Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lemon Meringue Cake: or, The egg whites were sitting in the freezer anyway

Do you refuse to throw away perfectly good ingredients even if you have no idea what you'd use them for? Do you have nearly full sauce bottles lurking in your cabinets because you made a recipe that called for one tablespoon of something you haven't used since? Are there frozen scraps of this or that carefully wrapped in your freezer because you might find a use for them someday?
If so, we at A Book of Cookrye are no better than you. More than anything, we have a lot of egg whites in the freezer from making a lot of recipes that called for yolks. Of course, one can more easily find recipes for egg whites than one might find one that uses, say, asafoetida or those last meat scraps that you bagged up instead of throwing out.Today, our friends at the Dormeyer electric mixer factory have a super nifty idea for us:
All Electric-Mix Recipes Prepared Specially for your Dormeyer Mixer, 1946

Lemon Meringue Cake
Lemon cake from the recipe of your choice*
2 egg whites
Dash of salt
½ c sugar
¼ tsp lemon extract

Bake the lemon cake in a 9x13 pan.
After removing it from the oven, beat the egg whites and salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating constantly, until it stands in stiff peaks. Add the lemon extract.
Spread over the cake and bake 10 minutes.

*The original recipe is the Mix-Easy Two-Egg Cake with 2 tsp lemon rind added to the butter or shortening. For the record, I used this recipe instead because it calls not for 2 eggs but 5 egg whites, and I have an embarrassing number of egg whites in the refrigerator.

All Electric-Mix Recipes Prepared Specially for your Dormeyer Mixer, 1946

Does a lemon meringue cake seem like a desperate reach for novelty to anyone else?  I guess there are only so many cake recipes you can run before you reach the end of cake. This is especially true of an advertising pamphlet, which unlike a more serious cookbook tends to avoid what one may call the more adventurous recipes. Having said that, our friends at the Dormeyer company decided to run some 50-odd cake recipes. When the you barely allow any flavors in your cake chapter that one wouldn't find in the shake machine at a drive-thru, some possibly misguided creativity will ensue.

I can just imagine the people in their desks under orders to come up with enough cake recipes to fill 20 small-print double-sided pages. Eventually someone decides to take the pie out of lemon meringue pie and put a cake in there instead. As a bonus, meringues are a great excuse to justify selling electric mixers because beating egg whites into shaving cream by hand sucks.
Note the deployment of foil to forestall washing.

I couldn't get over how weird it is to put meringue on a cake. In my limited cooking experience, meringue has only appeared two places: on top of pies, or made into cookies. Putting meringue on cake is utter madness. What topsy-turvy world is this?

The cake looked actually rather nice right out of the oven. It is a really enticing-looking big pan of meringue once you get over the fact that this clearly is not a pie.
However, as seems to often happen to meringues here at A Book of Cookrye, it sweated out little brown beads as it cooled.
Do you think they look enough like sprinkles that I could claim I did it on purpose?

Apparently whoever thought of a lemon meringue cake was afraid to really stick to the premise- that is a puny ration of meringue for a cake this size. If you look at any slice of lemon meringue pie, the meringue tends to be at least as tall as the lemon under it. But having followed the recipe instructions, this is how much meringue, er, crowned the finished creation.

That is a pathetic layer of icing, isn't it? If you ate a slice with your eyes closed, you couldn't even tell the meringue was there. I mean, it will help keep the cake from going stale the same way any icing does. So if you never really liked the taste of icing on cake but still think a bare cake looks kinda ugly, this idea is for you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Brownie canadensis: or, Importing recipes from the back of a chocolate chip bag

Guess what happened in the clearance rack!

Happy days have truly returned to A Book of Cookrye, because that is literally two pounds of chocolate, all of which is covered in markdown stickers!
Had it been but a single bag of chocolate chips, one might have just made a batch of delicious cookies. But two pounds of chocolate deserve something special. Something divine. A recipe that I've had on file for a while now...

That's right, this recipe for brownies uses three different kinds of chocolate! Truly, a recipe like this deserves to be shared with friends, which is why we're making this with Marcus!
You may notice two subtle hints that this recipe does not originate in the United States. It uses metric measurements,whereas America only uses kilograms and milliliters for science labs and selling illegal drugs. Also, they relisted the recipe in French. In case you skipped the title, this does indeed come from the Canada! I flew there on some friends' frequent flyer points last year, and in the course of doing some baking, I saw this recipe and thought it looked insanely good. Why I didn't make it on the spot I don't know, but let us wait no longer.

