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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Regional Flair

I love receiving the monthly Foodie Penpal box...because you never know what will be inside.

This month I received a box from Karen in Michigan, who sent Michigan specialties, including rocky road fudge, thin, crispy ginger cookies, a bottle of sparkling grape juice, and a cherry honey mustard pretzel dip.  These goodies arrived on a cold, drizzly Friday afternoon, along with a note describing Michigan's many vineyards.  Karen explained that St. Julian's was a childhood favorite--I am secreting the bottle of grape juice away for Passover, which is coming up much faster than I would like--eek!

I swear David ate two cookies before I could
even get everything out of the box.
The real highlight here, though, is that package of ginger cookies.  They are thin and crispy at the edges, but soft toward the middle--absolute perfection.  David tore into them and pronounced them some of the best cookies he'd eaten in ages. 

My favorite part of participating in Foodie Penpals is receiving regional specialties--I would never have thought that Michigan cherries mixed into honey mustard could be so good!  Thanks to Karen for this wonderful box--I really appreciate it.

If you are interested in learning more about Foodie Penpals, head over to The Lean Green Bean.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mise en Place

I love the term mise en place, which is basically French for having your ingredients together (I almost said having something else together, but never mind--it's been that kind of week) before you start.

I thought I did--really!

This month's Cake Slice pick was a red velvet cake, but with a frosting that mixed creamy marscapone cheese with the more standard cream cheese.  Here's where it gets hairy.  I thought I had red gel food coloring, which is essential for getting that deep, beet red color into the cake.

But it turned out to be pink gel color.  Oops.  The result was a lovely cake that was a deep brown-red due to the cocoa.  It was moist and tender, with gorgeous crumb.  The frosting initially looked like it wasn't coming together, but then I turned the hand mixer up on high and it whipped right up. 

I'm not convinced the cake recipe was particularly special, but the marscapone-cream cheese frosting was:  creamy, fluffy and not too sweet once I slightly reduced the amount of sugar.  It's a keeper.

As a total aside, red velvet cake was one of the specialties of my paternal grandmother, who was a professional baker.  Every time I eat it I think of her.

Marscapone-Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. marscapone cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract.

Beat together the cream and marscapone cheeses with a hand mixer on medium speed until they are light and fluffy.  Add the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla and turn the mixer up to high.  Beat until the icing is fluffy and the cream is fully whipped.

This recipe produces enough frosting to spread between the layers of a two-layer cake, and to thinly cover the sides and top.  Due to the cream in it, it will need to be kept refrigerated.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


The day Freud's Last Session  closed at the end of January, I had a grand plan to take a cake to strike--the period after the last show where you take down the set and clean the theatre in preparation for the next show moving in.  It's a dusty, often sweaty, process, and I frequently end up covered in paint.  Once when I was painting the stage floor in preparation for the next show to move in, I literally painted myself into the center of the stage.  Handy I am not--but I can bake a cake.

The Cake Slice's pick for last month was a banana cake with coffee-walnut buttercream frosting, which sounded great even though I was a week behind in making it.  I didn't have time to make the marvelous buttercream before I had to leave for the theatre, nor did I have time to frost multiple layers of cake, so I triaged the recipe and threw the coffee and the walnuts into the cake itself and baked it in a bundt pan.  It was so tender, golden and lightly sweet that it was a huge hit at strike. 

Banana-Walnut Bundt Cake
Adapted fron Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

This was all that remained of the cake after strike.  David
ate it for breakfast the next morning.
 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (it took three for me)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 tbsp. strong coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a bundt pan by spritzing with nonstick baking spray.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a small bowl, then set aside.  Combine the bananas and butter in another small bowl.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla on high speed until the butter becomes light and fluffy--about three minutes with my Kitchen-Aid.  Scrape down the bowl frequently.

Add the eggs one at a time, then turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the bananas.  Scrape the bowl thoroughly and add the walnuts and coffee;  mix until the batter is just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the bundt pan, leveling the top.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool the pan on a wire rack for half an hour, then unmold and cool for a bit longer.

Serves 12 to 16.