Letting Us Eat Cake

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Baking makes an unusual post, but that is today’s and I know there are those of you who will not find this of interest. I promise toys and photos will return soon enough.

Making even a simple cake exercised a rare cooking muscle for me yesterday. I saw a recipe for a one bowl chocolate cake in the paper a few weeks ago and it stuck with me. (The recipe, from the New York Times can be found here, or below.) It looked delightfully simple, but in these strange pandemic days it took a little while to accrue what I needed. I gave myself the deadline of Kim’s birthday, several weeks ahead, to pull it together. Luckily I had flour which has been difficult to find. (There was an article recently about the “obscene amount of flour” being consumed in Britain. I say get a grip and let these poor people bake!)

Recently I was looking for Bisquick (a self-rising flour that can be used for pancakes, biscuits, dumplings and the like) and it has utterly disappeared from all available sources here. This leaves me wondering, as I do about many things, is it not being restocked or is it being bought that quickly? If it isn’t being restocked is it because it isn’t being made, or it isn’t being delivered? We do not know. Hopefully, like some other things, it will reappear over time. Meanwhile, I scored a box of pancake mix, realizing that all pancake flour was likely to be self-rising which turns out to be true and it made delightful dumplings.

Cooking cocoa proved the biggest barrier. Although cooking chips were available, cocoa powder was not to be had and it would work better. After reading an article about acquiring food in bulk I was reminded of a site called Nuts.com which has, in addition to nuts, beans, pasta and cooking cocoa. I bought a bag of perciatelli, hibiscus flowers (to make cold tea which is lovely), dried mushrooms and my cooking cocoa. (I feel compelled to warn you that most everything is sold in enormous quantities, although the cocoa was a reasonably sized bag – we have a lot of pasta however, and the hibiscus flowers will make enough tea through the summer.)

One of the joys of cooking during the internet age is the ability to figure out and calculate substitutions so easily. I didn’t have baking soda, only baking powder, and in seconds I had the conversion. You can find cooking substitutes for just about anything. The whole basis of this cake is substituting mayonnaise for eggs and as I said, I could have used just about any chocolate in a pinch.

Over a year ago I posted about another one-bowl, eggless, butter-free cake that I remembered from childhood, one we called a Poor Man’s Cake. I recreated the recipe from a combination of the internet and memory. (That post can be found here.) That was before we renovated the kitchen (that episode was depicted here and in several other posts) and I was seriously challenged by both my own lack of organization and a lack of space in the kitchen. As a result this time was much easier and more pleasant. (The only item that has utterly disappeared are my measuring spoons – they are blue and I have owned them for decades and they have utterly gone missing.)

I decided on a medium-sized, rectangular Pyrex dish which I think was a good choice. In a loaf pan it might be hard not to have the edges dry out a bit. It was the first time baking in this oven and I should have turned it at the mid-point in cooking as the oven is a bit uneven. It cooked faster than anticipated (about 20 minutes) so I didn’t get the chance.

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You will note that the use of chocolate chips (I went the full 2 ounces), coffee (instead of water) and brandy are optional and I used all, substituting Jack Daniels for brandy. (I had no vanilla.) In retrospect I think the cake benefitted from all of the above if you have them. I choose the simple confectionary sugar topping although a true vanilla or cream cheese frosting would upgrade this to a real dessert as opposed to a snacking cake.

It whisks together quickly and has a satisfying poof! after adding the baking soda/powder in. This reminded me that what I always enjoyed about baking – or much of cooking in general is the alchemy. You start with such disparate materials and end up with something so remarkably different. It is truly like magic.

Bowl

My first time reading a recipe off of an iPad while cooking. That Fresca in the background was also hard won. For some reason it too has disappeared in recent months and just came back on the shelves of the market. 

