Tag Archives: Boston Cooking-School Cook Book

Frosting

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I am one of those people who could seriously leave the cake on a plate and just eat the frosting.  Love it.  Vanilla, chocolate, cream cheese or caramel, it is all good.  Of late, however, I notice this annoying trend of wrapping everything in fondant so that it looks smooth and perfect.  Frosting is not supposed to be perfect looking.   It’s supposed to look like something you want to dig your finger through.  Who isn’t jealous of the baby at his or her first birthday party completely engulfed in a buttercream glaze of frosting and cake bits?

Frosting, in all of its fluffy goodness, is a rather new “invention”. Most beginning cake toppings were thin affairs made with a combination of sugar and egg whites. An example of this type of recipe can be found in The New England Economical Housekeeper (1845):

Beat the whites of an egg to an entire froth, and to each egg an 5 teaspoonfuls loaf sugar, gradually; beat a great while. Put it on when your cake is hot or cold, as is most convenient. A little lemon juice squeezed into the eggs and sugar, improves it. Spread it on with a knife, and smooth it over with a soft brush, like a shaving brush.

Another early variation of frosting was the boiled frosting. Fannie Farmer’s recipe in her The 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book is as follows:

Boiled frosting

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Whites 2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

Put sugar and water in saucepan, and site to prevent sugar from adhering to saucepan; heat gradually to boiling point, and boil without stirring until syrup will thread when dropped from tip of spoon or tines of silver fork. Pour syrup gradually on beaten white of egg, beating mixture constantly, and continue beating until right consistency to spread; then add flavoring and pour over cake, spreading evenly with back of spoon. Crease as soon as firm. If not beaten long enough, frosting will run; if beaten too long, it will not be smooth. Frosting beaten too long may be improved by adding a few drops of lemon juice or boiling water. This frosting is soft inside, and has a glossy surface.

Well, in today’s world, the first one would appear to kill you with Salmonella or any other bacterial plague bought about and worsened by factory farming.  The second one sounds kinda hard. Thread, soft ball, hard ball stages of melting and boiled sugar require more judgment than I care to employ for a cake frosting. The success of my kid’s birthday party can’t hinge on whether I boiled the sugar past the soft ball stage and into the hard ball stage. That’s too much pressure!!!

As a kid, frosting in a can was always a big hit. But, looking back, the ingredients look a touch sad:

Duncan Hines Creamy Homestyle Classic Chocolate Frosting (http://www.duncanhines.com/products/frostings/creamy-home-style-classic-chocolate-frosting)

Sugar, Water, Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oils, Mono- and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60), Cocoa Powder Processed with Alkali, Corn Syrup. Contains 2% Or Less Of: Corn Starch, Salt, Invert Sugar, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Carmelized Sugar (Sugar, Water), Caramel Color, Acetic Acid, Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate), Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate.

The other frosting trend when I was small was to use  the Wilton Buttercream Icing Recipe (frosting and icing are terms that are used rather interchangeably). You could decorate with it more easily, I suppose.  Wilton also helped to user icing flower decorations to the masses.  Rose covered cakes became all the rage.   The Wilton recipe combines confectioner’s sugar, butter, vegetable shortening, vanilla extract and a touch of milk. The mouthfeel is what you would expect when one eats vegetable shortening. Sort of waxy and thick. Whenever you see cakes in the bakery with “buttercream” listed as the frosting and they are decorated with blindingly white icing, remember what butter looks like and just know it might have some butter in there, but will likely have shortening as well. I am generally anti-shortening because of the severe manufacturing process that turns a soybean and a cottonseed into a solid mass of fat-like substance. And the taste. Ick.

Do you want a good looking frosting or a good tasting frosting? That’s the question. Sure, you can have a marble smooth covering on your cake that will look fantastic in pictures, but the taste? Eh. How much taste can you get out of sugar, glucose, vegetable shortening, gelatin, water and extract?  I’ll say it:   fondant isn’t good. It’s gummy and rather artificial tasting, as most fondants are manufactured and stored in plastic tubs indefinitely.  You can also have a beautiful white frosting, but you’ll get stuck with something made from shortening.

Or, you can go retro and have a frosting made with real butter.  It won’t be blinding white and you can’t make flowers out of it.  But, it will taste amazing.  Like, you are hoping some makes it on the cake amazing.  And frankly, it doesn’t really look “bad”.  And, you can make it chocolate or vanilla flavored!!

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My inspiration from this recipe came from an episode of Good Eats and a book named The Cake Mix Doctor.  I have every great cake book.  Ruth Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible?  Check.  Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts and Cakes.  Check and Check.  Still, every cake I made was lacking.  Then I saw Alton Brown recommend a box cake mix.  Really?!?  According to him, you can’t beat the chemistry in a box for great cake.  With that logic, I found myself face to face with The Cake Mix Doctor book by Anne Byrn at a local bookseller and decided to try it for my son’s birthday.  He wanted a cake that “bled”.  So, I made the Red Velvet Cake.  First of all, it was so easy because it was a mix.  Second, he LOVED it.  Now, usually when people go to a kid’s birthday party, I never see the adults take a piece of cake.   I do the calculation myself and decide it’s not worth the calorie bomb to eat a piece of supermarket “buttercream” frosted cake and politely decline.  The kids love anything “cake”, and that’s what is important.  I don’t need it.

