Tag Archives: Southern Cookbook

A Bundt Cake for 2011

Happy New Year!  Well…almost.  Before I head out to ring in 2011, I’m putting up the first of several treats I whipped up today.  I wound up in charge of dessert for the party I’m going to, so I decided to do one “fruity” thing and one chocolatey one.  For the first, I put together a banana cake with caramel icing.  The recipe book in which I found this (my trust Southern Cook Book) suggests using a loaf or layer pan, but I love bundt cakes and I figured this dense banana-filled batter would cook well in a bundt pan.  I topped it off with a few caramelized bananas and some burnt sugar shards (I got the latter idea from Baked Explorations).  Yum!  See you next year, with more treats!


Banana Cake with Caramel Icing (Makes one bundt cake – 10 or so servings)
(The Southern Cook Book: “from Mrs. R.E. Donnell, from Home Tried Recipes, Americus, GA”)

1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 c. flour

For the caramel icing:
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. cream
1 tbsp. butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.** Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.
2. Cream butter, sugar, and bananas together (I used a paddle attachment on my mixer); add eggs one at a time.
3. Dissolve the soda in the buttermilk and blend into the butter-sugar-egg mixture.
4. Sift the flour and baking powder together and add gradually, with the mixer on low.
5. Bake for __ until a tester comes out clean. I know you’re impatient, but let the cake cool before unmoulding or it’ll fall apart when you’re removing it from the bundt pan.
6. Make the icing while the cake cools: Cook sugar and cream together until it forms a soft ball when dropped in cold water, remove from stove, add butter, and beat well before spreading on cake.

To caramelize bananas for decoration: Slice a banana.  Melt a pat of butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat and mix a couple of tablespoons brown sugar in with a spatula.  Add the bananas and cook for a minute or two on each side, until a tiny bit brown.

To make burnt sugar shards: Place 1/2 a cup of sugar in a small sauce pan and mix in 1 teaspoon water, so it takes on a sandy texture.  Melt the sugar over high heat until it reaches a medium-dark amber color, then cool on a Silpat and break into shards.

** The recipe book actually says “bake in a moderate oven.” I’m using my cake knowledge to infer here…

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Post-Thanksgiving Pie Bonanza (Part 3)

And now to the real classics. We’re still using a newfangled vodka pie crust here, but the fillings? Totally old school: apple pie and chess pie. Before we get on to the pies themselves, I think I’d better address some crust questions raised in the comments on Part 2. Namely: can one use liquors other than vodka in a crust?

This brings up some really 21st-century cooking science issues. The reason this crust uses vodka is not to use flavor – quite the opposite, since the alcohol totally cooks off and vodka is pretty flavorless otherwise – but to create texture. Very often when one works a pie crust by hand, the butter starts to soften and glutens form and toughen up the crust. We love gluten formation in bread and flour, but when this occurs in pie-baking we call the crust “overworked.” And not Blue Ribbon-worthy. Alcohol inhibits gluten formation, so vodka adds moisture to the crust while keeping it nice and flaky. Just a warning while we’re on the topic: this dough is a little softer than most when you’re rolling it out, so be very gentle.

Theoretically, any spirit with the same alcohol content as vodka (80 proof, or 40%) should have the same effect. Other alcohols will, however, add different flavors, and higher sugar contents might have interesting outcomes. My grandmother always used orange juice as the liquid for her pie crusts. The flavor doesn’t come through strongly but adds a tiny bit of acid; perhaps a citrus flavored vodka could yield similar results, along with maximum flakiness? Worth a try, for sure!

If this was too much food science you can take a break here before moving on…

Now back to old school pies. I made my apple pie the only way I know how: apples, sugar, lemon, and spices. Tiny bit of flour to absorb a little juice…and go! Over the years, I (along with generations of cooks) have tweaked and experimented with this basic formula. In this particular pie I used brown sugar, to give a little more fall flavor. I also used Granny Smith apples only, since that’s what my dad picked up from the supermarket. Tart, firm Granny Smiths make a great pie, but usually I mix my apples – for example, throwing in a few mealier Macintoshes or Macouns for a bit of sweetness. This one-apple pie, however, came out great. I’ve started thinking over the years that apple pie recipes are actually complete bunk. There is no single great apple pie recipe, since apples themselves are such a huge part of a great pie and they can never really be standardized. The key is to learn to taste for texture, sugar, and acid and work with your apples as you go.

