We're still in March, so you know what it's time for? A birthday, duh. Last week my friend Tessa was celebrating her 21st, so of course I wanted to make her a cake. I was a little apprehensive, though, because Tessa knows a thing or two about cakes. In high school she did an independent study on cake decorating (really) and she made some great looking cakes--she even had one covered with sunflowers. Once we get back from spring break I'll have her send over some pics.
I was going to call this Banana Bread with Derby Streusel, as in "Derby" Pie, but interestingly enough that name is a readily defended registered trademark of Kern's Kitchen. Sheesh. I thought it was just the common name given to that delectable combination of chocolate and pecans (or walnuts).
Anywho... how did I even get to that combination? Here goes:
Friday was a beautiful day in Providence- the sun was shining all afternoon, people were outside playing and running around.... and my friend Blair and I were in the basement kitchen of Caswell (another dorm) locked in an intense showdown of baking skills. Typical springtime activities.
When we first met at the beginning of the semester, it didn't take long for us to realize we both thought ourselves skilled with an oven and a whisk. We talked about how we both were big fans of Food Network, and somehow we got started about Bobby's Flay's Throwdown, a show in which he challenges a local food legend every episode to see if he can't outdo their famous barbeque ribs, ravioli, German chocolate cake, etc. Before I knew it, Blair threw down the gauntlet, leaving a note outside my door one day (fyi- this should be read with the Alabama twang that, until meeting Blair, I'd never heard in person before in my lahf):
better brush up on ya' bakin' skillz, cuz it's goin' down...
March is the month for birthdays. For her birthday on Tuesday, my friend Roshni, the classiest Brit I know, was surprised with Louboutin shoes-- but not ones to wear on her feet. These red-soled bad boys are made entirely of sugar and fondant. The shoebox, a vanilla butter cake, was covered in golden fondant and the sugar "tissue paper" was painted silver.
I'd always wanted to see a cake like this up close after seeing shows like Ace of Cakes and Food Network Challenge, so many thanks to Roshni's sister (who orchestrated the whole affair from overseas) and Sin, a dessert shop here in Providence, Rhode Island for making sure Rosh had an awesome birthday cake. And a big apology to Rosh and sister... I may have spoiled the surprise just a little bit.
This past Monday was my friend Trent's 21st birthday. It only made sense, seeing as how he always lets me bake in his kitchen, that I would make him a cake. Luckily for me, he had this insight months before I did, and sent me this recipe while I was still in Spain last semester. He told me (although part of me wishes he hadn't) that he actually first saw the cake on another site: thisiswhyyourefat. Sigh. Quite the fan of peanut butter and chocolate (who isn't? communists?), he embarked on an expedition to the food blogosphere to track down the recipe. I don't know how much his Eagle Scout training helped him, but he eventually managed to snatch it.
A few months later, I started examining the specimen. I quickly saw that it kinda earned its place on TIWYF... 2 sticks of butter, 2 eggs + 2 egg yolks, buttermilk, melted chocolate. This made me... hesitant. But, praise be, a solution presented itself in the frosting that the cake was paired with: a peanut butter icing used by Ina Garten to top some chocolate cupcakes. Having made my way to her corner of Food Network's website (here goes yet another food blog adventure...) I saw another recipe of hers for chocolate cake that had a 5-star review, but no butter and fewer egg yolks. I decided I would not be the reason WYF, so I would make Beatty's Chocolate Cake into Trent's Birthday Cake.
I like to think of brownies as an experiment in the interaction of two principles taken from architecture and design: form and flavor. Are the brownies cakey, fudgy, gooey, marbled, frosted? Do the brownies have a strong chocolate taste (they friggin' better- none of that blondie business, please)--dark, milk or white chocolate? mocha or mint? sweet? a little salty? (Stay tuned for excellent news I just received about a certain type of salty brownies! Seriously.)
All that said, brownies can be incredibly simple. Architectural design is easy, after all. Simple, not plain, but "just a little bit conceited", like Fergie. They're just all about how chocolately and fudgey/cakey they are. But if you're feeling adventurous, they can be jazzed up by adding another flavor into the mix. The other day when I was invited over to the kitchen of some other friends, Tessa and Katie, I was feeling adventurous.
