I’m still agog that Giada was on Chealsea Lately. But moving on – I have the cookbook now, weeknights with Giada, and I have to say the array of recipes is quite nice. Nice in the sense that they are just different enough, just easy enough, and written well enough in a nice choice of font, that it made me want to start cooking again. What’s not to love about these recipes with titles like “risotto with currants, pine nuts, and feta cheese” and the first dish I cooked out of it for the son, my first meal post-Paris and that aftermath: “whole wheat linguine with bacon, shrimp, and basil”-- And the pictures of Todd, Giada in cleavage, and their adorable little girl are not over the top.
The one cookbook inspired two forays back into cooking: dinner for the son, for whom I had not really cooked in weeks – out of Giada’s cookbook - and the son’s birthday cake, out of Pioneer Woman’s (“PW”) cookbook. Both forays were accompanied by one of my absolutely favorite pastimes of all time, drinking while cooking. I prefer to call it however the hour of the apéro. I know the aperitif experience is not supposed to be done by oneself – because that’s just drinking alone, and doesn’t sound as nice as an aperitif ritual. But what’s not to love about a holiday weekend of cooking in the kitchen, French radio on the iPhone, a good first draft done of a brief – and a nice crisp and cool Argentinean white wine and almonds with light dusting of sea salt.
But there are hazards to drinking while baking.
First, baking requires precise measurements. They should be precise even for such a rough-hewn and simple but rich and decadent recipe as Pioneer Woman’s recipe: a classic chocolate sheet cake. The kind with that dense moist cakey part, not too sweet, and the thick (chocolate) confectioner’s sugar frosting loaded up with vanilla and nuts and more dark cocoa powder and all of that poured over the cake while it is still hot. All it took was half a glass of wine and I could not keep track of the flour measurement. All I could find that was clean was the one-third cup measure: that meant I needed six (6) of those for two (2) cups. I started, stopped, started over – twice. It Is hard to count to 6 with certainty when over 45 and having a classy apéro/drinking alone in the kitchen.
Second, because I am not a spatial relationships or math person, I did not so great when I opted to go it alone and not follow the PW’s instructions and pour the batter into a baking sheet – used the old reliable baking pan. I did some “rough math” in my head to increase the cooking time appropriately. This would end up, I realized, most likely, with a molten lava cake in the middle. But I figured once it cooled, then sat in fridge overnight, then came out for party time, it would be like a chocolate molten lava cake but with no running lava. It was. (See below finished product.)
Third, I had 3 partially full 2-pound bags of confectioner’s sugar. The PW recipe calls for 1 pound of confectioner’s sugar for that frosting, which cooks up quickly while the cake is baking (which is a mere 20 minutes if you used the correct baking equipment, which I had not). And no, I do not have a scale. I just had to eyeball the amount (after 1 glass of wine) while pouring it into the butter and cocoa powder mixture. As this all occurred, including my usual baking secret (add extra vanilla and nuts—always) into glass no. 2 of wine. This occurred not only on glass no. 2 but also after serious sugar overload from taking walnut halves and dragging them through the thick chocolate batter in the big metal bowl and eating them. Seriatim.
This simple sheet cake. I am seeing everywhere now, and it is touted as some secret delicious hip and groovy new dessert trend. It is nothing new though. It has been in my family – as in my growing-up family – since like forever. It was our specially requested birthday cake for many years when we were growing up, and mostly when we were grown up (i.e., after age 35). When I announced to mom and dad this would be the birthday cake choice for the son, and that it was from PW’s cookbook, they both had a critical eye to how she did hers. Lard or oil, they asked. Neither, I said. Huh, they said.
I did not fully appreciate the cake until after the party. During the party there was too much self-analysis going on and monitoring of conversation with and among former spouse, his parents, the son, my parents – and making sure someone else, anyone, was having Prosecco besides just me.
After the party though, after everyone had gone, and the son nowhere to be seen, ensconced back in the boy cave again, there was just me and the cake and the Prosecco and the French lounge music. The cake I noticed had some odd, uneven edges based on the haphazard cutting and serving ritual (mine). They were very annoying. They were therefore evened out, little by little, with a fork and knife, by me (and remnants consumed also by me), into nice 90-degree angles and/or straight lines.
Cooking tips – which I rarely have:
(1) Undercook the cake;
(2) Add more vanilla and more pecans/walnuts than the recipe calls for; and
(3) Save a square, or sliver or two or three, for when you can really focus on how simple yet good and complex this cake is (i.e., by yourself). If you must enjoy this experience with a friend, I would refer you to Mr. Prosecco.