Tag Archives: Dessert

The Adventures of Cherry Pandowdy

 

Painted in Waterlogue

It is beautiful here, there’s no question. But many of us are away from home, and though we are thankful for the miracles of WiFi and cell service that keep us in touch with loved ones, we still need to take care of each other. A theatre company very quickly becomes a sort of family. And thus is was that, on a Thursday that started beautiful and sunny but seemed to threaten something much colder and wetter, while I worked in my temporary home this morning, I used the cast-iron skillet I brought from home baked a batch of brownies to take to rehearsal. I used a boxed mix, but dressed it up a little with some cinnamon, some chopped nuts, and a sprinkle of salt on top.

There’s a character in our musical who courts a young sailor primarily by sending him gifts of baked goods—a walnut cake, gingerbread, cherry pandowdy. One of the actors and I joked that “Cherry Pandowdy” seemed like a great character name for a drag performer. So I left the plate of brownies on the break table along with a note from Cherry Pandowdy. (The note was in the form of parody lyrics to the tune of one of our show’s songs, because if you are a writer who bakes, that is what you do. Or at least what I do.)

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The brownies came out of the pan sort of messily. The actors seemed not to mind. Next time I’m at the market, I’ll buy some parchment paper to aid in removing baked goods from the pan.

It took longer for the cast to figure out who the baker was than to devour the brownies. Clearly I did the right thing. It’s been a long rehearsal week, and it’s not over yet. We all needed the treat.

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It turned out not to rain after all, but that’s okay. We take care of each other.

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Measure Twice, Bake Once

I looked at the shopping list app again. There was indeed a 2 in the listing for cream cheese. That’s more cream cheese than I’ve ever bought at one time, but I was sure she had a reason. I added another package to my cart and headed, at last, for the cashier.

It had been one of those complicated shopping trips, where you have to look carefully to make sure you have the specific brand and size and number—and that you get each item from the proper store. (If your spouse doesn’t load up the shared shopping-list app with such specific details because various things qualify for various rebates and compounded bonus rebates and triple money-back whatnots, you may not understand. But mine has turned shopping into a video game, practically, and by doing so has brought the equivalent of a monthly mortgage payment over the past year, so I’m not complaining.)

Okay, sometimes all I want to do is run into the nearest store and get a carton of milk, and then I complain a little, but only a little.

I arrived home and gave her the goods and receipts—so that everything could be properly app-catalogued—and then asked why we’d needed all that cream cheese.

“Cheesecake,” she said. “I found a recipe for the Instant Pot.”

Well, that did sound like fun. (Also, it explained the graham crackers I’d just bought.)

She went back to project she’d been working on, and I went back to mine, and when I finished mine first I decided this hypothetical cheesecake wasn’t going to bake itself. I found the recipe she mentioned, gathered the rest of the ingredients, and assembled the hardware.

Her parents gave us the Instant Pot last Christmas, and, as accessories for our birthdays this year a set of cute little nesting steamer baskets that fit inside its stainless steel cooking pot. This seemed like a good use for one of the baskets; otherwise, how would I get the cheesecake out of the big Instant Pot…pot?

But how would I get it out of the little steamer basket, with its solid bottom? Cheesecakes are usually baked in springform pans. I found one of those that fit neatly inside the Instant Pot, and I was on my way. Graham crackers crumbled and buttered to form a crust in the springform pan. Cream cheese softened, whipped, sweetened, vanilla-ed, egged and slightly thickened with a tiny bit of flour. The whole mixture poured into the crust. Time to put the pan in the liner and get it cooking.

You see what I did there, don’t you? Or, rather, what I didn’t do?

I had checked that the springform pan would fit inside the Instant Pot, not inside the stainless steel liner. It was a half-inch too big. I was glad that I hadn’t made a New Year’s resolution to give up cussing, or that one would have been over before it started.

I calmed down and baked the cheesecake in a nice little water bath in our conventional oven. It looked perfect when it came out, and just as good when it cooled—no cracks! I smoothed a thin layer of sweetened yogurt on top and set it in the fridge to chill overnight.

EPILOGUE

Before we sat down to dinner on New Year’s Day, I covered the rest of the main course (thanks again, Instant Pot!) so the always-hungry cat wouldn’t do something naughty, and I took the cheesecake out of the fridge so it wouldn’t be frosty at dessert time.

“Aschie, NO!” she shouted.

I hadn’t covered the cheesecake. Aschenputtel had served herself a little dessert —just a few licks of the yogurt layer, but we’d never be serving this cheesecake to company.

Fortunately, we weren’t having company.

The cat got her face squirted for being bold. I scraped rest of the yogurt layer off the cheesecake, sliced some strawberries, and plated dessert for us.

