experiments in cooking

Posts tagged ‘Joy of Cooking’

Late-Night Yellow Cake

On Tuesday of this week, with the boys safely in bed and Chris out for a church thing, I found myself standing in my kitchen at 8:30 p.m. feeling the urge to bake something.

My poor dogs wanted me to come sit down on the couch, and stood around my feet in various poses of reproach, but I couldn’t deny the baking itch. “You’ll have to wait, guys,” I said. “Sorry about this.”

Two of them wandered off to mope in the living room, and one stayed to watch, just in case I dropped something yummy.

As I stood looking around the kitchen, trying to decide what to make, I thought about banana bread—but I’d made some two days before and didn’t want anyone in the house to get sick of it. I thought of making a small cake, because I had a very small amount of bittersweet chocolate glaze left over from a cake some weeks ago. But my favorite small cake pan was dirty. What to do?

Then I noticed three mini loaf pans out on the counter, and I decided to experiment. I opened my Joy of Cooking to search for a small cake recipe with the same amount of batter as a single-loaf bread recipe, then bake the cake as three mini cakes. And it had to be uncomplicated, because I was tired and just about at the end of my day’s energy.

I settled on an orange rum cake that looked simple and was written for a small 8-inch round cake pan, which has the same surface area as three mini loaf pans. Because I had no rum and wasn’t in the mood for an orange-flavored cake, I decided to make it a plain yellow cake—and it would no doubt be transformed into magic by my favorite bittersweet chocolate glaze, which tastes so amazing that it is a darn good thing I hadn’t discovered it during the time when I was counting calories a year and a half ago. (Please note that I’ve kept the weight off even after discovering this homemade chocolate glaze. I just had to learn self-control before it was safe for me to make and eat it.)

“That’s what I’ll do—switch up the recipe!” I told Wilbur, who was hanging out with me at the time. I don’t think he knew what I was talking about. He thumped his tail. I’m sure he was hoping I’d said “Sure, you can have a Cheerio.”

“It’ll work,” I assured him.

Wilbur thumped his tail again, but then I went to work pulling ingredients out of cabinets and transforming myself into the human baking tornado. With no Cheerio forthcoming, Wilbur got disgusted and went to hang out with the other two for a while.

Cake baked in mini loaves bakes fast. I pulled the mini pans out of the oven in 25 minutes, and that was almost too much time. Any more time and they would have been dry. Anyway, I let them cool for 10 minutes, slid a knife around the edges, and slid the cakes out onto the counter to cool. While they were still just barely warm, I iced them with the glaze.

And then I went to sit with the dogs for a while. I also figured they’d earned a few Cheerios.

Wednesday morning, to his surprise, Chris got to have cake for breakfast.

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Quick Yellow Cake (adapted from Joy of Cooking’s Orange Rum Cake)

You’ll need:
Eggs
Sugar
Salt
Orange zest
Unsalted butter
Baking powder
Evaporated milk or heavy cream

Optional: splash of vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and grease an 8″ round cake plan, springform pan, or three mini loaf pans.

Melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter and allow it to cool. (I melted the butter in the microwave and let it cool in the refrigerator while I completed the next steps.)

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, 1/8 tsp of salt, and 3 large eggs until the mixture is pale yellow and frothy.

Add to this mixture 1 ¼ cup flour and 1 ½ tsp of baking powder and gently fold together. Finally add the melted butter from earlier along with 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Stir gently with a spoon. Be careful not to overwork the batter so the end result remains fluffy and doesn’t get doughy like bread.

Pour this mixture into the greased pan and bake for 25–35 (less time if you use mini loaf pans) minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. After the cake has cooled invert it onto your serving dish and top with a chocolate glaze.

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Monster Chew Cookies

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I made these cookies not long ago, with chocolate chips, but this time I decided to use M&Ms instead and make monster cookies.

