Archive for February, 2009

February Pound Cake Project, Take Four: 18th Century Pound Cake

Historic Pound Cake

A pound cake straight out of history.

I made this pound cake because one of my friends was horrified at the complexity of Shirley O’Corriher’s 15 ingredient Frankenstein-like pound cake. My friend hates fussy recipes, and was more interested in how a classic pound cake, made with a pound of sugar, flour, eggs and butter, would stand up against these modern scientific creations.

After some internet sleuthing, I came across a pound cake recipe in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse. Published in 1741, this book made Glasse into a Martha Stewart of the 18th century English-speaking world. Glasse pioneered a simple, straightforward instructional style in her recipes, and her extensive cookbook profoundly influenced the cooking of the United Kingdom and the American colonies.

You can see her characteristically friendly style in the pound cake recipe:

Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream, then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat it in, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven.

As soon as I read it I decided to cut the recipe in half, since there was no way that a pound of butter, sugar, flour, and twelve eggs would fit in my loaf pan. I also omitted the “carraways” (caraway seeds, as far as I could tell), since I didn’t want to make a special trip to the store.

After relying so heavily on the Kitchen Aid mixer, making a cake entirely by hand was quite an experience. First of all, I don’t have a wooden spoon, and my silicone spatula was difficult to use to cream the butter, as the top kept on flopping around. Fortunately, I own a (rather crappy) kitchen scale, so I was able to weigh out the butter and flour without any problems.

As for the beating it for an hour? It was kind of fun. Granted, Hannah Glasse wasn’t able to sit and watch three episodes of The Office while she beat her pound cake batter, so I suppose that wasn’t the most historically appropriate choice. What I liked about beating the batter by hand is that it forced me to see the subtle changes in its consistency. When I first started mixing the batter was so thick that I could barely stir the stuff. By but the end the batter was thinner and glossier, looking much more like a cake batter than a cookie batter.

Historic Pound Cake Batter

The batter, half way through the hour of beating. Yes, my arm was really tired.

The cake itself was interesting from a research perspective, but not something I’d make again. First of all, there was something off about the batter, because the top part never quite baked through, even though I left it in the oven for an extra half an hour (the edges were slightly burned as a result, as you can see from the photo). The texture was odd – it was extremely crumbly and dry, with a very tight crumb that left my mouth feeling parched. And the taste was overwhelmingly, tooth-achingly sweet.

Historic Pound Cake Slice

As you can see, the batter didn't quite cook all the way through.

Still, it was a fun experiment, and made me appreciate the wonders of modern kitchen science. I would definitely make a historic recipe again, for nothing more than it gave my arms a great work out.

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Top Chef Finale: Top Chef Jumps the Shark in Horrific Season Two Flashback

top-chef-514-episodic-15
This photo is wrong. Wrong.

Hosea? Seriously, Hosea is Top Chef? I didn’t even think he should have made it to the finale. I’m having flashbacks to Season Two, when Ilan won even though it was obvious he could only cook Spanish food, and he could only cook that because he worked in a Spanish restaurant. Throughout the entire competition, Hosea was “fine.” His work was “fine.” I would place him solidly in the upper middle of the pack. But the work of a Top Chef? Give me a break.

There’s been a lot of internet angst unleashed because of Hosea’s win, and while I think that Gawker’s going too far, I agree with other bloggers who are upset that Carla undermined herself. I also agree that this season was really a competition in mediocrity.

The more I think about it, the more I think that Hosea’s win was the result of poor culinary casting. Season Five was cast for personalities, not for cooking skills, which is why it lacked the inspired cooking of seasons past. There was no Richard Blaise, no Harold Dieterle, no Stephanie Izard, who didn’t just turn out good food – they turned out creative, skillful creations that were on a different level from their competitors. Actually, I’m wrong – Jamie was this person for Season Five. She turned out simple, creative, well executed food week after week (with a couple slip ups, like the celery that sent her home. And those scallops). But instead, she didn’t make it to the finale!

Instead, everyone was just “okay,” allowing Hosea to win essentially because he didn’t make any huge screw ups. I also think this is why Stefan was able to win so many challenges – even if his dishes weren’t always the most creative, he was able to execute them consistently.

