Monthly Archives: December 2013

RED VELVET CAKE AKA WALDORF ASTORIA CAKE

We were in Los Angeles to celebrate Thanksgiving as well as my oldest grand-daughter’s thirteenth birthday. Among her food requests was a red velvet cake for her birthday cake. Red velvet cake is a family favorite, making appearances at weddings, birthdays and other celebrations. It is also a Southern favorite for festive occasions. In our family it is also known as Waldorf Astoria cake, based upon an apocryphal story about one of my wife’s favorite aunts.

Supposedly a friend of this aunt was in New York City and happened to dine at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where she was served this delicious cake. At the end of the meal, the lady asked the waiter if she might have the recipe for the cake. Bowing deeply, the waiter excused himself and then returned a short time later with a sheet of paper inscribed with the recipe. Thrilled, the woman took the recipe back to her home in Delaware and wowed all of her friends with her new, secret, delicious recipe. A short time later, she received a letter from the hotel. When she opened it she found a bill for some absurd amount to cover the cost of providing the recipe.

Enraged, the woman immediately made copies of the recipe and distributed it to all of her friends. Supposedly, my wife’s aunt was one of the luck recipients of the now-not-so-secret recipe. Not likely to be true, but it makes a good family legend.

To be made properly, the cake requires a large amount of red food coloring. In this day and time, some bakers are worried about potential hazards of food coloring. In the USA, commercial red food colorings are either or both Allura Red AC (US FD&C Red 40) and Erythrosine (US FD&C Red 3). There is some concern about Allura as it is an azo dye made from petroleum. It has been associated with hyperactivity  in children, although data are conflicting. Nevertheless, it is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, and Switzerland. There are no restrictions on Erythrosine. Early studies suggested that in high doses it might cause cancer in rats, but more recent studies have not shown it to be a mutagen.

Still, some bakers would like to avoid the potential risk of these synthesized dyes. The most commonly used “organic” alternatives are beet juice and carmine (also called Natural Red 4), made from powdered female cochineal, scale insects from Mexico and South America that parasitize prickly pear cactuses and their relatives. A common use for carmine is to color lipstick. There is concern that these “more natural” coloring agents may add an undesirable flavor and even cause allergic reactions. Neglected in much of the discussion is that the extraction process for carmine. The substance producing the red color is extracted from ground insects with either ammonia or sodium carbonate. Then it is precipitated as an aluminum salt by adding alum. Stannous chloride, citric acid, borax, and/or gelatin may be added as stabilizers. This raises the obvious question as to what is “natural”?

One of my daughters wanted red velvet cake for her wedding. The vegetarian baker tried repeatedly to use beet juice, but it just wouldn’t work, so my daughter had to choose another cake flavor.

For all of these reasons, if you are worried about food additives, you may not be able to bake – or eat – this cake. That would be too bad, because it is delicious.

There is a final decision: what do you want to use for icing? The family recipe  uses a simple milk and flour base for the frosting while most Southern cooks insist that the only icing that will do is cream cheese icing. I’ve given you both recipes

RECIPES

Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients

  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup red food coloring
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2¼ cups flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar

Method

  1. Using a stand mixer, cream the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition
  2. In a small bowl, mix the red food coloring and cocoa together to make a paste. Then add to the shortening, sugar, and egg mixture
  3. Sift together the salt and flour. Add in thirds to the batter, alternating with the buttermilk until all combined. Mix well but do not overbeat. Then stir in the vanilla extract.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the soda and vinegar. They will foam up. Don’t be alarmed, but make sure you have a big enough bowl so that the foam doesn’t overflow. Stir the mixture into the batter until well combined
  5. Pour into two cake pans prepared with baking parchment, greased, and floured.
  6. Bake in the middle of a preheated oven at 350°F (177°C) for 30 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean, remove from the oven, cool in the pans for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a baking rack to cool completely before frosting.

Waldorf Astoria Frosting

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

  • Combine the flour and milk in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until thick and smooth. Set aside
  • With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the cooled milk mixture along with vanilla extract. Refrigerate until ready to ice the cake.

Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 box (16 ounces, 2 cups)  powdered sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

  1. With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and fluffy
  2. Ice the cake, Make certain the cake layers are completely cooled

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BLT+ARO

One of our family traditions – probably a tradition in your family, too – is that for birthdays, the honoree gets to select the menu for the whole day. While we were in Los Angeles, my grand-daughter celebrated her thirteenth birthday. That was a momentous occasion not only for her, but also for her younger brother and her parents. Officially, she became a teenager, but these days that is only semantics. Fortunately, she is not driving yet, but the birthday was a stark reminder that the day for that is not far away.

