Another kind of cake

So, where is the follow-up to the red velvet cake recipe?

To be honest, I got a little ahead of myself with that one. Instead of looking forward to making a red velvet cake, I began to stress out about it: I don’t know enough people in town yet with whom to share a cake, and I was getting a bit worried about (a) most of the cake going to waste for lack of eaters, or, in order to guarantee more eaters, (b) trying to transport a cake on my bicycle to my workplace to share it with my co-workers. (Nothing doing.)

Stressing out about cake doesn’t really seem in keeping with the spirit of this blog, so I intend to leave red velvet cake aside until a proper cake-eating occasion arises.

In the meantime, I was deciding what to have for dinner this evening: I’ve done a lot of the savoury, veggie-&-greens meals this week and Sunday night seems to call for something different, some comfort food, something more indulgent. What better thing is there for such a desire than pancakes?!

I love making pancakes: they are easy, they are versatile, they are substantial enough to eat for any meal, you can make fun shapes out of them (my father introduced me to the wonders of making hearts and first initials out of pancake batter)…

heart-shaped pancakes for valentine’s day

…they are an incredibly social food (many of my friends can attest to at least one occasion where I insisted they come over for a pancake dinner), but also are an easy thing to whip up for one. It is hard to find a more basic kind of cake than a pan-cake.

Julie Van Rosendaal is the genius behind my favourite cookbook: Starting Out.

Kate thinks Julie Van Rosendaal’s ‘Starting Out’ is the best cookbook anywhere.

While the title suggests this cookbook is appropriate for folks just starting out cooking on their own (indeed, I bought it seven years ago when I was moving out to attend university and had little experience in the kitchen), I continue to use and love it. This plain paper, simple, glossy-photo-free cookbook features basic recipes, shows you how to alter them, subtract, substitute, or add ingredients to suit your taste, and ultimately helped me to develop confidence and competence in the kitchen.

But I digress.

Forget the pancake mix. Making pancakes from scratch is simple and quick, plus from-scratch pancakes taste so much better than those made from pancake mix! The best part is that you might already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen, or maybe you’ve got the dregs of a carton of buttermilk or some spare eggs that you’re wondering what to do with.

–x–

Pancakes

from Julie Van Rosendaal’s Starting Out

Ingredients

2 cups (500 mL) buttermilk or 2 cups (250 mL) milk plus 1 Tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice or vinegar

2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour (or hald whole-wheat, half all-purpose)

2 Tbsp (30 mL) sugar

2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder

1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) baking soda

1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt

1 large egg

2 tbsp (30 mL) melted butter or oil

Any additions you like: fresh or frozen (unthawed) berries, sliced banana, chopped or ground nuts

[I’m a big fan of banana pancakes with chocolate chips.]

Directions

(1) If you are using regular milk, pour it into a small bowl or measuring cup and stir in the lemon juice or vinegar; set the mixture aside for a few minutes.

(2) In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir the egg and melted butter or oil into the buttermilk or milk mixture with a fork or a whisk.

(3) Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture; stir just until the two are combined. Don’t worry about getting all the lumps out– overmixing may result in tough pancakes.

(4) Set a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the skillet it hot (test it by flicking some drops of water on it – they should bounce) spray it with non-stick spray or drizzle it with oil and swirl to coat it. Ladle the batter onto the skillet, making the pancakes any size [or shape!] you like. If you want to add berries, slices of banana, or anything else, scatter them directly onto the pancakes as they cook.

(5) Turn the heat down and cook the pancakes for a few minutes, until the bottoms are golden and bubbles begin to appear in the surface. When the surface appears almost dry with lots of bubbles breaking through, use a thin, flat spatula to flip the pancakes over and cook them for another minute, until they’re golden on the other side.

(6) Repeat with the remaining batter. If you need to keep the finished pancakes warm, keem them uncovered on a plate in a 200˚F (110˚C) oven. [Or, a more energy friendly alternative: just stack them on a plate in the microwave. You don’t need to run the microwave: just popping them in and closing the door is enough insulation.] If you don’t want to cook them all at once, the beftover batter can be covered and kept in the fridge for several days.

(7) Serve the pancakes with maple syrup [or Saskatoon berry syrup], or thaw a package of frozen berries in syrup to top them with.

