Archive for December, 2009

Sweet potato pound cake, fresh from the oven.

I’ve never been much for simple, clean flavors. Give me red pepper flakes, garlic, onions, soy sauce, hummus, bacon, chili garlic sauce, sea salt and stinky cheese any day (although not together). If my palate is overwhelmed by the end of a meal, I know I’ve had a good one. And I also know this isn’t always the best way to enjoy a meal, but oh well.

When it comes to desserts, I tend to make the same choices. Butter-rich sugar cookie? Nah, I’ll take a chocolate caramel sea salt macaron at Euro Pane. Salty, caramely butterscotch budino at Pizzaria Mozza? Yes. But every so often, I feel the need to cleanse with something delicate. This pound cake did the trick.

Let me say first that adjectives like delicate, clean and simple don’t necessarily mean healthy. Pound cake earned its name for a reason, both in what it makes you gain, and what all the buttery goodness makes it weigh. It’s just that the flavors in this cake, despite the richness, allowed me to eat a whole slice without my tongue passing out from too much sensory input.

This recipe is one that Molly Wizenberg of Orangette adapted from Southern Cakes. She recommends a buttermilk glaze for the cake, but since I didn’t try it, I won’t say you should have it, so here’s the link to  her recipe so you can decide for yourself.

I made this the last time I went home to Pennsylvania, and my genius mother suggested we use the frozen bag-o-spuds that you can microwave, instead of cooking and mashing fresh sweet potatoes. Although normally, both of us would rather make something fresh, we figured that in a cake, we wouldn’t be able to taste that the potatoes were frozen. And we were right.

This cake is best warm, excellent the day of, and still good after that. I brought half of it back with me to California, encased in plastic wrap, and a week later, I was still munching on it. Which is why I’ll probably never fit into my wedding dress again. Oh well. Why would I want to anyway? This cake is worth it. It was moist—thanks to the butter and potatoes—rich, dense, and just slightly spiced. It was simple, it was good. No, it was fantastic. And it was just the vacation that my tongue needed.

Next up, the tongue vacation is over—the richest chocolate mocha layer cake EVER.

Happy holidays, safe travels, and yummy desserts to all!

Sweet potato pound cake

Sweet Potato Pound Cake

3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
½ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk well. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sweet potatoes, and mix until the batter is combined. (Molly notes that the batter may look terrible at this point, and it certainly does, but that’s normal.) With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Beat to just incorporate. Then add half of the milk mixture, and continue to beat on low until well blended. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, and beat on low until the batter is thick and smooth.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Invert onto a wire rack and cool completely before serving. But I didn’t.


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Mom’s Unforgettable Biscuits

My Mom's Unforgettable Biscuits

My Mom's Unforgettable Biscuits

Every time I plan a trip home to Pennsylvania, my Mom asks me “Is there anything special you’d like me to cook?”

I want something I don’t make in California, so my two usual suspects are twice-baked potatoes (I don’t cook spuds as often as I should) and homemade biscuits. Fresh, warm-out-of-the-oven biscuits, mmm….

The starches in my kitchen usually consist of some form of rice or noodles (my favorites are those salty yakisoba kind sold in block form at the grocery store), so we don’t ever have biscuits with dinner. When I go home, that’s what I want. And my Mom makes the best.

My mom working her magic with the biscuit dough.

She’s been making the same biscuit recipe since I can remember, and it never gets old. The recipe itself is from her Runner’s World Natural Foods Cookbook, circa the 1980s. We do like our foods natural in my family (which is why we bake everything from itch) so these biscuits have become a mainstay. Over the years, my Mom has made some tweaks, like adding grated cheese, and brushing half-and-half over the top to make the biscuits glow. Trust me—adding more dairy is always a good thing.

Half-and-half makes everything better.

These biscuits are just perfect right out of the oven with a dab of butter, but they’re also good the day after, if there are any left. My last trip home, I had a mini fried egg sandwich with a leftover biscuit that I browned briefly in the toaster. Other than having to use tongs (plastic, don’t worry) to get the little biscuit out from the depths of the hot toaster, it was great. So are fried egg sandwiches. It’s not a weekend without a messy fried egg sandwich with some cheese, and maybe some bacon, or prosciutto, or…. Anyway.

So here is my Mom’s years-tweaked biscuits recipe. Save some for me!

Mom’s Unforgettable Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp salt
2 T sesame seeds
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional, but a must, in my opinion)
1 T honey
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup milk
2 T half-and-half

Combine all dry ingredients and toss well. Add sesame seeds and grated cheese. Mix in oil, milk and honey and stir until dough clings together. Knead gently on a floured surface (10-12 strokes). Roll or pat dough to approximately 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter and brush tops of biscuits with half-and-half. Bake on un-greased baking sheet (or Silpat) at 450 degrees for approximately 12 minutes. Makes 12 biscuits.

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