Lemon Poppyseed Cake

When I was little, I used to spend my summers with my grandparents in New York getting spoiled rotten and loving every second of it. My grandmother and I would build our day around chores, cooking and watching soap operas. Our favorite was As the World Turns; we were hooked and made no apologies for it.  Over the summer they brought in teen plot lines, and even though I was nowhere near being a teen, I knew a good tale when I saw it. I never watched during the school year, but when I’d return to New York the following June, there my TV friends would be, almost exactly where I left them, with perhaps a day or two—a week, at best—having passed in their fairy tale lives. Within a day, I would be fully caught up and I’d settle in as though I hadn’t been gone for 9 months. Hopefully you see where this is going (I really hope you do, because my train of thought has gotten derailed a bit as I’ve travelled down memory lane…). I know I haven’t been around and that you’ve all gone on with your lives, but I hope you’ll play a little soap opera time warp game with me and pretend that only a day or two has passed since we last talked food and fun.

So. Where were we? Yes! I was traipsing around the globe, feeling very adventurous and worldly. My last trip before summer was to Ireland for a wedding. Now let’s pause here to say that there is a backstory to me flying to Ireland for 72 hours to go to the wedding of a man I met once (on St. Patrick’s Day!) located in a town that was 7 miles from the edge of nowhere. While that story, in retrospect, is somewhat as fraught with drama and tension as a plot line on The Young and the Restless, to tell it would take us on the kind of detour that we’d need a bottle of Maker’s Mark to navigate, so let’s just get to the food. I found myself in County Westmeath on a misty Friday afternoon at a lovely old mansion overlooking mile after mile of greenery (I was slightly disappointed that there was nary a field of heather, nor could anyone tell me where I could see one, but there you have it). At any rate, the first best surprise of the event was that after the ceremony we were all ushered into a beautiful atrium where they were serving tea and scones! Like in actual tea cups and with bowls of clotted cream and everything. I found this to be the most charming thing I’d ever seen, especially at a wedding, to the point that I made a fool of myself taking pictures of teacups and plates (the good thing about being the only American somewhere is that you always have an excuse for borderline behavior. “Oh, that random girl that none of us know who’s taking pictures of cups? She’s AMERICAN… [wink wink].”).

The second best surprise was the wedding cake. I have come to expect disappointment when it comes to wedding cakes, because they tend to be all looks and no taste.  This seems unfair to all involved since most likely we, as guests, have gone through every minutiae of wedding details with the couple, including the tasting, and then we don’t get anything remotely resembling the deliciousness we were promised (not that I go to weddings for the food. Ahem). Much to my happiness, though, there was a lemon poppyseed cake which, again, upped the charm factor of this wedding. It was a bold move; poppyseeds are not the fan favorite anywhere (I don’t think…?) and with a pound cake consistency, it had the potential to be dense. But, as one of my dinner companions said, the cake was “gorgeous.” I’d never in my life heard someone describe the taste of food as gorgeous before and that–along with the jet lag and Jameson’s–just about knocked me off my chair.

I wanted to recreate that cake long before I even finished eating it, but it took another two months before I got it together to make one for a friend’s birthday. She’d requested a fruit filling, so I found a recipe for a berry compote that I decided I’d put in between the layers of cake and on top. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Yeah, that’s just about where the gorgeousness ends,unfortunately. While the berries were tasty (it’d never occurred to me to use thyme with fruit), the cake was dry and had so little flavor it was almost a crime against lemon cakes everywhere. I was disappointed, not only because I’d baked it for a friend, but because I’d really wanted to bring that bit of Ireland back with me.  The trip, like the cake, was so unexpected and lovely and just right, that to be able to return to the magic of that time just by whipping up a dessert would have been glorious.  But, the cake didn’t work, literally or figuratively (and I realize that was a lot of pressure on a little baked good (and a hefty dash of wishful thinking), but have you ever found me to not take things to levels previously unknown?).

I recently decided to try again, this time using a recipe I had long before the disastrous one, but completely forgot about.  I added poppyseeds and gambled on using lemon extract, because have you seen the price of lemons lately?  The result was–dare I say it–gorgeous.  It was moist and light and I love the texture that the poppyseeds added.  As a bonus, the lemon extract made it taste fresh with a slight tartness and lemon growers everywhere are going to have to survive without me from now on (and I’ve used bottled lemon juice as a replacement in other recipes and didn’t like the results. You purists out there can send me cash for real lemons, if you want).  I didn’t add the berries this time, since they were out of season, but I’ve included the recipe below because it’s worth trying.

As I put this cake together, I couldn’t be farther from where I was when I bit into that wedding cake in Ireland. I was a little lost then, a little disconnected from myself–nothing was quite working no matter how hard I tried and how true my intentions were. My failed attempt at my friend’s cake was how I’d been feeling for several months presented on a platter.  It’d be unfair to stress out this new lemon poppyseed cake with the pressure I placed on the other one, but I won’t lie, the success of this cake makes me feel like maybe-just-possibly-let’s-keep-our-fingers-crossed I’m back.  The fact that it was a recipe I had tucked away waiting for the right moment makes me think I was never really gone in the first place.  Either way, it’s good to be home….

Lemon Poppyseed Cake (adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties, by Ina Garten. I used her lemon cake recipe as the base; my notes in red)

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Christmas Treats

I have a friend who is a terrible regifter.  There is nothing wrong with regifting; I’ve done it myself on occasion (never to you or one of your presents though! NEVER! How could you even think that?!?).  The key to regifting is to remember who gave you what and never make the regift seem as though that’s exactly what it is.  I mean, if you have a known dislike of scented candles, don’t go and give someone a set of pine scented tapers that you received. It’s going to be obvious that you didn’t purchase that.  But, if you get something that you already have one of, or that doesn’t fit and you really can’t return, I say regift away in good faith!  This friend, though, has not only regifted me something that I have given her (can you seriously imagine??), but has regifted me something that is so hideous that you know someone regifted it to her at some point.  There was likely a chain of this particular gift dating back to the late 20th century that I had to break.  I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, give it to anyone else (even a work grab bag), yet I couldn’t throw it away because it was a gift, as horrid as it was… So it sits in my closet taking up valuable shoe space.  I wish I could tell you what it is, but I need to protect the regifter here.  Don’t be that person this year.

Anyhoo, I bought many ingredients over the last couple of days to make all manner of Christmas goodies, but truth be told, the transition from sunny Hawai’i to bitter cold Chicago has taken its toll.  Tears have been shed as I watched the weather report while eating from a bag of chocolate chips intended for chocolate covered pretzels.  But this is where the regift is totally acceptable.  I’ve listed below some of my fave recipes from Christmases past so that you can make a list, hit the stores and be ready for Santa or other guests that may drop in unexpectedly.  You can thank me by promising to have a happy, joyful, restful, food-and alchoholful Christmas.  Merry Merry to you!

Chocolate Covered Oreos are my favorite go-to easy dessert year round.  Adding crushed candy canes kicks them up a holiday notch.

Sugar and Gingerbread Cookies are two of Santa’s favorites, so if you haven’t been all that good this year I’d commit these recipes to memory ASAP.  The vanilla cream is addictive, so be careful.

Would it really be Christmas without a fruitcake?  In a perfect world, you would have started soaking yours in rum around Easter, but give your guests a shot of Appleton’s on the side and they’ll be happy.

Speaking of rum, a little goes a long way in this egg nog.  Unless you’ve had a really stressful shopping experience; then you may as well do it up a bit.  I won’t tell.

If you’re feeling like really ramping up the decorating, try making red velvet cupcakes and adding a little green food coloring to the icing.  I don’t know, for some reason it looks really cute in my head.  It could be that I’ve had a bit too much of the spiked egg nog mentioned above…

Growing up, Christmas breakfast was almost as important as Christmas dinner in our house.  These cinnamon rolls are hella labor intensive, but also hella delish and impressive, so get started on making Santa’s good list for next year and have these ready.  Otherwise, doughnut holes or blueberry muffins will definitely hit the spot after all the presents have been unwrapped.

You deserve a break today, and it’s not at McDonald’s.  After all the shopping and wrapping and making chit chat with cousins you (a) see once a year and (b) don’t actually like, relax with a Come Heather Look, brought to you by the letters G-I-N and the friendly folks at St. Germain.  Don’t say I never gave you anything…

Peach Kuchen

Following all good memoirists who now put disclaimers in bold typeface all over their books thanks to James Frey: the following story is based on my recollection of certain events.  All conversations are as I remember them and effort has been made to lay out the facts in chronological order, although some liberty may have been taken solely for the purpose of moving the story forward.  All names and defining features have been changed, except in the instance of the peach kuchen (a type of cake with fruit), because that’s the star of the story.

