July 1st, 2018 6:57 PM
Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake.
This little rhyme has been going through my head all day. It’s from a children’s book, one of my favorites, called Miss Suzy. Miss Suzy is a mild-mannered little gray squirrel who likes to bake and clean in her house at the top of her tree. One day, some nasty brutes, the red squirrels, invade her home and she’s forced to evacuate. Thankfully, the tin soldiers who befriend Miss Suzy defend her against the red squirrels in the end. (Sorry about the spoiler.)
I don’t think I’ve read this book for forty-five years, at least. But I still remember the plot, the characters, and the rhyme. Please don’t ask me what I made for dinner on Friday night. I won’t remember that.
The reason for the rhyme running endlessly through my head today is because I made a peach coffee cake this morning. From scratch. This is a significant thing for me. I’m not a big baker. I like to cook, and while I can bake, I find it to be tedious. Plus, my tastes tend to run more toward savory treats than sweet ones. I’ll take bowl of fresh, hot buttered popcorn over cookies or cake any day.
I do like coffee cake, however, since it isn’t too sweet. When I make it, which is about once every couple of years, I always opt for the recipe on the back of the Bisquick box, which is fine. However, the recipe that I used today was from America’s Test Kitchen, my absolute favorite source for recipes. You know how there’s some chefs that make recipes sound so good but when you actually make them they’re awful? (I’m looking at you Rachael Ray!) America’s Test Kitchen (and Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated — they’re all the same organization) has never, ever steered me wrong. Their recipes always work out. Always. Which was what gave me the courage to try a cake from scratch.
Their recipes are not easy, mind you. The often have fifteen or more ingredients and they are, as my mother would say, “putzy”. So was this one. I had to slice two peaches in 1/2″ slices and macerate them in sugar and a pinch of salt for a half hour in order to extract two tablespoons of peach syrup. Which I did. I had juicy peaches so I actually got three tablespoons of syrup. I know you can’t futz with liquid to dry ratios in baking, though, so I didn’t throw the extra tablespoon into the batter, even though I was tempted. I threw it in a glass with some diet Pepsi and gave it Dennis. (He loved it! He said it tasted alcoholic and that made him happy. I’ve decided not to analyze the meaning behind that comment).
In addition to fresh peaches I also had to dig out vanilla and almond extract (I actually had some to my surprise), peach preserves and a 9″ spring form pan. That one was tricky. I knew I had one because Dennis had a set of spring form pans he brought with him when we got married. Not being a baker, I’ve never used them in the 10+ years we’ve been married.
Then there was the usual butter, cinnamon, flour, sugar (white and brown), baking powder and sour cream. There was a three-step assembly process that each required seperate bowls — wet ingredients, dry ingredients, and the topping ingredients (as well as the macerated peach bowl, the strainer and the additional bowl to catch the peach juice. I think I used every bowl I own. The counter and sink were strewn with bowls, utensils, and measuring cups. This is why I don’t bake, I thought to myself half way through. Miss Suzy was nuts; clean-up is going to be a bitch.
So I began assembling the cake. I measured, I hand-blended, I mixed, and I whisked while the entire time Miss Suzy’s song ran though my head. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake.
Forty-five minutes in, I wanted Miss Suzy to shut the hell up already. I played one of the darkest, most haunting songs I could think of to drive Miss Suzy out of my head. “Take Me to Church” by Hozier. It didn’t work. Apparently, my ear worms are multi-taskers because Miss Suzy’s rhyme and Hozier’s song have been alternating running through my head ever since. It’s an interesting combination to be sure. Take me church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies…
Here is a link to the YouTube video of Take me to Church by Hozier, in case you’ve never heard it. (I cannot be held responsible if it runs through your head for the next three weeks).
Finally, it was time to get the batter into the spring form pan. Spring form pans are tricky. If the bottom isn’t in right you end up with a mess in the bottom of the oven. I was very, very careful to make sure I got the pan put together securely before I put my precious batter inside. (I was a good hour in, with another hour of clean-up in front of me. No way was I wasting that batter.) …I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knives…
The spring form held the batter, thank goodness, and then it was time to arrange my 1/2″ slices of peaches, that were now sticky and slimy from macerating in sugar, into a concentric circle on the top of the pan. Sure. Piece of cake. Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake…
Or not. My concentric circle wasn’t all that even. it was more of a concentric blob than a circle, but I was losing patience at this point. Besides, I reasoned, the concentric circle gets covered up with the crumble topping. No one will know.
Once I covered my not-so-concentric mess with the crumble topping it looked pretty good. Time to bake it. Take me to church…
The recipe said it should take forty-five to fifty minutes. However, my stove has been flaky so I truly had no idea how long it would take. I set the time for thirty minutes and kept checking on it from there. Forty-five minutes in it started to smell really, good. It ended up taking an hour ten minutes to finish and I was afraid I dried it out with all the extra cooking. I really need a new oven. I bet Miss Suzy didn’t have these problems. I’ll worship like a dog…
I finished cleaning the kitchen about five minutes before the cake was done. This sucker better taste good. I took it out of the oven and it looked perfect. Just like the picture on the recipe. My non-concentric blob was totally obscured by the crumble as I expected.
Did I dig in and confirm my efforts were worth the end product? I did not. Because the damn cake had to cool for two hours. I pried the outside ring off it at an hour, and I was relieved it didn’t stick.
Finally, it was cool enough to try. At this point it was 4:45 and I was getting dinner ready being the busy little squirrel I was today. (Personally, I think if one bakes, cooking should not be required in the same day. That’s double the dish duty. Just sayin’).
So how was the end result? Amazing. It’s probably the best coffee cake I’ve ever had, hands down. I saved out two pieces for dessert tonight and I cut up and froze the rest. No way is any of that going to waste.
Oh, I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I’ll make an acorn cake.
The cake experience was a success but, unfortunately, the battle of the ear worms continues to rage on with no relief in site.