Saturday, May 9, 2009

on masochism and crumb cake

I am a masochist. I must be, because not many others would do this to themselves. On a perfectly decent Saturday when I could probably be doing something outside, here I am in my apartment baking not one but two coffee cakes.

Confession time here: I have come the conclusion lately that I may be among the world’s shittiest bakers. This is devastating to me since I really do long to become a total domestic hot shot someday. Mother’s Day brunch is on for tomorrow at my brother and sister-in-law’s place. A day to celebrate mom is totally something I can get behind, plus I heart brunch and any good excuse for day drinking. My sister-in-law Renee is not so much a chef. But she has the sack to admit this and be perfectly fine with it. Ergo, whenever we have a family function at her and Jason’s house it’s always a pot luck kind of gig, which is what my extended family does best anyways. Renee usually buys a Grandma’s™ coffee cake or in this case a ham, rather than trying to be some sort of a hero; and, I am realizing in the wake of what just went on in my kitchen that the lady is truly on to something. So my assignment for the day was Bloody Marys. A mix for which I am famous for because apparently, instead of being good at baking cookies, god gave me cocktail mixing skills and that’s just fine. I just wish I could come to terms with the fact that I certainly did not get both. Fair enough. I will bring bloodies, but naturally I volunteered to bring something else. Because I like to over do it like that. Scones perhaps? Scones are quickly naysayed by my SIL and in the family email chain my assignment is cast out instead as “bloodies and pastry”. Oh, pastry, good. I was hoping to teach myself something this weekend. It’s fulfillment at its best.

So I find a recipe for Big Crumb Coffee Cake with Rhubarb. It’s springtime, I enjoy the idea of rhubarb, I enjoy coffee cake, I dig the recipe I found and I’m ready to get down with it. I found this recipe on the website of one of my largest girl crushes to date, Deb Perelman who writes smitten kitchen. Deb is funny and direct in her explanations and her photography makes everything she makes totally swoon worthy. I adore her. But she is a baker. Sweets outnumber savory recipes on her site like, 20 to 1. A baker I am not I am savory, I am salted meats and cheese plates, not Madelines and bundt pans. But I’m trying! I’m expanding my repertoire and, if today’s performance is any indication, it might be time for me to hang up the old college try and just bring a salad or dip and chips from here on out. These are things I can whip up with ease and not legitimately break out into a sweat over. I either need to get a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer and things will change or I need to resolve myself to the fact that baking, is something I can accomplish with a lot of effort, and is not, for me, a leisure activity. You think I would have learned this lesson when I attempted to make lemon ginger scones to impress my boyfriend’s parents for Easter. The day before Easter, three hours away from throwing my apartment warming party, a party for which I had already been cooking for since 7:00 a.m. that morning, I decide it’s time for scones. Sure, why not? I can do it! I can cook scones, something I have never ever, ever made before in the middle of an already busy afternoon why not. Needless to say while deep in downtown Scone City I realized I had forgotten my homemade pita chips at my mom’s house. Anywho…I’m getting lost and I need to let go of the past. Long story long I ran to the store to get pita chips while the scones were in the oven and my roommate in the shower. Realized as I got half way to the store that the scones were in the oven still! Turning around (calmly and without so much as an f-bomb passing my lips, natch) I beat feet back to my house to take the scones out of the oven. They were over cooked by a mile and thoroughly horrible. I mean you know when lemon frosting cant fix you, you done fucked it up.