If that’s too much pressure you can start with another classic: chess pie. This pie is from the days when fruit wasn’t shipped around the country on demand – it’s made entirely out of pantry staples. The recipe I tried (out of my Southern Cook Book of course) came out a little weird – the middle didn’t set the way chess pie is supposed to, and it wound up being kind of like butterscotch goo with a bruleed sugar topping. That, however, did not stop it from being the first of the three Friday night pies to be devoured. I think I’ll try it again soon, and perhaps add more eggs to keep things together. The lack of setting might also have been due to the exigencies of Thanksgiving baking – the oven was still hotter than it probably should have been from cooking several pies and pans of root vegetables at close to broiling. I’ll report back on any experiments. In the meantime, here are some pictures and recipes…

Apple pie! I should give a nod to my dad for all these pie pics – his DSLR is responsible for the higher-than-usual quality of the photos on this blog.


All the pies together! (From front: apple, chess, pumpkin) Sadly the tart was already gone and could not join the family photo.

Apple Pie (Makes one 9″ pie)

One recipe Vodka Pie Crust
4 lbs. apples (6-7 medium)
3/4 to 1 c. light brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 egg, beaten lightly

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll one dough disk on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle and place in pie plate.
2. Gently press dough into sides of pan leaving portion that overhangs lip of pie plate in place. Refrigerate while preparing fruit.
3. Peel, core, and cut apples into 1/2-to-3/4-inch slices and toss with sugar, lemon juice, spices and zest. Turn fruit mixture, including juices, into chilled pie shell and mound slightly in center. Roll out other dough round and place over filling. Trim top and bottom edges to 1/2 inch beyond pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that folded edge is flush with pan lip. Flute edging or press with fork tines to seal. Cut four slits at right angles on dough top. Brush egg onto top of crust.
4. Bake until top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to almost room temperature, at least 4 hours.

Chess Pie (Makes one 9″ pie)

1/2 recipe Vodka Pie Crust
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch salt
1 tbsp. vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough disk on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle and place in pie plate.
2. Mix butter and sugar and simmer slowly, stirring, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, stirring constantly. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add vanilla, salt and vinegar; mix well.
3. Pour filling into pie shell and bake for 30-35 minutes. Shake pie gently. It is done when the center quivers slightly.

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Baking Double Header

I somehow volunteered to bake for a law school event today: the prospect of trying new recipes and having someone else foot the butter bill was simply irresistible. Prune dumplings are a little esoteric for the usual lecture attendee crowd, so I cast about for some more mainstream recipe and found two in “The Southern Cook Book.”

This book was one of my first acquisitions, and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s a small trade paperback, but is packed full (the print is pretty tiny) of recipes collected from all over the South. Though I know people who would be incredibly offended by this, I must admit I’m pretty happy that the author construed “the South” to include Texas and Louisiana: those states bring in some really fun flavors. Each recipe in the Book comes with an attribution: the brownie recipe I tried, for example, was from Mrs. Frank M. De Friese, of Knoxville, TN.

It can sometimes be surprisingly tough to find vintage cookie recipes. There’s about one awesome cake recipe for every housewife, but flipping through old books really shows that most fancy cookies and bars are pretty recent inventions.

In Tennessee, though, they apparently got a little more creative. To whit: Mrs. De Friese came up with the absolutely awesome idea of melting marshmallows on top of brownies. Her recipe calls for another chocolate layer on top of the marshmallows – frosting or fudge (I’m sure fudge frosting would be perfect too), but I felt this might be too cloyingly sweet. So, I added my third layer at the bottom: I used a graham cracker crust under the brownie and the marshmallow topping to turn these into my very own S’Mores Brownies.

Because I was baking for a crowd I figured one pan of brownies (however rich and gooey) would not quite to it. So, I went in the complete opposite direction…and tried out a Scripture Cake. In a Scripture Cakes recipe, ingredients are set out by Bible verse references so, for example, “cake” is indicated by 1 Kings 19:6, which reads, “Behold, there was a cake baken on the coals.” I was incredibly confused when I saw a bunch of Bible verse citations in my cookbook, so of course I immediately resolved to try the recipe. The internet tells me that these cake recipes were used in the nineteenth century to simultaneously teach girls baking and Bible; the other versions I came across are of the same type as the one in my book – plain cake with dried fruit, nuts, and a little honey. Very Holy Land.

