Monday, April 7, 2008
Hi ya, friends.
I am hanging from a small limb at the moment. More like a tiny pip squeak of a sorry excuse for a limb which I fear will be no help to me momentarily. I know I have been a bit less than scintillating lately and that you miss that girl who fearlessly quoted you Roasted Chickpeas while leaping into her row boat so you would not be left with a guest upon the threshold and not one clue what to ply them with. Sometimes, life (read husbands, babies, houses and more houses, boxes, etc.) presents a series of well-considered obstacles which leads to a few more which causes the recipes to lean, near-capsize, around here. But I will not tolerate failing you and I suspect you have had times like these yourselves so here is quick step to easing the days when someone might pop in or a Sunday supper needs a dessert and you cannot possibly peel yourself from the fainting couch to bake something (back of hand perpetually glued to forehead and kitten heel dangling in the breeze to make your point complete, naturally). And you will let me know in time if this cake was enough of a limb to hang on while I tried to repair my move-induced recent ineptitude.
Make this recipe and then do whatever you want with it. I mean, put it in your biggest bundt pan and feed the whole book club (it quotes 12 servings, but it is a dense cake and I have seen it go to 20 no problem with bird-like consumers). Or, throw it into 12 mini bundt pans. Make 30 cupcakes. Make one huge layer cake. If your name is Blushing Hostess (funny, when you think of it really), you will make 16 or so mini bundt cakes out of it on a Saturday, wrapping carefully those you will need for Sunday supper and making a quick iced glaze of 1 tablespoon lime juice and a cup or so of confectioner's sugar on Sunday morning to allow it to set before dinner where it will appear with a raspberry sorbet. The remaining cakes are carefully stowed in the freezer for an unforeseen emergency, not unlike the split of champagne in your handbag (do you ever know when you need to celebrate, and should it not always be an event you have prepared for with as much commitment to your day in the office? Yes, you packed your lunch, but what did you do towards the possibility of overwhelming joy? Does champagne ring in joy? Does chocolate? Pitch whichever into your handbag and be ready for a big, joyous life and don't apologize to anyone.)
The recipe from which I begin now was published in Atlanta Cooknotes by the Junior League of Atlanta, in 1982. It was contributed by Mary Helen Nader Howe, whose name you will remember for all time once you make this cake and especially after it saves you from four dessert-fainting-couch disasters in a row. And as Mary Helen reminds, it is a cake, and while it does not require an icing leadtime per se, cakes need planning in order to bring your ingredients to room temperature and allow it to cool in the pan and out. Cakes are not a rush dessert, duly noted, Mrs. Howe, with many thanks.
Mother's Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Mary Helen Nader Howe of the Junior League of Atlanta
I have added all manner of citrus zest of one fruit to this cake with great results, feel free.
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk, divided as below
1 cup (2 sticks), unsalted butter at room temperature, more for greasing baking pans
3 cups sugar
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease your baking pan/s liberally with softened butter and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine baking soda and 1/4 cup buttermilk and set aside.
In your stand mixer or a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer on a low speed, cream butter until it is fluffy and appears light and increased in volume, a minute or two. Add sugar and mix again to combine thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time beating well with each addition and periodically stopping to scrape down your bowl. Sift flour and salt together. Add to the butter/ sugar mixture in three additions alternating with two additions of the 3/4 cup buttermilk. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Mix in the baking soda mixture only to combine. Do not over-mix.
Pour into your pans. Bake until the center of the cake springs back to your touch or (if you must) a toothpick inserted in the center come out clean: A bundt or tube pan will bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, adjust cooking times accordingly for smaller pans (ie. my mini-bundts took 32 minutes, I checked them twice, or 2 9" round cake pans will take 40 to 45 minutes).
To freeze: cover cakes in plastic wrap, then tin foil, then a zip lock bag or plastic wrap again. It pays to take good care of these. They will hold you through three months of crisises, potentially.
And a last note for Rachel: I have never been sure how I have done anything but I use my two rules of thumb the following: 1. Keep moving. Do not stop. 2. Laugh. I have done more of #2 because I was committed to #1, I think, and I went a long way. Most importantly though, I am driven to do this because it allows me into your home to talk with you. And that is one of the greatest gifts of this life, besides Josh and my tiny girl. And then, my favorite chef, you ask: My Mom. After that, you. Your Mom. Dori's Mom. Christine. You know, people at home, in their kitchens, slinging pans as well as any chef-chef. Oh! But you mean, if you shoo me out of the kitchen, maybe? Well then, different chef's for different reasons and seasons, possibly. Let's kick back here for a minute with a glass of this Rioja, shall we? And I will tell you about a few different moments, if you have the patience for my rambling on so unabashedly:
If it is winter my chef would be Christope Micou in Boston. He is off the beaten path a bit but you will snuggle into his bistro and they will bring you only perfect things to warm your palate and your heart in the coldest of seasons. The truth is, he trained under Paul Bocuse but that is the least interesting fact about the man and his cuisine. After that, and after I had the baby, my palate made a dramatic shift to a certain desperation for very fully-flavored foods and many layers, so, as much of a played-out unpopular answer as this will be: Chef Flay (don't flay me for it, though). But, I read as much as I eat and if I am picking a chef to read, I would pick Barbara Kaftka, again and again. But I will think more on this fine thought and come back to you at times as that is an ever-evolving answer.
Good night, pals.