Double Chocolate Brownies
1¾ c flour (425 mL)
½ c cocoa powder (125 mL)
¼ tsp baking powder (1 mL)
1 pinch salt
1 c semisweet chocolate chips (or 6 oz chopped baking chocolate) (250 mL)
1 c butter (250 mL)
1⅓ c dark (50%) chocolate chips (or 8 oz or 325 mL)
2¼ c sugar (560 mL)
5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (5 mL)

Heat oven to 350° (180°C). Grease an 8"x12" or 9"x13" (20x30cm or 23x33cm) pan. For brownies, a metal pan is better than a glass one because the glass will hold onto heat and keep baking them for a while after you take it out of the oven.
Mix flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Melt together the butter and dark chocolate.
Beat the eggs until foamy. Add the sugar and beat until thick and custard-like. Add the chocolate-butter, mixing with a rubber spatula. Stir in the flour mixture. When all is mixed, stir in half the chocolate chips.
Spread in the pan. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips on top. Bake 25-30 minutes.

Source: A bag of store-brand chocolate chips I bought in Ottawa

This recipe starts with chopping a lot of baking chocolate. I was prepared to get out the knife and delay further brownie production for at least 5 minutes, but Marcus had a better idea.
Never thought your broke friends on A Book of Cookrye would extravagantly put slabs of Ghirardelli in a food processor, did you?

I will say, this recipe involved a lot more bowls than I bargained for. But, for once that did not annoy me at all. You see, Marcus has a dishwasher! So you know what? Let's get out a plastic tub and shake the flour and cocoa until they're as mixed as they can be!

And we'll go ahead and measure out the sugar beforehand into another bowl that no one will wash by hand!

Then we'll get out not a bowl but a pot because the chocolate and butter have to melt in something. We were out of microwave-safe bowls, so we had to use the stove for this.
Finally, we get out yet another bowl (that's 4 bowls total that no one will handwash) in which all of this will eventually come together... and beat eggs into suds. I will admit that this part of the recipe is mere speculation on my part. The instructions just say "beaten eggs" which can mean anything from "just bash them around with a fork for 10-ish seconds" to "keep going until they look like beige whipped cream (as we have done in recipes like this)." A lot of the egg-heavy brownie recipes I've seen lean towards the latter, so that was the option we went with.

At this point, with all the many ingredients in their many bowls or tubs or pots, measured and ready to go, the brownies began to come gloriously together. First, we add the sugar and transform this bowl of eggs into what tasted like an unusually rich icing. You might not think a bowl of just eggs and sugar would be all that great, but this was oddly addictive.

Next, we dumped in the melted chocolate and butter, which if you can pour out a mixture like that and not taste at least a little, you have no soul. The chocolate promptly sank through the extremely whipped eggs and hid under them.

Here let me detour and sing the praises of Marcus' dishwasher. Speaking as someone who has not had a working dishwasher in the house since 2005, the dishwasher is truly a miraculous and glorious wonder. Were I making this at home, there would be a pile of dishes overtopping the sink, waiting for me to reluctantly scrub and rinse each of them, one at a time, until the all were clean. Instead, we did not have a single dish in the sink. It is so gloriously convenient to measure and prepare absolutely every ingredient you're going to use without having to hand-wash a small army of little bowls and spoons. I've rarely had the pleasure of making a recipe and having everything measured out and ready at hand. The reward for such advance planning and preparation, if you have no dishwasher, is at least half an hour of extra cleanup because having everything measured out in its own little vessel quickly builds up to a lot of dirty dishes.
We kept the dishwasher open as we proceeded through the recipe, and simply dropped every gloriously unrinsed bowl, pot, tub, spoon, fork, and knife right onto the racks. No growing heap of dirty dishes grimly awaited someone with a sponge. All we had to do is close the door on the dripping mess and press a button. If you've never experienced cooking in the presence of a dishwasher, take a bag of ingredients and go to the house of anyone you know with a who has one and try it at least once. Your entire outlook on cooking will change.

Since the chocolate sank to the bottom, it took a few seconds of stirring before the batter started to really change color. But once it did, it seemed like it would never stop darkening. With every circle  the spoon made, the batter got even browner. It seemed like stirring made the chocolate magically grow in the batter.

