Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brown Sugar Pound Cake: Why do you taste so good?!

I follow a short list of food sites and blogs. It's great fun to see what the trends are in SF, L.A. and New York. One of my favorites to follow is the food section of the L.A. Times newspaper. I really enjoy following the adventures of their test kitchen.

Each Friday they pick a cooking project for the weekend. In mid-February I was pleased to see the weekend project was a Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Caramel Glaze. This recipe was named one of their best recipes from 2007.

Like many people, I love caramel. So I'm always scanning cookbooks and blogs for recipes with caramel as a main ingredient.

One of my favorite recipes is the Caramel Cake with Caramelized Frosting adapted by the very talented chef Shuna Fish Lydon from (of course!) a recipe from Flo Braker.

This cake has incredible depth of flavor. But it isn't the quickest or easiest cake to bake. In fact, Shuna even includes a tutorial on her blog for those that want to attempt baking this cake. I took advantage of that tutorial when I made the cake for the first time for a baking challenge in 2008.

I never fail to get a request for this recipe when I make it for friends. And it never fails that most are a bit intimidated by the complexity of the recipe.

So after scanning the L.A. Times recipe I was pleased to see that it was a pretty easy recipe that didn't require an instant read thermometer and boiling sugar!

This recipe is based on one from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations by Nancie McDermott.

And that reminded me that I also owned a "southern" baking book. But although I love the personal stories weaved with the recipes -- I hadn't baked anything from it because the author didn't specify how she measured her flour. A vital piece of information!

The book is Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories by Patty Pinner. And I was very excited when Pinner responded to a message about how she measures flour that I sent to her via Facebook with the answer I was looking for -- dip and sweep. I'm excited to try Pinner's version of Brown Sugar Pound Cake although it is slightly different from the L.A. Times version. She also has a recipe for Caramel Cake that I want to try.

And I was excited that Pinner has started a blog called domestic geisha where she continues to give her readers stories and recipes.

But back to the L.A.Times recipe -- it came together quickly and easily and was delicious. The only thing I would change next time I make it is to smooth the icing over the cake after I let it drip down the sides. The drips looked cool until they hardened then it just looked messy and uneven. The icing dries almost immediately so I used an icing spatula that I ran under hot water to even it out.

So not only was the cake delicious, but thanks to the L.A. Times test kitchen, I won't have to worry about giving a tutorial with the recipe.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From Dud to Stud: Ginger-Chocolate Cookies from Sunset Cookbook

Like many families during the holidays, we have a cookie exchange. I always make the family favorite -- Peanut Butter Blossoms -- as well as one new one. This year I made the Ginger Chocolate Cookies from the new Sunset Cookbook.

I have long been a fan of anything by Sunset Magazine. Growing up in Indiana -- Sunset Magazine represented all that was good and golden about California. I collect Sunset Cookbooks from the 1960s and am always thrilled when I find one for sale in my local used bookstore or library.

So I was excited when Sunset announced that they were coming out with their first cookbook in quite a while. And in what seemed like just a matter of months, it was in bookstores.

And what a beauty it is. I can't imagine how it was put together so quickly -- it has over 1,000 recipes and covers everything from artichokes to wine and everything in between.

I heard food editor Margo True speak about the new book at Omnivore Books on Food and was excited to try one of the cookie recipes for the Christmas cookie platter.

So imagine my disappointment when the Ginger-Chocolate Cookies turned out to be inedible. The recipe calls for 2.5 tablespoons of ground ginger. That's a lot but I forged ahead. I tested one before leaving for the festivities and found the ginger to be overpowering. I chalked it up to my wimpy Indiana taste buds and brought them anyway.

Unfortunately, the guests must have also found the ginger to be too much because most of the cookies were left on the platter and the rest were partially eaten and tossed.

And the taste wasn't the only thing that wasn't right with this recipe -- the entire recipe was difficult to make -- the dough wouldn't roll into balls and the dough was too sticky to flatten with a glass as instructed.

Normally I would make them again until I got the recipe to my liking but given that it was the holidays, I just didn't have the time. I must admit it put a damper on my enthusiasm for the cookbook.

But thanks to the first Bakers Dozen event of 2011, I was able to give them another chance.

The topic of the February meeting was Holidays Chapter Two and we were invited to relive the holidays by baking something we really loved, or didn't get to make or maybe make something we wanted to improve upon. We would all taste the goodies then in our meeting tell the story behind what we brought.

Well, you can guess what I decided to bring.

First I checked out the Sunset Magazine website to see if perhaps there was a typo in the recipe -- perhaps the amount of ginger was given incorrectly. I then sent an email to Margo True asking her the same question.

No response from True and the recipe I found online was identical to the one in the book.

Time to tinker! This time I made the cookies using only half the ginger -- 1.5 tablespoons. Still a lot but perhaps would give the cookies the zing editors intended but not be so overpowering.

I also used a tablespoon cookie scoop and flattened each cookie with the palm of my hand. Instead of rolling each cookie in sugar, I sprinkled course sanding sugar on the top of each cookie.

They were delicious. I could now taste the bittersweet chocolate that had been totally overshadowed by the ginger. And they were good looking as well!

I brought my beauties to the meeting and they were almost completely gone by the end of the meeting.

I must admit though that I was a bit embarrassed as I related my story about the cookies in front of the membership when I found that another baker was present that day and she was employed by Sunset Magazine in their test kitchen!

She was very gracious and mentioned that she did remember that particular cookie not being her favorite when it was being tested.

Whew! But I made a new acquaintance and now have a new favorite cookie that might get another chance at the cookie platter next year.