At my son’s party, not a single piece of cake remained.  It was gone.  The adults ate it.  No leftovers!!  The secret? Probably not the “doctored” German Chocolate Cake mix with sour cream and red food dye (although that was good), but the rich cream cheese frosting.  AMAZING.  Anne Byrn recommends homemade frosting for her doctored cake mixes, and includes several in her book.  She is right.  No one thought I used a mix, and the frosting was great,  but I have to doctor hers up a bit.  Hers are overly sweet for me.  My experiments are your gain.  Also, making your own cake will cost a fraction of a bakery cake, and be just as good.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
Frosts a 2 layer 9 inch round cake
Total Time: 10-15 minutes

2 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Cream together the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl until well combined. Turn off the mixer. Add the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar. Mix on low speed until the sugar and cocoa are mostly incorporated (this avoids the explosion of powdered ingredients). Increase to medium speed and beat the frosting until it is fluffy.

Done.

I know, not hard, right? Not scary, no fear of failing. Just awesome, spoon lickin’ frosting. If you don’t want chocolate, omit the cocoa powder and cut the sugar to 3 1/2 cups and it’s an awesome white frosting.

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Beef Stew

The first encounter I recall with beef stew is eating a bowl of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.  It was a cherished childhood memory.   Why make Beef Stew when it was just so handy to open a can? Well, my husband and I tried of night a childhood favorites.  Let’s just say, Chef Boyardee Ravioli and Dinty Moore Beef Stew don’t taste as good as I remember.   There’s a reason I moved away from processed foods.

There are many recipes for beef stew in older cookbooks, although most refer to stewing a large piece of meat, usually studded or slitted with seasoning.  Around the mid to late 1800, “stew” seems to begin to resemble something of its modern day incarnation in various recipe books.

In reviewing many of the recipes, the one that stuck out most to me was Fannie Farmer’s from her Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.    While it lacked any sort of spice ingredients, it had an interesting twist.  Modern stews call for the addition of stock or wine as the deglazing and liquid source for the stew.  In other words, it can be a two step process of making a stock, then making a stew.  Fannie’s method is more economical as she throws the bones in during cooking and removes them prior to thickening the sauce.  In other words, she makes the stock, while cooking the stew.  To me, this was genius!  I always have too much or too little stock.  Then there’s the problem of stock storage.  Sure, I freeze stock that I make, but that takes up space and has to be thawed.   Fannie’s method is economical and much less work and clean up!  So, I took bits of her recipe and bits of the recipe from The Lady’s Receipt Book by Eliza Leslie in 1847 with the modern addition of mushrooms to create a very simple beef stew.  With a small amount of up front time, the stew mostly sat in the oven for cooking, leaving me plenty of time to do other things on a lazy Sunday.

Beef Stew

2 pounds stew meat, cubed

Flour sufficient for dredging meat

Salt

Pepper

1/4 leftover bacon grease or any high heat tolerant oil/fat (lard, canola, etc.)

1 cup carrots, sliced thin

1/2 onion, small dice

2 celery stalks, sliced thin

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon thyme

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

Water

Beef bones ( I used 4 bones of about 3 inch diameter)

4 cups potatoes, diced.

I know these ingredients don’t really look like much, but this is a really simple recipe and you don’t need to measure much.  Pat the beef dry.  Sprinkle beef with flour, salt and pepper.    You want the beef to be covered with flour.  For the salt and pepper, there really shouldn’t be more than a teaspoon of each needed.  The salt and pepper are included at this point to really to flavor the liquid of the stew and can be adjusted later.

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Floured and seasoned beef added to the hot fat

Heat fat or oil in dutch oven (I used a 5 quart one) over medium high heat.  Saute beef until browned and leaving bits of browned flour on the pan.

Remove from pan and add carrots, onion and celery.

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Cook until partially softened.  Add mushrooms, nutmeg and thyme.  Cook until pan is deglazed.  You may need to add a bit of salt to help the process along if the vegetables are not releasing their liquid.  Once the pan is deglazed, return meat to the pan and add water sufficient to cover.  Stir to distribute the flour that is on the meat throughout the liquid. The liquid should start to turn brown and slightly thicken.  Add bones and additional water if needed to mostly cover the ingredients.  Seal tightly with lid and cook at 350 degrees until the meat is tender.  The amount of time varies depending on what the butcher thought was “beef stew” meat and whether the meat was pastured or not.  2-3 hours would be a good guess.

Allow enough time prior to the finishing of the stew to parboil the potatoes (about  5 minutes).  After removing the bones, add the partially cooked potatoes to the stew for 15 minutes of cooking with the stew.

Now, I didn’t feel the need to thicken the stew at the end of cooking, but if you want to, you can add 1/4 cup flour (slurried with some water to prevent lumps) and cook until thickened.

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I didn’t think I would like the nutmeg, but honestly, it kind of worked.  Mace was the other ingredient suggested for stew in the older cookbooks. I couldn’t find any, but now I’m curious to see if I can and try it!