Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Baking News

We interrupt this knitting blog to wish a Happy 3rd Birthday to Washington and a Hap 37th Birthday to Ian.
Since we haven't yet installed our air conditioner (and when we do, it will only cool the master bedroom), we decided to try to have Washington's July 21 party outside. Now, when he was asked who he wanted at his party, his first answer was "My sister will be there" and, when pressed, he added that he wanted his big red plastic crawfish to attend. Nevertheless, since we hoped to catch up with friends and knew he'd be happy to see some other kids after a very low-key summer, we started telephoning some families. My biggest quandary, though, was how to get a homemade cake up the hill to Mount Prospect Park. I've made the kids' birthday cakes myself every year that we've been home to celebrate, and usually only have to carry them from the kitchen to the dining room. The solution: a cookie cake.

Since I couldn't find a round cookie sheet at Bed, Bath, & Beyond or our local equivalent, I got a round stone and spread (on wax paper) an entire batch of chocolate chip cookie dough on it in a circle. Brought it out, let it cool, and added a Toob of horses for decoration. I let Washington help with the placement, and quite a few more horses ended up in the "river" than I anticipated, but the kids liked it, and it tasted good.

For Ian, Washington got it into his head that Daddy should have a chocolate cake, which seemed to go well with the requested steak and potatoes birthday dinner, and, anyway, I was eager to try out the Devil's Food cake that Ruth Reichl describes making as a teenager in Tender at the Bone.
I have very vague memories of making a velet spice cake from the Joy of Cooking as a tween, but in general I make cakes with help from my friend Duncan Hines. I've always felt that there was too much at stake to risk a baking catastrophe, and though Joy doesn't usually steer me wrong, the intro to the cake baking section is incredibly intimidating. But Ruth Reichl, with her simple instructions and her confidence that anyone can cook as she does, gave me the confidence I needed. (I used her lamb recipe, her Brussels sprouts recipe, and even made her cheesecake all for our Easter dinner, and I make her spaghetti carbonara at least once a month, usually at Coco's request.)
The cake was a breeze, and the seven-minute icing was exactly as she described it, though if I had it to do over, I'd put a little more frosting between the layers. We had a brainwave to try to make it Ian's favorite color instead of plain white (he actually likes more of a hunter green, but we couldn't dump in the whole bottle of food coloring).

Everything went according to plan, until the decorating was almost done. I knew I didn't have much black icing left, so I started by writing "Daddy", then "Birthday." Full of confidence, I moved on to "Hap . . ." and couldn't go another letter.

We walked all the way to Flatbush in search of some more writing icing, but turned up empty, so we decided to make the best of it with some leftover orange.

Now, I know that icing that is squeezed out of an aerosol can cannot be natural or good for the environment or for those I am serving it to, but it is so much a part of my childhood memories, and so good, that I haven't been able to give it up. Now that the stores near me no longer carry it, though, I will look on this as an opportunity to find a healthier, or at least more natural, way to bake.

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