more years than I am allowed to report, they have remained close.

Their “get-togethers” then as now are marked by one inevitable characteristic: noise. Time—and hearing loss—have only heightened this ear-shattering cacophony. Where the “get togethers” used to be centered around a game of mah-jongg or cards, they now take place in a restaurant—and pity the poor waiter who has to split all those salads with dressing on the side. A couple of Extra-Strength Tylenols would not be out of place on the tip tray.

Of course the card and mah-jongg games were just an excuse to host the group at home, something that required endless reciprocation. The food was usually little deli sandwiches for don’t forget, this was long before the now well-trod path of platters of Costco Wrap sandwiches. Desserts usually met two important criteria: nothing sticky so that the cards or mah-jongg tiles would stay clean, and they had to be coffee-friendly. If one or two of the items were homemade you were assured a victory. (Fortunately this was not a tough crowd as long as you followed the rules…and left some for fat l’il Mikey when he got home from school.)

My Mom had one standby that fit these occasions perfectly. Family lore is vague on where the recipe came from—my Mother’s Grandmother? A cherished Aunt? We may never know, but what is clearly important is that at some point I had the foresight to write down the recipe. I carried the recipe around for years and never made it…I was put off by the large infusion of Crisco, an ingredient that has not stood the test of time.

After ignoring the recipe for many years, I happened to re-read it and was struck by its simplicity, its potential, and its retro style. It is the perfect Cinnamon  Coffee Cake. Why perfect? Moist. Fluffy. Delicious. Easy. Fast. (In no particular order.)

Well, it became the perfect Cinnamon Coffee Cake after I made one vital change: I use canola oil instead of Crisco. (I knew you’d approve.) The temptation remained to make other changes: brown sugar instead of white sugar? No. A touch of chocolate? Not necessary. It is one of those recipes that could go precariously off the rails if fiddled with too much.

It goes without saying that I rarely have occasion to have a group in for cards or mah-jongg, so just when do I use this cake? There are times when I meet with folks over coffee in a business setting. People who know I bake and write about it have certain expectations about me, one of which is that I won’t show up empty-handed. The perfect Cinnamon Coffee Cake fits the corporate meeting room like a pin-striped suit.

I wonder: what’s the cake version of the “power tie”?

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The recipe for my Executive Pinstripe Coffee Cake. Enjoy! Get a raise. Or a promotion.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Just like Grandma used to Tweet?

It’s nice to be the King…

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread

I hear this all the time: “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it is not all about the gifts.”

I agree, except for the gift part. Wait! Don’t judge me. In the case of Thanksgiving, the meal is the gift we all give each other. If it is better to give than to receive, then on Thanksgiving we happily have both sides of that equation amply covered. If food is love, then the last Thursday in November finds us all swaddled in a pumkiny, sagey, sugary hug.

Still, the other side of the coin is that for the folks preparing and serving the meal the day can be an absolute test of endurance, skill, organization, and patience. For some of those folks the best thing about Thanksgiving is…the day after. “Fiddle-dee-dee.” (For the incredibly young, the latter is Scarlett O’Hara’s punctuation to the exhortation that tomorrow is another day. Google “Gone With The Wind.”)

My Thanksgiving is actually all about the Macy’s Parade. Even though I am a New Yorker and can easily walk just a few blocks to watch in person, I subscribe to a parade watching technique that I like to call “Warm/Hot”. Here’s how it works: I sit in my warm living room with a cup of hot coffee. There is also usually a restrained combination of toast/pancakes/waffles/eggs in the mix—diet be damned, but still not an oink-fest; there’s a big dinner coming up in just a few hours.

Thanksgiving must be pretty darned great for it to be my favorite holiday because it has one glaring omission: chocolate. Turkey is great and all, but I nominate chocolate as the national bird…uh, I mean, Thanksgiving meal. I look at it this way: your family sits down to a Turkey dinner and after every single American has finished the communal thought, “Mmmm. It’s good. For turkey…” the squabbling and bickering begins, the kids start running in circles, and your Dad falls asleep.

Now picture the same scene, except everyone is served a plate full of chocolate. Yes, the kids will be running in even faster circles, but after you’ve eaten a plate of chocolate, who cares? And the caffeine in the chocolate will keep your Dad awake. Squabbling? Bickering? After chocolate? No way. (And clean up would be a breeze.)