It should have gone smoothly, but it didn’t. These cookies just would not firm up! They were so soft and so thin that after I took them from the oven I couldn’t get them off the cookie sheet with the spatula. My spatula was covered with cookie gunk, the M&Ms got smushed all over the cookie sheets, a bunch of the cookies got holes in them when I tried to move them. Also, every time I pulled a cookie sheet out of the oven, I had to put it back in for several more minutes to try to firm up the cookies a little. In the end, after baking the cookies for twice the recommended time in the recipe, I wound up with some very, very chewy cookies.

I didn’t know what to think. I’d made these before with no trouble. Did I let the oats sit too long? Did the addition of the M&Ms cause some odd chemical reaction? Was it all the fault of the corn syrup? 

I was pretty bummed about these cookies until Chris and Jonah each tried one and came back for more. Jonah never wants one of my cookies, but he ate two right away and begged for more.

So, I will  make them again, because it’s nice to see my kid with M&Ms smeared around a big smile.

Monster Chew Cookies
based on a Joy of Cooking reduced fat oatmeal chocolate chip cookie

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat cookie sheets with nonstick spray.

Whisk together thoroughly:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Beat on medium speed until well blended:

¼ cup corn or canola oil
1 cup packed dark brown sugar|
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/3 cup light or dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon skim milk
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla

Stir into the batter:

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup M&Ms

Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes so the oats can absorb some moisture. Stir in the flour mixture; the dough will be slightly soft. Drop the dough by heaping measuring tablespoonfuls onto the sheets, spacing about 2 ½ inches apart.

Bake 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are tinged with brown all over and the centers are just barely firm when lightly pressed. This should take 7 to 10 minutes, but it took about 15 minutes per sheet. The original recipe says to be careful not to overbake. That didn’t seem to be a problem with this batch.

Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly, about 2 minutes. If they don’t firm up, return them to the oven for a few more minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks or wax paper to cool.

Jam Cake, Also Known as “Ugly Cake”

I love spice cakes, but my family always wants a chocolate cake. But the family hosting the Super Bowl party we went to this year has a child or two who don’t like chocolate, so I thought, here’s my chance to make a spice cake.

Thumbing through my Joy of Cooking, I came across the book’s well-known jam cake. It looked like a simple spice cake with some jam thrown in. Even more exciting, it’s written for baking with a bundt or tube pan, which I’d never used before.

Everything went well at first. You can see how nice the cake looked when it came out of the oven.

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But then I had to get the cake out of the pan, and that’s when disaster hit. The cooling rack went shooting off across the counter as I tapped on the pan to release the cake, and the cake landed SPLAT right on the counter, minus a giant chunk left in the pan.

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I got the orphaned cake piece out of the pan, but while sliding the rest of the cake off the counter, it broke again.

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I pieced the cake together as well as I could, and hoped I could cover the cracks with a nice, thick icing. The thing is, my brown butter icing turned out to be a consistency I couldn’t spread without destroying the cake, and when I thinned the icing to drizzle it instead, the result was an icing puddle all around the cake that did not cover any cracks. And I had to admit, the cake looked worse than before. There was just no way to hide this cake’s defects.

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So I sighed, made another simple cake that I could take to the Super Bowl party and serve from the pan, and left the Big Mistake sitting, in all its hideous glory, in the kitchen.

“What am I supposed to do with this thing?” I asked my husband. “It’s the ugliest cake I ever saw.”

No doubt about it, this cake wasn’t going to win any beauty contests.

“Well, you could call it an ‘Ugly Cake’ and claim you did it on purpose,” he suggested.

“Maybe so …” I said.

Over the weekend, Chris and I ate a few slices of Ugly Cake. The thing was, it tasted absolutely wonderful! I’m not kidding, it has to be one of the tastiest spice cakes I’ve ever had. But it looked so awful, I just couldn’t bear to look at it.

So, on Monday, I took the Ugly Cake to work to share with my kind co-workers. One of them, bless her, commented right away how pretty it looked.

But I gotta tell you, this cake wasn’t winning any beauty contests.

