Monday, February 29, 2016

Sachertorte: or, Happy birthday to our great-grandfather!

We at A Book of Cookrye would like to salute our great-grandfather on today, his 27th birthday! You may be wondering "How can someone be a great-grandfather before he's old enough to chase people off his lawn?" However, we I didn't say he would be 27, we said it's his 27th birthday. You may notice that today February 29. The man was a legendarily angry person- perhaps the tightly rationed birthdays informed his bitter trudge through life.
Anyway, we wanted to honor his first birthday in four years. So, we're doing this!

But this is not just any chocolate cake. This is a cake that apparently sacred to Austria in general and Vienna (where he's from) in particular. Every cookbook we've ever seen that has a recipe for it doesn't just give the instructions. Nope, this cake gets its own mini-chapter with the history of it (there is a multi-year lawsuit involved) and lengthy explanation of how this is totally not just a cake. Only then are you allowed to read the directions and make it yourself.

5 oz semisweet chocolate (1 scant cup chocolate chips)
1 tbsp water
6 eggs, separated
10 tbsp butter
1 heaping cup powdered sugar
1 c flour
2 or 3 big spoons of apricot preserves
3 oz semisweet chocolate

Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9" round pan.
Melt chocolate with water in a large microwave-safe bowl. It may not melt so much as get really hot and turn into this chocolate clay sort of stuff- don't worry about it. Thinly slice the butter and lay the slices over the chocolate. Microwave until the butter is soft but not melted, then thoroughly beat together with a whisk or electric mixer.
Using a whisk or mixer, add the egg yolks one at a time (if they're broken, just pour and guess at it) alternately with the powdered sugar, beating each in thoroughly. Then beat everything until it's noticeably aerated.
Whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold them in alternately with the flour. Then pour into the pan. Bake 50-60 minutes.
When the cake is cooled, warm the preserves and spread on top of the cake. Pick off any large pieces of apricot (you can just put them back in the jar along with any extra preserves). Set aside for a while so the jelly can set. Then melt the chocolate and spread on the top and sides. Leave out for the chocolate to set.

This is really good with whipped cream. And go ahead and make it yourself- you just made the whole cake from scratch, would you really put some cheap topping on it? Besides, it's easy.
Put about half a pint of cream in a bowl and insert an electric mixer, and start beating. Add powdered sugar until it's as sweet as you like. Keep beating until it's nice and fluffy.
You can use granulated sugar as well, but for some reason powdered sugar seems to work better.

Adapted from Austrian Cooking and Baking, Gretel Beer, 1975

That's right, in honor of the fact that he immigrated from Austria, we're making a sachertorte! His daddy lived in Vienna where the sachertorte was invented. It's one of the most famous recipes to come from Austria. The Austria tourism board's website claims sachertorte "must be the most famous chocolate cake in the world today." However, sachertorte doesn't seem to be too terribly well-known here in the well-cultured. For one thing, the name shows up with a red squiggly underline every time we type it. For another, whenever we were asked what were making, they looked at us confused, asking "what's a soccer tort?" until we said it was chocolate cake.

Attempting to get five ounces of semisweet chocolate out of a 12-ounce bag of chocolate chips.

Sachertorte is one of the many things we've been meaning to make for some time. We actually have two recipes for it: one in our Bible (an all-chocolate recipe book) and this one which we scanned before returning the book to the library. We went with this recipe for two reasons: it's from a book of Austrian recipes written by an Austrian lady, and she put shortcut instructions right under the official ones.
Don't ask why, but the chocolate did not melt. It got really hot and did this instead.

We actually respect Gretel Beer a lot for putting the shortcut instructions under what we assume are the steps for the canonical method. For one thing, it's a sign she made the recipe herself enough times to find and cut a lot of superfluous middle steps that were in the way of eating cake. It's a sign she wanted more people using her book to actually make the recipe rather than reading through it. We imagine she finished typing out the socially acceptable way to make a sachertorte, reread it and realized how many cooks would be thrown off by all the excessive steps and rewrote it for the rest of us who don't like having to manage multiple bowls of different mixtures and other complicated things. However, we had four bowls out before we were five minutes in. As a reminder, the A Book of Cookrye Kitchen doesn't have a dishwasher.
Purpose of each bowl, clockwise from top: melt chocolate, crack egg whites, hold egg yolks, hold egg successfully separated whites

On the bright side, this recipe wasted exactly zero eggs. For some reason, it bothers us more and more these days to waste either a bunch of egg yolks or a bunch of egg whites. We were pleased at how resourceful we were allowed to be and tried to ignore the fact that the chocolate had somehow failed to melt. In theory, the electric mixer would break it down and disperse it... right?
Right, that's the butter softened.

