Friday, April 30, 2010

Caramel Cake

Today is the last day of April, which means the year is one-third over.  It also means that I should have made serious headway through my 10 cakes to bake in 2010 list.  Anyone who’s been paying attention might be wondering, where’s the cake?

I made number two on the list, the caramel cake, a while back.  This recipe, adapted from Virginia Willis and Scott Peacock, ran in a New York Times article about Alabama cake ladies, back in December.
A warning from Nancie McDermott (author of Southern Cakes) ran in the accompanying article: “That frosting is a demon.  There’s a reason people quit making that boiled frosting and went to confectioners’ sugar.  But that’s what makes these cakes so special.  It’s really a dying art.”

Did I heed the warning?  Of course not.  And I my cake was a cake only a mother could love.  And even then maybe only if it were her only cake (and she hadn’t seen any of her sister’s cakes, or the cakes down the block).  Ugly doesn’t begin to describe my caramel cake.

The article clearly stated the trick: work fast so the frosting doesn’t set up before the cake is frosted.

I didn’t work fast enough; the frosting set up.  After a couple of futile moments trying to spread it on the cake, I started patting bits of frosting on to the sides and top of the yellow cake.  It was like working with playdough.

But it smelled and tasted so much better than playdough.  Turns out if you mix caramelized sugar with cream, butter, and vanilla it doesn’t really matter what the concoction looks like.  It tastes delicious.

And if you have to give in and pat it onto the cake, you’ll have a lot to lick off your hands after—more than would have stuck to the spatula.

I was going to wait to put this up until I made it again, and had prettier pictures to offer.  But then I was reading back over that Times article, and I clicked on the accompanying video of Kim Severson visiting those Alabama cake ladies.  Towards the end, she tried making one in her kitchen—the results were less than perfect.

But not as far less as mine were.  I’m going to try the cake again one of these days (because it really was delicious, with a tall glass of milk).  But in the meantime, I’ll let you appreciate the epic nature of my failure.

I give you…a cake only a mother could love (though, oddly enough, anyone seemed able to eat it):

Caramel Cake

Caramel Cake 2

Next week I’ll be back with another cake from the 10 in 2010 list, this one tasted wonderful and looked fine.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

IACP in Portland

Last week I was at my first IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference, here in Portland. Attending a conference in your hometown is a mixed bag.  You know where to eat, and you don’t have to pay for a hotel, but you miss out on the complete immersion experience.   I was quickly overwhelmed—so many people to talk to, so many sessions to attend. 

Here’s a rundown of some of the things I heard, followed by my epiphany (or what passes for one around here).
Ruth Reichl and Kim Severson
Ruth Reichl discussed Gourmet’s demise, bemoaning the tragic waste of cumulative years of experience (much of the Gourmet staff remains unemployed), and likening the sick magazine model (paid for by advertisers, not the readers who cared about the magazine) to our sick food model. 

Next, Kim Severson interviewed Reichl.  I’d heard Severson was funny, but, oh my—she is really funny.  I’d put a hold at the library on her new book, Spoon Fed; After hearing her, I couldn’t wait.  I went out and bought a copy instead.

Severson is also an excellent interviewer.  After discussing the ethics of eating meats (Reichl saying we couldn’t in good conscience eat feedlot meats, once we knew how the animals are treated), Severson asked Reichl what she does about eating at food carts.  Reichl answered, to paraphrase, that she felt bad about it—but she wasn’t going to stop eating in Chinatown.

I was glad Severson asked, it’s something I wrestle with.  I was also glad that Reichl answered so honestly, admitting her own uncertainty and discomfort.  Because it reminded me that we all—even Ruth Reichl—have to make difficult choices.  So much better to keep these questions part of the conversation. 
Portland’s James Beard
I spent one day immersed in James Beard stories.  Ron Paul and Robert Reynolds led a walking tour in the morning—we wound our way down Yamhill Street, with Paul pointing out the sites of the old market, and Reynolds reading excerpts from Beard’s Delights and Prejudices.  At the end, we ate biscuit, prosciutto, and butter sandwiches, with a mini-chocolate roulade with coffee buttercream for dessert.

That afternoon, Madhur Jaffrey and Judith Jones talked about Beard: friendships, pleasures, food, and memories.  Towards the end of his life, when Beard was in the hospital, Jaffrey asked what she could bring him.  “I think some strawberries would be nice,” he answered.