Rombauer Jam Cake from Joy of Cooking

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp salt

2/3 cup dark brown sugar

10 tbsp butter

3 eggs

1/4 milk

2/3 cup seedless raspberry or blackberry jam (I used some leftover strawberry-rhubarb and some strawberry-cranberry jam)

Whisk together flour, baking powder and soda, spices and salt, and set aside. Cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then the milk.

Stir in flour mixture until just blended. Stir in jam and bake in a greased and floured tube pan or bundt pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until tester comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely and frost with butterscotch or chocolate icing.

From Cabinet to Chocolate Cake in 40 Minutes

A couple of Saturdays back, I decided to make this simple chocolate cake for two reasons: First, it’s small, and I needed to serve only our family of four. Second, I really, really wanted cake—doesn’t that happen to you, sometimes?—but I had less than an hour to start and finish a cake before I needed to leave the house to run an errand.

This has to be the world’s fastest chocolate cake. Make this cake, and you’ll wonder why you ever thought you needed a boxed cake mix. It was just 10 minutes from the time I started pulling ingredients out of the cabinet to the time I put the cake in the oven.

As it takes only 30 minutes to bake, I had a finished cake in just 40 minutes. And it’s doggone good.

If this recipe looks familiar to you, but not the name, I think it’s the same as what my high school best friend’s family used to call “hot water chocolate cake,” although this recipe uses cold water.

Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake from Joy of Cooking

One 8-inch square cake. Prep time: 10 minutes. Total time: 40 minutes.
This is a delightfully simple chocolate cake, whether or not you observe dietary restrictions.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan or line the bottom with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together in a large bowl until well blended:
  1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  1⁄3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  1 tsp baking soda
  1⁄2 tsp salt

Add:
  1 cup cold water
  1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
  1 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  2 tsp vanilla

Whisk until smooth. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly.

Bake about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Invert the cake and peel off the paper liner, if using. Let cool right side up on the rack.

Serve plain, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, or frost with a bittersweet chocolate glaze.

Cocoa Devil’s Food Cake

A few weeks ago I started making chocolate cakes on the weekends to practice making a cake for my birthday. I started with a devil’s food cake made with cocoa, from my Joy of Cooking cookbook.

This was the first chocolate cake I’ve had any trouble making. It was easy to prepare, but I agonized over which size pan to use. I didn’t have two 9-inch round layer pans, but I did have a 10-inch fluted tube pan. However, I didn’t have a cake keeper to store a round cake in—so I had to use a 9×11-inch rectangular pan.

The finished cake sank in the middle. But I iced it with my favorite homemade chocolate glaze and it tasted good.

The funny thing was, it tasted even better the second day—and the third. I mean, on the first day, I thought it tasted okay, and on the third, I thought it was awesome. I wasn’t expecting that.

So this might be a good cake to make ahead of an event, letting it sit for a day. I just wish I’d baked it in a different pan. My mother-in-law gave me an old cake keeper and two round pans, so I’m set for next time.

Cocoa Devil’s Food Cake from Joy of Cooking

One 9-inch plain tube cake, 10-inch tube cake, or two 9-inch round layers

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70 degrees. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch plain tube pan, a 10-inch fluted tube pan, or two 9×2-inch round cake pans, or line the bottoms of the round pans with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together in a medium bowl:

2 cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Whisk together in a separate bowl:

1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
½ cup nonalkalized cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla

Beat in a large bowl until creamy, about 30 seconds:

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes:

1 cup sugar

Beat in one at a time:

2 large eggs

On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in 2 parts, beating until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Scrape the batter into the pan(s) and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes in round pans, 45 to 55 minutes in a tube pan. Cool and remove from the pan. Fill and spread with white or chocolate icing.

Christmas Dinner: Spiral-Cut Ham with Cranberry Glaze and Ranch Mashed Potatoes

A few weeks back, I volunteered to make Christmas dinner, because my mother-in-law was scheduled to work all Christmas Day. I, on the other hand, would be home and available to cook.

