Posts Tagged With: dessert

Year Round Recipes: Angel Food Cake

With our recent excursions to Aztec-era Mexico and the California crops of today, I thought it was time to return to my Pennsylvanian roots (and our less-than-tropical climate) for this week’s recipe of angel food cake. Thanks to the culinary archeologists who have researched Pennsylvania’s historic cookware and crockery, angel food cake (or as it was known in the early – mid 19th century, “snowdrift cake”) is actually a Pennsylvanian invention, thanks to the overabundance of historic tube pans discovered in early Pennsylvanian towns (tube pans being the smooth bundt-cake style pan that angel food cake is typically made in). But, even with its potentially northern inception, angel food cake truly caught on in the antebellum South because of one horrific practice: slavery.

A bowl of egg whites, sugar, and a lot of time and energy

A bowl of egg whites, sugar, and a lot of time and energy

Not unlike the scullery maids who allowed early English land barons to produce bigger and better culinary creations at the expense of their workers’ health and safety, African American slaves supplied the sheer manpower necessary to create the light and fluffy creations desired by southern plantation owners. Angel food cake batter, because of its high egg-white content, must be whipped with consistent, arm-crippling force for ten, fifteen, even twenty or more minutes to turn a veritable puddle of egg into a dense, rich foam. Because of the sheer time and energy requirement behind dishes like angel food, producing these types of desserts for friends, and neighbors became a show of status and wealth. Closing a meal with a plate of angel food in the days before electric mixers told your audience that you not only had the means to pay for a person or team of cooks and kitchen hands, but that you also had enough surplus labor to dedicate one or more slaves to the sole purpose of whipping egg whites. Thankfully, with the abolition of slavery, kitchen scientists stepped in to take away the brute force needed to whip egg whites (first with mechanical egg beaters and now with electric mixers, immersion blenders, and the like).

For our angel food recipe today, we’ll be using a set of instructions geared towards the modern kitchen. However, if you’re interested in making angel food cake traditionally, the 1881 cookbook of Abby Fisher, a former slave, (appropriately titled “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Southern Cooking“), is still in print and widely available! I encourage you to at least attempt whipping your egg whites with nothing more than a balloon whisk, if only to gain a small sense of what pre-electric cooking was like; and then, after your arm gives out after several minutes like mine did, feel free to switch to your electric mixer with a renewed appreciation for modern food tech!

Angel Food Cake Recipe

 

The edible cloud

An edible cloud

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 egg whites (Be careful if you’re planning on using a carton of pre-separated egg whites, as these are generally treated in such a way that the whites will not whip up successfully)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and 3/4 cup of granulated sugar. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg whites, vanilla extract, cream of tartar, and salt. Whip by hand, or with an electric mixture until the mixture turns white and forms medium-stiff peaks. Slowly add in the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar, and continue to whip until the batter forms stiff peaks.
  3. In three additions, fold the flour and sugar mixture into the egg whites, being careful not to overmix.
  4. Preheat your oven to 375°F / 190°C.
  5. Pour the completed batter into a completely clean, dry, and ungreased tube pan (any residue in the pan could interfere with the whites’ ability to expand. Bake in your preheated oven for 30 – 45 minutes (begin checking the cake at 30 minutes to stave off overcooking), or until the top is brown, and the cracks in the top are dry.
  6. To cool, turn the tube pan upside down, balance the pan on top of a bottle, and let cool completely. When cooled, run a knife along the edge of the cake and remove the angel food gently from the pan.
  7. Slice and enjoy with a a topping of fresh fruit, whipped cream, or on its own for a taste of heaven on earth.

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you again as we unearth another of humanity’s collective culinary creations!

Keep digging,
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Breakfast, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Year Round Recipes: Rugelach

With a new blizzard, nor’easter, or ice storm being forecast seemingly every other day here in the northeast U.S., I’ve been on a mission to preserve the memory and hope of warmer days, even in the face of such wintry opposition. And, after opening up some of last year’s peach preserves for the jam sandwich cookies we made a couple weeks ago, I’ve been itching to find another recipe that could highlight such a sweet summery flavor, especially while we’re still in the dead of winter. With this goal in mind, I decided to return to the cuisine of Russia and Eastern Europe to find a culinary escape from thoughts of ice and snow (what better place to find examples of winter escapism than a land plagued by severe winters?). While digging up the culinary treasures of this expansive corner of the world, I stumbled across a twisting, crescent-shaped pastry that seemed to answer all of the desires I held for this week’s recipe: it originated in Eastern Europe, it’s typically filled with fruit preserves, and, as an added bonus, has an origin shrouded in mystery!

It's not hard to see how these delicious little pastries earned the title of "little twists!"

It’s not hard to see how these delicious little pastries earned the title of “little twists!”