And poor Carla! I was rooting for her all the way, and I was so disappointed that she didn’t do better. Considering that she was going up against a middling Hosea and an overly-cocky Stefan, she really could have won this thing. On the one hand, I admired that she collaborated with Casey – working well in a team is a good skill in the real world. But great chefs are artists, and artists work to execute their singular vision. Carla had the vision, but she just wasn’t ruthless enough to execute it. It’s a real shame.

Also, before I go into the actual recap, thanks to Elipis and Justice for saving the day last week and doing an excellent recap of part one of the season finale. Please visit her blog and check out her cool posts about health disparities.

End Rant

The actual recap, with some more ranting.

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February Pound Cake Project Take Three: Nigella’s Lemon Not Quite Pound Cake

Nigella Pound Cake 1

Nigella Lawson's lemon syrup loaf cake, with some changes.

My soul was flagging a little in the middle of the February Pound Cake Project. For all that I love highly tested, extremely scientific recipes, part of me wanted to bake something comforting and homey, without all those explanatory notes about the chemical reasons for using cake flour rather than all-purpose flour.

It was in this state of mind that I turned to Nigella Lawson, whose outrageously descriptive and soulful prose seemed like a perfect antidote to scientific overload. Also, seeing as the pound cake originated in England, it made a certain kind of sense to try the recipe of this British domestic.

But I ran into a road block, as Nigella doesn’t actually have a recipe for plain pound cake in How To Be A Domestic Goddess. But many of her recipes are loaf cakes, which all look to be variations on the classic pound cake recipe. “Close enough,” I thought, happily bending the Project rules to suit my own will.

I chose to make her lemon-syrup loaf cake with a couple of changes, the biggest of which is that I omitted the syrup. I’ve never understood why some pound cakes are drenched in soaking syrup, transforming a perfect piece of cake into a dense, sickly sweet and sloppy creation that shouldn’t be allowed near a dessert tray. In lieu of the soaking syrup, I made my own lemon icing and drizzled it over the cake.

The recipe also calls for self-rising cake flour, which I didn’t have on hand, and which I doubt they even sell in my crappy Giant. So I used the substitution suggested in Wonktheplank’s Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, (add 1 teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to a cup of cake flour).

The result was perfection. This cake was definitely different than the first two pound cakes – those had a tender, close crumb, that melted in your mouth. This cake was lighter, without the close crumb, and much more crumbly. The lemon icing and the lemon zest in the batter also added greatly to its appeal – it’s amazing what a little citrus can do for a cake!

Nigella Pound Cake Slices

Mmmmm, lovely slices of pound cake.

The Recipe for Lemon (Sans Syrup) Loaf Cake

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Orange You Glad We Didn’t Say Banana?

With ModernDomestic ailing, it has fallen to WonkthePlank to titillate the ‘sphere with a guest blog recipe so delicious, so outrageously flavorful that the masses will drive her beloved Blog Stats up to heretofore unseen highs. That, we think, is truly the best medicine.

With that in mind, we proudly present:

And lo, a Child is born!

A meal full of healing energy for ModernDomestic!

Orange Mac and Cheese with Ants on a Log
A WonkthePlank mainstay from our bachelor days

Ingredients

1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
7.25 oz. elbow macaroni
1 bag orange powdered cheese
2 sticks celery
peanut butter
raisins

Directions

First, boil some water in a pot and cook the macaroni for 7-10 minutes or until tender.

While the macaroni is cooking, wash the celery (ideally, it should be aged 2-3 weeks), spread some peanut butter on and stick your ants (raisins) on top.

Once the macaroni is done, add the powdered Plank sauce, the butter and the milk. Stir vigorously until the macaroni turns a bold, shocking orange.

And lo, a Child is Born!

And lo, a Child is Born!

Now, some cooks may not have the virtuosity required to prepare the pièce de résistance that is Orange Macaroni and Cheese with Ants on a Log. But for these yeoman chefs, fear not! We have lower hanging fruit – in the form of a banana.

Even an inexperienced chef can handle this recipe with ease

Even an inexperienced chef can handle this recipe with ease

Sliced Banana With Toothpick
Another WonkthePlank original

Ingredients

1 banana
1 toothpick

Directions

Peel, then slice the banana into bite-sized chunks. Insert toothpick. Serve chilled.

A tasty treat that anyone can prepare

Mmmmm...

