Growing up here in Fort Lauderdale I was lucky enough to attend a grade school close to home, with all my friends from kindergarten, boasting a killer baking staff. The East Side School cafeteria ladies didn’t open boxes when it came to cakes, pies and cookies for us kiddies. No ma’am. The predominantly black women who staffed the cafeteria were accomplished cooks and bakers who cranked out old school baked goods on a daily basis. They were kind to all of us students and we in turn bowed down to them with reverence and respect because they were grown ups…you watch your p’s and q’s around grown ups. These ladies were experts in the kitchen and coming from a home where Mama didn’t cook or bake I was highly appreciative and anticipated lunch every day knowing it would be far better than anything I would ever be served at home. Do you recall the peanut butter cake you had in grade school? The squares were heavy and thick in texture yet the cakes melted in your mouth leaving a certain salty sweet taste. Oh, heaven. Lately I’ve been craving that same salty sweet sensation and set about to have it. I came up with this. Alone in the house with two pans was virtual diet suicide. I took four squares over to my friend Rob’s house. He had fiddled with my father’s ancient bedside table lamp which wasn’t working. At 94 years old Daddy really depends on that lamp for the inordinate amount of reading he does. And after 5 minutes of fooling with it Rob had tightened it up, fine tuned the sockets and turned the on/off chains to a place where Dad could control the lamp with ease. Make my Daddy happy, make me happy. I made Rob take a bite of the cake and watched his reaction like a hawk. His first words after clearing his palate of the dense stuff were, “I’m sorry Miz Whitcomb, but I don’t have my math homework cuz I didn’t do it!” He was back in grade school and that’s what I wanted. Old school peanut butter cake will take you back…and in a good way.
This is a crazy simple cake recipe. It’s best served with coffee or milk. Iced water will do but coffee or milk are best. When the cake smells done it probably is done. I have light-colored baking sheets however if yours are dark keep an eye on them as they’ll bake your cake much faster. It’s a thin cake, not big and puffy and you don’t want it to burn. When preparing the icing you must stir continuously. I can’t stress that enough. Peanut butter scorches easily. But if you use a whisk and keep stirring until smooth you will be rewarded with a trip back in time. When you serve this to your children or grandchildren you can regale them with stories of how you had to walk 10 miles uphill BOTH WAYS to school. Enjoy!
One of my favorite Christmas scents is alcohol breath at midnight Mass. It’s almost tradition for grownups to show up lit up. Consider this. If one sits down to Christmas Eve dinner at 7:00pm and the meal is concluded at, say, 8:30pm…well, there’s quite a bit of time to get into trouble before sliding into your pew to hear a few carols before the service begins. We started our tradition years ago. And when I say “we” I mean Pamela, my little sister, and me. Mama would have a Puerto Rican Christmas Eve dinner with many of the typical dishes shipped to us in dry ice. Remember, Mama didn’t cook. After a rich, heavy dinner we had to move so Pamela and I took off and met our friends at Mai Kai, a famous Polynesian restaurant and bar here in town known for their island dancers and rum drinks. It was great when Jimmy and I started dating because then we had a driver. The three of us would have two or three barrels of rum, (that was the name of the drink….lethal), and at 11:30 the three of us would stumble out of the bar and Jimmy would drive to church where Mama would be waiting for us.
Midnight Mass was always packed, standing room only, with all dressed in their holiday finery. If we had a cold snap a few furs would be seen. As we maneuvered through the crowd waving at friends and the parents of friends, our eyes scanned our beautiful church searching for Mom. And then, suddenly, there she was soaking in the exquisite music of the choir. The moment we laid eyes on her the ruckus began. We thought we were whispering but apparently not. “Mama! MAH-MUH!! I love you, Mama.” Her mouth set in an angry line she’d make room for us in the pew. By the time Mass ended we’d pretty much be forgiven but then Pamela always, always had to do cartwheels on the church’s front lawn. Boy, did we catch heck all the way home. “Your father and I have a name in this town! Are you trying to ruin us? Alicia, what are you thinking? You’re supposed to set an example for your sister, caramba!” Pamela and I laugh about it now but only because we truly believe Mama’s enjoying celestial, angelic music in Heaven. Though we miss Mom so much we ache, we do wish her a merry, merry Christmas!
