George Bernard Shaw famously said that the USA and UK are ‘two countries divided by a common language’, thus earning himself a permanent place on quiz show question lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Food and cooking is where perhaps we see it most and particularly in measurements. This shouldn’t put us off exploring the cuisine of a country that didn’t go multicultural overnight but which began that way with immigrants who came, and continue to come, from all over the world.
Carol Egbert paints and cooks in the Vermont village of Quechee and posts on her website www.carolegbert.com. She will be sending us a fresh recipe once a month.
Her dishes are simple to make, family friendly, tasty and often inspired by food from nearby farms and markets. Cakes and bakes feature strongly, food that make a kitchenwarm and a home even warmer.
Carol has translated most of her measurements into UK friendly ones for us and some of her descriptions too. We may still be divided by our common language,but hopefully with Carol’s recipes we can move a bit closer on the food front.
Last week, as I was serving what has become my favorite chocolate cake, I remembered that it all began when I was eight.
Inspired by Mr. Wizard, my hero on a Saturday morning television program, and his scientific experiments, I wanted to be a chemist at work in the kitchen. I used lemon and salt to transform copper saucepans from dull brown to garish, peachy pink. I loved playing with my green plastic boat that sailed across the sink powered by a chemical reaction that occurred when I fueled it with baking soda and vinegar. I cleaned pennies with vinegar and salt. I curdled milk with lemon juice and made my sister cry by adding blue food coloring to her glass of milk.
The experiments were fun but not appetizing. I thought my kitchen experiments would be better received if the end results were sweet and tasty. I knew that my sister always smiled when she saw a cake. My first cakes began as powder in red and white boxes from the grocery store. I measured water, broke eggs and mixed. Not much chemistry there. I soon moved onto the more complicated angel food cake mix and enjoyed transforming white powder into fluffy peaks using a primitive, hand operated, eggbeater. That was a bit more fun but I wanted to really make a cake, I wanted to ‘Start from Scratch!”
The first cake I made from scratch was a Chocolate Wacky Cake. I knew that this was the recipe for me when I read the part about creating a volcano with vinegar and baking soda to give the cake its ‘lift’. I had found a way to have both a chemical reaction and a sweet reward. I branched out and created brownies and pound cakes in my search for even more interesting recipes.
When I was nine, I saw a recipe for a walnut, chocolate chip, date cake in a small cookbook the grocery store. I had only eaten dates at Christmas time and couldn’t imagine how the cake would taste, but with chocolate chips and walnuts, it sounded delicious and it was. I made it a couple of times before I lost the recipe and moved on to the challenge of perfecting caramel custard.
Nearly ten years later, I saw a recipe for a chocolate, date cake in a newspaper column. With minor adjustments, this is the cake I have baked for many parties. I always use a Bundt pan and slather the cooled cake with unsweetened, heavy cream that has been beaten to stiff peaks. Last week, I topped the cream with sliced strawberries and promised our guests that I would share the recipe. Here’s how I did it:
Chocolate Chip Date Nut Cake
I began by preheating the oven to 175 C degrees. I used a pastry brush to carefully spread butter on all of the curves and bends of a Bundt pan (tube pan) before I dusted the pan with a tablespoon of cocoa powder.
I put 170 g of chopped dates into a small bowl and added 310 g of boiling water and one teaspoon of baking soda. While the dates cooled, I used an electric mixer to cream180 g of unsalted butter with 165 g of sugar and one teaspoon of vanilla. Then I added two eggs, beating well after each addition.
I used a fork to blend 225 g of flour, a large pinch of salt and 20 g of cocoa together on a piece of waxed paper.
I added the cooled date mixture to the creamed butter and sugar and then stirred in the dry ingredients. I poured two thirds of the batter into the prepared pan, topped it with a mixture of 190 g of chocolate chips, 60 g of chopped walnuts and 55 g of sugar. I spooned the rest of the batter into the pan and used a small spatula to swirl the batter and chocolate chip/nut mixture together. In forty minutes, the cake had pulled away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick came out dry when poked into the center of the cake.
Getting this cake out of the pan in one piece can be challenging even when you have used butter, cocoa and a non-stick pan. It seems to help if you cool the cake in the pan for ten minute before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. If, in spite of all these precautions, the cake still sticks to the pan, gather all the bits, reassemble the cake and use the whipped cream to disguise any visual imperfections of this otherwise perfect cake. Your guests will never know!