I don't know weirded us out more: that the chocolate looked like it'd burn in the microwave before it melted, or that it immediately liquefied when we inserted an electric mixer and tried to beat in the butter.
We may have butter grubs, but the recipe very clearly said not to melt the butter. So if this fails on account of butter crawling through it, it's Austria's fault not mine.

This recipe is backwards of every other one we've made. Usually the powdered sugar goes in the icing and the granulated in the cake. This threw us off a little, but not so much we couldn't go ahead and sic an electric mixer on the yolks.

Now, we must admit that we never quite got this whole folding in egg whites without deflating business quite right. This recipe has us adding the egg whites alternately with the flour, meaning not only do we have to successfully not deflate the cake once like every other recipe we've ever done with beaten egg whites, but we must successfully do so multiple times!
Well, this is going as well as expected...

But you know what? We ended up with some of the most delicious chocolate cake batter we've ever made. Seriously, I'd have been bitter for years too after leaving a country that makes cakes like this. It was so divinely chocolatey and amazing, it took a great amount of restraint to get it into the pan and bake it. We tend to do a deliberately poor job of scraping the bowl, but this time we really didn't put much effort into it.

However, the cake came out looking unnervingly desiccated. It looked like we might be heading straight into mediocrity with this one. Behold how sad and dry it looks!

We actually let this thing cool overnight because we were going to do this properly. We were going to make the icing with the candy thermometer, get some apricot preserves, and even buy fresh cream to put on top. After all, our great-grandfather's birthday only comes once every four years. Now, we at A Book of Cookrye have previously called various other cakes sturdy, but we've never had one that we could hold up like this.
Incidentally, I sent this picture to a friend who sent the following reply: "o_O Now that's what I call and upside down cake."

All right, bring on the apricot preserves!
Notice the deployment of wax paper strips so we can have a beautiful cake atop a clean cake plate when we're done.

Another recipe we saw said to strain the preserves before putting them on the cake. We just picked the apricot pieces off and spared ourselves from having to watch a syrupy strainer.
This is coming along very nicely.

Now, the recipe says to cook the sugar and water until it's at something called small thread stage. We've never heard of such a thing, but fortunately the term comes up in a lot of cookbooks old enough to be public domain.
The Candy-maker: A Practical Guide To The Manufacture Of The Various Kinds Of Plain And Fancy Candy, Jesse Haney, 1878

We didn't expect to make a lot of icing for such a small cake (the pictures that turn up in an image search for sachertorte show a really thin layer of what looks like chocolate glaze), but this still looks... underwhelming.

You may notice it's so shallow the thermometer bulb barely makes it in there. This teeny allotment of syrup heated so fast that it went about 40 degrees past the 215° mark while we were wiping the countertop. We asked ourselves if we could use it anyway. Then we remembered this is in honor of ancestors and chucked it, also the icing would probably harden and get stuck in everyone's teeth. Since Our Mom of Cookrye has an electric kettle, it was no trouble to rinse the pot in boiling water and start over.

The second time we did this, we hit 215° exactly and yanked the pot off just in time. We were all set to... well, shit.

Yep, it's still really gritty. Even if it would make the icing a nice metaphor for his temper, we don't want our great-grandfather's 27th birthday cake sanding off people's teeth, do we? At this point, we got a really big batch of boiling water going because it was clear we would be failing at small-thread syrup many times before we got it right and therefore would need to wash out the pot a lot in the next half hour or so.
For attempt three, we put the stove on a very slow simmer, beat the syrup-to-be with a spoon like it had failed us twice, and only when the syrup clear did we turn up the heat and boil it. And behold, we succeeded!

That syrup is so clear and sugar-grit-free it looks like we just dumped water on the melted chocolate! Right, we have chocolate that melted without turning into brown clay like when we made the cake and syrup that spun a perfect small thread. Let's stir them together so we can crown the cake with...

