Julia Child’s Birthday + Queen of Sheba Cake

Julia Child

Hi from Beantown! We planned a super-last-minute trip to Boston after Alex got scheduled for a work trip. So I’ve been stumbling over cobblestone, taking pictures of pretty doors and windows with flower boxes, and soaking up every ounce of history I can before we have to go back home.

Before that, though, I’m doing a small virtual celebration post for my girl, Julia Child, whose birthday is today!

A self-confessed late bloomer, I cherish stories of women who did not find their calling until later in life. Factor in a supportive husband and a life that revolves around food… well, Julia Child’s life is my own personal fairy tale.

Julia Child would have been 106 today. Born Julia McWilliams in California to a wealthy family, Child did not cook for herself until she married and, even then, she confessed that she was not a natural. During the second World War, Child worked as a typist for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). While stationed in Asia, Julia met her future beloved husband Paul Cushing Child. Paul Child was a lover of food, with a refined palate. When he joined the Foreign Service and the couple was sent to live in Paris, Julia experienced the first taste, literally and figuratively, of her future. Later in her life, she described her first meal in France as a life-changing experience.

She attended Le Cordon Bleu, and joined a women’s cooking group where she met a woman named Simone Beck, who was writing a French cookbook for Americans. Along with Beck’s friend Louisette Bertholle, Child began working on the cookbook, which (more than a decade later) would be her first published cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

By this time, Julia and her husband had settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she wrote a column for the Boston Globe, and worked on other cookbooks. Child became a television chef when she appeared on WGBH-TV, after a series of other guests canceled. On live TV, instead of simply discussing how she would follow a recipe, Child flipped an omelette, much to the excitement of the viewers. This led to a television show starring Child called The French Chef that would run for more than 10 years. Other shows and cookbooks would follow; she published almost twenty during her life (and one posthumously, with the help of her nephew). She also continued making cooking shows, sometimes teaming up with her friend and fellow chef, Jacques Pepin.

I’ll admit, my first interest in Julia Child did not come from her cooking, but from her height–she was over six feet tall. I don’t know why that stuck with me. I’m fascinated by tall people, probably because I’m so short. I also appreciated her epic love affair with her husband. He even designed a special kitchen to accommodate her height and make cooking easier for her. Paul died in 1994, but Julia lived in their home in Cambridge until 2001, when she moved into a retirement home in California. Before moving, Child donated her kitchen to the Smithsonian museum, where it is housed today. She died in 2004, three days before her 92nd birthday.

To celebrate Julia’s birthday, I decided to make her Queen of Sheba cake. This recipe appeared in her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as well as in some of her subsequent cookbooks. It’s a very fancy name for a very simple and elegant dessert, which is essentially a rich chocolate cake.

This was the first cake that Julia had in France and may have ultimately helped Julia fall in love with French cuisine. It might have the same effect on you, because it’s delicious and approachable and everything good.

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Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba Cake

Ingredients:
For cake: 
1/3 cup ground almonds, plus 2 tbsp sugar 
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 tbsp strong coffee (or 2 tbsp dark rum)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour

For frosting:
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

Optional:
Sliced almonds

Instructions:

Grease and line one 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Move the rack to the bottom third of the oven.

Process together 1/3 cup of almonds with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the coffee or rum and the semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate and heat until just melted. Set aside.

Cream the butter until completely smooth. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and beat for another minute. Add the egg yolks and beat together until smooth and light yellow in color.

In another bowl, beat together the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt. Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating sugar thoroughly into the egg whites before adding second tablespoon of sugar. Continue to beat the egg mixture until you have stiff, glossy peaks.

Stir the chocolate/coffee mixture, ground almond mixture, and almond extract, into the egg yolk mixture.

Add in a third of the egg white mixture, carefully folding until thoroughly mixed. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and continue to fold into the mixture. Continue alternating the egg white and flour into the mixture two more times, until completely combined.

Pour mixture into the greased cake pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 30 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. When the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn over onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

If adding frosting, put semi-sweet chocolate into a bowl. Heat the heavy cream until it is hot but not boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Pour over the cake and smooth over the sides. Decorate edges with sliced almonds, if you wish.

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There you have it. It takes a few bowls to accomplish, but not too much fuss beyond that (unless you find egg whites fussy, which some do). Alex usually makes the same simple request when I try out a new recipe: “Can you add chocolate?” But he was finally satisfied with this recipe. It’s rich, almost like a brownie, but not too sweet, and you get a hint of the almond, which is what does it for me. And you don’t even need a specially designed kitchen for it. Happy birthday, Julia!

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Alex’s Birthday + Dark Chocolate Babka French Toast

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It’s summer, so it seems like time is moving a million miles a minute. We constantly have places to go and things to do, but this week, we’re saving up our energy to celebrate Alex’s birthday!

A quick ode to the quirks that define my husband: He doesn’t drink coffee in the morning. Even if it’s already made and offered to him. He usually only starts drinking coffee after 1:30 in the afternoon. His favorite foods are chocolate, cookies, tortilla chips, and…vegetables. He also has the crazy super power of being able to order, almost without fail, whatever on the menu a restaurant doesn’t have. Pork chops? We’re out. Skillet cookie? We took that off the menu. It was with this constant disappointment in mind that Alex’s birthday treat this year was created.

If you can believe it, there have been two times that Alex has seen chocolate french toast on a menu at a restaurant. Before ordering it, he was perplexed: “What is chocolate french toast? Where do they add the chocolate?” Chocolate drizzled on top? Chocolate chips? Chocolate bread? Anyway, the end of the story is that he ordered the french toast and was told, BOTH TIMES, that they didn’t have it. So we went on with our lives, assuming that chocolate french toast was actually just too good to exist in this world and we were just imagining it on menus. Then! It was time for Alex’s birthday. I’ve mentioned before that Alex doesn’t like cake. (“It’s fine,” he says.) So each year, I try to get a little creative with what his birthday dessert will be. And, this year, I said, “I’m going to make that man some chocolate french toast.” Dark chocolate french toast. Using chocolate babka.

Babka is a sweet yeast dough, often filled with chocolate or cinnamon, or sometimes fruit, and baked in a loaf. At first Alex was skeptical, only becoming more accepting when I explained it to him in Seinfeld. Then he was immediately on board. And so I set out to create the birthday treat of his dreams. Spoiler: It went well.

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Dark Chocolate Babka French Toast

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
6 tbsp sugar
1 1/8 tsp active yeast
1 egg
2 tsp grated orange zest
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup warm milk
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter, extremely soft

For the chocolate filling:
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the syrup:
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup sugar

For french toast:
4 3/4-inch slices of babka
2 eggs
2 tbsp whole milk or heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, for pan 

Whisk together the warm water and yeast in a medium bowl. Allow to sit for about five minutes, until frothy.

Oil a slightly larger bowl.

Add the milk, egg, butter, sugar, salt, zest, and 1 cup of the flour. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Continue adding enough flour to make the mixture easy to handle, up to 2 cups total.

Place the mixture onto a well-floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and no longer sticks, adding flour as needed, for about five minutes.

Once the dough is elastic, place in the oiled bowl, and turn over to cover the entire surface of the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.

To make the chocolate paste, mix the confectioner’s sugar, white sugar, and cocoa powder. Chop your dark chocolate and melt your butter. While the butter is still warm, add the chopped chocolate, stirring until it is melted. Wait to mix the butter/chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients until right before you’re ready to spread it on the dough.

Spray an 8×4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper.

When your dough has rested, punch it down and begin to roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Roll to 16 by 12 inches, with the long side nearest to you. The dough is not too precious, so if you need to pull it a bit or use a bench scraper to keep the edges even, do so.

Now mix your butter/chocolate mixture into the dry chocolate ingredients. Spread the mixture over the top of the dough, leaving less than a 1/2 inch border around the edge.

Roll the long side of the dough up onto a roll. Place the roll seam-side-down.

Use a knife or bench scraper to cut the roll in half lengthwise–you want to end up with two long, narrow halves, with stripes of the chocolate mixture showing through.

Then, with the chocolate stripes facing up, gently lay one of the halves over the other until you have a long braid, banded with chocolate. If your ends have gotten uneven, you can again cut them down.

Place the braid chocolate-side-up into your oiled 8×4-inch loaf pan, tucking the ends under.

Cover with a dish towel and allow to rise in a warm spot for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. It will not quite double in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

After letting it rise, bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. To ensure it is done, insert a knife into the middle–it may come out with chocolate on it, but there should be no sign of dough.

While the bread is baking, whisk together the sugar and water over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Remove the loaf from the oven and immediately brush the glaze entirely over the top, ensuring some gets down each side of the pan.

Allow to cool.

If making french toast, mix together eggs, milk, and salt into a flat-bottomed pan. Place slices of babka into the mixture for about 30 seconds, then flip and allow to soak for another 30 seconds on the second side.

While the bread is soaking, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.

Carefully move the soaked bread into the hot pan, allow to brown (about 2-3 minutes on each side).

Serve warm with berries, powdered sugar, syrup or butter. Enjoy! 

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My God, it is a thing of beauty. And the taste? Forget it. It looks so much more difficult to create than it is. You will need a little time, mostly for letting it rise, but if anything is worth waiting for, it’s this french toast. (It’s so good, I think I might trying making another loaf to use in my friend Sarah’s grandmother’s bread pudding recipe.) For this dough, I used my mom’s time-tested pecan roll recipe. For the filling, glaze, and preparation, I followed this Seven Spoons recipe, halved, which itself is an adaptation of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. I only made one loaf, because I’m no fool: I know that 2 loaves of babka equals one loaf per person in this household, and I just can’t have it around.

On Alex’s actual birthday, we will be going out for a nice Italian dinner. I can’t say where, because this post goes up before his birthday and Alex’s birthday dinner location is always a secret to him. Then we’ll go out for drinks (but more likely we’ll be tired, get one drink, and go home, which is nice, too).

Happy birthday, my dear love! This babka’s cool, but not half as cool as you.

The Pie King + Strawberry Chiffon Pie

Strawberry Chiffon Pie

How’s summer rolling along for you? It’s the middle of July, we’ve been able to get out and roam around the city, hitting up some of our old favorite spots and finding new favorites. On top of that, I’m looking forward to Alex’s birthday next week (even if he isn’t), and we may have some exciting travel plans coming up! Summer is just the best, isn’t it?

So, you’re going to need to stick with me on this post. It’s one of those cases where I just got excited about something that’s not as exciting as I think it is, and the next thing I knew I had written about 900 words and there was a whole pie in my fridge.

A while back, I was hunting around for vintage recipes and I came across an article in the L.A. Times from over twenty years ago about a man named Monroe Boston Strause, A.K.A. the Pie King. But it was a line in the second paragraph that caught my eye, that mentioned where Strause’s father was born: Garrett, Indiana. WHERE I GREW UP!

Garrett is small. It’s basically a blip on the map. We do have more than one stop light, but the population hovered just above 6,000 last time I checked. So you can understand my surprise when I learned that a man, who eventually became known as the “Pie King,” had a link to my hometown. It’s not a huge link, but when you’re from a town with nary a claim to fame (with the exception of one tragic silent film star and a MLB player from the early 1900s), even little connections are interesting.

I’m not here to talk about my hometown, though. I’m here to talk about the man known as the Pie King. Somewhat surprisingly, there isn’t a lot known about the personal life of Monroe Boston Strause. We do know that he was born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1901, 117 years ago today. He was born to Boston Monroe Strause and Emma Studer.

Monroe Boston Strause(Portrait of Monroe Boston Strause, taken from his book Pie Marches On.)

It’s said that when Strause was still quite young, he became the owner of a bakery when when a relative who owned the business left it to Monroe. As a way of drumming up interest in the bakery, he began perfecting pie recipes and touring the country teaching others to make pie. By the 1930’s, he was already being written about by reporters who called him a pie expert.

It was also in the 30’s that he wrote Pie Marches On, essentially a pie bible explaining how to make the best versions of pie. He has a chapter dedicated to pie crust (if you’ve ever had a pie featuring a graham cracker crust, you can thank Monroe Boston Strause for it), as well as several variations of fruit and cream pies, black bottom pie (that he is credited with creating), and the chiffon pie, which it is said he invented in 1926.

By the 1940s, his mentions in the newspapers seem mainly to be companies promoting that their baked goods were “baked under the authority” of Strause, who may by this time have been traveling around the country less. His family situation may account for this. In the 1940 Census, he appears with his wife, Violet, and a one-year-old daughter, Marilynn. After that, I couldn’t find much information on him. He and his wife both died in 1981, a few months apart, but were living in different parts of California at the time.

Although his is no longer a household name, you can find vintage pie tins that bear his name still being sold on Ebay. He reminds me of many of our modern-day celebrity cooks. He perfected his technique, made a name for himself, and was able to profit from his celebrity status by allowing his name to be stamped on others’ products.

My search for more information on the Pie King’s later years will continue, because I usually can’t let things like this go. In the meantime, though, I’ve made a slightly updated version of his strawberry chiffon pie, which is a perfect for the dog days of summer, when the idea of turning the oven on at all is not very inviting, let alone long enough to bake a pie. It’s the perfect cool and creamy dessert for a hot and steamy day.

Strause’s original recipe called for uncooked, beaten egg whites to be mixed with a mashed berry/cornstarch concoction. The pie has a graham cracker crust base which only bakes for a short time, before being piled high with a light and airy egg-white-based filling, which is cooked for a short time over a double boiler to make the eggs safe, before it is allowed to set in the fridge.

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Strawberry Chiffon Pie
For my pie, I slightly altered this recipe. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients: 
Graham cracker crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 sheets of graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Chiffon filling:
1 cup strawberry sauce (basically 16 oz of strawberries–see instructions)
2/3 cup sugar
.25 oz of unflavored gelatin
4 egg whites
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

Graham cracker crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sheets of graham crackers into a food processor. Process into fine crumbs, but stop before they are powder.

Stir in sugar and salt. Stir in melted butter until very well combined.

Pour into the bottom of a pie pan and use a measuring cup or your fingers to press into the shape of the pan.

Bake for about 9 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the pie filling.

Chiffon filling:
Food process about 16 ounces of strawberries (for me it took the whole carton), until quite liquefied.

Pour into a measuring cup, straining out the larger strawberry pieces and seeds from the mixture, until you get 1 cup of sauce.

In a small heat-proof bowl, big enough to hold 1 1/2 cups of liquid, add 1/4 cup of water and sprinkle .25 oz of gelatin over the top to bloom.

Add the sauce to a small pan with the 2/3 cup sugar. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fill a larger bowl with a little water and several ice cubes. Set aside.

Pour the strawberry mixture into the bloomed gelatin, put the bowl into the ice bath, and continually stir the gelatin mixture until it thickens slightly, about five minutes. Set the bowl in the refrigerator as you prepare the egg whites.

Over a double boiler (a heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water, but not touching the water), add egg whites, 1/4 cup of sugar, and cream of tartar. Whisk to combine. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the egg mixture has reached a temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove from the double boiler, add in the vanilla, and use a mixer to beat the eggs on high speed until they are glossy, light, and fluffy.

Immediately add the gelatin mixture to the egg whites, folding in gently but thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and put back in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight to set.

Top with whipped cream and/or sliced strawberries and serve cold.

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Three really good things about this pie: 1) Intense strawberry flavor. There is little getting in the way of the flavor of whatever berry you use. 2) Almost no bake time. It’s too hot, it’s too hot, etc… 3) It really is as light as air. (That’s perhaps my only gripe with it. Alex liked this recipe better than I did. I like pie with a little bite to it.)

Thanks for indulging me in this walk down pie history lane. If you decide to give this recipe a try, please let me know what you think. I want to know what kind of pie people I’m dealing with here!

Maya Angelou’s Caramel Cake with Brown Butter Frosting

Maya Angelou

To be honest, a few weeks ago I wrote about Emily Dickinson for World Poetry Day. However, before I decided on Dickinson, I went back and forth about whether I should write about another famed female poet who loved cooking: Maya Angelou. When I realized that Angelou’s birthday was approaching, on April 4, and that April is National Poetry Month, I decided I would honor her today, instead.

She is probably remembered best by most as a poet, but Angelou lived a full and almost unbelievable life before she ever wrote a poem.

She was born in 1928, in St. Louis, as Marguerite Annie Johnson. At the age of four, she was sent along with her brother to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with her paternal grandmother, after her parents’ marriage fell apart. Her grandmother was a powerful influence on her life. Her grandmother owned her own general store, and provided Angelou with the stability she lacked when living with her mother.

After being sent back to live with her mother, she was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. The man was later killed by family members, and Angelou became a mute for seven years, thinking she had caused his death by speaking his name. She lived with her grandmother again for the next several years. A friend of her grandmother’s, Bertha Flowers, was credited with exposing Angelou to great writers during this time, and eventually helping her overcome her muteness.

By the time she was fourteen, she and her brother were living with their mother again, this time in California. Before leaving high school, she had given birth to her first and only child, a son named Clyde. As a young woman, she supported herself with a series of jobs: She became a chef in a Creole restaurant, she was a prostitute and brothel madam for a time, she worked as the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, and as a singer in a night club. She and dancer Alvin Ailey even formed a dance duo for a time. At this point, Angelou was still going by her birth name of Marguerite, or sometimes Rita, but it was during this period that her managers at the Purple Onion, a famous club in San Francisco, where she had been performing a calypso show, suggested changing it to Maya Angelou, a combination of her nickname, and a version of her former husband’s surname.

Five years later, Angelou moved to New York to be a writer, on the suggestion of novelist John Oliver Killens. In 1960, she helped organize Cabaret for Freedom, a fundraiser to benefit the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, after meeting Martin Luther King Jr. and hearing him speak. Her passion for the Civil Rights movement grew out of this meeting.

In the early 1960’s, she spent time in Egypt and Ghana, working as an associate editor and writer for local English-language publications. She and her son had moved there after meeting and beginning a relationship with Vusumzi Make, a South African civil rights activist. After her relationship with Make ended, Angelou was still living in Ghana and it was at that time that she met Malcolm X. They became friends and in 1965, she returned to the United States to help him create a new civil rights organization, but he was assassinated shortly after.

By the end of the 60’s, she was writing and singing to support herself and in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. asked if she would organize a march. This march would never happen, as King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th of that year (Angelou’s 40th birthday). Angelou was brokenhearted, but her pain led to the creation of undoubtedly her most famous work: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969.

The early 70’s proved to be a pivotal time for Angelou as a writer. She wrote music, scripts, and poetry. She dabbled in acting, she was nominated for a Tony for her performance in Look Away on Broadway, and made an appearance in the miniseries Roots.

In the 80’s, she became a professor at Wake Forest College, teaching courses until 2011. In 1993, she read her poem On the Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She lectured extensively throughout the 90’s, and by the end of her life, she had written 7 autobiographies. According to her son, she was working on another at the time of her death in 2014, at the age of 86.

In honor of Angelou’s 90th birthday, I made her grandmother’s recipe for caramel cake. She wrote about this cake in her book, Hallelujah!, saying that it was a favorite of hers and one of her grandmother’s specialties. It was a favorite at the quilting bees hosted in the back of her grandmother’s store, and Angelou recounts a day when she was punished by a teacher for her voluntary muteness; after visiting the school to punish the teacher in turn, her grandmother made Maya her very own caramel cake to remind her of her love.

Maya Angelou Caramel Cake

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Caramel Cake with Brown Butter Frosting
Serves 8. Recipe from Maya Angelou’s book Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes.

Ingredients:
Caramel sauce:
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
Cake:
1 stick of butter, unsalted and very soft
1 cup of sugar
1/4 cup caramel sauce (recipe below)
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
Frosting:
9 tbsp butter, unsalted
12 oz confectioner’s sugar
6 tbsp heavy cream
2 1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Instructions:

Caramel sauce: Heat the sugar over a heavy-bottomed skillet until it begins to melt and bubble, stirring occasionally. Once it is brown and bubbly on the surface, remove from heat and slowly add the water. Be careful, because it will bubble and spit as mix in the water. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Place two 8-inch rounds of parchment paper in the bottom of two 8-inch cake pans. Brush thoroughly with vegetable oil, or spray with cooking spray.

Cake: Beat the softened butter until smooth, add in the sugar in three batches, fully beating it into the butter each time. Then add the caramel sauce and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Add the flour mixture and 1 cup of milk to the butter-sugar mixture in 3 batches, alternating between the two, and stirring until just combined between each addition.

And in another medium bowl, beat together the eggs until they’re frothy, between 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until mixture is foamy and the sugar is dissolved.

Fold the egg mixture into the batter until just combined. Divide evenly between the two cake pans and bake for about 25 minutes. Begin checking for doneness around the 22 minute mark. The center of cake should spring back when pressed with a finger and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove the parchment and place on wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: (I made 1.5x the original recipe for this frosting.) Brown butter in a pan over medium heat. You will know when it’s done when it stops hissing and smells nutty. Be careful not to burn it. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Place confectioner’s sugar, cream, vanilla, salt, and cooled butter into a bowl. Beat until the mixture is smooth and the sugar is fully incorporated.

Frost the cake as desired and eat immediately, or refrigerate until ready to eat.

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My thoughts on the cake are as follows: super simple to make, surprisingly moist, unsurprisingly delicious.

I will say, these posts always seem to pack a lot into a tiny space, but perhaps never more so than with this post–no one has had quite as full a life as Maya Angelou–so I hope I did her some justice. It’s been a real pleasure researching the woman behind the words.

Happy 90th birthday, Maya Angelou!

L.M. Montgomery & Mock Cherry Pie

Lucy_Maud_MontgomeryLike many girls, I was a big fan of the Anne of Green Gables books growing up. My grandma had the movies starring Megan Follows. And I think those old VHS tapes are still in a box at my mom’s house. However, I realized in the last few years that the author of the Anne of Green Gables books was a woman, though she often used the shortened and more gender-ambiguous L.M. Montgomery.

Canada’s favorite daughter, L.M. Montgomery preferred to go by her middle name, Maud (without an “e”), and was born and raised on Prince Edward Island. Her mother died when she was very young, and she was sent by her father to live with her grandmother. She spent much of her time by herself, and she would often describe her upbringing as lonely.

Montgomery got the idea for Anne of Green Gables when she was looking through an old newspaper and found a story of a couple who had sent a request to an orphanage for a boy, but received a girl instead. And she used a fictional version of Green Gables, an actual farm that was once owned by Montgomery’s cousins. In 1908, the book was published and was almost immediately a hit. (A story for those of you out there dealing with rejection: The first time Montgomery sent the manuscript for Anne of Green Gables out to publishers, it was rejected by all of them. She put the manuscript at the bottom of a trunk for three years before she sent it out again in 1908.)

However, Montgomery’s success did not translate to her personal life. In 1911, after her grandmother died, Montgomery married her husband Ewan McDonald, a Presbyterian Minister. The marriage was not a happy one, and they shared few interests. Even so, she and her husband had two sons, and one son who was stillborn. And, even though she had a successful writing career, as a woman of her time and of her strong religious conviction, Montgomery believed that it was her duty to be a good wife and mother. Part of this, of course, meant providing meals for her family, and Montgomery was an excellent cook. Years ago, one of her nieces even compiled a cookbook of her aunt’s recipes.

One of her younger son’s favorite recipes of his mother’s was mock cherry pie, which is composed of raisins and cranberries instead of cherries. I originally thought that “mock cherry pie” was probably one of those awesome depression-era recipes, where home cooks somehow fashioned a roast beef dinner out of an old shoe. Not so. Mock cherry pie was popular around the turn of the century, and the first mentions of the recipe seem to come from the Chicago Record Cook Book, published in 1896. Then the recipe was picked up by New Englanders and Canadians, probably because of their ready access to fresh cranberries during the colder months.

So, in honor of Lucy Maud Montgomery, born on this day 143 years ago, I’ve made a mock cherry pie. I looked through several recipes in old newspapers and all are very simple and almost exactly the same: cranberries, raisins, sugar, flour, vanilla. I used the same here, except I increased the portions slightly (most recipes call for about 1 1/2 cups of filling total. The recipe below more than doubles that and it’s still a rather small pie).

Mock Cherry Pie

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Mock Cherry Pie
Makes one 8-inch pie.

Ingredients:
1 two-crust pie crust (I prefer this one)
2 1/2 cups cranberries
1 1/4 cups dark raisins
3/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk or cream
2 tsp sugar

Instructions:

Slightly chop the cranberries by hand or in a food processor, just enough so they are no longer whole. To a saucepan, add the cranberries, raisins, sugar, flour, lemon zest, and salt. Mix together and then bring to a boil over medium heat, for about 15 minutes total. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Prepare the bottom half of your pie shell. Fill with cranberry raisin mixture. Place in refrigerator while you prepare the top of the crust.

Prepare the top of the shell. You can make this into a traditional lattice-top, or just a solid layer over the top. Either way, be sure there are holes in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Place top crust over the mixture and crimp the edges. Place in freezer for about 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Beat together the egg and milk or cream. After the pie has been in the freezer for 15 minutes, brush the top crust of the pie with the mixture. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Place on a cookie sheet and bake pie for about 25 minutes, turn 180 degrees and continue baking for another 25 minutes. If the edges of the crust begin to get too dark, cover them with foil and continue to bake.

Remove from oven and serve warm, or at room temperature.

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How about that? Very simple, and in the winter months this recipe will provide you with the sweet-sour, cherry-like flavor you’ve been craving. Would a cherry-pie-loving person be fooled? No, probably not. But the fact is, this pie is absolutely stands on its own two feet. It’s delicious. And, if you are a fan of cherry pie, I think you’d be hard pressed to find something as satisfying during the winter months.

Two quick tips: 1) The bigger the raisins, the better. They plump up and provide you with the bite you would get from a cherry, as well as the sweetness. 2) I always have trouble getting my foil to stay on my pie crusts while baking. This time I used one of those throwaway foil pie pans, but I cut the bottom out and just placed it over my crust. It worked awesome! Maybe everyone already knows this trick, but I really impressed myself.

Happy 143rd birthday, Lucy Maud Montgomery!

Chocolate Krispy Treat Sandwiches

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My favorite human turns 30 years old today! I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love birthdays (my birthday! friends’ birthdays! strangers’ birthdays!). I also believe that birthdays should be celebrated for no less than a month, particularly if they are 30th birthdays! Alex doesn’t agree. He doesn’t like celebrations, particularly if they are celebrating him. He also doesn’t like cake, which I will never understand.

So, instead, we started celebrating last week, a whole three weeks shy of full birthday celebration. Per his request, we saw the anxiety-inducing Dunkirk on opening night at the Music Box. (Really, truly spectacular, if your heart can take it.) Tonight, we will have a nice dinner and some drinks. Tomorrow, we’re both taking off work and making a special trip to Werewolf Coffee Bar, and going to Sunset Pho Caffe for dinner with Alex’s dad. This weekend, we’ll probably make our way over to the Newberry Library’s Book Fair and celebrate with some friends. And, before the weekend is over, I suspect we’ll eat more than a few hot dogs. (Alex claims to never have food cravings, but this man has been talking about hot dogs, like, a lot.) For dessert, we will not have birthday cake.

Since cake was off the table, I tried to plan a celebratory dessert that captured the genius that is my wacky husband. Things I know about Alex are this: He is particularly fond of chocolate. A chocolate fiend, in fact. He’s been known to devour entire bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips. So, chocolate, sure, we’re getting somewhere.

The sandwich cookie is also a favorite. Alex’s love of cookies, particularly cookie sandwiches, knows zero bounds. His Instagram handle is @eatingcookies. No joke. (Don’t go looking for cookies there, though. He mostly takes pictures of garbage during our walks around the city.)

Finally, when I ask him about desserts he would like to try, they are almost never fancy. A while back, out of the blue, he mentioned he had read an article about an Australian snack called Chocolate Crackles. Essentially, this is a cupcake-shaped, chocolate Rice Krispies treat.

So, I combined the three, chocolate, cookie sandwiches, and Crackles, into a dessert truly fit for a 30-year-old man’s birthday.

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Chocolate Krispy Treat Sandwiches
Makes 24 rounds; 12 filled sandwiches. Slightly adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients:
For krispy treats:
6 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the cookie sheet
1/8 tsp salt
10 1/2 oz bag of marshmallows
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
7 cups rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)

For filling:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
5-6 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions:
For krispy treats:
Butter a 12″ x 18″ cookie sheet.

In a large saucepan, melt 6 tbsp of butter over low to medium heat.

Once melted, add the salt, marshmallows, semi-sweet chocolate, and cocoa powder. Stir until combined and the marshmallows have completely melted. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla.

Add the rice cereal and stir until completely coated.

Immediately pour onto the buttered cookie sheet. Using your hands, or a spatula, press the mixture into the pan, filling to the edges. If you have a bit of leftover butter from the stick you used, you may find it helpful to cover your fingertips or the spatula with a bit of the butter while pressing to keep the mixture from sticking.

Once you have completely filled the pan with an even layer, refrigerate for about 15 minutes.

Using a 2 1/2-in round cookie or biscuit cutter, punch out 24 circles and move to another cookie sheet or plate.

For filling:
In a small bowl, beat the peanut butter, salt, powdered sugar, and vanilla until completely combined and smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks. Add the heavy cream to the peanut butter mixture and fold together until combined.

Fill two rounds with peanut butter cream, press together, and enjoy!

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So, to recap–Rice Krispies Treats are good. Chocolate Rice Krispies Treats are better! Chocolate Rice Krispies Treats, filled with peanut butter cream are the best of all! Maybe they’re not the most grown-up dessert. No, they’re definitely not. But, being a grown-up is overrated anyway. Even as I was writing this last sentence, my brain was thinking, “You know what would be really good? Some peanut butter ice cream smooshed between two chocolate Rice Krispies Treats!” Omg brb gtg make some ice cream sandwiches!

Happy birthday, my love. Welcome to your 30’s!

Simple No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream

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It’s finally feeling like summer here in Chicago. There have been several days of 80-plus degree weather. My favorite part is finally being able to go out without my shoulders covered, without getting cold (which I always am), even at night.

This type of weather also makes me start craving ice cream in a big way. I would not consider myself an ice cream person in general. But when that summer air hits in Chicago, it’s all I want and we start going through carton after carton of ice cream in our house. But maybe it’s in my genes?

Today would have been my grandma Edna’s 94th birthday. I have written about grandma Edna (known as Grandma Dini), and bragged about her general awesomeness, on here before when I made her cream puffs. Though her cream puffs were my favorite, they were not Grandma Dini’s favorite dessert. She was particularly partial to ice cream. Nothing fancy. Just plain vanilla ice cream. One bowl, right before bed.

There are three food memories that I have in relation to Grandma Dini. One, her cereal options…left a lot to be desired. She usually had only bland cereals, like corn flakes. But to make up for it, she had a giant sugar tin, with a circus scene on it and a lid that looked like the big top of a circus tent. I was allowed to go a little nuts sprinkling my cereal with sugar, attempting to make a little sugar-milk paste at the bottom of my bowl, like a sicko. Two, she made a kick-ass lemon meringue pie during the holidays. And, three, her non-holiday treat was ice cream. I don’t ever really remember her having any flavor other than vanilla. And when I asked for something chocolatey to put on it, instead of chocolate syrup, she’d sprinkle it with Nesquick. I’d stir everything together making a thick chocolate-milk-like mixture, happy as a clam.

So now that it’s hot out, and we’re celebrating Grandma Dini’s birthday, we’re going to make some ice cream. And I think it’s high time I learn to make my own, right here at home. It doesn’t hurt that it’s super easy and I don’t have to turn on my oven. Let’s go!

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Simple No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:
14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

In a large mixing bowl, add the condensed milk, vanilla, and salt. Stir to combine completely.

In a separate mixing bowl, add heavy whipping cream. Using a hand mixer, or a whisk, beat until peaks form. (With a hand mixer, it took me about 2 1/2 minutes at medium-high speed.)

Fold the whipped cream into the condensed milk mixture until completely combined.

Pour the mixture into a pan that is at least 6 cups in volume and cover with a piece of parchment paper.

If you are adding in any extras, like cookies, nuts, or chopped fruit, freeze for two hours, mix in the add-ins, stir, then continue to freeze for 3 more hours.

Freeze for at least five hours, then scoop and serve!

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This recipe is awesome for the obvious benefit of not needing to purchase an ice cream machine. I saw a couple of recipes that involved taking the ice cream out and stirring it frequently as it froze, but this is even easier than that. This recipe couldn’t be simpler, tastier, and, four ingredients? Sign me up! The end result is that we now have a butt-load of vanilla ice cream. I guess the root beer float situation in this house is about to get real.

Note: I actually made this recipe twice. The first way used the condensed milk recipe you see above. The second used a combination of evaporated milk and sugar. (Condensed milk is basically sweetened evaporated milk.) I’m not a huge fan of the saccharine flavor of  condensed milk, which is basically just evaporated milk, plus sugar, so I thought I could trick the system. It didn’t work well for me. The taste was just OK. However, even I thought it needed more sugar, which is not usually the case. Also, not as important, it was much tougher to scoop. It seemed to break apart when I scooped it, almost like shaved ice, rather than ice cream. No complaints, though, as the condensed milk version’s sweetness was quite mellow once frozen. Also, if plain vanilla isn’t your style, you could always add your own fixins–cookie crumbles, fruit, chocolate. Just be sure to freeze the mixture a bit before you add them, so they don’t settle to the bottom.

Will I never buy store-bought ice cream again? Yes, I will. However, it’s neat to know this nifty little recipe. If grandma were still alive, I’d run right over to her house and show her how I made this. To which I’m sure she’d respond, “Yeah, I know how to make my own ice cream, I’m 94 years-old.” Happy birthday, Grandma Dini! And happy ice creaming to all!