–x–

One batch is enough for three hungry ladies. This recipe splits in half easily (I half everything, but still use one egg). A half-batch is enough for one hungry lady with leftovers for a couple breakfasts/snacks/lunches/dinners.

pancakes with saskatoon berry syrup

Happy eating!

–x–

More Jule Van Rosendaal

Julie talks about Blueberry/Saskatoon Berry Perogies on the CBC Calgary Eyeopener and she writes wonderful articles like this one about delicious, healthy alternative foods for Swerve Magazine on a fairly regular basis. She’s also on Twitter, and she writes about ‘real meals’ on her ‘reality cookbook’ website, Dinner with Julie.

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Simple Amish Friendship Bread (Sans Pudding Mix)

On Friday I was given a container of  Amish Friendship Bread starter.

I have to admit, the gesture is nice. You receive a bag/container of starter and ten days later you return a loaf of the bread to the person who gave you the starter. You also have a loaf or two for you and your family/friends/co-workers. In the end, you are left with enough starter to pass on one cup to a friend and enough to continue baking yourself. It should foster an appreciation for sharing food with friends. This is precisely what we are trying to promote on this blog.

While the idea is really lovely, I just have two small problems. I don’t want to tend to the starter unless I know that I love the resulting bread. Why would I want extra starter if I don’t want to use it myself or if I don’t have someone to pass the starter off to? Furthermore, I don’t really find the recipes for Amish Friendship Bread appealing. I think food should be simple. I don’t mind if a recipe requires time so long as that time pays off in terms of flavour or texture. What I do mind are long lists of ingredients and ingredients that have ingredients, such as the pudding mix. The majority of the recipes call for pudding mix. I don’t even know what is in pudding mix.

It shames me to admit, but the first time a friend gave me a bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter it went into the garbage. I don’t believe in wasting food. But that time I did. So in an attempt to not waste this second batch I decided I needed to simplify both the process and the recipe.

After reading over the instructions, it became apparent that the purpose of pampering the starter for ten days is to increase its volume. That is all. The majority of the recipes call for one cup of the starter. This is exactly the amount that was passed on to me. I really only needed to keep the starter for ten days (feeding it on day 5) if I wanted to have left over starter and more to pass on. So I made the decision to use all of the starter in one recipe. I also needed a birthday cake for my dad so things were going to work out well!

I realised there must be other people out there who want a simplified recipe for their Amish Friendship Bread. And after searching a few blogs, I found that there are plenty of people who are making this bread without pudding mix with varying degrees of success. Many of these people also don’t understand what, if anything, the pudding mix adds. So they have done away with it and have replaced it with mashed banana or apple sauce. Much healthier options!

I decided on the very simple recipe below because I had all of the ingredients in my pantry already.

Really Simple Amish Friendship Bread Recipe (Sans Pudding):

1 cup starter

2/3 cup oil

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

Tools you need:

–          2 glass, ceramic or plastic bowls

–          1 wooden or plastic spoon/spatula

–          2 loaf pans

–          Measuring cups (dry and liquid)

–          Measuring spoons

Most recipes advise against using metal tools. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a very scientific explanation. Apparently, metal will inhibit the ability of the yeast to act as a leaven.

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon) in one bowl. If your bowls are two different sizes it is best to use the smaller bowl for this (see why in step 3). I like to sift my dry ingredients together into a bowl because it is pretty humid where I live and this gets rid of any lumps. I used a metal whisk to fluff up my flour before measuring it. This is generally a good idea if, like me, you buy flour in bulk and it is kept in a container. Over time the flour gets packed down and this can skew the accuracy of your measurements. Weighing your dry ingredients will also work if you can find a recipe with weight measurements and you have a food scale.
  2. In the other bowl (the larger one, if they are different sizes) combine the wet ingredients (oil, vanilla, eggs and starter). If you can, try to use liquid measuring cups. I must admit, I did not use a liquid measuring cup to measure the starter. I already had the dry 1 cup measuring cup out so I just used that. I used a metal whisk to mix the eggs and oil. Then I used a wooden spoon to mix the starter and the vanilla into egg and oil mixture.
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients (which are in the larger bowl, thankfully) and use the wooden spoon to stir.
  4. At this point you can add any additional flavours you would like. I chose chocolate chips and chopped pecans simply because I had them in my pantry.
  5. Take a knob of butter and rub it around the inside of both pans and sprinkle in some sugar.
  6. Pour the batter evenly between the two pans.
  7. Bake in an oven at 350 degrees Celsius for 40 to 45 minutes.