SERIOUSLY? One second we're stirring together melted chocolate and runny syrup, and the next we have this? We figured maybe we let the syrup cool too long and microwaved the whole mess, hoping it'd go runny again. We had that shit boiling in its microwave-safe bowl before dumping it on the cake. Maybe if we frantically had at it before it had a chance to cool off, we could spread it over the whole cake. We got this.

At this point, we wished we'd kept up with our online German lessons so we could angrily shout how we felt about this properly. As we've been told, our great-grandfather was a terrible cook. Maybe he had this happen when he tried to make things from home and got burnt out of cooking. Well, we had at the cake with paper towels and tried to get over the bitter feeling from wasting that much chocolate.
If this wasn't so sad, it'd be pathetic.

The icing didn't even harden into a plausible batch of fudge. It just turned into sad, dried-out bitter chocolate rocks. We had to come up with a replacement icing after re-spreading a layer of apricot on it. By the way, we got the good preserves for this thing. Writing off the jelly that had previously occupied the top of the cake as collateral damage was not helping us get over having spent all this time making multiple attempts at syrup and also wasting some perfectly innocent chocolate.
However, a tiny handful of chocolate chips remained in the bag. We had planned to put them around the rim of the cake to give it that perfect finishing touch. Instead, we melted them along with some blocks of semisweet chocolate left over from some Christmas recipe. This we just put directly on top of the cake because we were not going to lose the last chocolate in the house trying that icing recipe again.

We had thought we'd have a beautiful cake, crowned in a beautiful smooth chocolate glaze like the pictures we've seen of it. There'd be an adorable rim of chocolate chips to make it a little better than perfect. It'd be so dainty and European. We imagined how this might make someone yearn for the old country where you could get cakes just like it at any random bakery. But that didn't happen. Instead, the best you can say for this thing is...

It looked worse when it cooled down. As the chocolate hardened and lost its shine, it was evident that we had not so much spread it on top of the jelly as we had smeared the two of them around.

But you know what? No chocolate cake ever tasted bad because of an ugly icing job. So, we went to visit friends and raise a cake slice to ancestry.

As will surely surprise no one who saw the picture of us hefting the cake single-handed without the cake breaking, this cake was not exactly soft. In fact, a friend who had a piece asked "Is this cake? It's like eating a sponge!" A later sentence deployed was "I feel like I'm eating a chocolate Sponge Bob!"
And indeed, this was a lot denser and a bit drier than the chocolate cake we'd have here in America. However, it was so good that three fourths of it were gone in two hours.
So, happy birthday to our great-grandfather! Sorry you only got one every four years!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Second-Stab Saturday: Anniversary cake!

We recently went to visit Our Grandparents of Cookrye. It's their wedding anniversary! So, Our Mom of Cookrye made dinner and we made dessert. And what did we make, you ask?
We made this.

Yes, we were asked to make something really special. Not just any cake recipe would do. We decided to make the silver cake. However, it occurred to us as we were getting ingredients: if this cake uses 12 egg whites to make two layers, we'll be throwing away a dozen egg yolks. We had only one response to this amount of waste:

Therefore, we decided to make one layer with egg whites and one layer with egg yolks and therefore waste no eggs. Making two cakes at once was not as tedious as one might think. Yes, we used so many dishes that they covered an entire table when laid out to dry, but we had ample time to wash them while the cakes rose.

You may wonder why the cake is on foil like that. Well, this is an anniversary cake. We wanted it to come out looking spiffy and without a gutter of icing all around it. The book we got this from says to use strips of wax paper which we do not have. Therefore, foil.
It's really weird putting effort into icing.

This is an alien experience to us at A Book of Cookrye. We never decorate cakes. We hardly ever ice them at all, and if we have to bother with it, we just dump glaze on top and call it done.
Pay no attention to the really big glass of tea.

Since there was no way we were going to wait for two cakes to rise and bake one at a time, we dug out the pan exhumed from our great-grandmother's possessions. The really nice thing about it is that it has a built in slicer thing to cut the cake out with.
Why in the world did they stop making these?

However, the slicer does leave a strip-shaped dent in whatever you bake in the pan.
Incidentally, these cakes are sturdy enough to hold up like a tray of drinks.

Things were going really well for us. The cakes baked perfect, they came out of the pan in one piece, the icing tasted really good...
And I mean really good.

