Baking for Bookworms: Chocolate cake from Veronica Roth’s Divergent

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I’ll be doing a separate post soon about my thoughts on Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, but for now, let’s get cooking! Or baking. Whichever you prefer.

The first mention of chocolate cake happens during visiting day, which doesn’t occur in the movie, but basically it’s a time for the family members to officially say goodbye to each other and wish each other well in their new lives. For Tris, this is a startling moment because her mother reveals that she came from Dauntless and chose Abnegation as her faction:

“She walks away, and I am too stunned to follow her. At the end of the hallway she turns and says, ‘Have a piece of cake for me, all right? The chocolate. It’s delicious.’ She smiles a strange, twisted smile, and adds, ‘I love you, you know.’                        -from Chapter 15

The cake, in some odd way, becomes a symbol of the Dauntless, in the same way plain food stands in for Abnegation. I’m not sure exactly what the chocolate cake is supposed to express, but nevertheless as the series progresses it becomes more and more clear that this is Dauntless’s ‘thing,’ just like eating things out of cans is the what the Factionless do. (I actually think something spicy would be more symbolic. Dauntless are risk takers, but they’re not really all that indulgent. If anyone has thoughts on why their food is chocolate cake, I’d love to read them in the comments!)

But on to the cake!

This is my favorite chocolate cake recipe—it’s cakey and suitably chocolate-y, but you can have a piece of it and not feel totally sweeted out or that it’s just too rich. It’s somewhere in between light and dense and has a mid-size crumb. It’s awesome, in other words.

Recipe from Julie Richardson’s book Vintage Cakes

 

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • ¾ cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup canola or other light flavored oil
  • 3 egg yolks at room temp (eggs are easier to separate cold—I like to separate and then leave them on the counter with the butter. You can save the whites for a Swiss meringue butter cream)
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • your choice of frosting—I like raspberry or fruit flavored butter cream with chocolate, but this cake would go well from everything from a chocolate ganache or nutella to any sort of frosting you can come up with

This recipe makes 3 cake rounds or one sheet cake. If you’re using rounds, grease and line the bottoms with parchment. If using a sheet cake, grease.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Put the unsweetened chocolate in a bowl with the cocoa powder. Pour the boiling water on top and let sit for one minute. Stir together until combined and smooth. Add sour cream and vanilla extract and set aside.

Sift together your dry ingredients and whisk to combine.

Cream your butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes on medium speed). Scrape down the sides of the bowl before drizzling in the oil on low speed. Turn speed up to medium high and beat until fluffy, three minutes.

Blend in the egg/egg yolks one at a time, adding the next one as soon as the first is fully incorporated.

On a low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and then alternate with the chocolate mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop mixing before the last of the flour is incorporated and finish by hand to ensure you don’t lose all the air.

Spread batter into your prepared pan(s). Smooth the tops and tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake in the middle of the oven until the cake bounces back when the center is touched (about 22-25 minutes for the rounds, about 30-45 minutes for the sheet cake—I haven’t prepared this cake in a sheet pan, but that’s my estimate).

Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before flipping the rounds out or keep the sheet cake on the wire rack until cooled (I hate turning sheet cakes out. I like serving them out of the pan).

Spread with your desired topping (even just a sprinkle of cocoa or powdered sugar) and serve.

 

What food makes you feel Dauntless? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

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Baking for Bookworms: Crab Cakes from Meg Cabot’s Royal Wedding

IMG_3389.jpgI apologize for not having a picture of the crab cakes. I turned my back and they were gone. But I promise I will update this post with a picture because I plan on making these again very soon…

There are few proposals more tried and true than proposing over dinner. Princess Mia has gone through her fair share of craziness, but luckily she has her future prince-consort Michael who plans a special proposal complete with a ring in a glass of champagne (which always seemed like a problematic method to me, but I’m glad she didn’t swallow it or break a tooth on it as I always imagine people would do.):

 

“I did tell him that we are absolutely one hundred percent going to have to elope because there is no way I’m going through what William and Kate did on their wedding day. That was completely ludicrous. Sweet to watch on television if you weren’t there yourself, but the behind-the-scenes drama was insane.

