Archive for the ‘dessert’ Category

There are people in this world who will consume any available dessert. I am one of those people. To prevent this (and save money) while I was in grad school at MIT, I made a new rule: no desserts in the house unless I made them myself, or they were ice cream (since did not own ice cream maker).

And in the five years since, I’ve almost always stuck to that rule, in spite of a seemingly countervailing rule that Dessert is Not Optional in the Frazer household. To make these rules work together, one must liberalize one’s definition of “dessert”.

Usually I have time to make one formal, traditional dessert a week. But if I haven’t, all that’s left are a few emergency desserts, like

  • A spoon full of peanut butter with some chocolate chips on top
  • A few spoons full of honey
  • Fresh fruit drizzled with honey or Hershey’s syrup

These are actually pretty satisfying in small quantities and many times all you really want is a taste of sweetness to finish your meal. In addition, even full-blown desserts I make myself  like cookies, cobbler, or pie are far less processed, tastier and more economical than store-bought cookies, cakes, candy, etc. It’s not that I won’t ever buy these things; they’re just a treat reserved for times like Halloween or Easter.

What do you think? Have you got a similar system?


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S’more Brownies: meat-free (thank goodness!), not dairy or wheat free. Time: About an hour. Difficulty: Medium. Recipe at bottom.

OK, time for the institution of a promised institution: kitchen disaster corner. This is a regular feature about how even in the best of kitchens, disasters happen. Let’s laugh at them and share our war stories, but not let them scare us away from cooking. : )

This week’s Frazer kitchen disaster came at the hands of a box of Graham Crackers. Some really old Graham crackers. Now, I’m pretty cheap. That’s a big reason I cook at home, and a big reason I started this blog. I like to economize and want to spread the gospel. But there is, as I’ve found on multiple occasions, a cheapness line you probably shouldn’t cross. I crossed that line last week.

I’d decided to make a delicious S’more brownie recipe my sister lifted from the Food Network and praised to high heaven. Perfect! I thought. I have an old box of Graham crackers lurking in my cupboards that’s been waiting for a use for . . . well . . . a long time.

I’d purchased them for a camping trip in years past, but just how many years ago I couldn’t say. You see, for those of you who are Easterners and confused by the survival in non-mush/molded form of graham crackers over the course of several years, you must realize this: In the Rockies, we suffer from horrible dry skin in winter, but our crackers, cookies, chips and cereal stays crisp forever. I mean forever. Those Graham crackers were as crisp as the day the package was opened.

I neglected to realize one thing: though the crackers will keep in Colorado forever, their oils won’t. I ground them in a food processor only to discover they smelled. . . well, a bit off. I have a big thing about noticing when oils and whole grains (which also have oil in them) have gone rancid, and it dawned on me that Graham crackers might fall in this category as well.

Oh well, I thought, maybe the funk will bake out. I should have known better. Once, when I lived in the Boston suburb of Roslindale, I made a dessert using flour that my roommate must have purchased sometime during the Reagan administration. It produced baked goods with the flavor of wallpaper paste. Not cool.

The S'more brownies before I browned the marshmallows.

The S'more brownies before I browned the marshmallows.

After their quality time with my broiler.

After their quality time with my broiler. If you try this at home, watch the brownies like a hawk . They will go fast!

Still, the miser in me persisted in insisting the finished product would be fine. It was not. It tasted, well, off. Fishy. I ended up having to scrape the Graham cracker crust off to make the brownies palatable. And believe me, they still were.

But I relearned an old lesson: Don’t cut corners if it means compromising on taste and quality. I could have easily afforded the extra $3 for a fresh box of store brand graham crackers or graham cracker crumbs. The final product’s value would still have far exceeded the expense and cost far less than the equivalent purchased product. But I didn’t.

Coloradans and Wyomingites — Don’t be fooled by our climate! Taste or smell your grain and oil products before you use them. Crispiness isn’t enough.