One of the few dishes Mama made herself for Christmas Eve was flan. It was a traditional flan, the flavored ones had not yet begun to appear. This flan is silky smooth, redolent with the flavor of coconut and the more subtle notes of cream cheese. What I really enjoy about it is it never has that “eggy” taste many flans have. And since only coconut cream and milk are used there are no little flecks of grated coconut meat floating around in your mouth. Bleah. Most recipes call for a 10″ cake or round pan. I used an 8″ round cake pan with 4″ tall sides. If you use a pan smaller than 10″ make certain the sides are 4″-5″ tall. This dish needs to be made in advance, yay!, in order to set and chill. I’ve made it 2 days before serving and it’s perfection. It is like nothing you’ve ever tasted. My friend, Andrea, said it should be made illegal. Or at least made every Christmas Eve!
In a medium size pot pour the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Do not stir! When it turns caramel in color pour into waiting baking pan. Immediately rotate the pan so the caramel completely covers the bottom of the pan. The caramel hardens quickly so move fast. Set pan aside.
Place cream cheese in a large bowl and using a hand mixer beat until fluffy.
Add the cream of coconut to the cream cheese and mix well.
Add the coconut milk to the cream cheese mixture and beat well until all ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside.
In a medium size bowl break the eggs and, using a hand whisk, gently beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are thoroughly mixed. You want to minimize the air bubbles so don’t use a hand mixer or blender.
Pour the eggs into the cream cheese mixture and using the hand whisk blend well.
Pour the cream cheese and egg mixture into the baking dish and place the filled baking dish into a larger baking pan, for instance a casserole dish.
Heat some water to the boiling point and carefully pour the water into the larger baking pan or casserole dish. The water should reach 3/4 of the way up the sides of the flan pan. In other words, you’re making a bain Marie.
If using a 10″ pan bake for 1 hour or until the middle of the flan is “jiggly”. For a taller 8″ pan bake for 2 hours.
Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
Cover with plastic wrap directly onto flan and chill overnight up to 2 days.
Right before serving remove plastic wrap, run a knife around the edge of the flan, cover the flan with your serving platter and quickly invert. The flan should slide right out onto your platter. If not, gently tap the platter on your counter or carefully shake the inverted pan. Once a little air gets around the flan it’ll come right out with the melted caramel syrup.
Spoon a bit of syrup over every slice prior to serving.
Part store bought, part homemade, this cake is a winner. How can you lose when you’re working with coffee, rum, chocolate and cream? I started making this cake back in the ’80’s and it has never let me down. Light yet rich and luxurious, Diplomatico cake is typically credited to Marcella Hazan. I lost my original recipe, however, this one is quite close to hers. A cheap, store bought pound cake is best as it’s sturdy and will keep its shape. It’s a super easy going recipe…a little more of this and a little less of that is not an issue.
I’ve made it with 4 eggs and I’ve made it with 6. Sometimes I have espresso and at times I’ve only had the morning’s cold coffee available. It all works beautifully. The coffee and rum are strong and aromatic. The intense chocolate mousse inside is…well, it’s chocolate, it’s heavenly. And that cloud of whipped cream softens and compliments the entire cake. Keep in mind the eggs are raw, not cooked, so if anyone has allergies or food issues maybe they should have their own little dish of berries. Hope you’ll try it!
What a week, huh? And it’s only Tuesday! I learned a dear, dear cousin of mine in Puerto Rico is sick. The family here stateside was devastated. My cousin in Tallahassee and I were in the process of planning a last minute trip to PR, furiously texting back and forth, when suddenly I received not a text but a phone call from her. She had been pulled out of her grad class and was on her way to the emergency room and would I please say a prayer for her. Her oldest of three had been hit by a car while riding his bike home. She knew nothing else of his condition but that. She heard my voice calm and soothing assuring her my siblings and I would immediately start a prayer circle. She heard my words of quiet strength and hope. She could not see my knees buckle with fear nor did she see my eyes fill up with tears. Hours later I received the text stating he was fine! His face and hands were all bloodied up. His glasses were lost and his bike mangled but he was more than okay. He had worn his protective helmet and it had done its job. I wanted to do something for them. I wanted to jump in my little car and 400 miles later show up at her door arms filled with baked goods. I wanted to wrap her entire family in my arms because family is everything to us.