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Top Chef: Soul(ess) Cooking in New Orleans

As moderndomestic had mentioned in her last Top Chef recap I’ve been asked to step in to “save the day” and take the blogging reigns for a post.  I’m not quite sure why she would request Elpis and Justice, who is usually busy writing about public health issues, but I’ll enjoy my power trip.  

Top Chef has been miraculously transplanted to New Orleans!  The guest judge is Emeril Lagasse!  The chefs are back and looking well rested.  I think the producers required each of the contestants to get a new haircut to emphasize the how much time has passed.  Modern’s boyfriend Fabio is sporting an miniature mohawk.  I’ll have to ask her how she feels about the new look.

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

What a beautiful setting for a Quick Fire Challenge!

The Quick Fire Challenge will take place on the grounds of the lovely Houmas House, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens and, ahh, as Fabio so eloquently put, trees with “stuff hanging all over.”  As the camera pans to the quick fire area there is something missing… a fourth table!  What’s this??  Will there be teams?  Will there be a duel to the death?  Will Stefan be heckling from the sidelines??

No no, in a Project Runway style tactic, to honor the rebirth of New Orleans three old contestants will be brought back to compete to get back into the competition.  Jamie, Leah, and Jeff (wtf?) are competing in the Quick Fire Challenge.  I quickly write off Jeff, and assume this will be a battle between Team Rainbow and Team, ah, Slumpy.

Jamie is back- I’m so excited!  Her perfect opportunity to redeem herself.  I can see it now.  Jamie will win, she’ll be amazing, she’ll be in the top three, it will be a close race between her and Stefan… but, oh wait they have to cook first.

The chefs have one hour to create a dish that incorporates crawfish.  

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Looks sort of like Leah, rather "meh"

Leah produces a nice crawfish soup with andouille and sausage.  She’s never made a gumbo before, but her product looks pretty nice.  I’d say it’s a bit heavy on the broth.  Personally I don’t like to drink a think soup in hot weather.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me.  The judges thought otherwise.

This just looked like a bowl of mush to me. The judges thought otherwise.

I assume Jeff is going to make three things poorly.  However it seems like he realized something during his time at home- on Top Chef it’s best to do just one thing well, or if you’re Stefan- three amazing things and a mango lollipop.  He makes crawfish with grits with andouille and beer.   This sort of grossed me out.  There wasn’t much variation in texture and looked like a big mush meal to me.       

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back?  I hope so!

Will this dish be good enough to bring Jamie back? I hope so!

Jamie gets down to business and makes corncake, greens, poached Egg with andouille and crawfish cream sauce.  This seems much more creative than Leah’s interpretation, so mentally crown Jamie the winner during yet another uncomfortably long commercial break.  

The judging begins.  Jamie should…. wait.  Apparently Emeril didn’t watch the tapes.  He should know that Jeff sucks.  I don’t know how he made it so far in the show.  He consistently made mediocre/bad food, messed up other people’s good food, and, and, and Emeril names him the winner!?  Wait!  That was Jamie’s spot!  Nooooooo!  Jeff triumphantly accepts his copy of chef Lagasse book Emeril at the Grill.  

The chefs are invited to Emeril’s DelMonico and will retire for the evening at Hotel Monteleone. 

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

What a great hotel to be totally stressed out in!

Before the competition begins, the contestants run through why they’re here.  Fabio is looking to win the money and help his sick mother in Italy, Hosea just wants to win, Carla is motivated by her family’s love… and Stefan tells us that this isn’t a “butt (or back? speak clearly!!) rubbing contest- there will be a slaughtering.”  Okay.

Carla, I gotta give it to you Carla.  I’ve never believed in you.  I’m a convert.  You cook good food, you cook it with compassion, and you’re just sweet.  I don’t think Stefan would think twice about spitting in your Finnish fish if he felt like it would either make the food taste better or he had a vendetta.  I don’t trust you- Finn.

The challenge is unveiled.  The chefs will be cooking for a masquerade party hosted by the Krewe of Orpheus at the New Orleans Museum of Art.  The chefs must make two dishes (one inspired by traditional Creole cooking) and a cocktail.  Winner gets a car (I shall not say the name just to spite shameless product placement!)  Fabio hopes to win because his car “is a piece of poo.”  Jeff needs to win in order to stay in the competition (stipulation of the quick fire).  