Was it the best cheesecake I’ve ever baked? Well, it was the first cheesecake I’ve ever baked, so it wins by default. I’m not sure if it would have come out differently if I’d pressure-baked it as planned; I’ll try that one day, after I find an appropriately sized springform.  I will, in fact, measure twice to make sure that pan fits. And I’ll make sure that dessert is out of the cat’s reach.

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Scene of the crime.

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Well, it’s not like she skipped dinner and still wanted dessert.

SIDE NOTE

I’ll ask her to write a post about the shopping list app, and the rebate apps; they might be of more use than a cautionary tale of bad measurement and questionable cat parenting.

Don’t Laugh. Don’t Even Snicker(doodle).

“I need to bake cookies on Wednesday night,” she said. “And maybe a cake.”

We’ve been hooked on The Great British Baking Show (or …Bake-Off, as it is known everywhere but in America), and it has improved both the quality and quantity of our baked goods, but need seemed rather strong a word. I asked for clarification. She explained that she was going to interview a bunch of young people on Thursday, and thought bringing some treats might make them a little less nervous about telling their stories.

Cookies. And maybe a cake. On Wednesday night, when she wouldn’t arrive until well after 7. Before catching an early train on Thursday. It just seemed impractical to leave the work for her. Especially when I’ve been working from home lately.

I took a late-morning break and looked around the kitchen. I figured I’d start with the cake. I was not thinking about the fact that she dislikes baking cookies and I should have left the cake for her; really, I was thinking I could get a cake into the oven and while it baked I’d sort out the cookie situation.

We had apples and ginger, so a recipe I found in the New York Times seemed like a good place to start with the cake. I might have misread it, or maybe my apples were larger than the ones the recipe was expecting, because it came out very apple-filled. Nothing wrong with that; it took a little longer to bake than the recipe said, but it looked fine and smelled better.

Time for cookies. I was pretty sure nuts were off-limits, considering the possibility of allergies; and I knew we didn’t have any chocolate chips. And I didn’t have forever. Sugar cookies? No, too dull. Snickerdoodles. Lovely, soft cinnamon-covered beauties. The cinnamon would go nicely with the spices in the apple cake. I followed the recipe precisely.  I checked the oven thermometer twice. I put 8 perfect little dough balls  on a half-sheet pan, put the pan in the oven, and set the timer for 5 minutes–half of the allotted baking time, after which the pan was to be rotated. I opened the oven door and found to my dismay that all the cookies had melted together.

Whoops. 8 must have been too many.

I scraped off the pan, washed and dried it and let it cool, took the dough out of the refrigerator and tried a batch of 6. And they pooled together, too. Maybe 4? and on the insulated cookie sheets? Another glob.

It should be noted that these cookies tasted great. They just had no structural integrity. I saved what I could of them, even tried cutting perfect circles of them with a biscuit cutter, but they just wouldn’t hold shape. I was not going to send misshapen, crumbly cookies to work with her.

I tried again the next morning, with a recipe from her favorite cookbook. Why didn’t I think of that in the first place? Because, as it turned out, it didn’t matter. They melted together, too. I don’t know what was going wrong, but I was surely glad that I was home alone and the cat doesn’t mind hearing a little cussing from time to time.

By the end of batch number 2, I had a big container full of Tasty But Ugly Snickerdoodles, and I had run out of time. Unless she really wanted to stay up late on Wednesday night, trying again, store-bought would have to do. She dropped me at home to start making dinner while she went to the market.

After dinner, she sliced and packaged the cake. Whatever I did, it was wonderfully moist and spectacularly ginger-y. I did not steal a piece to find this out; my sample was from one of the scraps. The cake was a hit with the older kids, she reported on Thursday night, and the little ones loved sprinkle-covered sugar cookies. Good enough for me.

On Sunday, we had tickets to see a production of the musical Hairspray that friends of ours were doing—at the same theatre where, a year ago May, she asked if I might like to marry her. We planned to pack a picnic, as usual, but the week got away from us and there wasn’t much time left. “What say we order a pizza from the Awesome Shop, and pick it up on the way?” She agreed readily. We had a quick text-message exchange with the couple who were joining us for the show—no anchovies, no garlic—and decided what to do about dessert. I did not have the emotional fortitude to try another batch of snickerdoodles, and I wasn’t going to take the bin of broken ones…

But I could use them to make a pie crust.

And I did.

Chocolate-Marscapone-Cherry Pie with Don’t Even Snicker-doodle Crust

For the crust
Crumble failed snickerdoodles in the food processor until you have at least 2 cups; pour into a large bowl.
Add 1/3 stick melted butter (no need to add sugar). Stir to combine.
Press moistened crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, leaving at least a 1-inch high rim.
Bake until golden brown; cool completely before filling.

