by Lisa


The boy loved the chocolate card his sister made him, and his shiny new red bike, but most of all he craves one thing and one thing only:  LEGO.

I tell, you, the boy’s passion for the bricks surpasseth all else; the glory of a new kit transcends every earthly joy he has known thus far. In his fifth year, Finn has dedicated himself to the difficult discipline of interlocking  geometry and re-made himself into something of patient zen master. His room has become a shrine, the place he repairs to for the “quiet” he craves in which to build, and when he emerges, sometimes 4 hours later, it is with crazed but beatific look of a saint: utterly otherworldly and fanatically contented.


And so, we had no choice but to make the boy a LEGO cake for the LEGO birthday party he had with another friend.

He emerged from his domain long enough to help make the cake with his sister, which we did in a floury mess two days before.  We used the Devil Dog Cake from Smitten Kitchen,
which is a moist, chocolate cake with marshmallow filling and which, like all the Smitten Kitchen cakes, was terrific.


And Kory worked his magic the night before the party.


He did have a few WWDD moments (What Would Duff Do?), as squares are remarkably less forgiving than volcano shapes, and a less-moist cake would also have helped, but the end result was, well, you can see for yourself:


It was, as you can imagine, a huge hit with the 5 & under set. And at pick-up, their parents didn’t mind a small slice either.

The only problem is that between this and the Volcano Cake, the bar has been set.  There will be no rest for Kory until the kids can roll fondant on their own.

Maple Pear Upside-Down Cake

by Caroline

pear cake

Another night, another cake! This one thanks to my mom, who is a regular clipping service, sending me links to New York Times articles I would otherwise miss and recipes with bigger yields than she and my dad can handle. It’s quite a bit like the apricot upside-down cake I made several times this summer (click here for the recipe), and of course not too different from the apple cake Eli and I made together earlier this week.

We’re doing a lot of baking together lately, my youngest son and I, and he’s getting ever better at cracking eggs without letting any shell get into the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl to incorporate every bit of butter, and whisking flour without it flying all over the kitchen. Cooking together is not just a way to share something I love with my child, not just an easy way for him to learn about ingredients, it’s also art and science and math, and when the results taste this good, I’m happy to bake a cake every day.

eli making cake

The original recipe is here, but it’s crazy sweet (syrup and sugar in the topping!), so I’m reducing the sugar in this version:

11 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 cup maple syrup

3 to 4 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat; add maple syrup and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. Let cool while you peel, core, and slice the pears, then pour it into a 9-inch pie dish and arrange pear slices on top.

Beat remaining 8 tablespoons butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time, continuing to mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with milk; do not overmix. Carefully spread batter over pears–or, if you are 4, dump the batter onto the fruit, sending it flying up the sides of the pan. Try to get the batter evenly distributed over the pears as they slide around in their pool of syrup.

Bake until top of cake is golden brown and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan, about 45 to 50 minutes; a toothpick inserted into center should come out clean. Let cake cool for 5 minutes.

Run a knife around edge of pan; put a plate on top of cake and carefully flip it so plate is on bottom and pan is on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Apple Cake, Thanks to Mickey

by Caroline


It was late Sunday afternoon, and Tony was cooking dinner while the boys and I sat on the couch, reading. Ben was buried in his new book, The Mad Scientists’ Club and Eli and I were reading In the Night Kitchen. When I turn to the last page, I always stop reading and even Ben pulled his nose out of his book to sing out with Eli, “And that’s why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning!”

Then came the inevitable epilogue: “Mama, why don’t we have cake every morning?” “Well, we have pancakes a lot,” I answered. But it sounded lame to me, so we made cake.

It needed to be quick, it needed to be something I could make easily with Eli, and it needed (after the recent Halloween orgy) to not be chocolate. I dug through my recipe binder with a dim recollection of a good recipe emailed to me by my sister and, miraculously, found it in less time than it takes to peel 5 apples for cake.

5-6 apples or pears
juice of 1/2 lemon (about a tablespoon)
2 t cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks of butter, melted
3/4 c sugar (brown, granulated, or a combination)
1 c flour
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350.


Peel, core, and slice the fruit (I cut the apples into sixteenths) and toss into a pie dish. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and cinnamon. Next stir the sugar, flour and eggs into the melted butter and mix well.


Pour the batter over the fruit and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the cake is browned and the fruit is tender.

A Gift of Apples

by Caroline

I did a favor for a writer friend recently, reading her manuscript and writing a blurb for her publisher. It was an easy favor to do– I’d enjoyed her earlier book, a collection of essays called Because I Love Her, and expected I’d like the new one, which I really did. So when we met up for a movie sometime after I’d finished, I was completely surprised and delighted to receive a shopping bag full of apples from her tree.

This is how our supply looked after a week:


In the meantime, I baked many apple-y things:

apple galette

apple galette

apple walnut bundt cake

apple walnut bundt cake

A couple batches of my mom’s apple crisp and my new favorite, apple streusel coffeecake, a recipe I adapted from good old Joy of Cooking:

Preheat the oven to 350 and butter a 13×9 baking pan.

Stir together and set aside the streusel topping:
2/3 c flour
2/3 c finely chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
2/3 c brown sugar
5 T melted butter
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt

Whisk together:
2 c all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

Combine in another bowl and set aside:
1 1/4 c sour cream or yogurt
1 t vanilla

In a large bowl, beat well until lightened in color and texture:
4 T unsalted butter
1 c sugar

Beat in, one at a time:
2 eggs

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the yogurt mixture, stirring until smooth. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Top the batter with 2 1/2 cups diced, peeled apples, and then the streusel topping.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

apple streusel coffee cake

apple streusel coffee cake

One more post about ice cream

by Caroline

It was a hot day. We’d been exploring the Storm King Art Center by foot and by tram; we had picnicked and sculpted and now it was time to refill our water bottles and drive home. We could see, near the water dispenser, a vending machine with ice creams. OK, we told the boys, you can each choose an ice cream.

Tragedy. The vending machine was broken.

Plan B: We’ll stop for ice cream on the way home, we promised. The boys were skeptical, hungry and tired. I wracked my brain, thinking of all the fast food joints we’d passed on the way, but couldn’t remember seeing a single decent ice cream place. We needed the Red Rooster. We got in the car and drove, fingers crossed.

And then I saw the sign: Rita’s Ice Custard Happiness. Perfect!


I have to admit, it wasn’t immediately happiness. This:


grand as it is, was a little overwhelming at first, and there were tears from one boy before there was happiness. But I made the supreme maternal sacrifice and ordered one of the two things he wanted (the lemonade ice custard, which I have to say was excellent, with chewy bits of lemon zest), and then we all felt like this: