You may be wondering about a post that was on my blog on Friday wherein I made Melissa Clark’s Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread live on webcam (using LiveStream) and then interviewed Melissa Clark on my cellphone afterwards. Many of you attended, though you missed the ending when the cake came out of the oven because LiveStream cut out. Not only that, but LiveStream didn’t archive the video (even though I hit “record”) so I had to take the post down because there was nothing left to see. Luckily, though, there’s this picture of the finished product and my profound ability to capture its essence in words.
For as long as I’ve been cooking, I’ve been making the pumpkin bread you see in the above photo. (Proof: see this old post from 2004.) It’s one of the easiest recipes I know–dump a bunch of stuff into a bowl, stir it together, and bake it–and the rewards are rich: the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg will waft softly from the oven as you do the dishes and because the recipe makes two loaves, you can freeze one of them to enjoy later on in the month. The only tricky ingredient you’ll need to find is a can of pumpkin and that’s not tricky at all.
Sometimes a recipe grabs my attention not because it sounds particularly delicious but because the method by which you make it is so peculiar, I just have to try it.
Such was the case with the recipe for Pain D’Epice in Canal House Cooking Volume 2. Other recipes for Pain D’Epice, a French spice bread, are packed with, well, spices. Nancy Silverton’s has fennel seeds, black pepper and lots of ginger; David Lebovitz’s has cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; the Canal House pain d’epice has no spices. It has marmalade.
Inspiration strikes me more as a writer, than a cook. “Write a play about a parrot that saves a family from genocide,” says inspiration. “Thanks inspiration,” I say and go on to win five Tonys.
But as a cook? I’m pretty uninspired, I’d have to say. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a happy cook, a passionate cook, I care about the food I make. But am I inspired to tweak that which I am cooking? Rarely, very rarely. Which is why, when making the banana bread from Molly’s “Homemade Life” for the second time (I didn’t blog about it the first time, but it’s a great banana bread made with butter instead of oil that has candied ginger and chocolate chips), I was surprised to hear a voice in my head whisper, like the voice in “Field of Dreams,” “brown the butter.” Brown the butter? You’re supposed to melt the butter, not brown the butter. “Brown the butter,” the voice persisted. I can’t! That’s not what you’re supposed to do. “BROWN THE FRIGGIN’ BUTTER, MORON!” All right! All right! I’ll brown the butter.
And brown the butter I did.
When I read “Cooking For Mr. Latte” there were many recipes that I carved into my brain with the label: “To be cooked one day.” One such carving was a recipe for “Vanilla Bean Loaves” adapted from Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Everything about the recipe seemed wonderful, except the potential expense. 4 vanilla beans would be required. Unless you live in Madagascar, vanilla beans are mighty pricey. This vanilla bean loaf would have to go on the back burner.
But then I was having company over on Saturday–more playwrights to watch movies for class. And I was in Whole Foods anyway, and there were the vanilla beans. These were a bit cheaper–sold in bottles of two instead of one. How could I resist?
Should you ever feel a similar impulse, here’s how to proceed. [Quoted directly from Ms. Hesser without persmission—don’t sue!]
“You will need:
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature.
2 1/2 cups vanilla sugar (1 split vanilla bean stirred into 1 pound of sugar; let sit for a few days)
(I let it sit for a few hours and that sufficed, I think.)
1 vanilla bean.
1 Tbs vanilla extract.
8 large eggs at room temperature.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour.
1 1/2 tsps baking powder.
1/2 tsp salt.
For the syrup:
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped.
1. Heavily butter two 8X4X3-inch (or similarly sized) loaf pans and preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Using a paddle attachment in your mixer, cream the butter and vanilla sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
Scrape the vanilla bean and flick its seeds into the mixer, along with the vanilla extract and eggs. Beat to mix.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add this to the batter and mix just until smooth–a few turns of the paddle should do it. Take the bowl off the mixer and use a spatula to scrape the bottom and fold the mixture a few times, to make sure everything is blended. Divide the batter between the buttered pans:
Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the pans around, and bake until a cake tester or skewer comes out almost clean, another 25 to 40 minutes.
3. While the loaves bake, prepare the syrup: in a small pan, dissolve the sugar in 1 cup of water over medium heat. Add the vanilla beans and stir a little so their seeds and fragrance disperse. Take the pan off the heat:
4. When the loaves are done, cool for 10 minutes on baking racks, then turn them out of their pans and set back on the racks. Place the racks over parchment paper or a baking sheet and brush generously all over–bottoms, tops, and sides–with the syrup.
Brush a couple of more times as they cool. These cakes store well. They may be wrapped and frozen, although I can’t imagine not eating one of them right away.”
Honestly these cakes are awesome:
I popped one in the freezer and served the other to my guests. The air filled with a loving vanilla smell. Sure, it was Yom Kippur and I was supposed to be fasting, but this is a recipe that’s worth going to Jewish Hell for…don’t you think? L’chaim!