How to Make a Rainbow Cake

Jake saw an image of a rainbow cake somewhere and just had to make one. It wasn’t even called a rainbow cake in any sort of caption; it was just a random image on a blog somewhere, but he found it beautiful, and I did, too. But when he said he wanted to make one, well, I kind of tingled in my toes. You’d never know it, but Jake is color-blind. I’m not sure how extensive it is, and he’s not either, but when he pointed to that gorgeous slice of multi-colored cake on the monitor and said he wanted to make it, I offered to help.

It was the least I could do.

Since this was such an experimental venture, we used a commercial white cake mix and a canned icing; after all, our objective was appearance rather than substance. The most indispensable element of the project was two (count ‘em, two!) boxes of McCormick’s assorted food coloring and egg dye. Each box has formulas for achieving eight colors (red, yellow, green and blue as well as pretty purple, orange sunset, teal, mint green and dusty rose).

Jake used two boxes of cake mix, split the batter into six equal amounts and then colored each bowl of batter. Because there was less batter per baking pan, oven time was reduced by at least five minutes. Jake wanted to arrange the layers to his own satisfaction, but I told him that while that might be interesting, it might be better on this effort for us to stick to Roy G. Biv (less the “i” I think). After a brief discussion, the pans were numbered and labeled. Once cooled, we assembled the cake. It sat overnight in a white icing, and when the first slice was taken the next day everyone went, “Ooo . . . “.

We both just grinned.

 

Bobbie Gentry’s Cherry Cookie Bars

This recipe appeared in Bayou Cuisine (1970) and was credited to Edith Streetner of Greenwood. Bobbie Gentry was born Bobbie Lee Streeter July 27, 1944, on her paternal grandparents’ farm near Mantee, Mississippi. Her father, Robert H. Streeter, lived in Greenwood, Mississippi. Bobbi Lee Gentry moved to Arcadia, California at age thirteen to live with her mother and stepfather. They relocated to Palm Springs two years later, where Bobbie graduated from Palm Springs High School. She changed her name to Gentry after seeing the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, starring Jennifer Jones and Charlton Heston. Likely Edith is Gentry’s stepmother, who writes, “Bobbie’s favorite recipe that she has loved since she was a little girl, and I always made them for her when she came home.”

These are two-in one cookie bars. They have a rich, buttery cream-colored layer below and scarlet cherries, coconut, and nuts in the layer on top.

Sift together 1 cup plain flour and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar. Cut in 1/2 c. butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture firmly into the bottom of an ungreased 11×7 or 9×9 inch pan. Bake in a moderate (350) oven for 10 minutes. Sift together 1/4 c. plain flour 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 c. sugar. Add 2 eggs lightly beaten, then fold in 1/2 c. maraschino cherries, finely cut, 1/2 c. grated coconut, and 1/2 c. chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds). Spread over partially baked dough and bake in a moderate (350) oven 30-40 minutes. Cool and cut into bars or squares. Makes about 3 dozen.

This also makes a delicious main dessert. Cut into larger servings and top with whipped cream or ice cream.

Lemon Ice

For each cup of finely crushed ice, add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the juice of a lemon.  A drop of vanilla is a nice touch. Mix very well and serve with ginger snaps.

 

A Proper Fool

The British have an absolute genius when it comes to naming foods; there’s bangers and mash, which are nothing more than sausages and mashed potatoes; Welsh rabbit, a dish made with bread and cheese; spotted dick, a pudding made with suet and fruit; and toad in the hole, eggs or sausages in bread. You can also include laver bread (seaweed), black pudding (blood sausage), haggis (stuffed sheep’s stomach), and many others, but my favorite is a fool.

In Britain, a fool is nothing more than fruit in whipped cream or more traditionally sweet custard, sort of an unfrozen parfait (which, by the way, in Britain is what they call a pâté). For instance, in England, what we’d call peaches and cream would be called a peach fool. The oldest versions of a fruit foole, which use gooseberries, may date back to the 15th century, though it is first mentioned as a dessert (together with the trifle) in 1598, and the earliest recipe dates to the mid-17th century. Why it’s called a fool is anyone’s guess, though some claim it derives from the French verb fouler meaning “to crush” or “to press” (as in pressing grapes for wine), a claim dismissed by those pontificating nitpickers of the Oxford English Dictionary as “baseless and inconsistent with the early use of the word”.

