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The little old-fashioned cake

Good evening, Dear Readers:

My apologies for being so long in between posts.

Well, I’m not sick anymore, thank heavens, but I’m cold. Not cold like some folks, but our OCD weather had me wearing a t-shirt and shorts this weekend. Sunday morning, warm, about 75F. Sunday afternoon about 12:30, 55; later on it became low 40’s.

Don’t worry, there’s a big nasty storm coming back, and they’ve named this one Mergatroid or something. WhatEVER. Geeks with time on their hands decide they want to name winter storms like we name hurricanes down here on the gulf coast.

Knock yourselves out, boys. If you want to name your storms, have at it. We’ve got more important things to concern ourselves with in the South.

If you’re in Australia, you’re roasting. I know this because a) I have studied Aussie trivia and b) I have friends in Melbourne, and it’s summer. I am not someone who asks, “if it’s December here, what month is it in Sydney?” (Someone actually called the Australian Embassy in LA and asked that question many years ago. DUH.)

It’s not secret that after losing about 65 painful pounds, some of it came back, about 20 of them, after things went haywire after I was laid off 18 months ago; I was, at the time, within 20 pounds of my goal weight (and stopping traffic again, darnit.)  It still hurts, but since I’ve been laid off again, one of the things I want to focus on is dropping weight again. I’m not sure I’m going to do the hCG diet yet, although I have the pellets this time instead of the drops. Right now I’m concentrating on sleeping more, not eating as much, and a little less chocolate now and again.

I had an obstacle on the way yesterday.

Speaking of chocolate, if you are cold, here’s the simple recipe for Yeast-Free Hot Chocolate:

  • 1.5 cups unsweetened chocolate almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 drop mint extract
  • 4 packets Sweet N’ Low (or natural sweetener of your choice, i.e., Stevia, etc.)

Mix ingredients in a 2 cup measure (or similar vessel) and microwave for 3 minutes or until warm enough for you. (I like to heat the cup first with hot water.)  Stir (or whisk) and pour into 2 cups.

Note: In my house this is a single serving. MINE. In your kitchen it can be two. I love this stuff. I don’t share–but then again, I don’t have to, either.

So last week neighbor K, the supermodel (she hates it when I say that) decided to bake a cake to take to work for a birthday. However, she doesn’t bake. Who does she ask for help? ME!!! (I’m certainly not going to tell her no. K is one of those people whose calls I *always* answer.)  She has a few old cookbooks that belonged to her late father, and for a friend at work, she decided on the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. The friend doesn’t care for frosting, and really likes this cake, so that was that.

Sweet. Tropical. Ubiquitous. And oh, so much hot, sticky, melted sugar!!

I made some biscotti for Christmas and ended up giving her some when the intended recipient took off early. After polishing off the first batch, K asked for more–she loved them that much. Of course, I gave them to her. Inspired by this and other things, she decided to bake something herself.

Saturday, she brought over the brown-paged book, called “Louisiana Creole Cooking,” published in 1943. I seem to recall this cake being a big thing in the 1960’s, but since I was a little bitty kitty back in those days, well, maybe that’s just me. This book had no pictures, unlike the glossy, heavily researched books I have from Martha Stewart and Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa.)  It was a fairly simple recipe, and I figured if she followed the directions, one of two things would happen: it would come out great, or it would flop. I managed to learn that much taking Probablilty and Statistics at Tulane. (Twice.)

This book came out during WWII, and for that period, it uses a fair amount of butter and sugar, including brown sugar, considering that rationing was going on at this point in the US. Remember, you had to have a coupon book for certain things (i.e., butter, sugar and canned goods) so this would definitely have been a rare treat in those days.

So the recipe called for “cake flour,” and lo and behold, I had a box! Yes, there is a difference. Swan Cake flour comes in a red box the size of a cake mix, and the flour is sealed in a plastic pouch in the same fashion. I can’t tell you how long it’s been there, but it had never been opened, and I was glad to give it to her to USE UP.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, no, it was NOT gluten free.

Really, I just told her to follow the directions exactly, and if it worked, great, if not, we could find another recipe. Take a look, its pretty simple:

The recipe, from a cookbook older than me and K!

The recipe, from a 71 year old cookbook.

Oh, and the “moderate oven” we estimated to be 350F, and that worked. Whew! That could have been embarrassing. . . .