But, just in case the brownies did not have enough chocolate in them yet, we added even more chocolate with the flour!

Oh, all this chocolate is (not) too much. It really is. This almost made me happier than not having to hand-wash a single dish.

But maybe you're unimpressed with all the chocolate in this recipe so far. What would say if we stopped bothering with other ingredients and just dumped more chocolate right into the batter?

And so, having put an unprecedented amount of chocolate into one pan of brownies, it was time to actually bake these. And.... oh. I nearly died when I saw this gloriously thick and oozy chocolate pour into the pan.

You know what? Let's look at that just a little closer.

When your brownie batter looks like this before you smooth it over with a spoon, that is a sign of amazing things to come.

Because Marcus and I are not soulless robots, we did a deliberately terrible job of scraping the bowl. Want to know how the batter tasted?

He actually stayed like this long enough for my camera to crash, restart, and finally take the picture.

Anyone who knows how much I don't just like but believe in chocolate will be thoroughly unsurprised to know this is how much I liked it.

We were so overcome with chocolate that we forgot to do the last line of instruction in the recipe before leaving the brownies in the oven. That's right, the recipe says you're supposed to just dump even more chocolate over the brownies right before they bake.

As I took these out of the oven, I just had to wonder: if Canadians get recipes this good on their grocery labels, why is the United States the country with the obesity epidemic?

If you look past my poor spatula skills, you can see a tantalizingly dark brownie that looks utterly divine.

In a predictable twist for two friends in the kitchen at 3 in the morning waiting for a pan of brownies to cool off to the point where we don't burn ourselves trying to eat them, we passed the time by going to the nearest establishment that sold tacos 24 hours a day. One of the benefit of living in the south is the density of Mexican restaurants, many of which extend their hours all the way around the clock. The sublime joy of 3AM tacos almost makes up for the miserable traffic and awful heatwaves.
Why do I mention the late-night food jaunt? Because we ended up too full of tacos and cheese dip to eat any dessert when we got home!
But you can take my word for it that the next day, despite promising friends that they could share in the chocolate creation, all the brownies mysteriously disappeared before anyone else could eat any.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Birthday cake for a musician!

We at A Book of Cookrye are super happy for a dear friend. She is entering her second decade of life, that sweet time when you haven't yet realized that you never stop aging. And so, upon my asking what she wanted for a cake, she instantly said "Chocolate!"
She later decided she wanted not cake but brownies, stacked and iced like a layer cake. And that deep and abiding love of chocolate and brownies is how you know she is a friend of mine.
I got out the brownie recipe I found handwritten in a 1920's cookbook because it really is so good. While I usually make Betty Feezor's also-delicious brownie recipe, a birthday justified the splurge for a lot of baking chocolate. Though today's recipe makes such a small amount that it needed doubling.
This is surprisingly legible and detailed for a note-to-self recipe in the back of a cookbook.

Borrowing a lesson from the Celebration Cake, we lined the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. It's like using wax paper, only you don't have wax melting into your hopefully-divine creations.
Check out that delicious oozy batter of chocolate divinity.

I asked someone more knowledgeable than I why you only line the bottoms of the pans and leave the sides bare. It turns out that if your cake/brownies stick to the pan, it's easier to cut around the edges than try to peel paper off the sides without taking chunks of cake with it. And indeed, the paper worked! Both pans of brownies fell right out with a satisfying whomph!

While I expected the brownies to fall apart as soon as I tried to lift and stack them, they were surprisingly sturdy. I genuinely thought they'd crumble into tiny fudgy pieces as I tried to get them in place on the plate. But as you can see, they were strong enough to withstand being carried on one hand.

And so, we tried to get these two pans of brownies to act like a layer cake. Two handy hints for anyone trying this at home: put a pretty decently thick layer of icing on the plate to more or less glue the cake in place, and have a lot of paper towels on hand for when you realize you utterly failed at keeping the icing off the plate. If you plan ahead, you can kind of forestall this whole problem by putting wax paper strips under the cake before you start slathering icing on it (which you counterintuitively pull out by the short end afterward), but I forgot to.
If you accidentally scrape the bottom of the cake bare as you wipe the plate, you can put icing in a baggie and squirt a border around the base.

And so, from one musician to another, we present... a decorated cake!
I and many other musicians will forever wonder why they decided to make the treble clef so fricken hard to draw.

