I grew up in a small town that had one “fancy” restaurant reserved for special events. While I am not certain, I would guess that I spent most of my birthdays there as well as the birthdays of aunts, uncles, parents, and my brother. I’m sure my parents celebrated all of their anniversaries at this supper club. I remember it as the spot chosen for my final senior prom. It was located at a public golf course and had large windows overlooking the lush green golf course. On the weekends they had a piano bar that we would have to walk through to get to our table. I remember the feel of my tight patent leather shoes as we walked through the parking lot and the excitement of our upcoming dinner. It was here that I had my first encounter with a “dessert tray.” For a child that grew up on TV dinners and McDonalds, going to a restaurant of this caliber was thrilling. I felt that I had some idea of what it must be like to dine at a 4-star restaurant in NYC each time we ate here. The height of sophistication, I thought, was the desserts. I have to admit, I really don’t remember most of  the dessert choices very well. I believe they were always the same, which didn’t bother me in the least. The one that I loved the most was the rum cake. Looking back, it was likely made from a mix, but I didn’t care! It was soaked with rum and covered with ice cream, more rum sauce and whipped cream. It seemed the closest thing to an alcoholic beverage I was going to get at age 10. My grandmother would tease me that I would get drunk each time I ordered it.

So, this was the back drop to my making Dorie’s Rum Soaked Vanilla Cake. I shied away from using all of the syrup and I think I baked it too long (how do the rest of you deal with dry ends and not quite done middles?). But the flavor of rum transported me back to our local supper club and the feeling of a young child who felt she knew what it was like to be a grown up. Once again….thank-you Dorie.

It has been weeks since I have added anything to my blog. I continue to be recovering from my illness, and as I noted in my last post (I think), since I have been sick I have been repeatedly baking the same things or at least recipes that are very familiar. I have bags of my new favorite heath bar shortbread cookies in my freezer (the salty/sweet sable created by Dorie on her blog) and a fair number of Tish Boyle’s peanut bars…another favorite. I have been a part of two baking groups (TWD and Sweet Melissa Sundays) and have learned something about myself over the last few months. I have been fairly consistent about watching out for the recipe of the week on each baking site. I realized, however, that I find it difficult to take a recipe at face value. Several weeks ago, the Sweet Melissa’s recipe was carrot cake. Yum! I love carrot cake. However, I found it very difficult to just make the recipe that was in the book. Instead, I pulled out dozens of cookbooks, looked over the carrot cake recipes, compared them and then decided (ultimately) that I wanted to try the recipe in a different book. Since I was only going to be making one carrot cake (and likely not make another for months, I felt compelled to make the one that was going to be THE BEST). I felt guilty about this and then didn’t write up my experience.

So, when it was time to make this week’s TWD bundt cake, I felt worried I would never actually get to the point of making this cake, getting waylaid by other recipes. However, this recipe was unusual enough that I didn’t immediate see any points of comparison. I followed the recipe as laid out by Dorie, used almond meal rather than ground walnuts (I find them too bitter at times), and make the cake in two loaf pans rather than a bundt. It was….perfect. I loved the intensity of the mocha paired with the sweetness of the vanilla cake. It was really moist, not too dense, and perfect with coffee. Thank-you, Dorie, for another great recipe. I think I will be comparing other bundt cakes to this one in the future, which might get in the way of my straying too much from this recipe when other recipes are crying out to be tried.

Celebrate!

June 30, 2009

The TWD recipe for this week’s Perfect Party Cake came at the ideal time. I had just welcomed back my youngest daughter from a successful first sleep-away camp experience and then I came down with a flu that resulted in my losing my taste for food, baking, working, walking, or even getting out of bed and ultimately passed it on to previously-mentioned camping daughter. Needless to say, last week was not a good one at my house. Then, the weekend arrived, I began to think about eating and it was time to do my weekend baking. Dorie’s cake was the perfect way to celebrate! I went back and forth about how, and if, to “play around” with her recipe. I ultimately made mine much like hers outside of adding local organic strawberries to the middle layer and deleting the coconut. I realized I had never before made a yolk-less white cake! My family was glad to welcome me back to the world and particularly glad that their cook/baker was back on board. My oldest daughter said, “I can’t imagine being at camp too long without your food.”  I can’t imagine being without all that she gives me, as well.