He agreed.

Except a little while later, after we’d finished dinner—I have to admit, I was so excited and happy I could barely finish my shrimp pasta, though I did manage to polish off all my crab cakes and lemon sorbet in limoncello—and we were both in the hammock, looking for shooting stars (I do not think that last one was a satellite no matter what he says), he said, ‘My parents are going to be really disappointed if we don’t have a wedding.”               119

 

Meals take on special import when they’re centered around special occasions (where would cake be if not for birthdays and weddings?) and I love the simple, yummy meal Michael puts together for himself and his new fiancée. I also love that even the most serious moments for Mia area always injected with a kind of fun and appreciation for life.

 

Crab cakes are a very easy dish to pull off—usually the biggest problem is getting them to stay together in a cohesive patty. This recipe holds together and tastes great—even with imitation crab, which means this meal is budget friendly too. You can make this recipe dairy-free by omitting the cheese and yogurt in favor of 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise.

 

Crab cake recipe adapted from Jo Cooks.

 

Ingredients

  • 8 oz crab meat (imitation okay)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 heaping tablespoons ricotta cheese
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp (more or less to taste) sriracha
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste (about ½ tsp each)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, for pan frying

 

Combine all ingredients in a bowl except for the olive oil. Mix thoroughly. If mixture is too wet, add a little more panko, if mixture is too dry, add a little more mayo or yogurt.

Form into patties (I made about 10). In a pan over medium heat, heat the oil. Cook patties until golden brown about 3-5 minutes per side.

Serve with some sort of green vegetable or other dish of your choice (I made roasted veggies—I put whole mushrooms, a head of cauliflower—broken into florets, and a pint of grape tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. I drizzled them with olive oil, added a little salt and fresh ground pepper and some minced garlic. They roast for 20 minutes at 400F and are a lovely, simple accompaniment).

 

Is there a dish or treat that reminds you of a special occasion?

Baking for Bookworms: Irish Soda Bread from Alice McDermott’s Someone

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Alice McDermott’s book follows the life of an Irish immigrant in all its stirring little moments and complexities. It’s a quiet book that is definitely worth a read. There is plenty of food mentioned in the novel, but I really liked this moment between Marie, the narrator, and her mother where her mother tries to impart a little bit of cultural wisdom onto her daughter who has hitherto been resisting with all her might:

 

“ ‘It is time,’ my mother said, ‘that you learn a few things.’

On the narrow, corrugated tin of the drain board beside the sink, there was the flour bin and a bottle of buttermilk, and a tin of caraway seeds. On the small table beneath the window, a bowl and a spoon and the measuring cup. There was as well a narrow card on which she had written in her careful hand the recipe for soda bread.

It was time, my mother said, that I learned a few things about cooking.”   53

 

Cooking and learning to cook has a staggering amount of cultural and social meanings and connotations in this short passage. On one hand we have the ‘simple’ process of transformation—raw ingredients into something else. There’s also the transmission of culture to generations, the tension between youth and growing up, and the relations between a mother and her child. This all adds up to some pretty complex bread.

 

Luckily, this recipe is anything but complicated. It’s probably the easiest bread I’ve ever made. There’s no finicky yeast to deal with, there’s no waiting interminably for the bread to rise… you can make this bread in under an hour if you have all your ingredients ready.

 

Soda Bread recipe slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk (or 5 tsp of white/ apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with the milk filled up the rest of the way to the 1 ¾ cup mark, stir, and let sit five minutes—I like apple cider vinegar’s flavor in baked goods. You can also use this trick on non-dairy milks)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ¼ cup flour (plus more for kneading and dusting)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cold and cut in cubes
  • 1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional but very yummy)

 

Preheat oven to 425F. You can use a cast iron skillet, cake pan, or regular baking sheet for this bread—just grease it.

Mix the buttermilk (or sour milk) with the egg. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the raisins and mix.