This culinary form takes on a different name in each country that makes it, so for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to call this pastry by its traditional Jewish name, “rugelach” (translating literally to “little twists”). With such a widespread distribution in many Eastern European countries, no one seems to know exactly where the rugelach first came from, only that it is a distinctly Jewish invention. As it has no attachment to any Jewish holiday, the rugelach is a perfect year round recipe that can be altered to fit whatever season you’re in! For today, though, we’re going to capitalize on the rugelach’s affinity for fruit preserves and make a peach and pecan variation of this centuries old pastry!

Rugelach Recipe

Ingredients for Pastry

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

 

Peaches and pecans are a perfect pair of cold-banishing flavors!

Peaches and pecans are a perfect pair of cold-banishing flavors!

Ingredients for Filling

  • 6 Tablespoons fruit preserves (apricot is traditional, but any fruit will really work!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (or a mixture of both)
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer. Add in sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, and beat until fluffy and combined.
  2. Mix in 1 and 1/4 cup of the flour slowly until the flour incorporates with the batter. Mix in the remaining 1 cup of flour and repeat, being careful not to over mix the dough.
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 – 20 seconds, just to ensure that the flour has completely mixed into the dough. Divide the kneaded dough into three equal parts, wrap the pieces in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours, or until the dough is firm.
  4. Meanwhile, to make the filling, combine the chopped nuts, granulated and brown sugars, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
  5. When the dough has chilled, remove one part from the refrigerator, place on a floured surface, and roll out into a circle. Top the circle with 2 Tablespoons of fruit preserves, leaving one inch of room around the edge, and then sprinkle with one third of the nut/sugar mixture. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the circle into 16 equal pieces.
  6. Working from the widest end of each segment, roll each piece of dough to form a small crescent shape (see pictures below for a visual guide). Be careful not to roll the dough too tightly or the filling will spill out of the pastry, which can cause the dough to burn in the oven. Place the rolled rugelach on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
  7. Repeat this process for the remaining two pieces of refrigerated dough.
  8. Bake in a 350 F / 175 C oven for 30 minutes, or until the pastries are just lightly brown.
  9. When the rugelach has finished baking, let them cool completely on the baking sheets before enjoying!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you again soon for another kitchen excavation!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Dessert, Winter Recipes, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

With February and Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I was hoping to attempt a dessert this weekend that, for me at least, represents some of the history of the holiday’s founder, Saint Valentine. Unfortunately though, this recipe (which I will hopefully attempt next weekend) required the use of a friend’s typically outdoor deep fryer. And, with several inches of snow allegedly in the forecast (as of this afternoon, the forecast seems woefully incorrect), said deep fryer would have to wait until the skies cleared. So, using what I had on hand, I thought I’d share one of my favorite styles of yeasted dessert in the meantime: pull-apart bread!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Hailing back to at least the 1940’s, the pull-apart bread is a fun, easy-to-make dessert that can be adapted to any season or taste. Adding a little pumpkin puree to the batter can transform this year round recipe into an autumnal classic, or even throwing a few sliced peaches or strawberries into the mix could suit the lighter, sweeter tastes of summer! However, for beating back the dreary January forecast, I prefer to stick with a classic sugar and spice variation. Typically, my spice of choice would be tried and true cinnamon, but with some mixed spice leftover from our hot cross bun excavation (you can find the recipe for the buns and the mixed spice here: Hot Cross Buns), I couldn’t pass up the chance to experiment with a spicier-than-usual loaf of pull-apart bread!

Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

 

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

Ingredients for the Bread:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon (one packet) active dry yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients for the Sugar and Spice Topping

  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice

Directions

  1. Place the butter and milk into a small saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the butter melts. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from heat, stir in the water and vanilla extract, and let cool until between 100 – 110 degrees F / 37 – 43 C. Stir in the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and let proof for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is light and foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 2 1/4 cups of flour, remaining sugar, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the 2 eggs and set aside.
  4. Pour yeast mixture into the flour and stir until combined. Mix in the whisked eggs until a rough dough is formed. Knead in the last 3/4 cup of flour, turn dough onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is elastic and only slightly sticky (you may need to add some extra flour to cut down on the potential stickiness of the dough).
  5. Place your kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar and spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  7. When your dough has risen, return it to a floured surface and roll it into a roughly 12 x 20 inch (30 x 50 cm) rectangle. Brush the dough with the melted butter and coat completely with the sugar and spice mixture.
  8. Slice the dough into 6 equal vertical strips (see pictures below for a visual guide). Stack the strips on top of each other and slice into 6 equal stacks of square pieces. Layer the dough squares in a 9 x 5 greased, floured loaf pan. Cover the pan with a clean towel and let rest and expand for 30 – 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C. Bake your pull-apart loaf in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until deeply golden brown (if you remove the loaf when it’s only light brown, the body of the bread will most likely still be undercooked).
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to continue cooling completely.
  11. Enjoy a warm, spicy piece of pull-apart bread!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this weekend’s recipe!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Dessert, Odds and Ends, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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