Filling, adapted from Bake or Break
Melt 8 oz. chocolate, chopped (I used 3/4 dark, 1/4 milk). (I did it in the microwave on low power, stirring ever 30 seconds or so). Cool the chocolate slightly.
While the chocolate cools, whip in a stand mixer 8 oz. marscapone cheese, softened.
Add the cooled chocolate and 2 tbsp cherry preserves to the cheese; stir to combine.
Spoon the filling into the cooled pie crust and chill for 2 hours.
Serve with whipped cream. If you’re at home, this should be home-whipped, and topped with shaved chocolate. If you’re going on a picnic, don’t make your self crazy: pick up a can at the market on the way.
Accept compliments graciously. And enjoy the show.
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We hear that Bake Off is changing networks, and losing its two charming hosts and the more delightful of its two judges. Ah, well. We’ll still bake.

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Traditions

Two more layers of creamy goodness will top this lemon-covered shortbread. Talk about gilding the Easter lily!

My grandmother had a pre-wrapped gift box. I’m sure it had once been a beautiful thing, but by the time I came to know it, it had seen better days. Its glittered and flocked exterior showed plenty of wear. The ribbon wrapped around its lid was more than a little frayed. The bow formed by that ribbon would never be as pretty and puffy as when it was new.  But every Christmas, it came out of her closet, and was filled with a token gift for her youngest son, my uncle. And on the day after Christmas, she’d take the box back and put it back into her closet to wait for the following year.

After she passed away, my mom found the box and continued to use it for her baby brother’s Christmas present–which was usually a small batch of his favorite cookie, wrapped carefully in plastic so it didn’t damage the box. (The rest of the cookies were presented in a more practical container, usually a zip-top bag.) As time went on, those orange flavored cookies with a faint orange glaze might not even have been my uncle’s favorite, but they were tradition.

My grandmother’s recipe collection is in storage while renovations on the Country House are underway. This might not be her exact recipe, but it’s close.  While she was living, nobody but my grandmother baked the orange cookies; then, only my mother did. One of my cousins does it now for her dad.

We don’t have many solid food traditions here. Turkey on Thanksgiving, sure. But we’ll have fried rice on New Year’s Eve, or popcorn for Christmas, or pancakes any night of the week if that’s what we feel like doing. That might change; we’re still figuring things out.

Her aunt–who is as much like a big sister to her as anything else–is known in the family for her lemon squares. They’re requested for every big family occasion, and nobody else makes them. Her aunt gave us the recipe–not because she’s handing over the reins, but because we’re far enough away that we aren’t encroaching on her turf. I’m honored. And delighted. I made a batch last Easter, surprised that I so enjoyed a recipe that had ingredients I’d never otherwise use: Cool Whip? Pudding Mix? I’m a from-scratch guy! 

When we were invited to a friend’s home for Easter dinner, her aunt’s lemon squares the first thing it occurred to us to bring. We tag-teamed: I baked the shortbread crust before I left for rehearsal; she took it from there. Creamy, tart, and addictively delicious, they were of course a hit.

I’ve seen variations of the recipe on lots of sites, so I don’t know that her aunt invented this treat; it seems to be a family tradition that only she made them.

And now we do, for Easter. Pudding and Cool Whip. Life is full of surprises. And unexpected traditions. I think I’ll bake some orange cookies at Christmastime. I’m looking forward already to next Easter.

At the end of Easter dinner, one remaining Lemon Square might look as forlorn as an old Christmas gift box--but it's every bit as delicious as new, and as full of love.

At the end of Easter dinner, one remaining Lemon Square might look as forlorn as an old Christmas gift box–but it’s every bit as delicious as new, and as full of love.

It Doesn’t Take Much

A friend of mine used to work in the food business–by which I mean he was an owner of some restaurants in Philadelphia, and had helped Julia Child publish one of her cookbooks. On matters of food I trust his views. When we were working on a dinner theatre project once, and I was trying to wrap my head around the per-customer price of napkins, and getting schooled in why green beans made more economic sense than tossed salad, he said something I’d never thought of: “If dessert is satisfying, they’ll forgive anything.”

Obviously we were hoping never to serve a bad meal, but I took that advice to heart. Something luscious can save the day. And if the day doesn’t need saving–if things are already going well–it’s the metaphorical cherry on top of the seven-layer cake.

But it doesn’t take seven layers, or a gigantic bowl of ice cream, to make a good last impression. When the ingredients are good, a spoon will do.

An inch-square piece of brownie, cut into two triangles. A strawberry, hulled and thinly sliced. Two dabs of vanilla ice cream. A few drops of mulled-wine syrup drizzled overtop. One luscious mouthful. One bit of sweetness to end the meal.

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We never opened the dinner theatre, as it turned out. That town was far more interested in another bar and another supermarket than in what we had to offer. Just as well. I’d rather make One-Spoon Sundaes for a small gathering than a big crowd.