And this is what I would have taken. It’s an easy quick bread that when baking fills your house with the warm smells of fall. The smells that make you feel cozy and safe from harm. Whether you have a slice with a cup of coffee or hot tea or even a glass of milk, this quick bread is satisfying and positively luscious. I use reduced fat cream cheese in the icing because it’s a bit tangier than whole fat and that tang is more than welcome in the rich frosting. It also marries quite well with the piquant ginger. Here’s to hoping the rest of the week is a little easier to handle. I heard a rumor today’s election day but after last night I can handle this hands down. Good luck everybody!
Pumpkin Spice Bread with Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
Cover a 1.5 quart glass loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a separate bowl use a hand mixer to combine pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, butter, canola oil and vanilla. Mix until all ingredients are well combined and mixture is smooth.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir by hand until there are no more flour streaks.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Place pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes then turn bread out of pan and allow to cool completely on cooling rack.
Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, I prefer reduced fat, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons ginger paste or finely grated fresh ginger. Ginger paste is in a tube found in the produce department of your grocery store.
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and ginger until completely combined.
Add the confectioners sugar and mix until smooth.
When the pumpkin bread has completely cooled mound the icing on top and smooth to your liking.
If you’re not serving the bread for a day or two keep the bread in the refrigerator. Just prior to serving mix up the icing, top the bread with it and serve. Or serve the icing dolloped on top of individual slices.
My mother was a complete fool for chocolate. From the cheapest drug store candy bar to the finest handmade chocolates from Switzerland, Belgium or France, she loved it all and all was eaten in a frenzy and with abandon. Mama was crazy for chocolate. I made this mousse often in the 70’s and 80’s when we entertained and always made sure Mama got some. This dessert is unbelievably easy and simple. Velvety smooth and elegant, its depth and richness will make you swoon. The recipe calls for just a few ingredients so use the best dark chocolate, the freshest eggs and highest quality whipping cream available to you. Now is not the time to skimp. It can be made a day ahead of serving and is excellent with after dinner coffees and dessert wines. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have…like right now when I pulled out a cup from the refrigerator just to “even it off”. I had a little bit more because, well, it’s so good. And then I couldn’t stop and didn’t until I thought, “I must have some kind of disease. Like those people who can’t control themselves and eat dirt.” I think all you ladies out there understand. Enjoy but be forewarned. This stuff is dangerous!
The Ultimate Dark Chocolate Mousse with Rum Spiked Whipped Cream
In a double boiler or a bowl set over simmering water but not touching the water, whisk the chocolate until it has completely melted. Do not let the water boil as the chocolate will easily scorch and be ruined.
Whisk in the coffee and sugar. Continue to whisk while adding one egg yolk at a time.
Continue whisking until the mixture has thickened, about 3-4 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
While the chocolate is cooling, whip the cream to soft but almost firm peaks using a hand mixer. Watch the cream, you don’t want it to get “grainy” or turn into butter. You just want it to hold its shape.
Whisk the vanilla extract into the partially cooled chocolate mixture then fold in the whipped cream folding until all streaks of cream are gone.
Spoon into serving dishes or glasses, lightly cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours up to 24 hours.
Top each serving with a dollop of Rum Spiked Whipped Cream right before serving.
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 level tablespoon confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon spiced rum, orange liquor or liquor of choice
Pour cream into a small bowl and whip until cream starts to thicken.
Add the sugar and liquor and continue whipping cream until soft peaks form.
Spoon a dollop of cream over each serving of mousse.