I think you can tell from this picture which bar is which:

S’Mores Brownies (nee Iced Fudge Cakes) (Makes 24 brownies)

Crust:
1 c. ground graham crackers
6 tbsp. butter, melted
3 tbsp. sugar

Brownies:
1 1/2 sticks butter
4 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
2 c. sugar
6 eggs
Pinch soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. bourbon*
1 1/2 c. flour
1 bag marshmallows

*(Tip: I always use bourbon in chocolate recipes instead of vanilla. I think it adds depth and is less cloying)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread the graham crumbs in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan, pour in the 3 tbsp. sugar, and shake around to mix things up. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs, mush it all around to moisten all the crumbs, and pat the mixture evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake for 8 minutes and set aside.
3. Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat.
4. Add the sugar and eggs and stir until the mixture starts to lose some of its graininess.
5. Stir in the bourbon, soda, salt, and baking powder. Then add the flour and mix until smooth.
6. Pour the batter over the graham crust and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the outer edges of the brownie are set and crusted and just the middle is still fudgy.
7. Remove from the brownies from the oven and place marshmallows on top. Put the pan back in for about 3 minutes, until the marshmallows are puffed and starting to brown on top.
8. Take the pan out again and turn the oven up to broil. Spread the semi-melted marshmallows around as evenly as possible and put the pan back in the oven for another minute or two until the top gets nice and brown in places.
9. Let cool and enjoy! The topping will be a gooey mess, but if you didn’t know that already and don’t enjoy it, you need to take your inner child out to a campfire sometime really soon.

Now, let’s get Biblical…

Scripture Cake (Makes 24  2″x2″ pieces)

1 c. Judges 5:25 (butter)
2 c. Jeremiah 6:20 (sugar)
3 1/2 c. 1 Kings 4:22 (flour)
2 c. 1 Samuel 25:18 (raisins)*
2 c. chopped 1 Samuel 25:18 (figs)*
1 c. Genesis 43:11 (sliced almonds, toasted)
1 c. Judges 4:19 (milk)
6 Isaiah 10:14 (eggs)
A little Leviticus 2:13 (salt)
2 tbsp. Exodus 16:31 (honey)
1 Kings 10:2 (1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. each cloves and ginger)
2 tsp. 1 Corinthians 5:6 (baking powder)

“Follow Solomon’s advice for making good boys, in first clause Proverbs 23:14 and you will have a good cake.”

I’m not kidding. The book actually says that. Here’s a little more specific guidance, though…

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter and flour a 9×13 pan. A tube or bundt pan would also probably work well.
3. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy (about 2 minutes on high in a mixer). Add the eggs and beat until pale yellow and light in texture.
4. Add the honey, baking powder, and spices and mix well. Keep the mixer on low and alternate adding milk and flour (I usually do each in 3 batches). Mix just until blended.
5. Dump the nuts and fruit in and mix until evenly distributed.
6. Pour the batter into the pan, spread it evenly, and bake for about 40-50 minutes until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*I substituted a few prunes and some chopped candied ginger with good results – just make sure you have 4 cups dried fruit.

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Flambe Fail

I was on a roll this morning after Blog Post #1, so I hunted around my books for something suitable.  In The Southern Cookbook I found a recipe for a “Rum Omelet” – basically, you make an omelet and flambe it in rum.  I don’t have any rum in the house, but I do have copious amounts of bourbon; I make egg white and cheddar omelets for breakfast most mornings, so I figured I’d douse it in whiskey and give it a go…

BAD IDEA.  First, the flames on the omelet plate didn’t really seem to take: there were a few flickers, then nothing visible.  When I poured some extra bourbon off to see if less liquid would help, I suddenly wound up with flames – in the sink!  This wasn’t an issue since my small kitchen fire was right under a water source, but I still had a boozy omelet on my hands.  It still wouldn’t light properly, so I ditched the rest of the liquor and just had a slightly bourbon-soaked omelet with ketchup.  Not too bad, actually…except for the fact that raw liquor for breakfast has a tendency to make one a liiiittle tipsy…

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