Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
I find myself staring into the maw of my second semester of senior year, and you know what that means - time to find a job. If you were going to ask me very politely what I'm thinking about doing, you may very politely shut your mouth. It's not a nice question to ask a senior in college. I went to a career fair in October and it was the most dispiriting hour of my life. I even invented a drinking game. Take a shot every time someone asks you if you're a software engineer and then his face falls when you say you aren't. By the end of it, you'll be drunk enough to go the career fair and not come out of it believing that you're never, never going to be employed. Apparently, at the February career fair there's more variety, but only companies with massive hiring needs know that they have the funding to recruit at places like Brown at the beginning of the year, so the only people there are Web- or tech-related companies like Amazon or Facebook, do-gooders like Teach for America or the Peace Corp, and financial sector firms.
Which brings us to cake. I mean duh. My friend Nikhita recently received a job offer from not one but two financial firms, and in the end she picked the Big Bad Goldman Sachs. Exciting stuff! I promised that we would bake a congratulatory cake in exchange for my being her trophy wife and lounging around her apartment baking all day, since she'll never be in said apartment when she's working 27-hour days. Her parameters were that it not be chocolate and not be too complicated. Nikhita is a fantastic cook, inventive and intuitive, but she has no confidence in her baking ability. We decided on a simple Martha Stewart lemon cake recipe with whipped frosting, which I had originally picked out because it was golden, like the vast amounts of money Nikhita will soon be making.
I don't think we could have made a more perfect choice. This cake was a dream in every way. It was so easy to make, not to mention forgiving - I accidentally added an additional egg yolk and it didn't mess things up at all! It baked to a perfect even hue and not only came out of the pan whole, but remained whole when I placed one layer on top of the other. As avid readers of this blog know, that NEVER happens to me, so major points for the cake. The whipped frosting looked lovely, although I'm more of a buttercream kind of gal. But most importantly, a) it tasted amazing, fluffy and delicately flavored and b) it gave Nikhita the confidence to believe that she too can bake delicious treats. She said that she would try this recipe, which was always one of her favorites when we were in Cambridge together. We'll let you know how it goes!
You can find the recipe here. (We didn't make the candied lemons.) This is definitely going to become one of my go-to cakes.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
I used the recommended recipe, a KAF guarantee (although being a poor college student who had just shelled out five dollars for blue sugar, I was not using KA Flour). I'm not wild about their method, which involves beating butter into the dry ingredients instead of the usual butter-sugar-eggs-dry ingredients steps. That's not maligning the finished product, though; my complaint is more that flour gets everywhere when you're working with a hand mixer. But the finished cake was delightful, dense and moist. Also, I have to put in a plug for these cupcake wrappers. They're the kind where you don't even need a cupcake tin, you just stick 'em on a cookie sheet and bam, you're done. I was skeptical that something so magical could exist but let me tell you, these were the most evenly baked cupcakes I've ever made. The wrappers are as sturdy as they are pretty. They really get the job done!
But enough plugging. I made a simple buttercream - two sticks of butter, a bunch of confectioner's sugar, a dash of vanilla - and piped it on. With the blue sugar sprinkled on top, it ended up being almost overpoweringly sweet, so I was glad that the cupcakes themselves were more delicately flavored. All in all it was really adorable and fun and I think it will make a great holiday tradition!
Here is the link to the original KAF post about the cupcake menorah, and here's the recipe. I halved it and it was perfect for eight regular-sized and one jumbo cupcake. Have a great last night of Hanukkah!
Golden Vanilla Cake from the King Arthur Flour Blog
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour your choice of pan(s): one 9" x 13" pan, two 9" round cake pans, three 8" round pans, or the wells of two muffin tins (24 muffin cups). You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.
1) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.
2) Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.
3) Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.
4) Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.
5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.
6) Repeat this procedure with the second egg. Continue adding the eggs, scraping after each addition, until all 4 are added.
7) After the last egg is added, scrape the bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds.
8) Transfer the batter to the pans of your choice. For layers, divide the batter among the pans. Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a tablespoon.
9) Bake for 40 minutes for a 9" x 13" pan; 27 minutes for 9" layers; 24 minutes for 8" layers, or 23 to 25 minutes for cupcakes.