Senior year of college, my two best friends–Marie and Jenny–and I decided that it would be a good idea to share a house on campus.  The fact that all three of us are still alive to tell about it really does not do justice to how hard it is to live with your two best friends, another new friend (Lily) and a very angry cat while writing a thesis and in the throes of about 17 different college romances (spread out among us. Seriously! Who do you think I am??).   We were all writing a thesis, but Marie’s was due first semester, while Jenny, Lily and I had all year.  This meant that while Marie was busy being the queen of footnotes and index cards, the rest of us were free to gallivant for the first 3 months of the school year.  It also meant that when we’d get home from a party, Marie was still up working and we’d try our best to be quiet as we tipsyly made our way to bed. 

One Saturday afternoon, Jenny’s mom came up from New Jersey bringing with her a cooler full of food for us–lasagnas, bread, soup and desserts.  Being the poor starving students we were, we ate about 2/3 of the food she’d meant to have last at least 2 weeks.  We were clever enough to store a lasagna in the freezer and put away most of the desserts, except for the peach kuchen.  I think we decided we’d devour it the next day for breakfast after a night drinking watered down amaretto sours (because we were nothing if not classy).

That night, Jenny, Lily and I headed out to parties, leaving Marie behind to work on her key to Phi Beta (which she got!). The next morning Jenny and I are in the kitchen making coffee, while Marie was reading the Sunday NYT.  I suddenly remember the kuchen.  The bright light of the morning seemed a bit more mellow with the thought of homemade pastry. 

“Jenny!! We have kuchen! Pull it out!”

“Why are you yelling? It sounds as though a freight train is running through my head.”

“That’s why we need the kuchen, babe.  Hand it to me and I’ll put it in the oven to warm.”  Jenny’s head disappeared into the refrigerator and I hear a muffled voice.

“It’s not here.  Did you freeze it?”

“No, I put it on the bottom shelf last night. Just keep looking.  You can’t be that hungover.”

“I’m telling you there’s no kuchen in here. There’s milk, a half eaten lasagna, some rotten lettuce and condiments. No kuchen.”  It’s at this point that Marie’s little voice pipes up.

“Um. I have to tell you something.”

“Hold on a second. We’re on the hunt for the missing kuchen.”

“Yeah. Um. About that.  I ate it.”  I stop pouring coffee and look out over the kitchen island to the dining room where Marie is sitting.

“What do you mean you ate it? Like you had some of it? Who cares. Where’d you put the rest, though?”

“No, no. I ate the kuchen.” Now Jenny’s head has popped out of the fridge and she’s staring at Marie like she’s speaking another language.

“You ate an entire kuchen? By yourself? In one night? Who does that?”

Marie looks stricken, but is trying really hard not to laugh.  “No. I mean, yes. I ate the entire kuchen.  But it’s not what you think.”

“What I think is that you ate an entire kuchen, Marie. BY YOURSELF.  How am I wrong?”  This from Jenny, whose head looked like the freight train may come rumbling out at any minute.

“Ok. Technically, I ate the entire kuchen by myself. But listen to what happened!  I was working and you all were gone and I was sitting there and I remembered the kuchen.  So I went and I got a slice.  And then I went back to work.  And it was taking me a lot longer to finish this chapter that I need to get done to keep on schedule and so I made some tea and remembered the kuchen and so I had another slice.  And then it got later and I got more tired and I thought some sugar would help, so I got another slice and then…. Well then the slices started to add up and it was gone.” 

It was at this point that the tears started rolling down my face I was laughing so hard.  I could barely breathe, but managed to ask, “So your plan for staying up all night was to inhale a whole cake?  At what point did you figure out that that wasn’t the best idea?”

“Um… after it was gone and I realized I’d have to tell you guys what I did.”  By now Marie’s head is down on the table and all I can see are her shoulders shaking from laughter.  “I’m sorry, but the good news is that I finished my chapter.”

“Well, thank goodness for that,” piped in Jenny, who was not seeing the same humor.  “God forbid a kuchen my mom slaved over was sacrificed for no reason!”  This got us started laughing again as Jenny stormed out of the kitchen.

“Jen!! I’ll make you another one! I promise! I’ll get the recipe from your mom. Don’t be mad.”  But Jenny was already in her room, door slammed and didn’t hear.  Her dramatic exit started us laughing again.

“Marie.  Really. Did you eat the whole thing?”

“I did. And it was good. I’d do it again.”

Present day: Marie and I are still friends and still laugh over the kuchen.  We’ve lost touch with Jenny (not over the kuchen episode, although I’m sure that didn’t help) and we miss her and her mom’s baked goods.  I don’t know if Marie ever made Jenny a make up kuchen, but I saw fresh peaches yesterday and I knew I had to give it try.  Since I’ve never actually tasted one, I have no idea if this is real deal, but just getting to tell this story is dessert enough….

Peach Kuchen (adapted from allrecipes.com)

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Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s May. MAY, people.  Although I’m incredibly grateful to have survived another Chicago winter (a mild one. Thanks, Mother Nature!), I can’t believe how fast time is going.  It seems like just yesterday I was whipping up red velvet cupcakes in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  May is one of my fave months, mainly because there is no chance of snow (knock on wood), but also because it’s both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday.  As someone who would seriously do crafts all day long if allowed and could easily spend a month’s salary at Michaels in an hour, you can imagine that as a kid, I loved that entire school days were spent making Mother’s Day presents.  One year we made jewelry boxes out of cigar boxes topped with macaroni sprayed gold (query the wisdom of having 6 year olds ask their parents to purchase a box of cigars for that project) and another time we made collages of our baby pictures (I’m sure my mother appreciated me cutting up family photos).

At some point in life, it stops being appropriate to make your mother a present and you actually have to save up your allowance and purchase something. Enter many bottles of 2nd rate perfumes and tangles of costume jewerly (to be stored in the jewelry box she’s saved all those years).  The thing is, no matter what you give your mom, she loves it–truly and honestly–because she loves you.  And that is why you will always see men in Walgreens the morning of Mother’s Day buying huge mylar balloons and Russell Stover candy. 

My mother, thank goodness, cannot stand the idea of Mother’s Day brunch, so we have been spared chaffing dishes and carving stations over the years.  We usually go out to dinner, but a few years ago I decided to cook.  Mom had gone to New Orleans and brought back a cookbook from the Gumbo Shop, so I decided to make a Louisiana dinner of gumbo and bread pudding.  Even though I’ve always loved cooking and baking, it wasn’t until recently that I actually had a bit of a clue on how things worked in the kitchen and how to interpret a recipe.  So when the gumbo recipe said that I needed to boil a whole chicken in order to make stock, it never occurred to me that I could buy chicken stock.  Or that I didn’t actually need to cut the French bread into 1 inch cubes; tearing it up into relatively even pieces would be quite all right.  I spent the entire day in the kitchen, stirring and cutting and sauteeing and rather than relaxing on Mother’s Day, my mom spent most of the day worrying that (i) I was going to set the entire kitchen on fire and (ii) that I was doing too much.  I think that she was equally grateful to sit down to dinner (likely at 9pm) as she was for all of my effort.  This was likely 6 or 7 years ago, and all these years later she still talks about how hard I worked that day.  Like she never went out above and beyond in the kitchen for me (she has).

I promise to write about the gumbo recipe soon (I bought chicken stock this past weekend), but I’m going to recommend you commit this bread pudding recipe to memory before Sunday and impress your mom (or aunt or mom-to-be or friend-who-is-like-a-mom or just someone you really love).  It is decadence on a plate and a tip of whiskey mixed with butter and sugar never hurt anyone.  I know a lot of folks have had bad (read: soggy) bread pudding experiences, but this version is more like a super moist cake.   When I did it for Mother’s Day, I made whipped cream instead of the sauce, but after making the sauce on Sunday, I pretty much plan on putting it on everything I ever bake again. So yeah, stick with the sauce.

I took my mom some of the bread pudding I made over the weekend and she said it was even better than the one I made all those years ago.  Of course, that got her started talking about how hard I worked that day and how she can’t believe that I spent the whole day in the kitchen making everything from scratch just for her.  But I, and everyone who has ever met my mom, knows that she is totally, completely, without a doubt, would do it again (and then some) in a heartbeat, worth it…

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (from the Gumbo Shop Cookbook)

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1000 Words

You know that I usually have some holiday themed food to post, but I’m going to blame the fact that I actually went to watch the Chicago river get dyed green instead of going grocery shopping for why there is no corned beef or soda bread or even a green cupcake recipe to mark this St. Patrick’s day.  I hope the fact that I have on a green shirt will make up for it.

Since I have no food words, I thought I’d let some pictures do the talking.  I take a lot of pictures of food.  No seriously, a lot.  For each picture that’s posted, at least 10 have been taken.  This is mainly due to the fact that I’m not a photographer and I have a fancy camera that I barely know how to use. 

I’ve taken a photograhpy class, but this was back in the day before digital cameras (or at least around the time that many people thought they’d go the way of the laser disc) and the class was all about using a manual 35mm.  What I remember from that class about f-stops and apertures and lighting would only fill 1/8 of a teaspoon. 

Prior to September, all of the pictures here at Pestle Mortar were taken with an adorable Canon PowerShot on the macro setting.  I seriously took 100 pictures for 1 picture to turn out.  Once I decided to make a commitment to this blogging thing, I decided to invest in a DSLR and a real macro lens.  I bought a Pentax, because that’s the camera my photographer father always used and I could use the lenses that he gave me for my old 35mm. 

I try to take the camera with me so that I can practice (easier than actually reading the manual!) and I end up taking a lot of pictures that are this close to being really good, a few that are actually pretty good and a bucket load of ones that never see the light of day.  I don’t do any editing of the ones that are posted here, other than to crop and lighten/darken a bit.

So here are my 1000 words for today– my favorite practice food pictures that don’t really have a story to go along with them, so they never got a chance to be part of their own post. 

Red Velvet Cupcakes

After the baking extravaganza of last week, I really considered letting Valentine’s Day come and go without any baked goods, but really, I couldn’t pass up a chance to make red velvet cupcakes and since the recipe is easy enough for any random Wednesday, the upcoming Hallmark holiday seemed like as good a time as any. 

There really is no story behind this one (I figure all the wordiness of the last entry should hold you for a bit), except that I totally cheated and used Betty Crocker frosting, because as much as I enjoyed making my own for the devil’s food cake, I made the decision that the pros are better at it and why mess with a good thing.  That, or I didn’t have any powdered sugar.  Either way.

These are super easy and ridiculously moist and tasty.  And I think I’ll let the pictures be my 1000 words right now…


Red Velvet Cupcakes (courtesy of Paula Deen via foodnetwork.com)

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Devil’s Food Cake

I’m tempted to just give you the recipe and say Happy Wednesday because, sweet baby Buddha, it is hard updating this blog when people are expecting me to do actual work and for some reason telling stories about food doesn’t count.  But since Procrastination and I have started up again, here you go.

This is how it started: I recently met a charming man, Q, who loves cake, frosting and chocolate.  As I’ve come to learn, charming men who like baked goods abound, but I’ve also learned that that does not necessarily mean I should whip out my cookbooks and mixing bowls at the mere mention of red velvet.  Q, however, did tell me about his favorite bakery—and I’d like to pause here to say that he has many admirable attributes, but having a favorite bakery is rather swoon worthy, don’t you think?—and I thought that the vow to hold off on baking for potential suitors would not be broken if I actually purchased a cake.  So I called said bakery in anticipation of Q’s birthday to find out if they could deliver this yellow layer cake with butter cream frosting in the middle and fudge frosting on top that he had described to me.  And they said that for a fee of $40 they thought they could deliver a $13 cake, but they needed to check.  Check on what exactly? Extortion laws in Illinois? I will say that a lovely woman called me back and said that they couldn’t do it but that they’d be happy to do a sheet cake for me, but Q had made it clear in one of our many cake confabs that sheet cakes were not on the list of his favorite things.

So now I had the dilemma of either finding another bakery—a surprisingly hard thing to do in Chicago (another reason I need to win the lottery)—and hoping for the best, or making a cake myself.  And you all know I couldn’t pass this up, right? I mean, come now, who am I kidding?  I tried to rationalize the fact that I was yet again baking for someone well before my granny would approve by saying it was for the sake of the blog. And that I’d never actually made a chocolate cake from scratch, so it would be a fun challenge.  And that I’d post it in February in time for Valentine’s Day.  And…and…and…what it boils down to is that I am a baking slut, as I was called by my friends (?) last week. 

I thought that I would whip up a devil’s food cake and some chocolate frosting and be done with it.  How hard could it be?  And that—that cocky baking attitude—is what had me standing in my kitchen three nights before the actual birthday celebration cursing Mark Bittman (I seriously thought of doing one of those public record searches for his home phone number so I could call and ask him what the *%^(&# he was thinking when he included this terrible sour cream substituting/folding in egg whites/who has time for this crazy? recipe in his “How to Cook Everything [except a chocolate cake]” cookbook) and checking my moral compass on how bad it would be to make a Duncan Hines cake and pass it off as my own (verdict: bad, but not totally unforgiveable). 