So, she asked a few questions and borrowed a few things, like vanilla extract. I have two bottles: one, Mexican vanilla from the grocery, and two, a huge bottle filled with vodka and a dozen vanilla pods. Oh, yes. . .you could float on that smell, but I only use it for stuff where the alcohol is cooked or baked out. Honest–I’m not using it for boozy desserts and cocktails. She only needed a quarter teaspoon, so why buy it if you’re not going to use much?

My biggest suggestion was to make it once, follow the directions exactly, and see how it comes out. If it doesn’t work, you know not to try again. If it does, see how you like it. If you don’t like it, try another recipe. It’s what I did at Christmas when I made the rain bonnets–made mine first to see how it was supposed to come out. Then, I knew what to do for K’s and R’s rain hat. Both loved them, made with clear vinyl trimmed with their favorite colors.

Conveniently, this technique works for cakes, too.

If you’ve never made one of these, it goes like this: you make a glazey, syrupy stuff with the brown sugar and butter in a skillet. Pour that brown stuff in the bottom of the baking pan, then line it with sliced pineapple (this one calls for canned, but one in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook calls for fresh.) Alternately, you can bake the whole thing in the same large cast-iron skillet you made the brown sugar mixture with. When it’s baked, you turn it over on a platter or plate, and the glaze oozes over the top and down the sides. But let’s get back to K’s first attempt at baking a cake for a co-worker’s birthday.

K used a 9″ x 12″ nonstick square baking pan, one with a cover so that she could transport it easily. This cake doesn’t really rise much, either. So when you put the pineapple down on top of the syrup, you pour it carefully so it doesn’t mix with the syrup, bake it, and find your stairway to heaven.

If you think I’m exaggerating, keep reading.

Now, I was certainly happy to offer advice and assistance, but really, K did just fine on her own. How do I know? Well. . .she knocked on my door and asked for a critique. It was freshly out of the oven, on a rack to cool. In other words, it was still hot. . .sticky. . .sweet. . .melty. . .moist. “Take a taste and tell me what you think,” she says.

Holy Shish Kebab.

You know what happened next. One taste lead to another. And another. And before too long we’d eaten half this cake. I kid you not. We could not stop eating it, and finally, we’d eaten so much we both had to stop. It really was half the cake. I couldn’t so much as drink a cup of tea after that–good thing, too, I didn’t get hungry all night.

I asked her if she’d like me to bring a couple of pieces to R and T, two neighbors to my left (T is upstairs, R is downstairs.) She cut huge chunks, put them on paper plates and said “take it!” So I did. Neighbor T said it was her favorite cake, and R ate it a little later, after it had cooled–and couldn’t stop until she finished it. Remember, it’s not a thick cake, and it doesn’t rise much, only about 3/4 inch when baked. It looks good, and even thought it’s flat, one taste and you’ll see that size, in this case, does not matter.

I texted her later and told her NEVER to make that cake again as long as I live here. No can do–K made a second one, this one to take to work, which she said came out even better than the first:

The Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, circa 1943

The Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, circa 1943

This is the cake that went to work today, and everyone had some and loved it. I’m guessing there isn’t any left. That would be good, because then none would come home.

And there may be a third one next weekend. GAWD, I hope not!

That cake, eaten hot out of the oven, is the closest to heaven you’ll ever be. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself–with a bunch of good  friends, so you can’t eat the whole thing alone. But you must have it HOT to find the stairway to heaven.

I fell off the gluten-free wagon again. I’m back on it.

In the end, K got the confidence to bake, and  will be doing more in the future, maybe for Christmas. K also found a new favorite, one her father used to make when she was younger, and also made it as a salute to him, wherever he is. And it worked! (This one’s for you, Papa P.)

I didn’t really do anything except. . .help her eat half of the first one, and answered some questions. But, I’m glad I could help. Cooking is an art, but baking is a science–if you don’t get the wet/dry ratio right, or don’t have leavening (baking soda/powder) you won’t get what you thought you would. That’s enough to kill anyone’s confidence, especially the first time out.

Then again, when I have a flop, I write blog posts about them. Either way, I win even when I lose.

Thankfully, K succeeded, and this time, she did great. And I went way, WAAYYYY off the gluten-free wagon. Again. Better luck tomorrow.

Got an activity coming up? Look to the past and make this amazing confection for your next activity. You will not be disappointed.

Happy Dining!

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