How do YOU say “thank you” to someone? Or “happy birthday”? Maybe you want a little special something to present your favorite hostess the next time you’re invited to her celebration. I consider a bottle of wine a somewhat thoughtless gesture. I mean really, all you’re doing is reaching into your wine stash and grabbing the bottle you were planning on drinking that night. And that exquisitely slim, leather-bound volume of poems you love is a real shot in the dark and, I don’t know about you, but the only flowers I can afford are the grocery store variety and, quite frankly, if I don’t want them in my house I certainly wouldn’t take them over to yours! But a gift of chocolate is always, always welcome. These nubby little nuggets of flavor are soooo easy to make, easy on the wallet and easy to pop in your mouth. I started making them to give away back in the ’70’s and they’ve been a hit every time I’ve shared them. The beauty of Chocolate Truffles is they can be made with or without liquor. And just about any kind of liquor is a magnificent addition. I’ve used Bailey’s, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Amaretto, Chambord, Metaxa even dark rum. It’s all good. Except maybe Jaegermeister. Although it may taste good…I’ve never tried it. I just don’t think something that tastes like cough syrup would marry well with rich, dark chocolate. The recipe doesn’t call for a large quantity of chocolate so make certain you’re using the best quality you can find. The truffles do need to be refrigerated and are best served after sitting out for 15 to 20 minutes. Enjoy!
any of the following to roll the truffles in: unsweetened cocoa, confectioners sugar, toasted, finely chopped pecans, toffee bits, coconut, chocolate flakes, sugar sprinkles
In a small, heavy pot boil the cream until it has reduced to 2 tablespoons.
Remove from the heat and stir in the liquor, if using, and the chocolate. Stir well until the chocolate has completely melted. Return to low heat if necessary continuing to stir.
Stir in the butter, mixing until completely smooth.
Pour into a shallow container, cover and chill in the refrigerator 30-40 minutes or until firm.
With a small melon baller, scoop out 1″ portions and shape into balls with your fingers. You can also cut out 1″ portions with a small knife. I like the balls roughly shaped as they look better than perfect spheres.
Roll the balls in cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar or any ingredient you wish.
Cover truffles and store in the refrigerator.
Allow to sit out at room temperature for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.
Okay, so I guess I slowly climbed on the pumpkin band wagon. It’s not the pumpkin flavored coffees at Starbucks. I can’t stand flavors in my morning coffee…too much like candy and certainly not enough kick. Nor is it the stand of cinnamon brooms whose scent assaults my olfactory system like a WWII blitzkrieg the moment I step foot in Publix. No. It was something as simple as two girl’s weekends, both with girls from college, one was sorority sisters and the other girls that I love. It got me to thinking about college days. And Fall. I went to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia where we had seasons. That’s where I saw leaves change color for the first time. I thought how I walked across the beautiful southern campus; orange, yellow and red leaves bouncing and spinning on gusts of wind as if doing cartwheels. Kind of like sorority sister Anne B. who, drunk and making her way across campus late one night, fell on her face in the middle of a cart-wheel and knocked out her big front tooth. The whole thing. Yup. Serves her right, though. She was never particularly nice to me plus she had borrowed a very expensive pair of gold earrings and when she finally returned them to me one had been completely destroyed. Apparently she had stepped on it. But she was very, very sorry. Anyway, where ever she is, she’s running around with a fake front tooth. Those Autumn nights were chilly for us Florida girls. In my mind’s eye I can see the wool plaid tweed car coat Daddy had special ordered for me. A soft, tobacco brown with ebony black and pumpkin gold flecks. It was sumptuous and luxurious. Striding across campus to get to class on time, I’d turn the collar up and dig my hands deep into my pockets to stay warm. In the dorm it was cozyand comfortable and on weekends music would spill out of our rooms into the halls as we got ready for our dates and went from room to room sharing cocktails before we went out. Those were the days of albums and turntables. We listened to everything! Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Marshall Tucker, Allman Brothers, the Eagles, Grinderswitch, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wet Willie had us singing and dancing like you wouldn’t even believe. That was our kind of finger poppin’ music. As I walked out of my dorm with girlfriends or on a date with my boyfriend, you could almost touch the excitement in the darkness, the sensation of anticipation in the frosty, brittle darkness. Our eyes sparkled from the cold as we laughed, chatted and guzzled booze in the chilly night air. Fraternity parties were held outdoors on the patio of the lodges. Mammoth speakers were set up inside and out, as were the kegs and garbage cans filled with grain punch. More Atlanta Rythym Section, Doobie Brothers and Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Boston. Lord, I think back and laugh. Those days celebrated the folly of youth and the good looks that come with it. I’ll stop at the risk of divulging any ancient secrets. But, hey! Try this way easy bread pudding. It’s Fall and time for a little pumpkin!