Included in my grand-daughter’s food selections for the day was bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for breakfast. Of course, she got to sleep late on a weekend so it was closer to brunch than breakfast. Still, a little odd for my elderly clock, but I freely admit that they were delicious.

These were not your usual BLTs. Challah was the preferred bread. That seemed to be an odd companion to bacon, but nobody blinked.

No one in the family likes mayonnaise, so there was none. How can you have a BLT without mayonnaise?  They allowed me my own. The bacon was crisped in the oven, and the lettuce was the tender butter kind. The tomatoes were beautiful heirlooms, almost purple in color.

Everyone in the family is averse to onion as well, but they accommodated me with thick slices of red onion. They don’t like avocados, either, so they sliced a perfectly ripe avocado just for me.

We gathered around a buffet to assemble our personal creations. Mine was an elaborate BLT+ARO. Then we enjoyed a beautiful Southern California morning on the back patio.  Gifts  were opened, including a new iPhone – every California teenager needs one, I was told.

All in all a great way to start a day of celebration.

BLT+ARO

Ingredients

  • 2 slices challah
  • mayonnaise
  • 3 strips bacon, fried crisp
  • 2 large slices, heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 leaves butter lettuce
  • ½ ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 slice red onion
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Spread the slices of challah with mayonnaise
  2. Arrange the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes,  avocado, and red onion on one slice of bread. You may need extra mayonnaise between layers.
  3. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Top with the remaining slice of bread for a thick sandwich.
  5. Eat with plenty of napkins handy or over the kitchen sink.

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CROQUE MONSIEUR AND CROQUE MADAME

I have been away from my blog for awhile. First, I spent some time with family at Thanksgiving. That was a lot fun. What has not been fun is frustration in uploading my images to Word Press. Over the last several days, I have worked closely with the folks at Word Press. They demonstrated remarkable knowledge and incredible patience. Together, we were unable to solve the problem. Then I changed to an old wireless router I had replaced a while back and everything – well, nearly everything – worked again. Frustration over.

Recently I wrote about baking pain de mie for the express purpose of making croque monsieur and croque madame sandwiches. That is exactly what I did with the bread. If you are a big fan of these sandwiches, you already know that there are many, many recipes  some of them not much more than an American grilled cheese and others very elaborate

There are, however, some absolute essentials: good bread (hence the pain de mie), the best sliced ham you can find, and Gruyère cheese. Of course for the croque madame, you will need a perfectly fried egg.

You can sauté the sandwiches  in a pan, broil them, toast them in a panini press, or use a traditional French sandwich mold that makes them look a bit like a giant madeleine.  Then you have to decide whether or not you want to go to the trouble of making a béchamel to moisten the contents and provide a topping  – with more Gruyère, of course – that can be browned under a broiler.

This, then, is only one version, but it was fun to make. I chose to use the French sandwich press that has been hanging for years on our kitchen wall as a sort of decoration. I also added some béchamel.

RECIPES

Béchamel

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • salt and white pepper

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then stir in the flour. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, to make a light roux. Be careful not to brown.
  2. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sauce is thickened. Remove from heat.
  3. Adjust seasoning with slat and white pepper.  Set aside.

Croque monsieur

Ingredients

  • 4 slices pain de mie
  • 4 tablespoons béchamel
  • 4 thin slices ham
  • 2 slices Gruyère
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • béchamel
  • sliced Gruyère

Method

  1. Spread béchamel on one side of each slice of bread
  2. Arrange one slice of ham on each slice of bread. Then place a slice of Gruyère on two of the slices. Form into two sandwiches.
  3. With a pastry brush, paint both sides of both sandwiches with the melted butter and arrange the sandwiches in the sandwich mold.
  4. Close the sandwich mold and heat over an open flame on your range, turning once or twice until the sandwiches are well-toasted on both sides.
  5. Place the finished sandwiches on oven-proof plates, top with more béchamel and Gruyère, and place briefly under a broiler until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Croque madame

Ingredients

  • 1 croque monsieur sandwich
  • 1 fried egg

Method

  1. Top the sandwich with the fried egg.
  2. Serve immediately

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