For reference, that mess of dots and lines is supposed to look like this:

I sent this to another musician friend to see if the cake was legible to someone who didn't already know what it's supposed to say.
Incredibly, he could also read my icing cursive.

Indeed, that is the first line of "Happy Birthday To You," executed in icing. The notes were supposed to be purple, even if they didn't end up looking like it. The cake was just as delicious and heart-stoppingly divine as you think two layers of brownies clapped together with icing would be. However, the brownies spread a lot as they cooled, necessitating a lot of icing to make the cake have straight sides.

For those who are making a cake for someone really loves chocolate (whether it's yourself or someone else), you should definitely try making them a layer cake but with brownies instead.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rumbling Rhubarb returns to A Book of Cookrye

Guess what turned up at the supermarket!

No, it's not celery with red paint, it's fresh rhubarb! Living in a southern enough latitude that the walk from your air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned supermarket can cause heat stroke, seeing rhubarb casually stacked between the celery and the lettuce was quite the surprise. There must be a really big bumper crop in the regions where rhubarb grows, so much so that distributors have sent it down to parts of the country where most of the customers haven't heard of it. If you live further north than I and grow rhubarb plants, do tell-- have they done unusually well this year?
Every rhubarb recipe made on A Book of Cookrye has started with frozen rhubarb because that plant does not like spending its summer days roasting in over 100° days (that's over 40°ish for you Celsius folks) and has an unfortunate habit of dying.
Finding fresh rhubarb prompted the question: Is fresh better than frozen? Can one even tell the difference? More importantly, what really special recipe might one use for this rarity?
That last one is the reason why the rhubarb sat in the refrigerator for longer than it should have. I wanted to make something special because fresh rhubarb simply doesn't happen where I live.
Whenever I find something in stores that either they don't stock or I cannot let myself buy without a discount, I first come home really happy about what I got.and want to make something special to really savor this treat. I then tear through a bunch of cookbooks and a lot of recipes online, trying to find The Perfect One. None of them ever look good enough, so I keep searching while the food slowly expires in the refrigerator. Then, likely as not, I eventually find the perfect recipe and also that the special thing has rotted.
And so, after three weeks without The One Perfect Recipe falling from on high, I decided to make this before the rhubarb turned to compost.

I must note that "rumble" is an odd choice to put in a dessert name. It seems stranger the more I think about it. Usually desserts have dainty (or at least nonthreatening) names like "Lemon Loves," "Red Velvet," "Hummingbird Cake," "Divinity," etc. Yes, there are many exceptions like devil's food. But generally speaking, you're more likely to find rumbling and other ominous noises among the meats and casseroles than among the cakes and cookies.

Rhubarb Rumble
1 c flour
1 c brown sugar
½ c butter, melted
¾ c oatmeal
1 tsp cinnamon
4 c diced rhubarb
1 c sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 c water
1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 350°-375°. Grease a rectangular baking dish.
Mix butter and brown sugar, stir in cinnamon. Mix in the flour, then the oatmeal. Press half of this into the pan. Cover with rhubarb.
Stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and water in a pot. Put over high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Pour over the rhubarb*. Top with remaining crumbs.
Bake one hour. Serve warm, topped if you like with whipped cream.

*Be sure not to leave any big unsugared spots in the pan. It will mix a little as everything bubbles up in the oven, but any un-syruped spots will stay bitter and be rather unpleasant to find when you're eating it. It'd be easier to just stir the rhubarb into the pot just as you take it off the burner and then dump the whole mess into the pan. I'm not sure why the recipe writer didn't do that instead.

Mrs. Carol J. Domier; Mayville, ND; Favorite Recipes of America: Desserts, 1968

By the way, it turns out fresh rhubarb keeps extraordinarily well in the refrigerator. After three weeks of hoping I'd find a worthy recipe, this was all I had to cut off.

Anyway, you may also wonder what the heck this stuff looks like. Well, imagine someone bleached celery all the way to a pure white, then painted the skin red.

Not only does it look a lot like celery, it tastes like it, too. So much so that (this is no joke) I have every intention of using celery in a rhubarb recipe just to see what happens.
Anyway, this recipe says to serve it warm, which generally means you want to time things so you're pulling it out of the oven right before dinner if you're serving it for dessert. This can create a bit of a conflict of interest with regards to the use of the precious few square feet of kitchen. This brought forth two more questions: Can we get all the pieces of this ready so all we have to do is get it in a pan? If so, do we really want to have to wash a bowl?