However, it turns out that the two cake pans are in fact not the same size. It'd have been fine if the bigger one was on the bottom and we could kind of make the thing look tiered. However, it just looked sad. I mean, who wants a cantilevered cake?

Right. Now, the book claims that if you pull the strips of paper out, they'll just slide away leaving the plate nice and neat. That is a lie. When you try to pull them out, they will not come out from under the cake at all. Instead, the whole thing will slide across the plate. Fortunately, we used a thin glaze so we weren't going to cover it with finger dents while removing the foil. But you know what? For the most part it worked! However, there were still splats of icing scattered around the plate.

However, this was easily fixed. We at A Book of Cookrye would like to salute paper towels!
This is turning out to be more bother than we were willing to put up with.

But all our foil strips and paper towels and everything paid off. Look at that lovely cake on a beautifully clean plate! We stepped back, looked at it, and thought "Why didn't we get something better than a dinner plate?" And why didn't we come up with some icing job to conceal the different-sized layers?
If someone doesn't compliment us on our perfectly clean, icing-free cake plate, there will be problems.

But it was all worth it, because everyone loved the cake! Some people preferred the lemon layer, others the almond layer. Also, this cake is so firm you can skip the plate and fork in favor of eating the slice out of your hand. The thin layer of cinnamon icing was just right for it- any more icing would have hidden the lovely, unusual flavor of the cake under a layer of gobbed-on sweetness instead of adding to it. Icing job aside, this was more effort than we usually put into cake baking, but it was so good and totally worth it.

Parthian Chicken: or, More Roman wine-soaked recipes!

We at A Book of Cookrye are now signing up for the Historical Food Fortnightly! Yes, every two weeks, those who are daft enough to sign up get to do a different challenge that involves dredging up really old recipes and finding out why they're forgotten. Will we do all of them? Eh... maybe. We'll see.
This fortnight's challenge is... roasts! And guess what we at A Book of Cookrye are about to do to some unfortunate animal! Yep, despite the utter disappointment that was our last ancient Roman wine casserole, we're making... an ancient Roman wine chicken! That's right, we're going to be baking a chicken in a massive pan of wine. It seems we never learn from our mistakes, and are doomed to forever bake things in excessive amounts of wine in the name of antiquity and those poorly translated plays we read in English class.
The Classical Cookbook, Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger, 1996

Parthian Chicken
¾ c wine (we recommend red wine for a prettier colored sauce)
3 tbsp fish sauce
¼ tsp asafoetida powder
1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
½ tsp celery seed*
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 chicken

Heat oven to 350°.
In a casserole just big enough to snugly fit the chicken, mix all the ingredients. Dip both sides of the chicken in the sauce so it's coated all over, then put it in breast-side down. Cover and bake to an internal temperature of 160°. Uncover the chicken about halfway through to crisp the skin.
Put black pepper on each serving (it makes more difference than you'd think) and spoon some of the pan sauce over it.

*The cilantro and celery seed are our substitute for celery leaf, which the book recommends as a substitute for the lovage in the original recipe.

adapted from de re Coquinaria (ca. AD 300) via The Classical Cookbook, 1996

We're trying to figure out why we're even trying another wine-soaked recipe after the last one tasted... like wine. Furthermore, this is right after one of our friends, well into his 20s, had his first glass of the stuff. His assessment: "It tastes like rotten grapes!" We at A Book of Cookrye can't dispute this. So why, since we don't really like wine anyway, are we doing this?
Oh boy. Rotten grapes.

On the bright side, this recipe has far less than a pint of wine. Also, we're not heating it up into a foul-smelling hot fish-wine concoction as we did the last time. Instead... we're adding these.
Be glad you can't smell this picture.

