Friday, July 2, 2010

A book, a cake, and a giveaway

First off, I've got a giveaway for you! This one is particularly good, because the prize is a $60 gift certificate to CSN stores, where you can find any number of fabulous kitchen goodies. Yes, that means if you win, you can buy whatever your hungry little heart desires. The sales rep appealed to my vanity by telling me I was a preferred blogger based on the success of my previous giveaway.  So here I am, plugging their website, mostly for you but a little for me.

More about the giveaway in a moment. I also want to talk about a book, and a cake.

I recently read Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life. I'm sure this book needs no introduction to most of you; she's every blogger's envy. Who doesn't want their humble blog to take off like wildfire and lead to a book, a  column in Bon Appetit, and her very own restaurant?

I enjoyed the book, although I've never gotten hooked on Wizenberg's blog, Orangette. I know I'm in the minority here. It's probably more a reflection of my idiotic need to resist what has been deemed great by the masses than anything else. But I was hesitant about the book for other reasons: I'm still young enough to be skeptical of someone younger than me writing a memoir. But she pulls it off neatly enough. I can't say I liked the book as much as some other food-related books I've read, like Heat or  The Sweet Life in Paris, but I finished it. That means something, because I'm not afraid of putting a book down and walking away forever. You might think this is terrible, but I see it as cutting my losses. I already have to work for a living; shouldn't the rest of my time be spent doing things that are fun?

Beyond the writing, a sensible test for a book like this is: do the recipes work? Wizenberg doesn't plug A Homemade Life as a cookbook, but sprinkled throughout are lots of recipes, some of them unusual, and many of them delicious-sounding. I decided to give her  chocolate cake a try.

The cake only calls for five ingredients, which wooed me right away. And it didn't require anything being at room temperature, which made it possible for me to throw it together on a whim the other night as I was heating up leftovers for dinner. Nothing gets you through a plate of reheated roast chicken like the promise of warm chocolate cake for dessert.

The cake turned out very nicely indeed, although I underbaked it by a sliver. For my taste (and the husband's) it was a little too gooey. Next time I'd let it go another 2-3 minutes. But it was delicious nonetheless and pushed over the edge of decency with a scoop of coffee ice cream. I shall certainly be making this simple, rich cake again.

Now, for the giveaway. Tell me what your favorite food-related book is and why. Don't forget to be clever, because I will be judging you, fiercely. Winner gets a $60 gift certificate to CSN. Ready? Go.

Molly Wizenberg's chocolate cake
From A Homemade Life

7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used a combination of bittersweet and semisweet)
1 3/4 sticks (7 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 c. plus 2 T. granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 T. flour
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving (or ice cream)

Preheat the oven to 375 and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper, too.

Put the chocolate and butter in a medium microwavable bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, stirring often, until just smooth. Alternatively (this is what did),  melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over, but not touching, barely simmering water. When the mixture is smooth, add the sugar, stirring well to incorporate. Set the batter aside to cool for 5 minutes. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition. Add the  flour and stir to mix well. The batter should be dark and silky.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly crackled, the edges are puffed, and the center of the cake looks set. Molly recommends setting the timer for 20 minutes to start with and then checking the cake every two minutes after until it's done. She says: "At 20 minutes, the center of the cake is usually still quite jiggly; you'll know it's done when the center only jiggles slightly, if at all. " I took mine out after 25 and wished I'd left it a bit longer; it will depend on your oven and how gooey you like your cake.

Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Carefully turn it out using the following method: Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pan and place a large, flat plate (not the serving plate) on top of the foil, facing down. Hold the cake pan and plate firmly together and quickly flip them. The pan should now be on top of the cake with the foil between them. Remove the pan, revealing the upside-down cake. Peel off the parchment paper. Place the serving plate atop the cake, flip and remove the foil. Cool completely before serving (or don't.)


  1. I think my favorite food related book that wasn't about a chef, by a chef, or about becoming a chef, would have to be a year in Provence, by Peter Mayle
    That cake looks excellent!

  2. Friendship Cake was excellent. It wove the cakes into each chapter. Thank goodness the recipes are also included because all that reading made me hungry for some cake!!!

  3. The cake looks delish!

    My favorite so far has been "The Sharper your knife, the less you cry". It also is not a 'cookbook' filled with recipes, although there are some sprinkled around. It was interesting to read about a person who just said "enough" and followed her passion. Also very cool to read what cooking school is really like!