I let Chris decide what he’d like for dinner, and he chose ham. I’d never baked a ham before, but I said I’d do it. A couple of days before Christmas, Chris’s brother dropped off a spiral-cut ham for me to bake. Thanks to his work schedule, he wouldn’t be at Christmas dinner himself, but we planned to send ham and all the fixin’s to him after dinner was over.

Spiral-cut hams are typically fully cooked, so you just have to warm them before serving, unless you want to serve cold ham. It was going to take quite some time to warm up a ham the size of the one Jeremiah brought over. The package recommended two and a half hours at 275 degrees, so I popped the ham in the oven at 2:15 p.m., planning to take it out of the oven at 4:45 and serve it at 5 o’clock.

Around 4 p.m., I mixed up a cranberry glaze (taken from Joy of Cooking) for the ham and began a pot of mashed potatoes. I’d never made mashed potatoes myself before, although I’d helped my mom make them once or twice. The thing is, I hate mashed potatoes. But most people, including my husband, seem to love them, and they go well with ham, and it was Christmas, after all, so I thought, Why not? For the potatoes, I combined an online recipe with one in my new 2006 edition of Joy of Cooking.

At 4:45, the potatoes were coming along swimmingly, and the cranberry glaze was on the ham, but the ham just wasn’t hot. Frustrated, I checked my Joy of Cooking, which suggested baking a fully cooked ham at 325 degrees, a full 50 degrees hotter than suggested by the instructions that came with the ham. Stupid instructions! I wound up having to turn up the oven to 400 degrees for the last several minutes, and shortly after 5 p.m. got the ham warm enough to eat. But it still was not as hot as I would have liked.

The ham tasted good, even if I wasn’t happy about the baking process. And the cranberry glaze was delicious. (In fact, it was so good that I used the leftover glaze a couple of days later as a topping for baked chicken breasts—baked them beneath the cranberry glaze at 350 degrees, covered, for 40 minutes. Yum!)

Also, Chris and his parents told me the potatoes were great. They certainly looked good—white and fluffy as any I’ve ever seen—and they smelled good too. The ranch dressing, everybody said, added a nice flavor.

Finally, Chris begged me to try a bite, and I did, but couldn’t stomach ’em. I just flat out don’t enjoy mashed potatoes, no matter how pretty they are. You know how much easier my life would be if I could enjoy a big pile of mashed potatoes? For one thing, then I wouldn’t have to hear Chris telling everyone how weird I am.

Below are the recipes for the best parts of our Christmas meal: the glaze that I loved, and the potatoes that Chris loved.

Cranberry Glaze

1 can of cranberry sauce, jellied or whole

¼ to ½ cup brown sugar

Orange juice (amount left to the cook’s discretion)

Optional: whole cloves

Mix cranberry sauce, brown sugar, and orange juice. If you are using the glaze on a ham, remove the ham from the oven 45 minutes before the end of the baking time. If you want to use cloves, press them into the outside of the ham. Spread cranberry sauce mixture over the outside of the ham and return the ham to the oven.

Ranch Mashed Potatoes

3–4 baking potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks

1 bay leaf

2 cloves crushed fresh garlic

2 tbsp butter

¼ cup Light Ranch Dressing

For best results, cut potatoes into equal-size pieces to ensure even cooking. Cook vegetables, garlic, and bay leaf in boiling water in large saucepan 20 min. or until tender; drain and remove the bay leaf. Add butter and dressing. Mash until light and fluffy.

The Science of Making Candy

Two days before Christmas, Chris emailed me a recipe from a co-worker for something called “Glass Candy.” This co-worker had brought some to a work party and he thought it would be something I’d like to make. I’d never tried making candy before, but it looked pretty easy.

I started making the candy after lunch on Christmas Eve. First, I coated a cookie sheet with powdered sugar. Then I combined sugar, water, and Karo syrup in a pot. Then I read the next step: “Boil until the mixture reaches a hard crack about 300 degrees.”

No problem. I had a thermometer. But as I stood at my stove, the sugar mixture already heating to a bubbling syrup, and looked down at my thermometer, I was dismayed to see that it had a maximum temperature reading of 220 degrees. What could I do?