Most recipes you find today are nothing more than whipped cream and fruit. Unsurprisingly, you’re not going to find gooseberries used very often at all, since even if you find them they’re going to cost you an arm and a leg, but we have many types of fruit available here throughout our long warm season: Louisiana strawberries, foraged blackberries, Chilton County peaches, figs from your grandmother’s tree, hill country blueberries, even that good late-season cantaloupe from the Ozarks as well as the early Florida Valencias. But simply using whipped cream is improper, and substituting yogurt or even worse vanilla pudding is just trashy; to make a proper fool, you must make custard.

For six servings, scald two cups milk and add to  a blend of two well-beaten eggs with a half cup sugar. Put in a double boiler and heat. As it begins to thicken, add a tablespoon of corn starch blended very well in a tablespoon of milk. Once very thick, refrigerate. As to the fruit, it should be chopped or sliced and macerated with a sugar (a quarter cup sugar to two cups of fruit) to leach out the excess water. Layer fruit, custard and sweetened very stiff whipped cream in a pretty glass, and refrigerate until serving.

Bugs Bunny’s Carrot Cake

This recipe is the only one I’ve ever used, and the only one you’ll ever need. Many recipes label alcoholic ingredients—in this case the dark rum—optional, but I consider the flavor essential to the recipe; even if you’re a teetotaler, the alcohol burns off in the cooking and good heavens you’re bound to know someone with a bottle around the house. I like a mix of gold and dark raisins and prefer salted pecans to walnuts. Like so many great cakes, this one is best made the day before.

Mix thoroughly ¾ cup vegetable oil and ¾ cup warm buttermilk with ¾ cup white and ¾ cup light brown sugar (you don’t have to pack it). Set aside. Sift together 2 ½ cups plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground ginger, a teaspoon salt and a couple dashes of nutmeg. Add half the dry ingredients to the oil/buttermilk mixture, and the rest alternately with 4 well-beaten eggs at room temperature. Add two cups grated carrots, about ¾ cup raisins, ¾ cup chopped nuts and a cup of drained crushed pineapple. Finish off with a tablespoon of vanilla extract and a generous slug of dark rum (okay, three ounces). Pour batter into a Bundt or two 9 in. layer pans and bake at 375 until fragrant and springy. For the frosting, mix a pound of cream cheese and ½ stick butter at room temperature with powdered sugar to texture, a teaspoon almond extract and grated orange zests. Dust with nuts.

Bailey’s Cheesecake

Mix 32 oz. of softened cream cheese with 1 1/2 cups sugar and two heaping tablespoons of cornstarch. Get it fluffy, then blend in 4 eggs beaten very well until you have a smooth batter. Pound 4 Oreos to teeny-tiny little pieces and add them to the batter along with a cup of Bailey’s Irish Cream. I always throw in a teaspoon of almond extract. Pour the batter into a 10 in. spring pan lined with a Graham cracker crust with chocolate chips and chopped nuts. Bake at 350 for an hour or so. Dust with cocoa. Indulge yourself; it’s been a tough year.

Scripture Cake

Scripture cake is a kitchen riddle that compels cooks to consult a work holding far more potential than dessert, but even those with the most in-depth knowledge of the written Word would have to consult chapter and verse before making it for the first time. Scripture cakes are an old pass-along recipe, a premiere example of culinary evangelism.

1 1/2 cups Judges 5:25
2 cups Jeremiah 6:20
2 cups 1 Samuel 30:12
2 cups Nahum 3:12
1 cup Numbers 17:8
2 tsp. 1 Samuel 14:25
4 1/2 cups 1 Kings 4:22
6 of Jeremiah 17:11
1 1/2 cup Judges 4:19
2 tsp. Amos 4:5
a pinch of Leviticus 2:13
season to taste with:
2 Chronicles 9:9

Follow Solomon’s prescription for making a good boy in Proverbs 23:14. Bake at 350 until done.

Peach Melba

For sheer succulence, few fruits on earth can match a ripe-on-point peach fresh off the tree, and Escoffier, “the king of chefs and the chef of kings,” affirmed the fruit’s supremacy when he created an astoundingly superb yet simple dish to celebrate the great operatic coloratura soprano, Nellie Melba.