All right, let's back up and explain just what's in this picture. On the left, the stuff that looks like an unnerving pee sample is fish sauce. On the right, the little shaker with barely any English on it is asafoetida powder. And now, let's catch up those of you who don't know anything about the food of ancient Rome and didn't read the introduction of the cookbook we pulled this recipe from.
Fish sauce was used in place of salt in a lot of Roman recipes. It was, more or less, the same as the fish sauce used in Asian food today. It smells absolutely foul when you open the bottle because it is made of fermented fish. The chapter on "Unfamiliar Ingredients" promises us that it cooks down to a really nice, mellow flavor even though it smells terrible and tastes like salted roadkill when you open the bottle.
Asafoetida was used a lot as a spice in ancient Roman foods. If you say asafoetida out loud, you'll notice the word "fetid" is in the middle of it. This is not a coincidence. The smell more or less attacks you when you open the little shaker. For the record, we got this at an Indian supermarket. It is sold as a powder called hing ( for those who wish to procure it, the word rhymes with the first syllable of "ingress"). The store stocks it with the medicines, which is why we could not find it when we were patrolling the spices. Someone eventually came asking if we needed help after we'd been pacing back and forth on one aisle glaring at all the illegibly labeled shakers for about fifteen minutes. When we said we were looking for asafoetida for adding to a chicken recipe, he looked at us as if we had just asked if sufficiently large bulk purchases came with our choice of his children who have reached age of consent. Nevertheless, with great reluctance he led us to the medicine section and handed us the shaker seen above. We will warn those who wish to experiment with spices now sold in Indian medicine stores that this is not the time to shake them promiscuously all over your culinary perpetrations.
All right, that's the spiced wine ready to go.

As a last recipe note, the original recipe calls for some spice called lovage which no one sells around here. Purely for the heck of it (not that we can afford their prices anyway), we went to the hoity-toity gourmet grocery and asked if they sold it. We got this response:
This gif dedicated to Our Mom of Cookrye, who can recite the entire movie.

The chapter on Unfamiliar Ingredients says we can use celery leaves as a substitute for lovage. That may work in the UK (where the book was published), but here in glorious America they cut the leaves off of the celery prior to selling it. We would have had to buy three very large bunches of celery to get enough leaves to make up a spoonful. What does anyone do with that much celery? So we did like a lot of people do in the store: pinched one of the very few available leaves off of the celery, tasted it, and that is how we came up with our approximation of cilantro and a pinch of celery seed.

We at A Book of Cookrye have to tell you, this made the kitchen smell foul. The combination of fish sauce, asafoetida, and the surprisingly prevalent wine fumes added up to a foul mess that expanded into a rotting presence in the kitchen. It wasn't strong, but it was there. It expanded and took over the entire room. We worried it would go up the vent and travel through all the ducts.
Now, the original recipe quoted in the book makes it look like they're using a whole chicken. The modernized instructions use cut-up chicken pieces. We at A Book of Cookrye decided to go with a whole chicken for 2 reasons: it's so much easier to cut it up after it's cooked than before, and a roast whole chicken just looks so much more impressive on a platter even though all you do to cook it is shove it in the oven and leave it there.
The casserole came with a lid, but it wouldn't close over the chicken.

We were having flashbacks to the fish-wine pie as the oven began producing smells. The entire kitchen smelled like hot wine. Well, I say the whole kitchen smelled like hot wine and here I must admit I lied- I'd spilled some fish sauce on the counter and the stink it radiated had fouled up half the room. When part of the kitchen smells like rotten fish and the rest like hot wine, one loses faith in the recipe. We kept desperately opening the oven, hoping that it was starting to smell like chicken in there and it just hadn't spread to the rest of the kitchen yet.
Things got even worse as it baked. The asafoetida made itself known. Have you ever had anything good come of a recipe that made your kitchen smell like rotten fish, rotten grapes, and feet? At some point you start to think it's a good thing these recipes are now in the back of the library and not lurking in people's kitchens.

You know, it's funny. When one says they're making "chicken baked in spiced wine," it sounds so lovely. Spiced wine- that's some dainty thing with a cinnamon stick in the glass that gets handed around on BBC Christmas specials. You don't think it'll involve rotten fish and things from the back end of the Indian medicine counter. The stink this produced made us wish that, as in the days when this recipe was first published, the kitchen was a separate building. However, in the last 30 or so minutes, all the foul smells in the kitchen changed to the aroma of some damn good chicken.
Great. The chicken looks like it survived a flood.

You know what? This is pretty good. Like, really good. As in, not only did we save the leftovers, but we just put them on a plate instead of trying to hide the taste in a cheese casserole (not that you could with this recipe, anyway). It definitely tastes different than any other roast chicken we've ever made, but was so good we'd do it again. Besides, it's really easy.