I considered the reference to a “hard crack.”Was “hard crack” an actual candymaking term? I had thought it was just a description chosen by the writer of the recipe, but if were a “technical” term used in candy making, perhaps it held the solution to my problem.

I flipped open my new 2006 edition of The Joy of Cooking to the chapter about candy, where I found a description of how to check the readiness of sugar syrup without a thermometer, using the cold water test. It was followed by illustrations.

Apparently the hard-crack stage occurs between 300 and 310 degrees Fahrenheit. Toffee, nut brittles, and lollipops are all cooked to the hard-crack stage. The hard-crack stage is the highest temperature a cook is likely to see specified in a candy recipe. At these temperatures, there is almost no water left in the syrup.

To perform a cold water test, you drop a little of the molten syrup in cold water. At the hard-crack stage, it will form hard, brittle threads that break when bent.

So! I could check the readiness of the candy without an accurate thermometer.

But, even with an answer in hand, I was nervous. I had never tried anything like this before, and I had no one to show me how to do it right—just a set of illustrations and some reading done on the spot while the pot was boiling.

I used my thermometer to tell me when the mixture has passed 220 degrees. Then I began testing the sugar syrup by scooping a small amount of it on a metal spoon (that I warmed in a nearby jar of warm water) and dropping it into a small bowl of cold water. The first time I did this, the syrup formed a liquid-y thread in the cold water but did not ball up or harden. My cookbook told me that this is called the thread stage.

I tested the syrup several more times. Each time it did something different when dropped in the cold water:

  • Formed a soft, flexible ball that flattened when I removed it from the water (soft-ball stage, 235° F–240° F)
  • Formed a firm ball that remained malleable when removed from the water and flattened when squeezed (firm-ball stage, 245° F–250° F)
  • Formed thick, ropy threads as it dripped from the spoon into the water, then formed a hard ball in the water and did not flatten when removed, although it could be squashed (hard-ball stage, 250° F–265° F)
  • Formed threads and not a ball in the water. When removed from the water, the threads were flexible, not brittle, and bent before breaking (soft-crack stage, 270° F–290° F)
  • Formed hard, brittle threads that, once removed from the water, broke when bent (hard-crack stage, 300° F–310° F)

When the syrup reached the last stage, I immediately added several drops of blue food coloring and about two splashes of anise flavoring. (I was so nervous that I forgot to measure the anise I used, but I’d estimate I used a couple of teaspoons.) Then I poured the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet and let it cool completely.

When the sheet of candy was cooled to the touch, Chris and I shattered it with the edge of a meat tenderizer and placed the pieces in a glass dish. The candy looked just like pieces of blue glass and tasted like licorice.

Making glass candy for the first time was not as easy as it looked. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t know how nerve-wracking it would be, because I might not have tried it. Now, on the other side of my first candy adventure, I can say that the science experiment of progressing through the stages of cooking sugar syrup using the cold water test was pretty darn fascinating.

I’m looking forward to trying candy again. And I won’t have to do it without a clue as to the actual temperature next time, because my mother-in-law just gave me an old candy thermometer to use, one that most definitely reads up to 300 degrees.

Sweet!

Glass Candy

Powdered sugar

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

¾ cup Karo syrup

Flavoring (peppermint, anise, etc.)

Food coloring

Prepare a cookie sheet by coating with powdered sugar.

Combine in a pot sugar, water, and Karo syrup.  Boil until the mixture reaches a hard crack about 300 degrees.

(Note: if using the cold water test to check the syrup’s readiness, look for the syrup to form, after being dropped in the cold water, hard, brittle threads that break when bent. CAUTION: To avoid burns, allow the syrup to cool in the cold water for a few moments before touching it.)

Quickly stir in desired flavor and food coloring. Note: it probably will take twice as much as you think it should.

Pour onto prepared cookie sheet.  Allow to cool for a bit. If desired, sprinkle top with powdered sugar. (I liked it without the powdered sugar on top.)  Allow to cool completely.

Break apart (the edge of a meat tenderizer works well) and enjoy!

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