You must understand that I’m a creature of habit, or a “habit of creature,” as my friend, Joey, cheekily puts it. While every day is different, there are a few of my activities that are set in stone — those little pleasurable things I do no matter what my schedule holds: exercise, catching up on other food blogs, and goofing off with Boo.
But life is what happens while I’m busy planning it, or so they say. What I have on my plate includes preparations for my upcoming baking demo, reading through a cookbook sent to me by the publisher to review, a new baking pan to test (sent to me by no less than the inventor himself), baking for Boo’s 4th birthday, and to top it off, a bout with the flu which effectively renders me useless for two days. My schedule is by no means punishing especially when compared to other people’s, but I’m finding it difficult to keep up.
So I find solace in food — not really eating it, but producing it. When I need to take a step back, I bake. Here are some walnut sticky buns. These are made from a brioche dough similar to the one used to make ensaymada. Enriched with eggs and butter, the dough requires 15 minutes of constant beating in my KitchenAid. I don’t know if my mixer can handle that kind of stress, especially since it’s 30 years old (!), but I give it brief cool-down periods every five minutes and hope for the best.
After an overnight rise in the fridge, the dough is rolled out and lots of butter is then “folded” into it, a process akin to making Danish pastry . All this folding and rolling inevitably leads to flaky, buttery layers of dough encasing sugary walnuts and heaps of cinnamon. This entire creation then bakes in a bliss pool of caramel, which when the pan is overturned after baking, results in drips and drools of golden, gooey sunshine emitting waves of spice and butter. Cinnamon rolls never had it so good.
A “Cheap” Confession
I’ll come clean with you: one of my cheap-food thrills is the butter cake slice from Goldilocks. I know it’s one of those things that people bring to the hospital or even serve at wakes, but I like the stuff. It’s dense and sufficiently buttery. And available — but not at three in the morning.
So I make my own. Taken from master baker, Rose Levy Beranbaum, this butter cake has half a cup of cream in addition to three egg yolks and 10 tablespoons of butter. What results is a cake with a downy, soft texture. Dense at first bite, it collapses into a fluffy crumb tempered by the richness of cream and colored by the gold of yolks. Goldilocks butter cake this isn’t.
My Cake is All Crumbs
Aside from caramel cake, my favorite cake in the whole world has to be crumb cake. Virtually unknown on the West Coast, it’s a New York/East Coast bakery fave. Essentially a yellow cake, it practically heaves under the weight of its streusel topping, a divine mixture of flour, butter, sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes nuts. Indeed, the ratio of crumbs to cake is staggering. Perfumed with the headiness of cinnamon, the cake perfumes my kitchen and sets my stomach a-rumbling. This is a cake for people who like the crumb topping found on some apple pies.
While recipes for crumb cake abound, there are a lot of bad ones that I’ve tried. However, here’s a recipe that I like.
A Girl, A Pan, and A Plan
Of course I don’t subsist solely on dessert, although I’d quite like to, really. Fueled by the cast iron pans that I see on which chocolate chip cookie desserts are served on, it becomes my personal mission to procure one of those pans. While I don’t find the personal-size pan I’m looking for, I’m satisfied with the 8-inch skillet and the sandwich pan that I find at Gourdo’s.
A cast iron pan is one heavy mother. I daresay it can even be used as a murder weapon to great success. Absolutely nothing can beat cast iron when it comes to heat retention and durability.
On the rare day that my stomach commands something other than dessert, I take out my cast iron sandwich pan and make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. One of those items now categorized as ‘retro,’ a grilled cheese sandwich satisfies. My mom used to make me these when I was a kid, but I eschewed them when I was a teenager owing to their alarming butter content. (As if.)
While I didn’t slather on the butter this time around, I grate four different kinds of cheese ”“ raclette, cheddar, havarti, Swiss (grating helps it melt more evenly, I’ve found) ”“ and add some assorted cold cuts. The smoking cast iron pan makes short work of melting and toasting, rewarding me with a grilled cheese sandwich that even my mom would approve of.
Now, back to work.