You may have noticed that, having just a little blob of butter, we ended up substituting some margarine and also some of the shortening left over from all the practice pies in baking class. Which brings us to a fun science lesson: Did you know butter and shortening melt at different temperatures?
Note the choice of mixing this in a storage container. It will be relevant later.
Seeing a completely intact blob of shortening sitting in the melted butter is definitely not unnerving at all. But enough of that-- on with the sugar!

As you can see, there was too much butter for that sugar and it floated on top in a greasy fat slick.  This could only mean one thing: The oatmeal and flour would absorb the butter and become a heart-stoppingly delicious carbohydrate paste!
You can still see the odd shiny spot.

And so, with a stir of oatmeal, we had the top and bottom of this thing done! For such buttery beginnings, this was really dry and almost sandy.

And so, we got on with.... well, the rhubarb was not going near the oven or even a vacant pan yet. For you see, I wanted to start this baking right after dinner for a late-night gathering with friends. However, it seems that around dinnertime, people want to use the kitchen to make dinner which can create a clash of space. And so, I got all the components ready to assemble. The rhubarb went into the refrigerator, as did the tub of oatmeal stuff. Heck, I even measured out the sugar and cornstarch because I am just that good at preparing ahead of time, guys.
Maybe the cooking classes are paying off in preparedness (and a new stash of overpriced French terms for everything).

And so, as dinner was wrapping up, no one could possibly be annoyed at me for pushing food out of the way to cut up rhubarb, mix things, or have various ingredients slowly conquer the counterspace. That was already done ahead of time. All I had to do was first get the half of the brown stuff into the pan, which proved more difficult than expected because it had turned into butter-sugar sandstone in the refrigerator.

When trying to make half of the oatmeal cover a whole 9x13 pan, I wondered briefly if I might use something smaller. However, I like to have lots of crusty stuff on top of fruit whenever making cobblers (or rumbles, apparently). Were you to make your cobbler (or rumble) in a deep pan, then everyone would get a puny ration of crust on top. But if you make it thinner, there's a lot more of the crusty stuff (with baked-in fruit juice) per serving.

You may notice strawberries in this. That's because a bag of frozen strawberries appeared in the freezer seemingly from nowhere. Since there were only 3 cups of rhubarb whereas the recipe calls for 4, it seemed like a good time to both make up for insufficient fruit and to try this rhubarb-and-strawberry combination so many people rhapsodize about.

While that sat out, the pre-measured sugar and starch turned into syrup. It's basically lemon meringue pie if you left out the lemons, I guess. If you were one of those weird kids who tried to steal from hummingbird feeders, you would love it.

What seemed like a huge mass of sugar slime while in the pot now seemed hopelessly inadequate for dribbling over everything in the pan.

Actually, everything about this recipe seemed promising. We've already discovered how much we like rhubarb, and the last time we dumped syrup over strawberries, the resulting pie had a shelf life of about 2 hours after cutting.
I really should offer to do an advertisement for foil in which I pose under the slogan "I haven't washed my cake pans in five years!"

I must admit I was near-certain that I had wasted the fresh rhubarb that one so rarely finds in my climate region. This was the driest-looking thing I've ever tried to pass off as a cobbler. The oatmeal stuff was like dry sand, and there was barely enough syrup on the fruit to make it visibly wet.After an hour in the oven, this would surely have turned into a desiccated mess and possibly burned onto the pan, right?

Wrong! About halfway into the baking time, the various fruits started oozing out juice. Before the hour elapsed, the pan was merrily boiling under its crispy crust.

As anyone looking at this may surmise, it was in fact really fricken delicious. For those who doubt, this is how much remained after about 45 minutes.

This is a really good cobbler recipe. But I honestly would skip the bottom crust- it went hard and gummy, and got stuck in your teeth the way a Butterfinger does. It'd be better if you just sprinkled all of the crusty stuff on top. But as you can see, made exactly as written, it's pretty good.
And so, to close, let's get back to the question: Is fresh rhubarb better than frozen? Honestly, by the time you've sugared the heck out of it and baked it an hour, you can't tell the difference. Some things may lose flavor if you freeze them, but rhubarb is good either way. That said, rhubarb is really good. So if you've never had it and find it either fresh or frozen, do treat yourself!