So this brings me back to my baking induced masochism of this afternoon. I decided I would bake not one but two Big Crumb Coffee Cakes with Rhubarb. I would do this in two batches because I was too chicken to just double the recipe in round one since I had never made it before. I got the stuff I needed this morning at Whole Foods where I got kicked square in the teeth with a $6.99 price tag on a 2 oz. bottle of vanilla extract. Which, to be fair, the kick was just a grazing, because the bigger bottle that was there was $16.99. Sixteen motherloving ninety nine dollars!!! I mean…does it also cure cancer and reduce the fat content of chocolate chip cookies if you bake with it? How do they sleep at night! So I get home triumphant with all my goods. Ready for an adorable afternoon of solo time, baking and making Mary mix, listening to Johnny Cash. I was so excited. And then chaos descended on my kitchen as I tried to make this Big Crumb Coffee Cake. First I macerated (love that word) the rhubarb in a combination of ground ginger, sugar and cornstarch. Snap, this is SA easy. Then to prepare the crumb, mix dark brown sugar, DARK BROWN SUGAR!!! For the love of god, I am one step in and I have already forgotten something at the store. I think back to Paul’s words at the checkout, “That doesn’t look like much stuff. You sure you got everything?” and my smug reply “I do. I checked. I read the recipe twice yesterday (self-assured, squinty smile).” My oven was already preheating! My rhubarb marinating in a spicy broth of sweetness and ginger! My god I am a total failure. I go to the corner store, the voice inside my head saying “I bet they only have light brown sugar, if any.” Bingo. Fuck it, I think. Its cake makin’ time and really I don’t have time to be fussy. I get home and start on the crumb topping. Which calls for melted butter [insert mental picture of me hurredly getting pot to melt butter here]. Why I was running time trials on myself this whole time, I don’t know, maybe I’m just doing it all to justify inevitably jamming this crumb coffee cake down my gullet later on this afternoon or maybe like my thirteen year old self, I picture myself on a competition based TV show of sorts. So I make the crumb, which involves (not) dark brown sugar, regular sugar, lil bit of ground ginger again and melted butter. This is to be combined until smooth. I think this means not lumpy, so I roll with it and begin adding the flour. Deb says, “the crumb should reassemble a solid dough” Mines a little, eh, crumblier than all that, not to mention a little whiter, but I did skip the DBS for LBS, so you know…but using the heat from my now-sweating hands I jam it together into a dough-like mass and set it aside to make way for the cake batter. The cake batter, like most things in this crazy baking world I don’t understand, involves a wet part and a dry part, both of which come together in harmony and buy each other cokes and make delicious cake babies eventually. That is if you (a) know what you’re doing; (b) have a sweet kitchen equipped with counter space (okay I cant blame that, people work with less) or, the kicker, (c) have a stand mixer. This device enables you to combine things while still maintaining full use of your TWO hands. A trick which is totally indispensable in order to: (a) do things at the speed and pace the directions indicate; and (b) make you not feel like a total coconut smearing buttery floury hands all over every surface area, including but not limited to your very own face. I do not have one of these devices. I have a real nice electric hand mixed given to me by Paul’s parents last Christmas. The first time I used this thing to whip up some No Pudge brownies I felt like a total hero. Today it’s making me feel like a zero (groan- for the rhyme- I know!) because instead of having a “paddle attachment” and “medium speed” it has like, beaters and like, high, high, and spatter-the-ceiling-high settings. I choose “high” and begin to beat the softened (crap! Thanks microwave, you’re the bessst!) butter into the flour, baking soda, etc. mixture. Then I add the wet sour cream mixture. Oh btw, as I made the initial sour cream mixture, which called for one egg and one egg yolk, I was moving too quickly (again, with the time trials, I have no idea why) and I lost my yolk down the drain. This would have been fine if I hadn’t only had four eggs left and another coffee cake to make. The store was not going to happen so I improvised. I saved the egg white from the divided egg and determine I will use it in the second cake and figure the rest out later. Deb’s instructions call for adding the softened butter and one spoonful of the wet mixture at medium speed until the flour is moistened. Wait, why do I have golf ball sized chucks of butter just flying through my yet-to-be-moistened flour mixture here Deb? Why did you say this would only take 30 seconds? Why all the lies? I thought we were friends! I add half the wet mixture beat the crud out the whole mess on ceiling-splatter speed and it starts to reassemble a batter-like substance. Deb said I would only have to do each of the two batches of wet into the dry mixture for twenty seconds. She doesn’t know it yet, but now we are in a full blown fight. Still, I put aside my hostility and I persevere. The batter looks okay. It tastes good! I dump most of it into a pan add one half of my rhubarb mixture (the only part of the recipe I felt comfortable enough to double the first time ‘round) and then dot the rest with the remaining batter. Then I break the crumb mixture into well, crumbs. Deb says that this should be broken up into ½ to ¼ inch crumbs. Contrary to popular belief I am not a mathematician so I break them up into crumbs the size of crumbs that I think I would like to eat and then for good measure, I dot the top of the crumbs with a little softened butter because well, the crumbs look too crumby to me and I dare you to find me something a couple dots of butter can’t improve upon. Finally, at last, I slide the cake into the oven. And then I make another one. I might as well just start whipping myself with reeds in my backyard, because it might be more fun. I will spare you the play-by-play details of Cake Numero Dos because it essentially went a bit smoother. I know you are all waiting with bated breath to find out what I did about the lost egg yolk. I will tell you this, I used an egg white instead of yolk and then I used my noggin to determine that yolk=fat, so I compensated the loss of that fat with a tid bit more sour cream and a tiny splash o’ canola oil. We’ll see if the cake turns out like total garbage but the batter tasted ‘aight. I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it since Erica and I determined that this second cake would be solely for us to keep and eat, since number one would be going to Mother’s Day brunch with me.