All right, here's our Historical Food Fortnightly homework!
The Recipe: Parthian Chicken
The Date/Year and Region: AD 300ish, Rome
 How Did You Make It: See above! Or, in short, dumped the wine, fish sauce, and spices into a casserole, stirred it real quick, inserted the chicken, and baked.
Time to Complete: About 15 minutes plus baking time.
Total Cost: The chicken was already in the back of the freezer with the price tag worn off, and most of the spices were already buried in the cabinets. The cilantro was $1 for three bunches, the caraway was $1.25, and the fish sauce was 67¢ for the mini bottle.
How Successful Was It? A lot better than the smells in the kitchen led us to believe. We're keeping the recipe. It's nothing like anything we'd make today, but really fricken good. Using a casserole barely big enough to jam the chicken definitely made it better since more of the spiced wine soaked into it.
How Accurate Is It? Not bad for someone trying 1700-year-old recipes without a museum budget. We had no lovage, and since there aren't many spices in the recipe it probably made a noticeable difference. The original text quoted over the modern recipe is for a chicken baked whole rather than in pieces, so that's what we went with. However, we have no idea what a "Cuman dish" is supposed to be, so we have no idea if inserting the chicken into a casserole is the same as arranging it in a Cuman dish as directed in the original.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Salad Dressing Update: or, I only wanted hot Italian anyway

We at A Book of Cookrye recently featured the surprisingly easy Italian dressing. As noted, we've been using it as a marinade, cooking sauce, and for so many other things that we decided to just make it ourselves. I mean, all you do is put stuff in a bottle and shake it, right?
Wrong! It turns out the people doing it in factories add something so their Italian dressing doesn't do this in the refrigerator.
Ever wanted to spread salad dressing on your toast?

Be sure your homemade salad dressing is in a microwave-safe container, everybody!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Rice Cooker Chocolate Cake

We at A Book of Cookrye are no strangers to making things happen when we don't have what we need. We have baked cakes in saucepans and put cake pans on top of the stove. We have made cake recipes involving four mixing bowls when we had none (we used a saucepan, glass, borrowed soup bowl, and cake pan which we later baked it in). Heck, for the longest time we had only a pocket knife for all our cutting needs. (Have you ever tried to chop an entire lasagna's worth of vegetables with a pocket knife?) Which is why we are surprised we never attempted to pull a cake out of a rice cooker.
Tips 'n' Treats on Taiwan, 1981

Rice Cooker Chocolate Cake
1 c sugar
1¾ c flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
5 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
5 tbsp cooking oil or melted margarine/butter
1 egg
1½ c buttermilk, or 1 c milk and 1 tbsp vinegar

Fill your rice cooker's pot with water to the maximum line, and turn it on to heat up. Grease the pan that comes with your rice cooker. If you have a steamer basket instead, line it with foil and then grease it. Put the pan on top of the rice cooker to make sure the water isn't so high that the pan floats on it.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and cocoa powder until you've broken up all the cocoa lumps. Add remaining dry ingredients, mix well. Add the wet ingredients, and whisk together until well-mixed.
Pour the batter into the pan, set over the rice cooker, put the lid on top, and steam for about 30 minutes or until done. If the water boils dry before the cake is done, carefully lift the cake out, shaking it as little as possible (leave the lid on it). Add more water to the pot, and put the cake back over the cooker.

Note 1: If you are using a small-capacity (2-to-5 cup) rice cooker, you can cut the recipe in half. Use only the egg white instead of the whole egg.
Note 2: You might think to add raw rice to the water so you can cook rice and cake at the same time, but this won't work. The rice will soak up all the water long before the cake is done, and there won't be enough steam left to finish baking.

Source: Tips 'n' Treats on Taiwan, Women of Formosa Christian Mission, 1981

This recipe comes to us from a book Our Mom of Cookrye has had the book ever since we lived in Taiwan. Yep, when we were but a wee tot, our father's company transferred him from America to Taiwan for so long that both parents decided to just haul the whole family across the planet.

It has a lot of interesting recipes. Our favorites to look at now are the American recipes adapted to the locally available ingredients- like the corn casserole made with water chestnuts. The book begins with an unusually long chapter of household hints (usually in books like these, the housekeeping hints run for only a page or two). Among other tips, there's a list of things we never realized we could do with a rice cooker.