I found this recipe, that perfect, self-centered brownie: all about having the right texture and a good amount of chocolate. Pair it with a fierce browned butter and espresso icing inspired by this, and you get the diva of baked goods.
Lemon bars - the staple of bake sales, church functions and cookie exchanges... unless you're me. Gasp! I know. Several of my friends looked at me with wide eyes when I said I'd never, ever had a lemon bar before making these. Somehow these sweet and tangy treats managed to elude me for 20 years. Luckily, my friend Trent (I swear, I have other friends too.) asked if I could whip some up, thereby ending the two decade drought of lemony goodness.
So I turned to Tastespotting, and again was brought to the perfect recipe by the perfect picture. Smitten Kitchen's reworking of Ina Garten's lemon bars looked and sounded amazing. You should take a look- her pics blow mine out of the water. Granted, I didn't have any powdered sugar on hand to prettify the bars... but her photo skills are still light-years ahead of mine. And beyond all that, she even came up with an option for increasing the "lemoniness" of the bars. Great success. I needed to recreate these to fix this gaping hole in my life.
In the spirit of last month's world athletic activities, I'd say that the delectable combination of peanut butter, oatmeal and chocolate makes these cookies
creamier. chewier. tastier.
Baked at the right temperature and for just the right amount of time, these medallions of flour, sugar and butter achieve the perfect golden and bronze hues that'll make anyone's mouth water. (Ok I'm done with the puns.)
Once again, my friend Trent spared me from having to schlep all my baking gear down five flights of stairs to the kitchen. Instead I just had to carry my baking sheets halfway across campus. A fair deal.
Trent proposed making some sort of peanut butter cookie this time, so I turned to one of my favorite blogs, Brown Eyed Baker. Of course, she had just what we were looking for: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. Even though their name was a bit of a mouthful, they looked so good that all I could think of was just that: mouthfuls and mouthfuls of them.
There are many names for this airy and buttery yeast cake that's swirled with either a chocolate or cinnamon filling, but let's just say that no matter what language you speak, you can call this pastry a little piece of heaven.
Usually known as babka (like in the Seinfeld episode) in the U.S., kuglóf originated in Central and Eastern Europe, and, depending on your baking heritage, can take many slightly different forms. The variety found in America-- often made with a streusel topping--can be very rich, and usually has either a chocolate or a cinnamon (raisin) filling. While I prefer the former by far, my family is divided on the issue. And what a polemical issue it is, given the great social significance of babka:
JERRY: That's the last babka. They got the last babka.
ELAINE: I know. They're going in first with the last babka.
JERRY: That was our babka.
ELAINE: You can't beat a babka.
JERRY: We should have had that babka.
ELAINE: They're going to be heroes.
JERRY: What are we going to do now. If we can't get the babka the whole thing's useless.
ELAINE: Well how about a carrot cake?
JERRY: Carrot cake? Now why is that a cake? You don't make carrots into a cake. I'm sorry.
ELAINE: Black Forest?
JERRY: Black Forest? Too scary. You're in the Forest, oohh. That was our babka. We had that babka!
ELAINE: What's this one?
CLERK: That's cinnamon babka.
JERRY: Another babka?
CLERK: There's chocolate and there's cinnamon.
JERRY: Well, we've got to get the cinnamon.
ELAINE: No, but they got the chocolate. We'll be going in with a lesser babka.
JERRY: I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, "Oh This is so good. What's in it?" The answer invariably comes back, Cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser babka - I think not. (Thanks,Seinfeld Scripts)
Hey! I'm Matt, a college student from New Jersey going to school at Brown University up in lovely Rhode Island. But what's not always so lovely is dealing with the stresses of college life away from the comforts of home. To survive all the turmoil, I've decided to turn to the practice of baking. No, really. Here's my take on things: After two (omg) more semesters of craziness, maybe I'll get a degree, but right now all I've got is the sweet tooth I get from my dad, the love of baking I get from my mom and grandmas, and some kitchens in frat houses and the other ends of campus. That said... I have no idea if these shenanigans will end up being therapeutic or just a pain in the tush, but finding out should be delicious.