October 27, 2015

The Icing on the Cake

The Ultimate Chocolate Icing
It's oft quoted that there are two kinds of people in this world and while that sentiment is most likely used in the context of dogs and cats, I'd venture that the divide goes much deeper. I've no research to back my opinion and I'm certainly not a psychologist, but based on my observations, the real categories that define us are pie and cake.

Of the first, I have little to say for it is not a category that I find myself. On the second, however, I could go on endlessly, even wax poetic. Not unusual, for I've noticed that cake people tend to be quite outspoken--even passionate--when the topic arises.

Of course, like any system of  categorization, there are subcategories to take into account and with cake people, it's no different. There are chiefly two subcategories--those who really are cake eaters, pushing the icing aside and even going so far as to use their thumbs to pick up any last crumbs, and lastly, but far more interesting are those who are in it for the icing, or if given the option, the frosting.

If it were at all possible to decipher personality traits based on preference, then cake eaters would be a cautious lot. For really, no matter the recipe, cake is nothing more than a precise mix of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter and while any baker worth their weight can extract an amazing array of flavors, in the end, cake is just cake.

On the other hand, icing and frosting run the gamut--a barely there glaze, a dense and decadent ganache, an airy meringue, an impossibly light buttercream--mirroring the the emotional complexity and penchant for risk-taking that are the personality traits of those preferring the sweeter elements of cake and metaphorically, life.

Cake, unlike pie, is meant for celebratory occasions. No successful baker ever makes a living selling birthday pies, though much to my dismay, I'm sure that among pie people, many birthdays have been celebrated in such a dismal fashion.

Any birthday worth celebrating though--and there isn't one that's not--warrants cake with an extra thick layer of icing or frosting--or, for the most festive occasions--both. So this past weekend, in honor of Mr. B's birthday I whipped up his favorite and timeless classic--yellow cake with chocolate icing.

This year, however, I decided to venture into territory anew, so I ditched the buttercream for a more substantial choice--a quick setting, ultra thick and fudgy combination that expertly walks the line between squishy, velvety frosting and a dense glaze that snaps, if only slightly, when first prodded by the tines of a fork.

This frosting takes cake to a higher, almost ethereal level and while its texture makes sneaking a swipe unnoticed impossible, it emboldens any cake lover to unabashedly cut an extra large slice.

Forks and plates lend a more formal air, but I find this cake is best eaten over the kitchen sink while taking in the spectacular fall views, or if you fall victim to temptation, gazing upon the night sky.

October 17, 2015

Easy Apple Strudel

Layers of of Apples, Walnuts and Buttery Flaky Pastry

If you ask me, the culinary world is clearly divided into two camps: the bakers and for lack of a better word, the cookers.

Bakers are a precise lot. They like to follow instructions to the letter, never veer too far from the path and can spend hours upon hours waiting for bread dough to rise, cookie dough to chill, or cakes to relax enough to welcome a stiff buttercream.

On the other side of the kitchen are the cookers. These are the people who start off with the best intentions of following along with a recipe, but soon enough, venture off on their own, adding a dash of this or that, substituting and omitting with seemingly reckless abandon. Cookers are busy and don't have hours to spend waiting--there are football games to watch, books to read and naps to take.

You may find it interesting to learn that whenever I'm invited to any sort of function that requires bringing a dish, people BEG me to bake. Seriously, I'm so well-known for some of my baked delights that my reputation precedes me. North of San Francisco it's my chocolate bread pudding, while to the south it's those decadent brownies and berry crisps; around here, it's a toss up between my gravity defying 14-layer cake with thin-as-a-pancake layers sandwiched with good old fashioned gooey cooked frosting and my baklava--which Mr. B regularly begs me to make.

But, the truth is that I have relatively little patience for baking and would prefer, any day of the week, to man my trusty Amana stove with the spice drawer cracked open and a cookbook tossed to the side. Knowing this about me, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I've discovered a parallel universe of opportunity in the realm of Lazy Baking--a place where creativity, ingenuity and a few basic ingredients come together to produce swoon-worthy delights.

Case in point: a delicious apple strudel made simple by utilizing a box of Filo dough, a few loose apples, the remains of a bag of walnuts and a quick appraisal of the spice drawer. Best of all, this recipe comes together quickly enough to warrant a second pot of coffee and a comfortable chair--the perfect spot to catch up on a little reading.

October 08, 2015

The Best of the Best: Good Old Southern Greens

Smothered Greens and Cornbread
 Is there anything better than discovering the secret to mastering a pot of quick collard greens? Most likely, you can think of a million better things to praise, but for a girl who loves greens in the I-can't-get-enough-of-these-greens way, when I learned that you can buy frozen greens, it was truly a life changing event.

Many people would be surprised to learn that collard greens are a member of the brassica family, which includes the cruciferous vegetables of cabbage and broccoli. While collards aren't as popular (at least not on the West Coast) as their cousins, I would venture that they sure are a lot tastier--even without the requisite ham hock. Truthfully, had I known there was an easy way to make a 'mess o' greens,' I would have turned out at least a pot a week.

But, I didn't. In fact, I thought that greens required nothing short of a Herculean effort and frankly, more often than not, it was a task that I didn't care to mess with. Like fresh spinach, kale, and chard, collard greens are dirty and require several washings to remove the grit--lest you chip a tooth while eating them--and, since they reduce down to almost nothing, you need a lot of greens to make a reasonable sized pot.

So, imagine my surprise when the secret to good smothered greens was revealed to me, not by one--but by two--girls from Tennessee! Actually, they're not girls at all, but rather grown women and while it seems a bit coincidental that they'd each have a 'green' secret to share, it's really not unusual at all. Smothered collard greens hail from the Deep South and although Louisiana is in the mix, greens are low country fare--not French, Creole, or Cajun.

The first secret that I learned was that you can buy frozen greens! Seriously, this knowledge was life changing for me. I'd never thought of looking. In fact, aside from frozen peas and the odd bag of frozen corn, I never ventured near the frozen vegetable bin. Who knew?? The second secret was revealed to me several days later by my other friend who mentioned that adding a can of Rotel to the pot gives the greens just enough heat to round out their flavor. Genius!

I couldn't get to the market quickly enough, where I spent the better part of an hour wandering the frozen vegetable section and when I finally wheeled my cart into the checkout lane, it was filled with bags of frozen greens and Rotel--I already had the bacon and onions at home. And, while I'm certain that those girls from Tennessee don't hold back on the bacon, I went for a healthier style and showed some restraint.