The chefs dash off to Emeril’s kitchen and begin their work.  Hosea decides to make a gumbo as his traditional Creole food.  He’s acting like a true Top Chef by putting a lot of time and effort into making a proper roux.  Roux is a combination of oil and flour, that is slowly cooked.  A good gumbo has a well developed roux.    

Jeff has also embraces the Top Chef spirit by making his own sausage.  I’m too mad at Jeff to care. 

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Padma looking beautiful as usual.

Fabio decides to add an Italian twist to his food.  He’s busy making pasta and bread from scratch.  Oh boy Fabio, this might not be such a good idea.  Creole cooking is already a fusion of so many cultures, fuse it any more and there will be fission- and physicists can’t even do that.

Carla has decided to make an oyster stew.  Although she shucked her first oyster last week, she’s decided to shuck 100 for one of the most important challenges.  Carla, you may have just shucked yourself out of the running, and no, the boys aren’t going to chip in for one second.

The producers have edited Stefan into a real jerk this episode.  He’s behaving much like the hare he’s stewing by playing with sausages, going out to smoke, and creatively dragging his feet.  I don’t know if you learn about Aesop’s Fables in Finland, Stefan, but screwing around in the final leg of the race is a real no no.  The other chefs are equally annoyed.

It’s time to set up for the party.  The chefs go to their respective stations.  Hosea managed to forget a whisk, Carla laments about no one offering to help with the shucking, Stefan is out smoking with his bar tender, and Jeff is wringing his hands.

The party begins and the judges are mysteriously wearing black masks.  They remove them to reveal that the judges are…. Padama, Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, and Emeril Lagasse… why were they wearing masks??  That wasn’t a surprise!  Fabio mentions that the masquerade theme reminds him of an old po–adult film.  Padma is looking quite foxy in her gown.  I have a feeling Wonk would agree.  

Hosea took the challenge seriously.  His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea took the challenge seriously. His risk of slow cooking the roux was a good move.

Hosea made duck, andouille and chicken gumbo, pecan crusted catfish, and a hurricane with Grand Marnier.  The slow cooked roux seems to have paid off.  Emeril loves the gumbo, although Stefan disagrees.  The judges are also pleased the catfish isn’t dry.  Cooking it on the spot helped with that.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

I don't care how good that mojito is Jeff- Jamie should be here.

Jeff made fried oyster with sausage, crawfish with pot de creme, and a cucumber mojito.  Jeff surprised me again.  The judges felt he made “smart choices” with his crawfish, and were pleased with his homemade sausage.  The cucumber mojito was also a big hit and scored him some extra points.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

I feel like the pasta in this dish made the menu much too heavy.

Fabio’s table offered grits with sausage and rabbit, crawfish and crab stew with pasta, and a bell pepper martini.  The reviews here were mixed.  I think Padma has a little crush on Fabio.  While Emeril and Tom Colicchio picked his dishes apart, Padma defended his honor.  The pasta was nice, but needed heat and the flavors weren’t layered.  The martini smelled good, but tasted too sweet for the judges’ liking.  

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

The judges could taste the love in Carla's dishes.

Although Carla’s table didn’t have booze (Carla doesn’t drink) her guests seemed to be having the best time.  The judges were thrilled with her food.  She made and oyster stew, shrimp and andouille beignet, and a non-alcoholic cranberry spritzer.  The food was “smokin’ hot,” the oysters were perfect, and the judges appreciated the care she put into it.  I was glad Carla’s philosophy of cooking with compassion was given another chance.  In a previous episode when she sent out runny ice cream “with love” the judges ripped her apart.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

In the judges' eyes the taste wasn't as big as Stefan's ego.

Stefan served the guests and the judges with a smirk on his face. Duck and rabbit gumbo with grits, an apple beignet, and a black cherry rum cocktail were on his menu.  The judges were not impressed.  The gumbo wasn’t bad… but they concluded his food wasn’t worth a return trip- not even for the dessert.  Tom was even less impressed by Stefan’s cockiness both in the kitchen and at the party.  In short, Stefan’s food lacked soul.  

The elimination meeting is tense.  If Jeff wins, then two of the finalists go home.  If Jeff loses, one of the chefs must pack their knives.  I liked the new attitude Emeril brought to the judging table.   He is a chef that not only cooks, but is also playing a role in the recovery of New Orleans. I felt like he was less about gimmicky remarks and took a holistic view of both the food and the chef.