Things I liked about the recipe:

  • It doesn’t call for pudding mix and I had all of the ingredients that it does call for in my pantry. Because this recipe omits the pudding, the sweet flavour imparted by the yeast comes through.
  • The recipe is very simple. I used only 1 dry measuring cup (the 1 cup measure), 1 wet measuring cup and one measuring spoon (the ½ teaspoon measure).

Things I didn’t like about the recipe:

  • It calls for a lot of white sugar and white flour. For a birthday cake, this is fine. It is a celebration after all. (I think “bread” is a misnomer. With this much sugar and white flour, it really is a cake.)
  • The cakes did not rise very much (maybe because I used a metal whisk and metal sieve at points during the preparation?). I think that the majority of the leavening came from the baking powder. I’m glad that I didn’t tend to the starter for ten days for this reason.

Improvements to be made:

  • I should probably remember to include the cinnamon next time! It would have added another level to the flavour. Fortunately, the cake tastes fine without it.
  • I burned the bottoms of the cakes a little bit. I have to remember that my oven is pretty hot. When I bake I often end up taking things out before the recommended bake time. 35 minutes would probably have been adequate. I am fortunate because my dad happens to like things a little burned. At least that is what he has told me my whole life. If you do accidentally burn the bottoms, don’t sweat it! Just cut the burned bottom crust off.

Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake

My great-grandmother was the original hipster: she was making red velvet cake before it was cool.

Though, in all sincerity, it does seem that red velvet cake has suddenly become A Thing. I’d never heard of it before, then suddenly the kids at ACAD are making it, the recipe is showing up in hip Friday newspaper supplements, and my parents claim to have found red velvet cupcakes at a high-end cupcake joint recently (…which about brings me to the limits of my pop-cultural awareness. Still. It seems to be cropping up a lot lately.)

No kidding people want to make red velvet cake: it’s a really beautiful colour, and it has a fancy (and frankly delicious-sounding) name; it’s an old-fashioned recipe, and there’s a real joy in this kind of interactive nostalgia.

My aunt made red velvet cake from this recipe and brought it to a family gathering, and it turns out that my uncle has my Great-Grandma’s original recipe in his possession: typewritten with handwritten comments in pencil. I have reproduced it below.

Apparently there is an urban legend that red velvet cake originated at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, hence the name, but I suspect it has more to do with how posh you sound when you offer ‘Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake’ to your family/friends/lover(s)/neighbours/co-workers. Undoubtedly, my Great-Grandma J was an impressive woman with or without the ‘Waldorf Astoria’.

–x–

‘Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake’

1/2 cup crisco

1 1/2 cups white sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup red food colouring [my great-grandmother has crossed this out in the original, and hand-written,] Cochenial* [sic] from Drug Store (too strong, use less)

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour

1 tablespoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream crisco and sugar until fluffy, add eggs one at a time and beat one minute. Put cocoa and red food colouring in a cup and make a paste and add to above. Add salt. Put vanilla in buttermilk and add slowly to mixture alternating milk and flour. Put vinegar in a cup and add soda, add to mixture. Bake in 2 – 9″ pans at 350 oven, 30 to 40 mins.

Frosting

1 cup milk

5 tbsp. flour

Mix flour and milk to make a smooth paste; cook until thick. Cool.

1 cup butter

1 cup icing sugar (apparently my aunt used granulated sugar and that worked well)

1 tsp. vanilla

Beat with mixer. Add flour mix gradually till all blended.

*This is a misspelling of “cochineal”, a dye made from crushed bugs of the same name. As far as strange ingredients go, this one takes the cake (haha). (I’ll be writing more about this soon.)

–x–

I do not have a photograph of what this cake ought to look like when it’s finished, which, I think, is part of the fun — no glossy, intimidating photographs to frighten me away from giving it a go. Instead, I’ll leave you with a photo of my Great-Grandmother J and my aunts.