Mulled-Wine Syrup

This recipe can be scaled up, but it’s perfect for using some leftover wine. 

1-1/2 cups red wine
1 tbsp mulling spice (packaged, or a combination of dried spices: cinnamon stick,  clove, orange peel, allspice)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

Put the wine in a saucepan over low heat. Put the spices in a tea strainer (metal or ceramic, not plastic) or tied up in a small piece of cheesecloth or tea bag and add to the saucepan.
When the wine is warm, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
Continue to simmer 20-30 minutes or until the wine is reduced to 1/3 or less.

Use the syrup to top ice cream or cake, or add a small drizzle to a glass of seltzer, ginger ale, or sparkling wine.

Endings Are Hard

Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life is the story of a 40-year-long relationship, from the day Erika and Vicky meet until what well be the last elevator ride they share. Its chronology is shuffled, though, shown in what might be an associative manner–one fragment of conversation leading to another that happened years earlier or later. It was enormously well performed by two strong actresses on a simple set, supported by light and sound design that helped us follow the action forward and back in time. The play was fascinating for 60 of its 65 minutes, but my attention flagged in the homestretch. Since it was clear from early in the play that the relationship ends, late-in-the-play flashes to much-earlier moments diminished in impact. If there was a Crucial Moment that those late moments were supposed to illuminate, I missed it. This particular elevator ride didn’t seem important enough to be the Big Finish–certainly not paralleled with the skydiving scene that was interspersed with it. Or maybe I missed it.

Or maybe the point was to provoke discussion, which it did.  We walked from City Center to Grand Central, considering the production and the play’s structure, the believability of the fictional characters’ relationship, and comparing them to couples we knew, and to us. (We came out favorably ahead, I am pleased to say.)

The last play we’d seen in that theatre was similarly fascinating–funny, creative, and thoughtful–until its last five minutes, when the writer or the director or somebody decided what the play needed was a truly weird finish, like a perfect Thanksgiving dinner where the pumpkin pie crust is made from beach sand and Vaseline.

Endings are hard, we agreed. So are beginnings and middles, for that matter, but especially endings. It’s that last image that stays, the one that lingers as you leave the theatre. Or the table: you can get the appetizers wrong and foul up the main dish, but a terrific dessert will save the day. We weren’t grumpy about Bright Half Life, not even unsettled, but unsatisfied.

We turned down 43rd St., and found Baskin-Robbins still open. We ordered chocolate milkshakes. Nothing too complicated, nothing weird. We got the ending right.

Taking Turns

She’d been reading The Long Winter for comfort in the wake of the ice-dam damage, then turned to her other favorite we-can-make-it-through-hard-times book for dinner inspiration: “Mom’s Version of Great Grandmother Matilde’s Baked Pork Chops with Sauerkraut.” Savory, sweet, sour, earthy and very sustaining.

Potatoes would go nicely with with pork, but we’ve had them a lot lately. She suggested a salad, and I agreed readily. (I always say yes to a pile of vegetables.) She’d done the marketing and presented the best bagged salad I’ve ever encountered: romaine, cabbage, kale, and shredded carrot, topped with sunflower seeds, a little crumbled bacon, and a citrus vinaigrette. We finished our shared bowl, and I asked if she’d like more.  Her eyes widened, and the Girl Who Doesn’t Like Vegetables Much said, “There’s more? That’s the best news all day!”

She didn’t, in fact, want more salad at dinnertime, but was delighted to know that we could have it again sometime soon. I’d send the rest with her for lunch, but she tends to eat salad only if she thinks she’s stealing it off my plate. That wouldn’t work at the office.

This was very much a taking-turns weekend.  We were seldom in the kitchen together, and we didn’t do a lot of elaborate cooking–as befits a weekend full of work and unexpected household setbacks–but we ate well, and will continue to do so all week: toasted muffins and fruit; pasta al limone; scrambled eggs with asparagus and tomatoes; soup and toast; pork chops and many vegetables. Leftovers and sandwich fixings are in the fridge; granola and banana bread are cooling on the counter. We’ll be fine.

I brought dessert to our guest-room campsite: tiny sundaes served in small wine glasses, a riff on profiteroles using donut holes as a substitute for cream puffs. She giggled at the sight of dessert in wine glasses.  That was precisely the desired effect.

Sometimes I cook, sometimes she cooks, sometimes we cook together. Sometimes someone else entirely does the cooking. That’ll be the case tonight, before we attend a Big Fancy Theatre Event. I’ll meet her at the office, and we’ll figure it out from there.  Pancakes from a diner, Thai take-out, a slice of pizza as we walk to the theatre–who knows?  We need food as fuel, to be sure, but it’s the company that really matters.

A small, sweet ending to a busy weekend before a stressful week.

A small, sweet ending to a busy weekend before a stressful week.