 

For me baking is a rarely indulged in pleasure. Our diets run to the pescatarian, with an emphasis on veggies – and pastries are a truly rare occurrence, let alone homemade ones, despite my deeply buried background in professional cooking and baking. During the months of quarantine it has taken some discipline not to embrace becoming a cookie and bread baking, cake making and eating machine! Hence the scarcity of certain items as we all think alike. There is comfort in what you can make yourself with your own hands and the thrill of smell wafting through the apartment as it bakes.

From the New York Times, One-Bowl Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup/180 milliliters boiling water, or use hot coffee, Earl Grey tea or mint tea
  • ¼ cup/25 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed or natural)
  • 1 to 2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)
  •  cup/160 milliliters mayonnaise
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a dash of bourbon or whiskey (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose or cake flour
  •  Confectioners’ sugar, for finishing

PREPARATION

  1. To a large mixing bowl, add cocoa powder and chopped bittersweet chocolate (if using). Pour in boiling liquid, and let it sit for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. The chocolate will have melted, if you used it, and the cocoa dissolved.
  2. Whisk in mayonnaise, salt, baking soda, 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth. Then whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you have it (or a dash of Bourbon or brandy or just leave it out entirely). Finally, whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour (either all-purpose or cake flour), mixing vigorously to eliminate any lumps.
  3. Grease an 8- or 9-inch pan (square, round, star-shaped, anything is good). Pour the batter into the pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back when the center is lightly pressed. The deeper the pan, the longer it will take to bake through.
  4. Let cool, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar to finish.

 

Nestle’s

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: A bit of splendid advertising where cats meet cards today. When I think Nestlé I think of a chocolate bar which, to the highly discerning taste of my childhood palate, always seemed naggingly inferior and pallid to my preferred Hershey. As memory serves though, they were an early leader in chocolate milk mixes and chocolate being chocolate, was of course ultimately always a welcome event – preferences a technicality really. As a kid you largely take what you can get.

In my childhood estimation Nestlé’s powdered Quik was superior to Hershey’s syrup for cold milk as it mixed better and more easily. It came in yellow and brown tins and I still have the sense memory of using a spoon to pop open the lid. Hot chocolate was happily made with either, but I think my Hershey’s affection won out there as well. (Both were challenged by Swiss Miss later because it had marshmallows ready embedded which was very handy as mom couldn’t be relied on to remember to buy them.)

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In young adulthood I worked here in Manhattan as a chef for a Swiss Hotel, the Drake, and Nestlé nibbles abounded as the house chocolate of choice. I don’t think I had really focused on Nestlé’s Swiss origins before then. In my childhood the bars came wrapped in blue, red and white paper and it was Nestlé’s Crunch, more or less as shown below via Pinterest. For all of my memories of Nestlé chocolates I must say I never really focused on the accent on the é until now, funny. It is consistently used throughout.

 

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Meanwhile, these splendid cards were purchased on eBay recently; I bargained them down but still paid up for them and don’t regret it in the least. Their postmarks bear evidence of having been mailed in Great Britain in 1903, August and September respectively, but these were purchased from a US seller. In tiny letters at the top it reads H.M. & Co.’s Famous Posters in Miniature which makes me wonder if these were originally huge posters as still seen in the London underground for example.

These postcards were mailed to and from different folks in different parts of England. 1903 predates Nestlé’s purchase of a rival chocolate company (in 1904) which put them in the chocolate line of business, and was only just making its way to the US shortly after in about 1905. Therefore these cards were likely British and advertising Nestlé’s earlier incarnation as a condensed milk and baby formula company. Richest in cream these both declare!

Of course for me, it was these comical kitties that called to me. I love them together as a two-part comic strip – the skinny brown fellow drinking his creamy way to rotund plumpness from card one to two! Wise white kitty is the purveyor of the fattening feline dairy diet. In the second image, the dark clouds over the night sky have cleared and this backyard nocturnal perk is discreetly jollier in general. Orange/brown cat offers his gratitude in rhyme, Thanks for your feed of NESTLÉ’S MILK. It did me good – my coat’s like silk; And now I’m sound in limb and brain. I’ll never drink skim milk again!