Malcolm McDowell Woods

Pantry Raid! Have your cake, eat it, and run in the kitchen, too

By - May 8th, 2010 12:24 pm
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Diana Sieger and Carrie Rowe

While enjoying a cup of coffee in the recent sunshine, our conversation about food (it’s always about food) drifted into great moms we know and love (especially our own). It dawned on us that Mother’s Day is almost here and we should commemorate the occasion with something homemade, just like our mamas taught us.

Or did they? One thing our mamas didn’t teach us — or we weren’t listening if they tried — is how to bake a cake. And, coincidence of coincidences, we’re not so good at it. It’s not that we can’t turn on the oven or whisk until our arms ache, it’s just we don’t have the scientific mind or instinct of a true baker. Luckily, we both have dear friends who are masters of the cakely-arts who were generous enough to tie on their aprons and give us a lesson — just in time for Mother’s Day.

As it turned out, we had everything on hand to make a cake, not sure why, but we try not to question our pantries. Realizing this, it’s surprising that we never prioritized learning to bake sooner, as the mere mention of cake makes us smile from ear to ear. Two other things that make us smile from ear to ear: our friends Mary Catherine and Brooke — and lucky for us, they’re the aforementioned apron-clad bakers.

What made them so eager to make us their egg-crackin’ sidekicks? Maybe it was when we suggested trying out a quinoa cake recipe. “Oh that’s just sad,” they said. And we have to admit that quinoa cake might very well be the most delicious thing in the world, but there is a time and place to experiment with our quinoa-love and Mother’s Day isn’t that time. Cake isn’t something that’s supposed to be healthy, after all.

The first step was to get over it and just start baking. Brooke’s only rule of thumb for great cake is making sure to cream the butter and sugar together really well (she gave us some scientific reason but we don’t remember what it was). Her other bit of sagely baking advice is “…you can cheat, if you have to, with a boxed cake mix, although it’s not the same and I’ll judge you, but never ever, ever take the easy way out with frosting.” She convinced us that homemade frosting is the only way to go, from simple, fresh whipped cream to a butter cream or cream cheese frosting.

Mary Catherine added that much like making rice, where you would never lift the lid off your pot, when you make cake, you never should open the oven door, as keeping a consistent temperature is super important. Okay, so what about not running in the kitchen while the cake bakes? Mary Catherine dispelled that myth, assuring us that she and her brothers conducted wrestling matches and dance recitals at their mom’s feet on many a cake baking occasion and never a cake sinkhole was created. Looks like we’re out of excuses.

As we bake and let our cats, kids and dogs run with wild abandon, we’ll wait patiently for cake-o’clock. Happy Mother’s Day!

Mary Catherine’s vegan burnt sugar cake

That fact that our dear Mary Catherine took a very traditional recipe and converted it to a decadently delicious vegan version for her dear friends just leaves us speechless. This cake has a definite appeal, a certain finesse that’s apparent in every bite. And while its flavors are complex and classy for sure, it’s also fun and accessible — equally comfortable cozied up to a flute of the finest champagne or a tall glass of milk. We can’t thank MC enough for all that she is — mama, teacher, student, confidante, dance partner, friend and pastry chef. Every moment spent with this cake (and with Mary Catherine) will leave you wanting more.

1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 ½ cups cane sugar
3 teaspoons egg replacer whisked into 4 tablespoons lukewarm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups sifted flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 cup unsweetened soymilk
3 tablespoons burnt sugar

  1. To burn sugar:  melt an additional ½ cup of cane sugar in a small cast iron skillet over low heat. When it is uniformly brown, remove from heat. Carefully add ½ cup boiling water, and return to heat. Stir rapidly until it resembles molasses.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream together the shortening and cane sugar until fluffy and light. Stir in the egg replacer and vanilla.
  3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda and add to the sugar and shortening alternately with the soymilk, stirring well after each addition. When the batter is smooth, gently stir in the caramelized sugar until well combined.
  4. Oil and flour two 8” cake pans. Pour in prepared batter, and bake for 30 minutes. Allow cakes to cool in the pans briefly, and turn out onto cake racks to cool completely.

Traditionally, the cake is frosted with burnt sugar icing and decorated with hickory nuts. While that’s delicious, the delicate burnt sugar flavor is better served by a rich, creamy mocha frosting.

Mocha “buttercream” frosting

3 tablespoons vegan margarine (“Buttery Sticks” are incredible)
2 cups powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons espresso (you can use instant coffee in a pinch)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Beat margarine, 1 cup of sugar and salt together until impossibly fluffy and light.
  2. Add remaining sugar and espresso alternately, beating well. Stir in vanilla.
  3. Makes enough to frost a cake, or a batch of cupcakes.

“What a Beautiful Day!” Cake

You have all these things in your pantry, even if you’re Mother Hubbard. This recipe is from Brooke who got it from the late, great Bunny Zacher, Brooke’s mother-in-law. Brooke picked it from all of her favorite cake recipes in celebration of the great mom Bunny was and still is to her family. The recipe, originally called “Crazy Cake,” is from the Great Depression, when pantries provided slim-pickin’s. We’ve renamed it because no matter what the weather, no matter what life threw at her, Bunny always greeted each day with the same sentiment: “What a beautiful day!”

We’d like to thank Bunny, Beverly (Brooke’s mom), Brooke and our moms, Joyce and Susan, for teaching us that laughter and being grateful are the secrets to a happy life — and moreover, for sharing their laughter with us.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cold water

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Sift flour, sugar, salt, soda, and cocoa together into a 9 x 13 inch ungreased cake pan and make three wells.
  2. Pour oil into one well, vinegar into the second, and vanilla into the third. Pour cold water over all, and stir well with fork.
  3. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tooth pick inserted comes out clean. Let cool and store in the refrigerator. Frost with “chocolate sour cream frosting” (recipe below), freshly whipped whip cream or whatever your favorite frosting is.

Chocolate sour cream frosting

Enough frosting for an 8 or 9 inch layer cake or two 9 x 13 cakes:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup butter
½ cup sour cream
2 ½ cups sifted powdered sugar

  1. In a saucepan, melt chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in sour cream.
  3. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth and spreadable. Cover and store cake in the refrigerator.

Grocery List
egg replacer
vegan margarine
butter
½ cup sour cream
egg
milk
espresso (you can use instant coffee in a pinch)

Pantry List
vegetable shortening
sugar
powdered sugar
vanilla
all-purpose flour
salt
baking powder
baking soda
soy milk
unsweetened cocoa powder
vegetable oil
white vinegar
semisweet chocolate chips

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