Listening to Reynolds read from Beard’s memoir, and Jaffrey and Jones tell their stories was delicious—I felt a bit like someone was telling me bedtime stories.
But Tell Us How You Really Feel, Michael Ruhlman
But I did miss the ‘Death of a Recipe’ session, when Michael Ruhlman said exactly what he thinks about people not having time to cook.  For more on that, check his Huffington Post piece, Message to Food Editors.

Or watch the video.  Here are the first 10 minutes—Ruhlman speaks up at about the 5 minute mark.

And here come the real fireworks. Go Ruhlman!


So, the IACP recap: I met new friends, and visited with friends I’ve met through the blog.  I even reconnected with someone I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years, which ought to be mathematically impossible, seeing as neither of us seems a day over 20.  Or so.  I finally got to eat at Nong’s Khao Man Gai (it was worth the wait), and managed to introduce at least one person to my favorite local sweet, Ken’s cannelés.

Finally, I felt scattered at the conference.  I was going home in between sessions, and dealing with a sick cat and a daughter’s bank snafu in Italy.  Some sessions left me worried about ‘growing’ my career; guilty at not working more at self-promotion.  I wondered if I should just pack it in, stop writing, and get a job selling shoes at Nordstrom’s (they have a great discount).

But halfway through the session I got it.  Food—cooking it and eating it—is inseparable from life.  And that’s great.  I’ve always worked to keep balance in my life, putting family and friends at the top (because I like them there).  I’m not ready to stop that.  So I’ll keep going, writing my way—sometimes more, sometimes less.  Family and friends up at the top.  Dinner on the table (even if some nights it’s just an omelet, toast, and a salad).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nesselrode Macarons

Nesselrode Macarons 02
When I was a kid, my father often talked about how much he loved Nesselrode Sauce, but he never did anything about it—other than repeat how delicious the mix of chestnuts, cherries, candied orange peel, and rum was.

Finally, one Christmas I made him a batch of the sauce, from a recipe in Helen Witty's 'Fancy Pantry' (now sadly out of print, but available used).  I was lucky to find the recipe. 
A Little Nesselrode Background
Nesselrode (sauce, pie, or pudding) isn’t widely known.  Back in 1988, the New York Times published ‘The Culinary Mystery of Nesselrode Pie’, in which they asked top chefs of the day about Nesselrode.  Such luminaries as Lutece’s Andre Soltner, George Lang, and Charles Palmer couldn’t come up with its main ingredient (chestnuts).

Count Nesselrode
Named for Count Nesselrode, a Russian diplomat who helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris to end the Crimean War (which apparently his foreign policies helped start in the first place), the many dishes that use the name all contain pureed chestnuts.  But the creator was Nesselrode’s chef, Monsieur Mouy. Or perhaps Monsieur Mony—both names turn up in books and articles.

Antonin Carême
And even that isn’t positive—others have credited Antonin Carême, who accused Mouy of stealing his pudding recipe.  You can read more about it over at the blog Playing with Fire and water, which recently posted about Nesselrode pie.

Witty’s recipe combines mashed and whole chestnuts cooked in vanilla syrup; cherries, citron, and candied orange peel macerated in maraschino liqueur; and raisins and currants soaked in rum.  I wish every cupboard had a jar at the ready (or at least mine--it would be wonderful spooned over ice cream, or eaten out of the jar in the dark, with a spoon and a guilty conscience).

Nesselrode Macarons 04

Last week my father visited.  I wanted to make something he’d particularly enjoy, and since I’ve been making macarons lately, Nesselrode macarons seemed the obvious solution.  Make that ‘Nesselrode macaro(o)ns’.
The Macaroon/Macaron Divide
Because if there’s one thing my family enjoys nearly as much as eating and talking about food, it’s discussing seemingly meaningless issues in often excruciating detail.  So much, that some family friends have a code word for it: TSQ, or Typical Shere Question (my maiden name).

This visit, the first TSQ had to do with the macaron/macaroon divide.  I’m Switzerland on this question.  I’m content calling them what most everyone else calls them (macarons).  But I’ve got no beef with people calling them macaroons.