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, and pour in the liquid, stirring with a wooden spoon or a spatula. When the mixture becomes too stiff, turn it out on a floured surface and knead just until it comes together (about 30 seconds). You can add more flour if needed. Form into a rough ball and place in baking pan.

With a sharp knife, score a large X in the dough, which will help it cook evenly. Bake for 45 minutes or until dark and cooked through (if you think your bread is getting too dark, you can turn down the heat to 415F and continue cooking).

Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack. This bread can be served warm or at room temperature and is great with all manner of things. It’ll dry out quickly so wrap any leftovers well or freeze them!

 

Is there a food you learned to cook with a family member? Let me know in the comments!

I remember making lots of cookies with my mom. Chocolate chip especially. I learned different baking recipes and techniques from virtually everyone in my family from my father’s waffles to my Nana’s challah.

Baking for Bookworms: Sidecars from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries

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If there is anything I associate with The Princess Diaries series, it is the dowager princess, Clarrise’s penchant for sidecars. And who can blame her? This drink happens to be one of my favorites, too. And I definitely tried it because of these books. Mia is even quizzed on its correct recipe.

Of course, the drink would probably fit better in a tumbler, but Clarisse is always very adamant that sidecars are to be served in stemmed cocktail glasses. Though she would most likely disapprove of my glassware…

This sidecar recipe is very simple and is easy to adapt to your tastes.

  • 2 ounces brandy or cognac (cognac being the more expensive choice, but a good brandy will do)
  • 1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and serve straight up in the stemmed glass of your choice.

Brandy has more of a bite than cognac, so my suggestion is to use a bit less or up the orange liqueur. You can also adjust the lemon juice to taste or add a little honey or powdered sugar.

Has there ever been a dish or drink you’ve been inspired to try because of a fictional character enjoying it so much? Let me know in the comments.

Baking for Bookworms: Lavash Bread from Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn

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Whenever I can, I like to pick dishes from the books that are filled with special significance, whether that means they’re mentioned at an important plot point, are helpful in understanding a character, or strengthen aspects of the setting. I try to find a dish that meets one of these criteria, but I think the lavash bread and quince chutney mentioned in the scene fulfill all three. The Middle Eastern bread and chutney reinforce the setting. We’re told that the dish has become one of Shahrzad’s favorites since entering the palace, giving us both a deeper understanding of her likes and dislikes as well as showing that she is gradually growing accustomed to her new home. And finally, the scene takes place at an important banquet, one where the former love of her life and her husband are in the same room and tensions are high:

“The air filled with the aroma of spices and the clamor of conversation. Shahrzad began with some lavash bread and quince chutney, which had quickly become of favorite of hers since she arrived at the palace. As she ate, she chanced another perusal of the room. Tariq was speaking with an older gentleman seated to his left. When he felt her eyes on him, Tariq turned his head, and Shahrzad was forced, yet again, to look away.”     252

So now that we’ve set the love triangle stage, let’s get baking!

Lavash is a flat, Middle Eastern bread made all over the region. It’s got very simple ingredients, and, for a bread, is pretty quick and easy. You can serve this bread with anything that suits your fancy including meat and vegetable dishes or just sauces for a snack. Similarly, you can also top it with anything that sounds tasty. Traditional garnishes include poppy and sesame seeds, but you can also use red onions, any herb you can think of, a little sea salt, minced garlic, or even cinnamon sugar for a sweet finish.

Lavash recipe adapted from Yellow Saffron’s video.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour (I used whole wheat), 200g
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Sift your flour over a medium-large bowl. Add salt, water, and olive oil. Knead briefly to combine all the ingredients into a soft, smooth dough (about 2 minutes).

Lightly oil the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

After thirty minutes, it’s time to fold the dough to develop the gluten. Pull a corner of the dough out from the main ball and fold it into the center. Repeat this eight times, working all the way around the dough. Then flip it over and tuck the edges in so it forms a nice smooth ball shape. There’s no need to be exact about this last step, as the dough shouldn’t be worked too much.

Cover the dough again and leave to rise for another 30 minutes.Repeat the process as before, pulling and tucking corners of the dough eight times. Cover again and leave to rise for the last 30 minutes.