Dame Nellie Melba, (1861-1931), was a skilled pianist and organist as a youngster, but she did not study singing until in her twenties. She made her operatic debut as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto in 1887 at Brussels under the name Melba, derived from that of the city of Melbourne. Until 1926 she sang in the principal opera houses of Europe and the United States, particularly Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, excelling in Delibes’s Lakmé, as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust, and as Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata. She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1918. She returned to Melbourne in 1926. Her image is on the Australian one-hundred-dollar bill.

 

Melba was not known as a Wagner singer, although she occasionally sang Elsa in Lohengrin, which she did in 1892, at Covent Garden. The Duke of Orléans gave a dinner party at the Savoy to celebrate her triumph. For the occasion, Escoffier created a new dessert, and to display it, he used an ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera. The swan carried peaches topped with spun sugar which rested on a bed of vanilla ice cream. In 1900, Escoffier created a new version of the dessert for the occasion of the opening of the Carlton Hotel, where he was head chef. Escoffier omitted the ice swan and topped the peaches with raspberry purée.

Incidentally, in 1897, Nellie, who was “slimming,” complained that her bread was much too thick and sent Escoffier with it back to the Savoy kitchen. The chef returned to her table with a thinly sliced piece of toasted bread and promptly named it Melba toast in her honor.

Inferior versions of peach Melba substitute pears, apricots, or strawberries instead of peaches or use raspberry sauce or melted redcurrant jelly instead of raspberry purée. The original dessert used simple ingredients of “tender and very ripe peaches, vanilla ice cream, and a purée of sugared raspberry”. Escoffier himself said, “Any variation on this recipe ruins the delicate balance of its taste.”

No-Churn Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream makes everyone happy, and though we do have an (electric) churn, most of the time we just use this recipe, which is easy, with simple ingredients, and you don’t have to bother with ice. Most recipes for no-churn ice cream recommend a loaf pan lined with parchment paper, so that’s your first step, line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Pour one chilled 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk into a cold bowl, and add two teaspoons vanilla. Whip two cups of heavy cream to stiff peaks. Working quickly, GENTLY fold the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk, along with any additions—mashed macerated fruit, chocolate syrup, or crushed cookies or nuts—until thoroughly blended. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for at least four hours. Some recipes will tell you to stir the mixture after about two hours (while you still can) but this is superfluous. I recommend making this in the morning for an afternoon gathering.

The Little Black Dress of Cakes

My friend John Wills, a fine cook who grew up in east Texas, went to high school in Chicago, attended college in Alaska and now lives in Maine, told me that of all the Southern recipes he brings to the table, the one that most of his guests remember and ask about is pound cake. To be honest,” he said, “I think a lot of people also believe it’s popular in the South because you didn’t have to be able to read to make it, all you had to remember was a pound each of butter, flour, eggs and sugar.”

These days you’ll rarely find a pound cake recipe that doesn’t include milk in some form; Egerton’s “half-pound” recipe in Southern Food (1987) has whole cream. A good pound cake recipe is essential to any cook’s repertoire, and the best to have is a good sour cream version. This recipe comes from Jackson native Winifred Green Cheney’s Southern Hospitality Cookbook (1976). “With no exceptions,” she writes, “this is the best pound cake I have ever tasted.” As with most of Winifred’s recipes, this one is ludicrously meticulous; an eighth of a teaspoon of salt? Resift three times? Honestly.

1/2 cups butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup commercial sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour, measured after sifting
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon flavoring (vanilla, lemon, or 1/2
teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond)
Powdered sugar

Cream butter by hand or an electric mixer until it has reached the consistency of whipped cream. When you think you have creamed it enough, cream some more. Slowly dribble in sugar a tablespoon at a time; beat well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in sour cream. Put measured flour into sifter with soda and salt, and resift three times. Add flour cup at a time to creamed butter, blending well with mixer on lowest speed. Add flavoring. (I use vanilla and almond along with 2 tablespoons brandy.) Pour batter into one Bundt pan and one small loaf pan or two large (cake, see below: jly) pans, greased and lined with heavy waxed paper. Bake in a preheated 325° oven: Bundt cake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. small loaf for about 55 minutes, large loaves for 65 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool on rack 15 minutes and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Remove from pan and allow to continue cooling to prevent sweating. Yield: 1 (10-inch) Bundt cake and 1 (7- x 3- x 2-inch) loaf cake or 2 (9- x 5- X 3-inch) cakes—40 to 44 servings.