OK, open mike time. Who else has had a kitchen disaster lately. Care to share? : )

Oh, and in case you’d like to make these brownies with fresh graham crackers, here you go. You’ll want to make them for a crowd; they’re super rich.

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Recently one of my good friends had a birthday. She loves lemon, but I didn’t want to make a lemon-frosted layer cake because I just didn’t have the time. I pulled out Ye Olde America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (of which I am a huge fan due to their scientific approach to cooking) and perused the cake section for something suitable. There were two possibilities:

1. Lemon chiffon cake

2. Lemon bundt cake

Now, chiffon cake is one of those mysterious cakes that everyone’s heard of but few people have made. My southern family has made dozens, nay, hundreds of Angel Food cakes, a chiffon cake relative. But I’ve never known anyone inside or outside my family who has made a chiffon cake. It’s leavened with steam beaten into egg whites, just like Angel Food, but also contains oil to enrich it. It seemed a bit dicey to risk my first ever chiffon cake (at altitude, mind you, which is always a crap shoot) on a good friend’s birthday, so I opted for the safe choice: Bundt cake.

My lemon budnt cake, in finished form -- swimming in a pool of lemon glaze, but still quite tasty.

My lemon bundt cake in finished form -- swimming in a pool of lemon glaze, but still quite tasty.

Bundt cake has a long, anything-but-sordid culinary history. It’s derived from ring-shaped German and Austrian cakes, perhaps including one called the gugelhupf, made in a coffee-cake style for special occasions.

This wikipedia entry sums it up pretty well, but suffice it to say that the Bundt cake that Americans know and (sometimes) love originated in the upper midwest when some ladies of Germanic/Nordic descent asked for a ring-shaped pan that was neither delicate nor heavy, unlike the old ceramic and cast-iron versions. H. David Dalquist, the founder of Nordic Ware, obliged, and the modern American Bundt was born.

Coincidentally, Nordic Ware’s logo on the side of this grain bin must be seen to be appreciated. As my (Germanically-derived) friend Ed Nowicki opined, “Nordic Ware: “Lo there do I see the bundt cake of my father. Lo there do I see the bundt cakes of my mother, my sisters and my brothers. Lo there do I see the bundt cakes of the line of my people, back to the beginning…”

After languishing for a few years in the obscure kitchen gadgets section of cookware stores, someone dreamed up a “Tunnel of Fudge” recipe for the Pilsbury bakeoff employing the Bundt pan that won the top prize in 1966. America has never looked back.

The cake has taken a lot of good-natured teasing over time (Nia Vardalos’s mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding can’t figure out what to do with the hole and ends up placing a potted plant there) but here’s the thing about the Bundt: it’s pretty fool-proof, and thanks to the specially shaped Bundt pan, the cake pretty much decorates itself. Even at altitude, two different Bundt recipes I have used rose perfectly. I opted for a lemon glaze (which had its own problems, even with ATK’s careful testing: it was way too runny and ended up pooling around the base. I have made a note to use less liquid next time), but even a dusting of powdered sugar looks great (be careful to add this only at the last minute if you live in a damp climate).

The cake came out splendidly, although I had to let it sit out overnight to cool, which in Colorado’s climate I think dried it a bit too much. Nevertheless, it was acceptably moist and rich, and the lemon flavor was good and not overpowering. In spite of consistency problems with the glaze, it was bright and tangy, as it should be. Here’s the recipe.

I had one other issue. I got the super-duper amazing 50th anniversary version of the original Nordic Ware pan for Christmas one year, and it has a non-stick coating that practically repels air. Nonetheless, ATK wanted me to make a paste of flour and butter and grease the pan with it. I tried, but it just wouldn’t coat evenly and made the cake come out a bit splotchy. Based on the characteristics of my own pan, next time I think I’m going to go for it in the buff! Woo woo! Who says the Bundt isn’t sexy? : )

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