  4. My favourite food related book is Ottolenghi the cook book because its got so many beautiful recipes and it makes me drool, simple as that :)
    Speaking of drooling, what a gorgeous cake!
    Wishing you a fabulous 4th.
    *kisses* HH

  5. Right now I can't put down Miss Masala by Mallika Basu, though if you want to talk all-time favorites, probably My Life in France by Julia Child, or French Lessons by Peter Mayle. Although I have yet to read Zola's Belly of Paris...

  6. Ooh, chocolate cake with only 5 ingredients? Sold! (I guess I'm with you in the minority, mainly because I have very limited time to read blogs, and I also posses that urge to swim against the tide :)

    Ok, this probably doesn't count as a food related book because the food bit is so small, but Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children put the phrase "grasshopper green chutney" in my head and I want to taste it.

  7. My favourite food-related books are cookbooks, and my favourite cookbook is the Complete Harrowsmith Cookbook. I love it because it fits my life so well - it has simple recipes, but also a few fancy ones for special occasions, and the ingredients are mostly ones we have around the house (and often ones we grow) rather than fancy things I'd have to make a trip to a bigger town for.

  8. As in the example of Midnight’s Children, this may not count as a food-related book, but I always think of the decadent and nostalgic description of coffee in George Orwell’s 1984. I love coffee. And if I found myself in an apocalyptic age, I might also consider risking my life for real coffee, bread and sugar. When I’m brewing a cup, I often think of Orwell’s coffee description and how grateful I am that while we may not have a single-payer universal health care plan, our government has yet to impose “Victory Coffee” and saccharine on the masses. For Orwell, coffee is so good that in his imagined autocratic state, it was considered contraband.

  9. My favorite food-related book is The Joy of Cooking because years ago it truly taught me to love cooking, and I still do!

  10. I'm with you that I enjoyed the book, even though I was never a follower of Orangette. I like her writing style though, and I was tempted by some of the recipes. My problem came when the library demanded I give the book back and I didn't get to bake anything. : )

    As for food-related books, Julie and Julia cracked me up and I thought The School of Essential Ingredients was charming.

  11. it sure doesn't look too gooey from where i'm sitting. and is that really a problem? i like gooey-ness. :)
    favorite food-related book, eh? being the undeniable nerd that i am, i have to pick robert wolke's 'what einstein told his cook' (both 1 and 2). hooray for food science!

  12. Honestly,My favorite was a Paula Deen book but I can not remember the title. I can tell you that I had to throw the book out because it was so messy from m trying the recipes that I could not turn the pages anymore.

  13. Too gooey? Can anything be too gooey???

    I read Orangette's blog once in a while, but never have read her book. Someone gave me the Pioneer Woman's cookbook or I would never have bought that either. Still haven't read through it. Naughty me.

    As far as books are concerned, my all time favorite is Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts. Not only is she my baking guru, but I love her little stories about each recipe and her detailed instructions. No doubt you wanted me to list a book like 52 Loaves (which I am reading now, and it's OK) but I prefer reading Maida's books!

  14. Tough to narrow it down to just one. But one of my all-time favorites has to be "The Soul of a Chef'' by Michael Ruhlman. What sets a great chef apart from an average one? Is a great chef the product of a famous cooking school or self-made with determination and fearlessness? Ruhlman not only answers those questions with telling anecdotes about some of the country's best known chefs, but does so in prose that is so evocative that it will stay with you long after you put the book down.

  15. Chef Dennis and I share a favorite. I read A Year in Provence (and all the other Mayle books) the summer before I started college. I learned about truffles and tried them for the first time because of the book, and generally started trying more decadent and different foods because of it. Also, to this day, I still want to go live for a year in Provence and I still wonder if the wild boars in Calistoga are rooting out truffles. Anyway - this cake looks great and I'll have to try it. I am ambivalent about Orangette, but do indeed read it from time to time.

  16. You are wooing me with chocolate cake again. Remember the David Lebowitz cake that you inspired me to make because your blog post completely intrigued me? I am feeling inspired now by the idea that a cake can be whipped up(by the way the David Lebowitz..not a whip up cake)and with only 5 ingredients...hmmm.

    I felt the exact same way about Molly Wizenberg's blog. I could not quite capture it but, the book I almost enjoyed.
    As for my favorite book about food-Certainly not an original but, I loved Julie/Julia. I thought her book was really enjoyable and holy cow suddenly everyone wanted to purchase the Art of French Cooking.

  17. My favorite food related book? about Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett? Wouldn't it be great if it rained juice and soup? And if it snowed mashed potatoes? And storms blew in hamburgers? You don't have to shop for food, it just falls out of the sky. How perfect is that?
    HobartsMama {AT} AOL.COM

  18. My favorite food related book would have to be The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I guess its not that focused on food but its in the title and its sort of important.