When the 30 minutes are up, preheat the oven to 430F and preheat your baking tray as well.

Split the dough into three pieces. Take out one piece, and leave the rest covered so that they stay moist. With the first piece either stretch or roll it into a very thin rectangle, the thinner the better. Place on a piece of parchment paper and add any toppings you like (parchment paper is oven safe, but it isn’t mean to go much higher than a 420F oven. Make sure you watch the paper to be sure it doesn’t burn…). Slide onto the preheated tray.

Bake for 3-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. The edges will get browned and bubbles will develop.

Remove to a cooling rack (the bread will get crispier as it cools), and repeat the process with the two remaining pieces of bread.

Serve with a fun sauce or with a meal and enjoy!

 

 

Baking for Bookworms: Apple Cake from Sylvia Plath’s The Collected Poems

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I was a little surprised to find anything I could cook from in Plath’s poems. She’s not exactly a poet you associate with down home cooking. But luckily there was one food that immediately jumped out, and that was apple cake.

The mention of apple cake is from her 1959 poem “Point Shirley”, which is actually one of my many favorites in the collection. It’s about a woman who lives a very hard life, and there’s a lot of sea and water imagery along with descriptions of thriftiness and stubbornness.

It’s in one of the middle stanzas that the  apple cake appears:

“Nobody wintering now behind/ The planked-up windows where she set/ Her wheat loaves/ And apple cakes to cool. What is it/ Survives, grieves/ So, over this battered, obstinate spit/ Of gravel? The waves’/ Spewed relics clicker masses in the wind,”

Point Shirley is the place where Plath’s grandparents lived and the poem appears to be about her own childhood memories of her grandmother. There’s also some thought that it might be more generally about her feelings on motherhood. The apple cake is just one detail plucked from many possible ones I’m sure, but it’s an interesting choice because apple desserts have particular connotations in America of home and comfort and nostalgia. It probably reminded her of her grandmother, just like challah and kugel remind me of mine.

Besides any symbolic significance of apples, they also just make fantastic desserts–they have great flavor and lend themselves well to most pairings.

This apple cake recipe is adapted from Karen DeMasco’s book The Craft of Baking.

caramelized-apple cake

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter, very soft
  • 2 tart apples (like granny smith)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350F.

For this recipe you can use either a cast-iron skillet, or you can use an 8 or 9 inch cake pan, or a pie pan. I used a cake pan, so the instructions will reflect that, but it’s very easy to make in an oven safe skillet. Simply make your caramel in the skillet and lay everything on top before baking–couldn’t be simpler.

In a pot, combine 1/4 cup of the sugar with three tablespoons of water. Mix together so that all the sugar is wet and then cook over high heat until the sugar is a deep golden caramel color. This takes about 2 minutes. It’s very important to stand and watch the pot the whole time. Sugar will burn very quickly.

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add 2 tablespoons of the butter, whisking to incorporate (the butter being very soft helps a lot with getting it all mixed in before the caramel cools too much). Spread the caramel on the bottom of your desired pan.

Peel the two apples and then cut into very thin slices. Arrange on top of the caramel, starting from the outside and working your way in and being sure to overlap the fruit.

In a large bowl, beat the remaining 3/4 cups sugar, 6 tablespoons of butter, and the vanilla together until fluffy. This takes about 3-4 minutes with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add egg yolks, one at a time, on low speed until combined.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and cornmeal) and whisk together. Add the dry ingredients in alternating stages with the milk (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour), until everything is mixed.

In a very clean bowl (if you suspect there might be any greasiness whatsoever, you can take a little white vinegar on a paper towel and wipe your bowl and beaters) beat your egg whites until soft peaks form (about 4 minutes on medium speed). Gently fold the whites into the rest of the batter in three stages.

Spread the batter over the apples and bake for about 40-50 minutes until the cake is golden brown and springs back when touched. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before running a knife around the edge and flipping onto a plate.

It’s best the day it’s served, but you can wrap it with plastic and it keeps at room temperature for about three days.