Witness the batter:

batter tidal wave

Anyways…this is pretty much the end of the road for the great Crumb Cake Caper of 2009 but I will tell you this so as not to discourage you in your quest for delicious crumb coffee cake: (1) I still love Deb and won’t stop trying to be like her, even though I will probably try and make things more my speed like roasted red pepper dip and pita chips; (2) as I type this Cake Dos is in the oven, Cake Uno is resting on the stove and my whole apartment smells like absolutel cinnamon heaven; (3) just because I’m not a good baker, doesn’t mean I can’t try. Dream Big and stay in school.

Witness the aftermath:

kitchen disaster

Without further ado, a recipe. No, I am not going to pass on the Crumb Coffee Cake (I cant stop capitalizing this even though I realize it may or may not be a grammatical abomination I just think with all things delicious Arbitrary Capitalization is in order) because first of all, I like you guys and second of all, it’s already available online here. So I’m going to be nice and give you a delicious, easy, crowd pleasing, booze-involved(!) recipe for my famous Bloodies.

(Pilfered from the bar and grill were I was once a breakfast slanger/bar wench. I consider this recipe my severance package since the only other thing I took from that job was low self esteem, 25 lbs. in chowder-related weight gain and the ability to carry a lot of things at once)

[Note: this recipe makes a whole gallon of mix. Which is dandy if you, like my friends, like to have it on hand in the fridge. Simply half every thing if you are making it for a less lush-like crowd]

Tomato Juice (2 46 fl. oz bottles)
1 lemon
1 lime
1 small sized bottle Tabasco sauce
A1 steak sauce (a bunch of generous shakes-approximately ¼ cup, or less to your taste)
Worcestershire sauce (a bunch of generous shakes-approximately ¼ cup, or less to your taste)
Heaping tablespoon (or two- I like mine chunky) horseradish*
Slightly less heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
Upwards of a teaspoon of celery salt and garlic salt
Few pinches regular salt (apparently this recipe is not for the high bloodpressured)
Generous amount freshly ground black pepper

The easiest way to make and transport this is to use the bottles you got from the store. Unless you have one of those beverage jar’s from Crate and Barrel. But I would be hesitant to recommend one of those because this stuff is pretty chunky and would clog the spigot (that sounds like a good band name. Clog the Spigot). I usually mix this in a large bowl and then transfer it back into the bottles. If you come up with a method to do this that doesn’t involve spilling some, call me and I will nominate you for something special. It’s a bit messy, do it above the sink. Cut your lemons and limes and juice them into the tomato juice and then add the remainder of the ingredients. Give it all a good stir or shake (if you have a large gallon jar with a cover), chill and serve with 1 ½ ounces vodka.

You want your end result to be a substantial, almost chunky mix. When the mix is combined with a bit (or a lot) of vodka and shaken with ice, it will break down the thickness of the mix. I don’t know about you but I like a Bloody that’s intense, spicy and chunky. That is what this recipe is. Any Bloody is great with Absolut Peppar for extra spice. Personally, I really truly dislike Absolut and I prefer Ketel One or Stoli (original flavor). If you do not like-a the spice, I suggest using Ketel One Citroen or any citrus vodka to temper off the heat of the mix.

You can, as a time saver, pre-mix your Bloody mix with vodka, but honestly I really prefer to let people make their own. Some like a heavy hand with their vodka (hello Michelle!) and some like the mix with just a bit of vodka.

Garnish with a slice of lime or lemon and a big cocktail olive.

1 comment:

  1. part one:
    you may find this hard to believe, but even the hard core bakers amongst our brethern have worse looking kitchens in the end (you just get used to it!)

    part two:
    THANK YOU JESUS for the Bloody mix recipe!

    part three:
    I may have to start running a call and response here with your recipes....


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.