However, until I am King of the World and can unilaterally enact this change, I will respect the current traditions. But that doesn’t mean that I will have Thanksgiving sans chocolate. And because I am subversive I shall sneak it in.

Case in point: dessert. Yes, I realize that Milton Hershey did not arrive at Plymouth Rock before the Pilgrims, and therefore was not waiting to greet them with a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, and therefore Thanksgiving has forever been the provenance of pumpkins and cinnamon. All of this has been carried down through the years in the service of “seasonal flavors”. Is there a season when chocolate is inappropriate? Not when I am King of the World and living in the Cocoa Castle.

I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Folks have been peddling Chocolate Pecan Pie for eons. My recipe for Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie has been heroically adding chocolate to Thanksgiving tables for hundreds of days. Why stop there? If I am to be King of the World I expect to have to earn the title through (easily attainable, moderately) good deeds. Let’s use a recent request for Gingerbread (the cake, not the cookie) as an example.

A friend asked if I would bake Gingerbread for her to take to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. She explained that her Mother has a fondness for gingerbread, but because my friend lacked a full kitchen (ahhh, New York apartments…) she didn’t think this was attainable. Oh and one more itsy bitsy little thing; her Mother hates molasses. The latter makes no sense to me because molasses is intrinsic to Gingerbread. But my friend insisted that her Mother always made hers without the stuff.

That’s when everything fell into place for me. My friend has just a tiny kitchen. Her “stove” is a couple of burners and a countertop oven. But that countertop oven is really good. It’s a Breville convection oven and is probably better than the stove in my kitchen, just smaller. My friend has no excuses; she can bake the cake herself. She doesn’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so I’ll be giving her a Bowl & Spoon recipe. It’s quick, which makes it perfect for last minute holiday baking.

Gingerbread really is just a spice cake with molasses which adds the well-known darkness and smoke to the sugar. Without molasses you really just have spice cake, but let’s dispense with names for now, shall we?

Molasses is frustrating to me because you may use a tablespoon or two during the holiday baking season, and then you’re stuck with an almost-full bottle staring at you from its shelf for the rest of the year. If you ask me we’re well rid of it. The question is, what can we use to replace the robustness of its flavor? Chocolate. (You saw that coming.)

There are a couple of ways you can use the chocolate. The first is for a subtle addition of dark notes—a kinder, gentler molasses. The other way is to let the chocolate do what it does best: be chocolate. It really depends on your audience. Are they traditionalists? Or are they in line with me, the King of The World? (In line waiting for our chocolate, that is.)

If it’s subtlety you’re after, then grate a half cup of dark chocolate with a microplane and swirl this powdery black snow through the batter just before baking. It will disappear into the batter, leaving behind only the dark, “caramelly” flavor.

If you want your chocolate to scream its presence, then add a half cup of chocolate chips, and swirl them through the batter. You’ll get little pops of chocolate with each bite, and you’ll find the synergy between the ginger and the chocolate to be a happy surprise.

(Yes, I know the microplane is a piece of equipment someone with a limited kitchen may not have, but they are cheap and can be used for everything from chocolate to shaved ice. You’ll get more mileage from a microplane than from a bottle of molasses.)

You can see from the photo that I finished my cake with a bit of powdered sugar, and a few grains of autumn-colored sanding sugar. But plain ‘ole whipped cream will be a hit, especially if you used the chocolate chips. If you happen to use whipped cream from the can, just don’t tell me. And for heaven’s sake don’t start a whipped cream fight or tell anyone you got the idea to do so from me. Unless you bring a can for everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving. Eat well, and be thankful for your bounty.

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Here’s the recipe for Bowl & Spoon Gingerbread.

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Keep these other Thanksgiving recipes in mind:

Maple Walnut Sticky Buns

Cranberry Sauce

Parker House Rolls

Anadama Bread

Baked Indian Pudding

Alfred Lunt’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Thankful for your tweets too.

Who?

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

No special occasion needed...

Some years ago I was invited to a party at the home of a close friend. When I arrived I made the usual and expected round of “Hellos” to all the people I knew at the party. My greetings included those to one who would best be described as a friend of a friend. She extended a disinterested hand and introduced herself as one would to someone you’d never met. Polite.

Unfortunately we’d played this little charade more times than I am comfortable mentioning. I had met this individual for the “first time” enough times that I don’t have enough fingers to keep count. I was seemingly purged from her memory after each meeting like the contents of your computer’s recycle bin. No recollection at all. Yet, I knew her name, both of her husbands’ names, how many kids she had, and a vague idea of their ages.

After another friend who witnessed this scene picked her jaw up from the floor we recovered nicely and had a nice party.

The next day I called the close friend who had proffered the invitation to thank him for his hospitality and in a moment of fed up candor let fly with the opinion that his friend was a dope. (Yes, I may have used a more explicit compound word.)

He offered some weak excuses for his friend that mainly revealed an acknowledgement and acceptance of her social shortcomings…her “problem” as he called it. He’s simply not a judgmental person. Rather than feeling slighted by this, I actually ended up wishing that I could be less judgmental.

Through the years the same scenario has happened to me a couple of other times with a couple of other people. I may be getting to the age that I just don’t care anymore. Wait. No. I’m not quite there yet. It still rankles and still doesn’t answer the question: if I remember you, why don’t you remember me?

Conversely, a few years ago I was at the theater seeing an awful play. I stepped outside to the street to use my phone. After I finished my conversation I turned to head back into the theater and was stopped by a smiling man who looked at me and yelled, “Bobby!” It took a moment to register that he was talking to me because my name is not Bobby. (Never has been.)

I shrugged, “Sorry, I think you have the wrong guy” and continued into the theater. But he persisted and followed me. In the brighter light of the lobby I could see he wasn’t some unhinged homeless man on a chemically induced field trip. He was nicely dressed, clean, and looked more than a little bit insulted.

“Are you sure you’re not Bobby Smith?”

Taking refuge amongst the theater’s front-of-house staff, I avowed, “Oh, yeah” but the man remained unconvinced—skeptical perhaps that a long lost friend was either playing a joke on him, or had entered the witness protection program.

It was at this point that one of us entered “The Twilight Zone” because he asked me to prove my identity by showing him my driver’s license. Luckily the gentleman was otherwise persuaded that I was, indeed, not Bobby, and departed.

(Actually, I think in part he was intimidated by one of the tougher looking ushers who was giving him the evil eye. I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with her either.)

Tall, bald, bespectacled, and what my grandmother used to call “hamish”: here in New York we are a rather interchangeable, dime-a-dozen crowd. Legions of us swarm the city taking each other’s Bar exams, drug tests, and marriage vows when the real guy is unavoidably detained or just off fishing. Will the real Bobby Smith please stand up?

And what of my insistent pursuer of mistaken identities? One could make a few guesses about him: unacknowledged poor eyesight…unobservant…perhaps he assembles the “no fly” lists for the TSA? Poor Bobby Smith (or is it Smythe?). With friends like that…

The ironic soundtrack to this little documentary is Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable.” (Use the version where they superimposed his daughter’s voice to create a duet. It’ll be easier to cross cut the film.)

It seems to me that the world may be divided into two groups: the first group looks at you, remembers you, and files you away in the appropriate area of their cortex to be recalled at will by the human brain’s amazing face recognition system. The other, much smaller, group lacks the ability to retain this information. It is to those poor, sad, souls that we must extend a hand to help them through the lunar landscape of social interaction.

Advertising copywriters have been addressing this problem for years in perfume ads. There’s even a perfume named “Unforgettable.” This is all based on the theory that the whiff of a perfume will implant itself in the cortex along with other memories of you. If the proximity is close enough, sometimes it really does work.

Some of us just aren’t the perfume type. That’s why they invented the chocolate cupcake. While we cannot wear cupcakes, we can bring them to work or to friends. There’s no need for a special occasion—we’ll create memories nonetheless. Someone will always remember you. Just play it very cool. “Oh, those? I had a few minutes so I threw them together.”

You won’t be lying. The recipe is part of my Bowl & Spoon program. No mixer is needed, even for the ganache frosting. They mix together quickly, and to frost them you only need to dip the tops in the ganache: no frosting technique is needed. If you can dunk, you’re in.

BTW: if you know Bobby Smith tell him that some guy who looks like the actor Kevin Pollack was looking for him.

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Click here for the recipe for Bowl & Spoon All-Occasion Chocolate Cupcakes.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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