Saturday, 29 November 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake

As a maternity-leave induced lady of leisure, I looked forward to this month's Daring Bakers challenge as one I could do during my luxurious free time. In between baths and coffee mornings, I saw myself baking cakes to have ready for my husband after a hard day's work. This turned out to be ambitious dreaming. Long baths have occurred, but necessitated by 3rd trimester nausea or just feelings of being enormous and wanting to find a venue in which I was weightless (and, undoubtedly, elegant and streamlined). Coffee mornings have been acheived, but at the cost of wiping me out from the effort of a) getting up b) taking an hour-long bath c) looking presentable and d) traveling on public transportation. Mr A&N has actually had his fair share of banana bread this month, mainly to use up those bananas I've felt too ill to eat and made while I've been sitting down at the table. The long and short of it is that this month's challenge was done at the last minute, over a couple of days, and is only now being enjoyed as I blog about it. Oh well - I'm sure next month, when the baby's here, it will all fall into place even more easily.

The caramel cake comes from Shuna Fish Lydon at Bay Area Bites, as chosen by the trio of Dolores at Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex at Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny at Foray into Food. The cake thrives on caramel syrup added into the cake, and caramelized butter in the icing. To me, the cake was more successful than the icing, which overwhelmed me with its sweetness. The cake smelled wonderfully fragrant and rich during the mixing, and it took tremendous will-power not to lick the raw batter from the spoons (will-power I actually didn't have in the end, since I licked...but only a little). I was rewarded for my near-saintliness when the spring-form pan I was baking the cake in didn't hold itself
together tighlty and dripped a slow and delicious cascade of cake batter onto the pan at the bottom of the oven, waiting to be eaten 20 minutes before the rest of the cake was ready. I couldn't pick out the caramel flavor, but thought it was like a supped-up version of a vanilla cake, delicately sweet and still wonderful to smell.

Thanks to the hostesses (and Shuna) for the challenge, which promises to give me something to eat this week with my leisurely morning coffee before I head up to my hour-long baths.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Pumpkin Pancakes

I am finally, officially on maternity leave and boy, does it feel good. The last few weeks of work were beyond hectic and tiring but I had more than enough work to see me through to the end, and some I'm still finishing up at home. I can take up to a year of leave (even if I don't get paid for much of it), and being an American-abroad who knows plenty of friends who only get 6 weeks/a couple of months off, I haven't lost sight of how lucky I am to have a few weeks to rest and relax before the baby arrives (I hope). T-minus a-bit-less-than-3-weeks, and the hospital bag is packed since baby really can come any time now.

To celebrate my first morning of not having to go to work (even if I still woke up at 6.45, as I normally do), I made myself a breakfast of something more than shredded wheat biscuits mashed up with banana. If we owned a waffle maker, I would have indulged in some waffle action; instead, I pancaked myself up. Not your average pancakes for me, though. This being a dreary autumnal day on which I was celebrating the ability to take afternoon naps (for a couple of weeks) and not to do my hair and make-up (which I'm told stops being a luxury after having a baby and becomes a source of shame), these pancakes were going to be tarted up a bit.

In what could have been a section of a self-help book called How to Pick Yourself Up When the Weather is Grim and You'll be Laying Around in Your Pajamas All Day, I found a recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes in a breakfast book a friend had given me ages ago. Pumpkin pie is part of the holy trinity of Thanksgiving to me, along with turkey and the Macy's parade, but I'm also keen on
using pumpkin in other things when it's in season. Working pumpkin into a breakfast seemed like a glorious gift from the breakfast fairies as well as a way to warm up my pumpkin tastebuds for Thanksgiving next week.

The pancakes stayed a bit soft even after they were fully cooked, pushing the pancake slightly in the direction of actual pumpkin pie. I would have preferred them to be more cake-like, since it's the texture of pancakes that is a much a feature of their glory as the taste is. I had been eager with my pumpkin,
though, which did throw off the texture so I can't blame the recipe (yet) for the squishiness. Also for the next time around, I will play with the sugar and spice content a bit more since I'm happy to stand my pumpkin up against stronger allspice and nutmeg flavors to have the pancakes be firmly on the sweet rather than the savory end of the spectrum. I served the pancakes with a bit of crumbly sugar topping and maple syrup, which to me was the only way to properly embrace these creatures.

I'll certainly be trying the recipe again with the tweaks I mentioned, though the recipe below is reproduced from the original for those purists out there.

Pumpkin Pancakes, from The Big Book of Breakfasts
makes around 16 decent-sized pancakes

  • 1 C flour
  • 1/4 C cornmeal
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 C milk
  • 3/4 c canned pumpkin
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3 Tbs melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, allspice and salt in a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together milk, pumpkin, egg yolks, melted butter and vanilla.
  3. Add the wet mixture to the dry and whisk until smooth.
  4. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form, and then fold them into the batter.
  5. Pre-heat your normal pancake-making pan over a medium high heat and melt some butter or vegetable oil in it.
  6. Pour desired pancake-sized batter amount into the pan, and turn once small bubbles appear along the surface of the pancake. Cook for half the amount of time again.