Cameron and Kate Enjoying the Party Cake

Cameron and Kate Enjoying the Party Cake

We had a very intense weekend as my oldest daughter competed in the Regional Spelling Bee. She is a studious, serious, high achiever, who, after winning the local bee, studied her heart out to prepare for this last weekend. She knew how to spell words like perfidy, penitentiary, taupe, boysenberry, nadir, contiguous, and picaresque.  However, as the bee got underway, she was given the word “geta.”  What?  How is that possible? Even now, as I write this, my spell-check says that this is not a correctly spelled word. She gave it her very best shot and we all shared her disappointment as the judge said, “Pause…incorrect.”  What was particularly difficult is that she knew all of the subsequent words, outside of ustion and pfeffernuss.

 

So, since the bee, I have been in a bit of a funk. I keep trying to come back to the life lesson my daughter learned (and one that I need to be reminded of again and again)…there is so much in life we cannot control! Had she been given another word, she might be on her way to Washington in late May. So many things could have influenced whether or not that would have happened.

 

I was given another opportunity to be faced with my lack of control as I baked Dorie’s French Yogurt Cake on Sunday. This was the weekly selection from the Tuesdays With Dorie Group. I looked forward to the chance to bake a simple cake, with hopefully good results.  I thought I had followed the directions completely. It appeared to be done when I removed it from the oven, and yet half of it stayed behind when I tried to flip it out of the loaf pan. Disappointment!!! How many times have I baked a loaf cake with perfect results? Yet this time, some aspect of it had been out of my control. Once I patched it together, we all decided that the flavor was familiar and luscious, a perfect foil to strawberries and whipped cream. It was also another message that we have control over only small aspects of our lives and we are constantly reminded of this through life’s unexpected disappointments and joys.

Potluck Olympics

February 16, 2009

When you think about going to a potluck, if you are like most people I know, you envision a casual affair in which friends and acquaintances share favorite recipes, purchases from local grocery stores and low-key conversations.  I, on the other hand, have numerous rules for myself at these events and, I’m embarrassed to say, feel somewhat uncomfortable bringing just anything (or for that matter eating just anything).  I know it is not meant to be this, but sharing a dish at a pot luck somehow turns into a Olympic-style competition where I am vying with other entries for the honor of being the talk of the town. “Wow, did you taste that cheesecake? I wonder who made it. You did? That is the best cheesecake I’ve EVER tasted.” I find myself competing with people who didn’t even know the event that they had entered. I’m guessing you can understand my dilemma as I approach one of these pot-lucks. I love having people notice and enjoy what I’ve made, but I also LOVE making new recipes. I found myself faced with this conflict last night when invited to a work event with many people who know nothing about my life as a baker (or my need to steal the show).  I spent most of the day on Saturday trying to decide how great a risk I was willing to take. Could I bring the Devil’s Food White-Out Cake that I was making as part of baking with Tuesdays With Dorie? I had never made this before and was worried that it might be too much of a risk (my children were also freaking out at the possibility that they would not be the first tasters of this marshmallow fantasy that reminded me of one of my childhood loves… Ho-Hos!).  I opted for some safer choices, Pasta Raphael, one of my favorite vegetarian pasta recipes from The New Basics, a wonderful amalgam of tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, lots of freshly ground black pepper, Greek olives, and garlic.  I also thought that I would take a small risk, as well. Since I was bringing a main course, couldn’t I also bring a simple dessert, one that would allow me to try a new recipe but not attempt to be a show-stopper like Dorie’s cake? I made the Coffee Crunch bars from last month’s Bon Appetit.  The recipe, written by Molly Wizenberg, “the voice behind the award-winning blog Orangette” resulted in a bar that I can imagine making time and time again.  They are buttery, coffee-flavored, sugary perfection. I substituted the almonds with some incredible toasted hazelnuts and I must say this has become a favorite recipe overnight.  I have to admit that both recipes appeared humble and did not take center stage (or first place).  Most of the people brought items that they had purchased at a store and my entries looked small (and not well marketed).  Oh well. Live and learn. I will remain in training until the next event.

This photo does not do justice to this week's cake. We LOVED it!

This photo does not do justice to this week's cake. We LOVED it!