10. The cake is done when it's golden brown around the edges and just beginning to pull away from the edge of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
11) Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a rack to cool before removing it from the pan.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
When you've known a family for as long as the Rosenthal have known the Palmer-Shermans, some traditions are bound to accumulate, whether it's the yearly trip to the Big Apple Circus or just Shabbat dinner. Going to their house is always one of the most comforting and enjoyable experiences I have when I go home, in large part because of the routine. There's always a delicious fluffy challah, some meat that's so red it's practically still alive (only the Palmer-Shermans like their meat redder than we do), and some New Jersey cake. You may know it as checkerboard cake but since it comes from a kosher bakery in New Jersey, we've given it its own special name. Checkerboard cake often seems magical. How do they do that? we wonder as we examine the perfectly even alternating layers of black and white. Well, I'd tell you...but then I'd have to kill you. The next-best thing is making these cookies. And when I was thinking about what to make for the Shabbos Kallah, I realized that nothing could be more appropriate than these.
However, let me tell you that they are an enormous pain in my ass to make. When they make the New Jersey cake they have special pans that make just the right sized layers for stacking. (Okay, I told you.) But you have to do it by hand. And they must be as precise as possible or they will end up looking all wonky like the ones in the picture above. While it's somewhat satisfying to watch the tower go up, and while the finished product looked very impressive on a plate, I just don't think it was worth it. And that's really the bottom line. The dough is easy to make and they tasted like buttery, yummy shortbread cookies, but you could make buttery, yummy shortbread cookies that take a lot less time and effort - there were no particularly interesting flavors in here. So if you're trying to wow people with your baking skillz, or if you happen to be picking a recipe for a party that is in honor of someone who makes you think of checkerboard cookies, I would say save yourself the aggravation and make something else. This is extra-true if you've been baking for the last eight hours nonstop and this was the last thing you made, as was the case with me, so maybe I'm biased. With all those caveats, the recipe is here.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
It's Hanukkah, Christmas' less sexy Jewish cousin! They've got the decorated trees, the beautiful music, the mass cultural dominance. Luckily, we have a couple of things going in our favor as well: the pretty candles, the best song ever written, and lots and lots of fried food! I'm actually amazed that we haven't achieved more mass cultural dominance, considering our mass culture's love of fried food. Chief among these are latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). I was invited to a Hanukkah dinner featuring a lot of really heavy Ashkenazic-type food, including of course latkes, and as resident baker I got commissioned to make sufganiyot! I just picked a recipe at random off the Internet and only later realized that it was by Joan Nathan, something of a doyenne in the world of Jewish cooking. I was glad it had that extra credibility because I'd never made donuts before and I was kind of nervous.
It didn't start out well. I'm almost as afraid of yeast as I am of dropping things in hot hot oil and having it spatter everywhere, so I knew donuts were going to be a challenge. I didn't really let the milk get sufficiently lukewarm before I yeasted it up, and I think I killed the yeast. So I dumped in another packet and let that bubble. By this point it was already 12:30 a.m., way past my bedtime (I'm a lame college student, I know). The rest of it went fine - really sticky dough before the butter was added, but that's to be expected - and I stuck it in the fridge.
The next morning I took it out and let it rise on the counter for a couple of hours, and I was glad that I did because it hadn't risen much in the fridge. I felt it was the yeast getting its revenge on me for killing its pals. The dough was very easy to roll out and cut, although I found that you only need one egg white to seal the donuts, so if you're using a fresh egg as I was instead of the whites left over from the yolks, keep that in mind. I let them rise for closer to 45 minutes but that's mostly because I got caught up in watching 30 Rock.
Then came The Frying. This was extremely scary for me - I still have little burns up and down my arms from when I deep-fried banana fritters when I was eighteen. I was very apprehensive about getting the right temperature, since I don't have a thermometer. I had to eyeball it, but I was helped along mightily by our smoke detector, which beeped its hellish beep as it informed me in its calm voice, "Fire. There is a fire." (This was the second time this had happened in 24 hours. The night before, I was simultaneously cooking rice and beans without the vent on, using a blowtorch for creme brulee - more on that later - and burning my Hanukkah candles. The smoke detector was not amused.) Anyway, I had to keep Ole Smokey happy so I didn't let the oil get too hot and I'm glad. The first two donuts I made were very dark, not burnt beyond repair but not donut color either. The rest were more successful. The tip I would offer those who are making these with a spatula is to flip the donuts over onto the spatula before you drop them in the oil, so that the flatter side is facing up. That way, when you flip them back into the oil the flatter side will be facing down, and it will be easier to pick it up with your spatula and turn it to the other side.
And how did my first foray into donut making actually taste? Well, not exactly like donuts. I'm pretty sure that the yeast continued to exact its yeasty revenge on me by not rising enough so it was denser than I would have liked but hey, c'est la vie. It still tasted very good, like a big solid funnel cake with raspberry jam inside! I don't think that I would make donuts just for a random occasion because I found them sort of stressful, but I'd definitely make them for Hanukkah next year, smoke detectors be damned.
Sufganiyot Recipe, adapted from Joan Nathan's The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen