baking

Birthday Cake

by Caroline

future cake!

Flashback: April 30, 2002

We are the new parents of a fussy, fabulous eight-week old baby. Tony heads off to work, as usual, at 5 AM so that he can put in close to the minimum ten hours his start-up expects before coming home to take a crying baby off my hands.

I’ve spent the day with that crying baby in my hands, nursing and walking laps around the house, occasionally sitting down for a minute to email one-handed with my Stanford writing students, who are working on their final essays with me while I’m on “maternity leave.”

We order in take-out from the local Chinese place and I sit on the couch in a stupor, eating bites out of the carton and watching a rerun of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” while Tony, holding Ben in one hand (the classic colic “football hold”) and a fork in the other, circles from living room to dining room, swooping over my shoulder occasionally to grab a bite of dinner himself. During commercials, I mute the TV for a moment and Tony pauses and I wish him a happy birthday, drowned out by Ben’s wails. I have no recollection of whether I bought or made a cake (I must have, I think, but I really don’t know) but I definitely remember feigning optimism. “It won’t always be like this!”

Today:

We have two boys who, happily, don’t cry nearly as much, but they still have their various impacts on birthday dinner. Today, for example, Ben has a 5:30 baseball game at which Tony is coaching. Since it’s a school night, and because my parents will be arriving, jet lagged, from the east coast at 3 this afternoon, we can’t really hold dinner until after the game. So we’ll eat in stages: Ben before his game; Eli, my parents and I during; and Tony after. But we will all sit down together, after school and before baseball, for a piece of birthday cake. This cake, which is our all-time favorite birthday cake.

Happy birthday, Tony!

Oreos

by Caroline


I know I’ve posted this recipe for Oreos before, but it is so easy, and so delicious, it’s worth reposting. This time I happened to make pink filling for Valentine’s Day, but you could make egg-shaped Oreos with pastel filling for Easter, or baseball Oreos for your kid’s team, or you could simply make Oreos today because it is Friday and that’s as good a reason as any.

Oreo Cookies

In a mixing bowl, beat till fluffy
1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
In a separate bowl, sift together
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa*
1/2 tsp salt

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter to make a stiff dough. Remove from the bowl, knead a couple times on a lightly floured board to make sure it’s fully combined, then shape into a disk and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To bake:
Preheat oven to 350°. Cut the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time and keeping the remainder cold, roll out to about 1/4” thickness. Cut into circles or whatever shape you desire, place on a cookie sheet, and bake 15 minutes or till firm. Cool on a rack. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

When cool, make sandwiches with the following filling:
1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter beaten till fluffy with
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar and
1/2 tsp. vanilla

*Note: I use half regular cocoa and half black cocoa (available from King Arthur Flour) for a real “oreo” color.

Handcrafted

by Lisa

I had bought some old fashioned Valentines for the kids–you the kind, with tabs and wheels and adorable kids and kittens and doililes and flocking–but they both took one look at the book and balked. No way was Ella giving those out to the boys in her class. Finn felt pretty much the same.  And, so, over the last month, they painstakingly crafted their own valentines. Ella made 3 dozen felt fortune cookies and inserted “fortunes”  like, “If the unicorn you see tomorrow is wearing a hat, you’ll have bad luck” and “If you wear mismatched socks on Friday, you’ll make a new friend.”  She packed them in mini-takeout boxes.

Finn designed and drew a notecard…

& over the course of 2 days painstakingly cut out his notes with a pair of broken pinking shears…

Ella helped him decorate little red bags….

& I made 6 dozen marshmallows. Which is easy, unless you have a lousy hand mixer…in which case, it is a labor of love…

but they helped with the fun part…

&  set up an assembly line, &  packed bags and boxes with pink peppermint marshmallows & much affection…

and all manner of things…well, on this day, with this project…they were well.

Pink Peppermint Marshmallows

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup cold water, divided
  • 3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  1. Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil. Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray.
  2. Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.
  3. Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over mediumlow heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush.  Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F.
  4. With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add  peppermint and food coloring until desired color is achieved and blend, about 30 seconds longer.
  5. Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours. Turn our on a large cutting board sprinkled with sifted powdered sugar
  6. Coat a pizza roller or sharp knife with nonstick spray and cut  marshmallows into desired shape.  Sift powdered sugar over marshmallows and toss to coat.

The Boys’ Granola

by Caroline

For years, I was unwavering in my granola routine. I started with the recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Feast and while over the years I abandoned certain ingredients (the applesauce, the ginger) and eventually all measurements, the granola still remained essentially Nigella’s recipe and my daily breakfast.

But then there was that new granola I started to make, which renewed the boys’ interest in (and taste for) granola. Except Ben was picking out the pumpkin seeds and Eli was picking out the pistachios. So I invited them to make their own.

A lot of this granola-making exercise for kids is simply teaching them about the process: assembling the ingredients; learning how to open bags of nuts and seeds so they don’t explode all over the kitchen; remembering to finish measuring the dry ingredients before measuring the sticky liquid ingredients; getting comfortable with leaning a little ways into the hot oven to stir the pan of baking granola; cleaning up afterwards (the first time the boys did this, I had to leave the room while they cleaned because they are simultaneously so deliberate and ineffective).

But the more exciting part of this, clearly, is cooking something to their own tastes, and I love giving the boys that opportunity. Ben’s granola is a bit sweeter than I like, and Eli’s a little paler (he always eats a bowl unbaked). But they are making granola. We eat it every morning. The last time they made a batch (our third time in what they’ve now dubbed GranoLab) was the most pleasant half hour I’ve had in the kitchen with my children in a long time.

Ben has updated his recipe twice since I first drafted it here on the blog and continues to tinker with it every time, measuring carefully. Eli, like me, just eyeballs the ingredients. Either way, the method is the same: combine the dry ingredients, stir in the liquid ingredients, spread into a baking pan and bake at 325 for 20-50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until toasted brown to taste.

Ben’s Recipe

1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 cups oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons sesame sends
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons wheat germ
1/2 cup pine nuts

Eli’s Granola

3 cups oats
a sprinkle of sesame seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds

Brown sugar
Rice syrup
Vegetable oil
Honey

The Cupcake Super Bowl

by Caroline

The other day when I picked Eli up from school, he grabbed my hand and started to pull me back inside to the lunchroom.

“C’mon, Mama! We need to get a recipe from Chef Ric!”
“What recipe?”
“Wacky cake!”
“Wacky cake? Is that like our crazy cake?”
“I don’t know. I just know it’s a good chocolate cake.”

So we found Chef Ric and we compared notes. Indeed, his wacky cake is just like our crazy cake (or your cockeyed cake, or 6-minute cake), except he uses apple cider vinegar and I use raspberry. I’ve always imagined that the raspberry vinegar gives the cake a little fruit note in the background, perhaps deepens the chocolate flavor a bit, but suddenly talking to our school chef I wasn’t so sure. Does it really make a difference, or is it all in my head? Tonight, with no particular investment in football’s Super Bowl, Eli and I decided to test the theory by making three different crazy cake batters: one with plain white vinegar, one with apple cider vinegar, and the last with raspberry vinegar.

we labelled the batters according to each type of vinegar

I gave Tony and the boys coded servings of each cake

they took careful tasting notes

we tallied the results; the sheet with the red dots is the key to my code

Tony then served me my own coded cupcakes and the results from our limited sample are pretty decisive: the vinegar doesn’t matter. The kids and I each identified only one vinegar correctly and Tony didn’t even get one. The vinegar Eli and I got right (apple cider) was also our least favorite, so we won’t use that again. But given that white vinegar is less than a quarter of the price of raspberry vinegar, from now on, I’ll save it for salad dressings and other places I can really taste it.

Now, I’m really not a Cooks Illustrated, recipe-testing kind of cook. I am fairly imprecise in my baking, I measure casually, and I am always tinkering with recipes. But I do love a cooking project inspired by my children, and I love it when the cooking includes a bit of science. It was a nice change to be more careful baking these cakes so that each one would differ only in its vinegar, and fun to think about how best to keep track of which was which. But Eli definitely summed up the experiment best: “The thing I like about it is you get three cupcakes.” No argument here.

Edited to add: we shared some sample cupcakes with Chef Ric and his kitchen staff and (drumroll) we are impressed — but not surprised — to report he identified the three vinegars correctly!