We would like to direct your attention to no. 5. This is the only point in 20 pages of household advice that expressly recommends a recipe elsewhere in the book-- and they put an exclamation point on it. On this recommendation (and because a chicken already occupied the oven and no one wants a chicken-flavored cake),  we figured this is as good a time as any to see if rice cookers are as versatile as all our friends from India purport them to be.
Incidentally, I think the only reason we have a rice cooker is because when our sister-in-law moved here from the Philippines, she was utterly confused that we didn't have one and promptly remedied our dreadful deficiency. However, since it's a tiny rice cooker, we had to cut the recipe in half. The cooker came with a strainer basket rather than a pan (easy enough to line with foil so it holds cake batter), which is so small it barely holds a pair of scissors.

At any rate, this cake batter went together very quickly. First we dumped together the dry ingredients...

Then we did a slight detour to make buttermilk. Incidentally, we at A Book of Cookrye would like to advance a new buttermilk substitute. A lot of people do that bit where you mix milk and vinegar and leave it to sit for a few minutes, which works very nicely. But did you know that you can also just mix sour cream and water until it's kinda thick but still watery? It's quick, easy, and then you have the rest of the sour cream ready for taco night.

Once the buttermilk was prepared, we could move on to step two of the recipe: dump all the wet ingredients in. As a recipe note, since we halved the recipe, we used one egg white rather than the one whole egg called for in the original. We briefly considered beating the egg uniform, measuring it, then putting half of that into the batter. Then we realized that was utterly daffy.

You know, we've seen a lot of lousy cake recipes in our time. Especially those ones that you theoretically can pour the batter into a mug and microwave it. They come out so bland. But this was actually pretty fricken delicious cake batter. And look how amazing and thick it came out!

Right, let's get this thing into the alleged cake pan!
Please note the size of the spoon relative to the size of the pan. This cake may have a place in an unintentionally depressing book about cooking for one.

You know, it's surprising in retrospect that we never attempted to put a cake in a rice cooker before. I mean, it seemed that half our friends had one we could have borrowed when the oven was already taken. There were also always two or three lurking under the counter in the kitchen with names written on them. This is closer to normal baking than putting cake batter in a waffle iron (which is so fricken delicious- you owe it to yourself).
However, this cake rose right up to the top of the cooker. We wondered if it might push the lid off.

We stared at the hot, half-cooked cake batter gluing itself to the lid of the rice cooker and asked ourselves a very important question.

While the cake glued itself to the lid, the rice cooker boiled itself dry. When we opened the lid to take out the cake, we saw... this.

We at A Book of Cookrye are not opposed to the chocolate molten lava cake. We are not opposed to eating cake batter right out of the bowl without even getting it near an oven (or rice cooker). But this recipe promised us not a lava cake but an actual, fully cooked cake. We decided to put more water in the rice cooker and see if it would actually finish cooking. This is not as easy as it sounds. We had to first remove the cake. The cake was burning hot. The rice cooker pot was burning hot. The two fit together so tightly we couldn't even jam a dinner fork in there to prise the thing out. Eventually, we somehow managed to successfully remove the alleged cake so we could put more water under it and hopefully, this time, it would actually be baked all the way through.
It's got a nasty impact crater from where the knob is screwed into the rice cooker lid, but it's actually done.

What this cake lacks in size, it makes up for in ugliness. We decided to put it upside-down to hide its shame. That didn't help.
You know what this reminds us of? There's this one scene in a Christmas special where some meddling busybody is visiting her neighbor and sees her pathetic Christmas tree. She says "Oh, I know what you need to do! You just need to turn the bad side to the wall!"
The lady then wearily looks at her and replies "We did."

We hoped some cinnamon icing on top would somehow fix this cake's aesthetic problems. If nothing else, the cake was pretty porous, so the icing would in theory soak in and imbue it with cinnamon flavor. It made the cake look... marginally better.
Anyone who bitches about the cake looking deformed didn't want dessert anyway.

But you know what? This cake may look like a child's first attempt at Play-Doh, but once we cut it, the inside didn't look half bad. Actually, it looks pretty good.

Once we tasted this cake, we forgave it everything. We forgave it for being half-cooked the first time the rice cooker boiled dry. We forgave it for looking like a malformed lump of good intentions. Who knew rice cookers actually worked for baking dessert? It didn't even come out soggy on top. This cake is divoon.