It’s not just the Sheres who are wondering.  There’s plenty of discussion on the internet, at Chowhound, NPR,, and Wikipedia (where they say ‘macaron’ is not to be confused with ‘macaroon’).

Nesselrode Macarons 01
Nesselrode Macarons
Again, I started with Helen Dujardin’s (of Tartelette) basic macaron shell recipe.
  • 90 grams egg whites (about 3, aged 24 hours to allow evaporation of some moisture)
  • 200 grams powdered sugar
  • 110 grams almond flour
  • 10 grams candied orange peel, plus extra to garnish
  • 30 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons orange powdered coloring (available online at sugarcraft; I bought mine here in Portland at The Decorette Shop—conveniently located across the street from Foster Burger, but that’s another story)
Combine the powdered sugar and almond flour, and then put the mixture into a food processor with the candied orange peel.  Pulse until the peel is ground (it won’t be perfectly fine).  Continue with Dujardin’s directions for beating the egg whites, combining the two mixtures, and piping out the macarons. 
Give the cookie sheets a firm rapping on the counter (it’s supposed to help them form their ‘feet’), and then, if desired, garnish half the cookies with chopped candied orange peel.  Preheat the oven to 300F degrees, and let the cookies sit 30 minutes before baking, according to Dujardin’s recipe.

Nesselrode Buttercream Filling
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 120 grams sweetened chestnut paste
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons rum
  • 10 grams chopped candied orange peel
  • 15 grams amarena cherries, chopped

With a mixer, beat the butter and chestnut paste until smooth.  Mix in the rum, then add the candied orange peel and cherries.

Next time I make these, I’m going to try making the filling without the butter--just chestnut paste, rum, orange peel, and cherries.

Nesselrode Macarons 03

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cupcake Flavor

Cupcake Flavor Magic Shell
Just curious.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what Smucker’s Magic Shell is?  I came across it while innocently searching for malted milk powder.
The Quest for Malted Milk Powder
The malted milk powder quest started after our drive back from Laytonville a few weeks back. We got sidetracked in Crescent City, in search of Haagen Dazs bars, and found ourselves winding into Oregon on HWY 199 much later than planned.  We passed the time with some of Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg’s Spilled Milk podcasts.  Pavel and I were a little giddy from the late night driving, and their humor matched ours perfectly.

Episode 3, milkshakes, especially resonated.  When we got home, inspired by the podcast and a fresh delivery of milk from Noris Dairy (non-homogenized, with a nice plug of cream on top), I pulled down my jar of malted milk powder, planning a tall glass of frothy malted milk.  Instead, I found out what happens when moisture gets in the jar: you get a solid brick of powder.

Malted Milk Powder
Ever since, I’ve been on a quest for a new jar.  I checked Whole Foods, knowing they wouldn’t have it.  Strike one.  I looked at New Seasons, assuming their mix of local, natural, and mainstream foods would include it.  Strike two.  I gave in and stopped at Safeway, not even imagining they wouldn’t have any. Strike three.  Today I stopped at Fred Meyers, hoping to get lucky.  Who knew you could get a strike four call?

But I did find cupcake flavored magic shell.

I am seriously out of step with modern life.  Magic Shell is apparently a magic substance that hardens when you put it on ice cream, only to be shattered with a spoon and stirred into your ice cream (and here I’ve been perfectly happy with some toasted nuts for added crunch).

But what the heck is ‘cupcake flavor’?  Last I checked, there were vanilla cupcakes, Red Velvet cupcakes, German chocolate cupcakes (I’ve been meaning to try those!), Black-Bottom cupcakes, lemon get the picture.  Perhaps the flavor is a cupcake fusion, a veritable cupcake explosion in your mouth.  Yum yum.

And another grocery store find from this cranky shopper: Sippah Milk Flavoring Straws.  This is apparently a straw fashioned from cookies (Oreos, Chips Ahoy…).  After sipping your milk through them, you eat them.  Apparently they’re filled with “special Unibeads that…dissolve and turn boring white milk into a healthy snack…”  I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that!

I wonder about a world where the grocery store offers oddly flavored concoctions for science experiments in your ice cream bowl and milk glass, but no malted milk powder for a good old-fashioned ice cream malt.

What about it?  Does anyone know who in Portland sells Carnation or Horlicks malted milk powder?  Or do I just have to order it online?
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