The chefs are brought out for elimination.  Jeff is praised for his good effort, but is still sent home.  Stefan and Fabio are in the bottom two.  Stefan produced not only mediocre food, but also brought a bad attitude.  Fabio just missed the mark with his menu.  In the end it is Fabio who is sent home.

But who wins?  Carla!  Carla is just thrilled.  Not only is she closer to winning, but she also gets to take home a new car- nice!  Emeril’s words to describe her food were “balance, flavor, simplicity, temperature, yet creative.”  I think Carla really does represent what it means to be a Top Chef.  She has the foundation of a loving family, has excellent technique, the maturity to fuse food traditions properly, and sincerely loves cooking for others.  For now Team Europe has gone the way of Team Rainbow.  Good thing Bravo didn’t spring on the tee-shirts for that one!  

Next week, moderndomestic will be back to recap.  Who will be Top Chef!  Who??

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February Pound Cake Project, Take Two: Perfect All-Butter Pound Cake

Beranbaum Pound Cake

It looks simple, but this all-butter pound cake was divine.

According to Larousse Gastronomique, the pound cake originated in England before traveling to France and, eventually, to America, where it became the basis for the American butter cake. The pound cake takes its name from the recipe, which originally called for a pound of eggs, a pound of flour, a pound of butter, and a pound of sugar.

Master baker Rose Levy Beranbaum used the pound cake as a starting point for developing her other cake recipes in The Cake Bible. When she created her pound cake recipe, she started with the traditional recipe and tweaked it to make the perfect, tender, buttery pound cake. Her pound cake recipe includes milk (for moisture), extra butter (for a tender crumb and excellent flavor), and baking powder (also for a tender crumb).

After making the Shirley O’Corriher pound cake, with fifteen ingredients and complicated multiple steps, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe was a breeze. And I actually liked this pound cake more – I loved the deep, rich, buttery flavor of the cake, which O’Corriher’s recipe lacked. While this cake wasn’t quite as “melt-in-your” mouth as O’Corriher’s texture-wise, it was also much less sweet, which was much more to my taste.

So far, this looks like it may become my go-to recipe for pound cake, although who knows what the rest of the Pound Cake Project has in store.

Perfect Pound Cake
Adapted from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons milk
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups sifted cake flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
13 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 inch by 4 by 2.5 inch loaf pan, or any six cup loaf or fluted tube pan.

Lightly whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl.

Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until blended. Add the butter and half the egg mixture, and mix until dry ingredients are moistened. On medium speed, beat for one minute. This will aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down sides.

Add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds between each addition. Scrape down sides.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth surface with a spatula. Bake for 55-65 minutes (35-45 minutes if baking in a fluted tube pan), until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minuets before inverting onto a greased wire rack. If using a loaf pan, flip the cake over so the top is up.

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Weekly Roundup: Strange Pairings – Starbucks and Instant Coffee, Presidents and Cupcakes

Close-up of Presidential Cupcake Portrait

The Obama/Lincoln cupcake installation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Photo by outtacontext via flickr, under the Creative Commons license.

Good morning ModernDomestic readers! I hope everyone had a lovely President’s Day. Here’s some news to distract you from the awful reality that our next Federal holiday is Memorial Day in May!

  • For you coffee aficionados out there – would you buy Starbucks instant coffee? Because I wouldn’t. I thought that Starbucks built their brand around selling coffee that, you know, tastes good. Listen to the NPR story on the new Starbucks product line.
  • Cupcakes Take the Cake has photos from the cupcake installation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (for those of you who weren’t there, artist Zilly Rosen created huge, photo-like pictures of Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln using cupcakes. Kind of cool. Also kind of random).
  • The Washington City Paper has the scoop on the James Beard Foundation Award semi-finalists. DC folks on the list included Foggy Bottom’s Kinkead’s and Dupont Circle’s Vidalia for Outstanding Restaurant of the Year. Cork, of Logan Circle and Volt, of Frederick, MD, are also up for Best New Restaurant.
  • Do you love cupcakes? Do you love Bees? Then learn how to make Buzz Bakery’s Valentine’s-Day themed Bee cupcakes on Best Bites.
  • DCist has a write-up of great winter beers that are available at different DC establishments, to get you through those dark days until spring finally arrives.

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