I brought my sad little test cake to work and people were kind enough to say it was good, but deep down I knew that it had no chocolate flavor, it was dry and dense and the frosting tasted like spoonfuls of butter followed by a powdered sugar chaser and nothing like actual fudge frosting.  This was the moment where I was met with a fork in the road:  I could give up completely and buy a cake somewhere, because really, the whole point was to give Q a cake on his birthday, not to have me sitting on my kitchen floor rocking back and forth surrounded by cookbooks and melted chocolate.  Or, I could pick a random recipe off the internet, recognize that it may not work, and hope that he fell into the category of people who believe it truly is the thought that counts.  One fork would spell defeat; the other would cause me to have to be adult and rational… Neither particularly appealed to me, but this wouldn’t be much of a story if I went with the store bought.

I decided to play it safe with epicurious.com, because they give Bon Appétit recipes, which haven’t let me down yet.  By this time I’d run out of time to do a test version; I had to just go for it. This was the perfect time for my procrastination to kick in, because I was paralyzed by nerves about starting the cake.  So I organized all of my ingredients on the counter; I rinsed out all of my bowls; I lined up all of my utensils; I read the recipe 20 times so I knew everything step by step; I put on happy, positive music and visualized a perfect cake. 

And guess what?  It worked! No, I really didn’t see that one coming, either.  I mean, by this point I was pretty sure that Failure was going to come stand in my kitchen and laugh at me, but I knew as soon as I took the cakes out of the oven that I had success, because they looked exactly like cakes made from mixes. 

And the frosting! The frosting was the kind of thing that you could just eat a bowl of while watching The Real Housewives of Orange County, because it tasted like a melted dark chocolate bar (my one suggestion here is to not taste too much of it before you finish your cake, because you may not have enough to actually frost the cake. Not that that happened to me.).

So lessons learned: Mark Bittman should not be trusted unless you have time to experiment.  Epicurious.com can save you from any disaster. A homemade cake is much better and says a lot more than a bakery one, even if said bakery is a favorite and the homemade cake is slightly lopsided.  And potential suitors who are still talking about delicious birthday cakes days later are almost as hard to find—and just as essential—as the perfect recipe…

Devil’s Food Cake (courtesy of Bon Appétit/epicurious.com)

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Baking 101: Weighing Ingredients and a little Pound Cake

A couple of summers ago, I took a bread making class in Paris and in the first lesson learned how important it is to weigh the ingredients, especially the flour.   Since I have an aversion to anything remotely diet related, buying a food scale has been right up there with sucking down low carb shakes and gnawing my way through meal replacement bars.  To be perfectly honest, I worried that having a scale in my kitchen would tempt me to weigh everything I ate, which would eventually lead me to be that person at the family picnic pulling out premeasured packages of carrots and raisins.  But I believed my beloved French chef when he explained that if you didn’t weigh the ingredients you would come out with inconsistent results, so I bought a scale and–this is hard for me to say–it has changed my [baking] life.

I’m going to skip the part where I spent a Saturday evening measuring out flour and sugar and chocolate chips to see if what I would normally consider a cup (using that tried and true method of scooping out flour using a measuring cup and tamping it down until it fit) actually weighed what a cup should weigh.  All you need to know is that no, it does not.  What’s worse, I was actually using almost twice what I needed with my method.  Of course this meant that if I was adding almost 2 cups of flour to a recipe that called for 1, and not upping the amounts of everything else (especially the liquids), things were not going to be all goodness and joy as the recipe would want me to believe.  Also, what might work one time may not work another, because I may–in my pre-weighing days–use a 1-1/2 cups one time and 2-1/4 cups the next time (which is part of the reason why in most non-American cookbooks you’ll see measurements in grams, so ingredients can be easily weighed and measured).  Oh, the frustration over lost cakes and hard breads of my past! [insert fist shake]

After a lot of trial and error, and a lot of reading of cookbooks, I now know that a cup of flour is actually 4-5 ounces (which still annoys me. Is it 4? Or is it 5? Seriously?!).  According to Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything, a cup of liquid is truly 8 ounces, but a solid like flour is not.  It is a lot of work to remember this and translate it into 1/2 and 3/4 cups after years of just scooping and going at it.  But! The results are worth it.  I made a pound cake for Easter that I’d done before with ok, but slightly dense, results.  This time, it was light and fluffy and moist and all-around yummy. 

Pound Cake

Pound Cake

Two days later and it hasn’t dried out or turned crumbly.  So yeah, I refuse to have a people scale in my house, but am all about the food scale.  But I promise never to show up at your party with premeasured bags of raisins….


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