Are there any desserts that remind you of your grandparents? Let me know in the comments. And if there’s ever a book you’d like me to cook from, leave that in the comments as well!

 

 

 

 

Baking for Bookworms: Mini Brioche from Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde by Thomas Wright

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Brioche is one of my absolute favorite breads–it’s light and buttery and makes the best French toast in the world. But I’ve never made it before, so I was happy to look down my list and see that I could use it for a baking post.

There’s usually not much mention of food in nonfiction. And in a book about Oscar Wilde’s books, there was definitely not going to be much food mentioned at all. This particular book had only two references, and they were references based on what Oscar Wilde had scribbled (or dribbled–some jam) in the margins of his notes:

“In the middle of his reading notes he has drawn a doodle of a large and delicious looking brioche.”            155

This just goes to show that delicious food enters into even the most didactic reader and writer’s mind.

With that in mind, I tried to recreate the classic brioche shape on a smaller scale using a muffin tin (and without the use of the specialty baking pan). I thought that the tin would help make this recipe more friendly for those that don’t have an immense stock of bakeware. I also just love miniature foods.

This is a time consuming recipe since the dough has to rest over night, but it’s well worth the effort and they look charming, even when they’re a little lopsided like mine.

This recipe is slight adapted from Martha Stewart’s video. This recipe makes 8 mini brioche, but you can feel free to double the recipe. The recipe is written for a stand mixer, but if you don’t have one, you can always knead by hand, which I quite enjoy anyway.

Mini Brioche

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons lukewarm milk (plus one tablespoon for the wash)
  • 1 packet yeast (1/4 oz)–Martha uses fresh, but I used instant–anything will work
  • 3 eggs (plus one egg yolk for the wash, if you double the recipe, you still only need one told, just add more milk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 oz flour (about 2 cups unsifted)
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Put the yeast on top of the milk and let it proof for about five minutes (if your yeast is not frothy after 5-7 minutes, it’s probably too old and you should get new yeast before you go to all the trouble and find your bread won’t rise).

In a bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl) briefly whisk together eggs, salt, and flour. Using the dough hook attachment, begin kneading these together for about 1-2 minutes (or mix by hand).

Add the yeast and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Bring the speed up to medium and continue kneading for 5-10 more minutes or until the dough stops being so sticky and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. The dough is pretty soft, so if at the end of the 10 minutes it’s still a little sticky, go ahead with the next step, and the final kneading should take care of it.

Mix together the softened butter and the sugar and incorporate into the dough a little at a time. Then continue kneading for another 5-10 minutes. It should be smooth and shiny.

Place in a greased bowl and let rise, covered with plastic wrap, for two hours or until it doubles in size.

Take your dough and lifting it out of the bowl, let it drop back into the bowl several times to deflate it (this is probably my favorite part). Cover it with plastic wrap again and put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

In the morning, or whenever you come back to it, butter 8 sections of a muffin tin. Remove your dough from the bowl and divide it into 8 equal pieces. From each piece, remove a quarter . Roll the remaining dough into a ball. Pinch the ball so that it makes a large size crater or well in the middle (if you use a large crater, your middles won’t be as lopsided as mine). Roll the small chunk into a ball and place in the middle of the well. Repeat with all the dough and place in the buttered muffin tin.

Make and egg wash by mixing one egg yolk with one tablespoon of milk. Brush the egg wash over the mini brioches and store the leftover wash in the fridge to use again later.

Let the dough rise again, covered with plastic wrap, for 60-90 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Bake brioche for 5 minutes, then turn down the heat to 375F for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the tops are a deep golden brown and the internal temp is 205F (if you don’t have a thermometer, bake them closer to the 10 minute mark. You can touch the brioche right where the top ball meets the rest of the bread, and if it’s doughy there it needs a little longer. You can also stick a skewer in, and if it’s at all doughy, give them a few more minutes).

Let them cool in the pan for five minutes before removing them to a cooling rack. If they need some encouragement to come out, just run a butter knife around the edge.

Brioche is delicious on its own, but it’s even better with jam!

What’s your favorite bread and have you ever attempted to make it before? Let me know in the comments!