Eli’s Super Cake

by Caroline

It’s been a heady time for the youngest member of our family. In the months since he turned five, late last spring, he has learned to swim, learned to ride a bike without training wheels, graduated from preschool, started kindergarten, joined a soccer team — and scored two goals in his first game. (Not that anyone’s keeping score.) He has also done something that, as he has said, proudly and repeatedly, “the forty-three year old in the family [that would be me] has never done:” invented a cake recipe.

Coincidentally, he did it at just the same age his big brother invented a cake recipe:

. But Eli was two when that happened; he has no recollection of it. Apparently, for some kids, hanging out with their mom making weekly batches of cookies and muffins translates into the desire to abandon the cookbook and strike out independently. It makes sense, even though it didn’t happen to me; I helped my mom bake bread every week when I was small, and was sous chef to thousands of batches of cookies before I mostly took over family cookie production when I was eleven or twelve. But although I may combine three or four recipes, although I am casual with my measurements and I tinker, it has never once even occurred to me to just get out the flour and bake without a map. I always start with a recipe.

When asked what had inspired him, Eli said simply, “I was in the mood for cake.” I didn’t coach him on ingredients or method at all, I just wrote out exactly what he dictated (though some of the numbers, and the method, he wrote out himself):

When we had it all written out, it was time to get out the ingredients and start baking; I’ve been through this before, after all, when Ben invented a bread recipe (one that looked likelier to turn out well than that cake), and knew there was no question of trying it out. Besides, it seemed like it might taste pretty good.

We did endure one conflict, over the sugar. Eli, quite reasonably, listed it with the “dry stuff” and wanted to mix it in with the flour, baking soda and salt. I reminded him that usually the butter and the sugar are creamed together. He nodded and agreed — yes, he remembered that — and insisted on doing it his way. I really wanted his cake to turn out well, and so I pushed back. He stuck to his guns. And I, despite the little voice in my head telling me to just let the boy make his cake already (because when have I ever invented a cake? Right. Never.) started to insist a little more strongly. Eli started to cry. And then, thank goodness, I shut up and hugged him and let him make his cake the way he wanted: “Pour wet stuff in. Mix 10 sec. Pour dry stuff in. Mix 10 sec.” At the end of which process it looked like this:

You might want to mix your batter a little longer — I won’t tell — but maybe not. Because despite how lumpy and weird our batter looked, the finished cake looked like this:

We’ve made it twice now to prove it’s no fluke, and I have to say, the cake rocks — it’s moist and a little chewy from the honey, and it’s not too sweet nor too salty (amazing how the sugar and salt kind of cancel each other out). We bake it in a standard glass lasagna pan, and the only deviation we’ve made from the recipe is to bake it for 24 minutes rather than the prescribed 12, but we do set the oven to 360. I recommend you do, too.

Plum Cake, for Rosh Hashanah or any other day

by Caroline

plums before

You know how it goes. The school year begins and suddenly the calendar fills up: parent association meetings; soccer practices and games; school fundraisers. You try to get friends over for dinner and it takes a dozen emails and weeks of planning. Except, every once in a while, it comes together quickly, magically, like it did for us last night, in a matter of three text messages with a friend:

#1: “Can we swing by after temple to pick up your tent?”
#2: “Sure. Stay for dinner?”
#3: “Love to!”

And just like that, I had an outlet for the beautiful black and red plums from our CSA, and an excuse to try the plum cake recipe my Mom had spotted and emailed to me, captivated by the accompanying story about the author’s search for a way to update a beloved sour cherry cake recipe. The cake is a snap to make, requires no fancy ingredients
(you could skip the demerara sugar topping if your pantry isn’t stocked, like mine, with six kinds of sugar), and tastes delicious. Even the kids, who are generally skeptical of cooked fruit, enjoyed it (with the exception of one, who preferred the traditional apple slices dipped in honey). Again and again, we’re reminded, food is stories. For me, now, the story of this plum cake is of an impromptu holiday dinner with old friends. We may have to make a tradition of it.

plums after

Root Beer Float x 2

by Lisa

We have a great debate going in our house: which goes in a root beer float first, the ice cream or the soda?

This has been an ongoing experiment all summer long, since we discovered Trader Joe’s has a good bottled root beer (& a caffeine free cola that’s pretty terrific, too.) We don’t drink bottled soda as rule around here (although we do indulge in homemade kidtinis), but I’ve been making an exception lately and I keep a few bottles of this soda on hand for fun and nostalgia.  It’s great for a weekend cocktail and floats make for an easy, fun dessert in the hot weather.  Especially for guests and grandparents.  Lately, about once a week Ella will mix up a cherry coke before dinner or we’ll have root beer floats after dinner.

In our effort to settle the ice cream/soda debate, we stumbled upon Bobby Flay’s adult version, which includes bourbon and is pretty much the perfect end to a barbeque if you’re a grown-up.

To wit, our method is this, and involves floating the ice cream on the soda. But you put the ice cream in first and get a slightly creamier drink.

Fill a large frosty mug with root beer (and a little crushed ice if you like. It’s nice if it’s colder, but it also gets in the way).  Float 1 scoop vanilla ice cream on the soda.  If you’re an adult, add a up to a shot of bourbon over the ice cream. Top the ice cream with fresh whipped cream.

For adults only

Frozen Hot Chocolate

By Lisa

One of the magical things about trips to New York as a kid were trips to the whimsical Serendipity 3 after seeing a show or going to a museum.  We went with family, we went with friends, and now, when we’re back east (which is not so often), we take our own kids. It’s not that the food is that great, or that it’s an easy place to take kids.  In fact,the food is sort of average, and the wait can stretch well past an hour. In the cold and dark. On the street. With tired and hungry and cranky kids.  But the place is full of charm and eccentricity and serendipitous gifts on the first floor, and it’s magical if you’re a kid. The foot long hot dogs really are a foot long and they serve something called Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, which is worth the wait in itself. Even for the grown-ups.

Frozen Hot Chocolate is rich and creamy and icy and made with a deep, dark mix of incredible chocolate. It’s served in an enormous goblet with a pillow of whipped cream and chocolate shavings.  It’s legendary.  For years, it was nearly impossible to replicate.  Now the recipe is readily available, and I decided this summer to introduce my kids to it with the recipe provided by the restaurant and available on Epicurious. With a little more searching, you can turn up this recipe that has a more particular list of chocolates. But the generic one is terrific and made with things you most likely already have in your house.  This recipe really makes enough for 4, but if you really want to recreate the Serendipity experience, use if to serve 2–or one enormous goblet to share.

Needless to say, the kids loved it. The husband and best friend were pretty happy after dinner, too.

Coconut Ice Cream

by Caroline

Even though it has been cold enough all summer in San Francisco to turn on the heat, one recent day we also turned on the ice cream machine. This recipe comes from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, by Bruce Weinstein, and it is absolutely fabulous.

1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 c sugar
3 large eggs
1 t cornstarch
1/4 t salt
1 c half-and-half
1 1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
1 c heavy cream
2 t vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for 7 minutes or until the coconut turns light brown. Set aside to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar into the eggs until thickened and pale yellow. Beat in the cornstarch and salt. Set aside.

Combine the half-and-half with the coconut milk in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and slowly beat the hot liquid into the eggs and sugar. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and place over low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the eggs will scramble (yuck!) Remove from the heat and our the hot custard through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in the toasted coconut, cream, and vanilla.

Cover and refrigerate until cold, or overnight.

Once the custard is nice and cold, give it a good stir and then freeze in your ice cream machine according to its instructions. Put on a wool sweater and eat.