Don’t hold the mayo

chocolate mayonnaise cake

Every Valentine’s Day needs chocolate, and when I posted the photo of this dessert on my Food Writer Debbie Moose Facebook page, requests came in for the recipe.

It’s so simple, and has an interesting history. Chocolate cake using mayonnaise instead of butter and milk became popular as a cost saver during the Depression, and it was also popular during the rationing period of World War II. It makes a devil’s food-like cake that is so simple, kids can make it. In fact, I demonstrated this recipe for a group of teachers at a teachers’ seminar focusing on WWII.

The only caveat is don’t overbake it to prevent dryness. I added a drizzle of melted bittersweet chocolate to make it even more of a Valentine’s Day treat.

This recipe makes enough to fill a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, but I used an oversized muffin pan to make six individual cakes.  I cooked the remaining batter in a smaller baking dish, dusted the resulting large cake with powdered sugar and gave it to my neighbor, who has two kids and is expecting a third – just to spread the Valentine’s Day love (and get the calories out of my kitchen).

I adapted this from a recipe in “The American Century Cookbook” by Jean Anderson.

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

2 cups flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used a super-dark cocoa)

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs

1 2/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup mayonnaise

1 1/3 cups cold coffee or water (coffee adds more flavor)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or equivalent muffin tins, etc., with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a portable electric mixer) combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat on high speed 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the mayonnaise just until blended. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with the coffee or water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour into prepared pans and bake 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the pan (the muffins will take less time). Bake just until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; do not overbake. Cool for 15 minutes or so, then remove from the pans and cool completely before frosting, drizzling with melted chocolate or dusting with powdered sugar.

Sky high over pie

cranberry pie by the benevolent sisterhood of pie

The Benevolent Sisterhood of Pie, having convened for our annual Thanksgiving pastry-making festivities, make this proclamation: Pie is the Official Holiday Dessert. The BSP’s current membership – the Queen of Pie, Sassy Kay and myself, plus The Hub as president and sole member of the men’s auxiliary – agreed on one sole guideline for perfect pie: Homemade crust. Yes, I have stooped to the red box in weak moments – forgive me sisters. But this year’s crusts for Thanksgiving were tender as angels’ wings and as flaky as a GOP debate. Just how good crust should be. Tasting it will spoil you for the box.

For a two-crust, 9-inch pie, here are the instructions. It helps to see someone like the Queen, who is a pie crust expert, make it. And just keep trying if the first one doesn’t work out. You’re just out flour and shortening. Also, if you’re using a deep-dish pie pan, as I do, add half again as much of all ingredients so that you’ll have ample crust. Double it, if you like.

Put 2 cups flour (the BSP likes White Lily) in a bowl. Stir in  1 1/4 teaspoons salt. Add 2/3 cup shortening. Cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry blender until it looks like cornmeal and small peas. Don’t overwork the dough. Have a cup of ice water ready. Sprinkle a tablespoon of ice water onto the mixture. Toss it in with two knives. Be gentle and don’t mash. Repeat with up to 4 tablespoons of water, but just enough for the dough to come together without being soggy. The weather makes a difference. Humidity means you need to add less ice water. We also discovered, in a scientific comparison, that the same brand of flour kept in the refrigerator, vs. in a canister on the counter, was drier and required more water.

Turn the dough onto a piece of wax paper, put your hand under the paper and press the dough together lightly, without squeezing. Twist the paper closed and let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes.

For rolling out the dough, I found that using a pastry cloth (I ordered one from Sur La Table) is helpful. Mine also has circles for 8- and 9-inch pans. Flour the cloth and the rolling pin. A sock-like sleeve for the rolling pin (it came with the cloth) helps, too. Roll firmly but gently and smoothly. Don’t pound the dough. With it’s the right size, use a scraper to gently lift the dough and roll it partially on the rolling pin, lift it, and place it in the pie pan. Repeat the process for the top crust.

We’re in the season of red, so grab some cranberries and make this festive pie. It was a hit for the BSP this Thanksgiving. We started with a recipe from the excellent “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, N.C. and “doctored it up.” We thought the filling was so pretty that we did a lattice crust instead of a full-coverage crust. Simply cut strips with a pizza cutter and weave them across the top.

Cranberry Pie from the Benevolent Sisterhood of Pie

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

1 tablespoon flour

Finely grated rind of 1/2 of a large orange

1 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups raw cranberries

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the pie pan with the bottom crust. In a medium bowl, mash the butter, flour and orange rind together with a fork until it’s a smooth paste. Add the sugar and continue mashing to turn it into a crumbly mixture. Add the cranberries and Grand Marnier and stir together. Pour the filling into the pie pan. Top with the second crust and crimp the edges with a fork to seal, or turn under with your fingers and make a nice frill of it. If you’re doing a lattice crust, weave the strips across the top. Make 4 or 5 slashes in the top crust so it won’t explode while cooking. (Omit this if you did the lattice technique.) Sit the pan on a cookie sheet in case it overflows a little (better on the cookie sheet than your oven floor, believe me). Place in the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is brown and you can see through the slits that the filling is bubbling. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Food Blogger Bake Sale time

I can’t decide which baked good to offer for the Food Blogger Bake Sale, so I’ll let you hungry people vote. Johanna Kramer (DurhamFoodie) and Matt Lardie (GreenEats) have organized the Food Blogger Bake Sale in Durham, N.C. as part of the Great American Bake Sale, a nationwide effort to raise money for Share Our Strength. Share Our Strength’s simple, yet massive, goal: End childhood hunger in America. Nearly one out of every four children face hunger daily in this country. Simply unacceptable.

Area food bloggers – including moi – plan to participate. The event will be May 14, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Art Market at Vega Metals, 214 Hunt St., Durham, N.C. Tickets are $3 each or four for $10, and each ticket gets your choice of one item. And we bloggers will be watching to see whose goodies sell out first, for bragging rights. It’s not too late to participate – contact Lardie.

Oh, your choices. Should I make my Spicy Pumpkin Muffins (pumpkin with a ton of cinnamon, mace and cloves) or Bananaville Bread (banana bread made with coconut, pineapple and rum)?

Food news roundup

I didn’t know what a whoopie pie was until a few years ago, probably because they were common in Pennsylvania and other parts of the frozen North, not the South. When I did encounter them, I was suspicious. They are not pie. They resembled the packaged creme-filled oatmeal cookies my mother used to buy by the truckload. But the real thing couldn’t be more different, and whoopie pies are sweeping cupcakes out the door in national popularity, so says the Charlotte Observer. After reading the article, I can see why: Fluffy filling between soft, cakey, portable cookies. No sugary frosting all over your nose, as happens to me when trying to eat the towering cupcakes people seem to produce. Read more here. It’s also in The News & Observer.

A coveted veggie burger recipe from Raleigh, N.C.’s Vivace is in The News & Observer here.

Whoa, there’s a winter weather advisory for Winston-Salem, N.C.? Oh, wait, I was supposed to be looking for food articles… Chapel Hill, N.C. cookbook author Nancie McDermott will be doing a signing in my old hometown and you can read about it in the Winston-Salem Journal,  here.

You can be a smart wine buyer who gets good vino without floating a loan. The Minneapolis Star Tribune will tell you how here. And the catwalk of dressed-up wine bottles is adorable.

An Indian-spiced version of raita using apples is a different approach to the fall fruit. Find the recipe in the Salt Lake Tribune, here.

The much-discussed Husk restaurant in Charleston, S.C. opened this week, and the Post and Courier has a video report on the opening here. Husk’s chef Sean Brock has vowed to use predominantly ingredients sourced in the South.

More on pie

My husband and I collaborated on a pie for our neighbor, aka The Queen of Pie, on Saturday. She was unaware that it was National Pie Day – shocking! – but she plans to mark Jan. 23 on her calendar for next year.

We made a pie using blueberries that I froze last summer. I mixed four cups (thawed in the microwave) with a couple cups of sugar and some grated lemon peel and fresh ginger. I added cornstarch for thickening and a dash of mace. Mace is an underused spice. I like it because it has a sweeter flavor than nutmeg, which can be a little bitter, to me.

My husband rolled out the bottom crust – not too much trouble there. Besides, who’s going to see it? The top crust refused to cooperate, as it often does for me. But I used the secret I learned from the Queen: Cut the dough up in strips and make a lattice crust.

The filling tasted good, so I hoped that boded well for the actual pie. We left it at the Queen’s house to spur her recovery and to, I hope, show what we’ve learned at the feet of the pie master.

However you add ’em up, it’s good

Pi plateThere’s National Pie Day and there’s National Pi Day. Sure, National Pie Day is a concoction of the American Pie Council, which is linked to that pie crust ingredient Crisco, and is designed to promote pie and the ingredients used to make it. Commercial, yes, but I’m for anything that encourages the increased consumption of pie – especially in that dreary dessert period between the Christmas cookies and Girl Scout cookies.

So, on Saturday, make a pie. Even if you use the refrigerated pie crusts – it’s OK. If you make a fruit pie, it’s good for you. I plan to make a pie in honor of the neighbor who helped me finally discover the secrets of making a good pie crust. She could make pies in her sleep – she’s been doing it since she was a teenager – and makes learning really easy. From her, I learned that I did not need to beat the crust into submission with my rolling pin – it’s a pie crust, not a former boss. Deep cleaning breath now. My talented neighbor has been in the hospital recently, but is mending now, and I hope it won’t long before she’s back rolling out crust by the mile.

Stretch the metaphor and eat more pie by also celebrating National Pi Day, which is March 14. (Even if you’re not married to a math geek, like I am, I’m sure you can figure out why.) Pastry tastes a lot better than math. But you can mix the two, as you can see by the accompanying photo. Yes, it’s a pie plate with a pi theme.

Here’s a pie recipe from my friend Sheri. This pie has been known to cure broken bones – she brought it over after I fractured my wrist this summer. She thinks it’s named after a similar pie at the Raleigh restaurant, but she’s not sure about that.

Angus Barn Chocolate Pie

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter
2 foil-wrapped rectangles semi-sweet baking chocolate (4 squares) . . . (Nestles comes 4 rectangles to the box . . . enough for 2 pies.  Bakers comes 8 squares to the box . . . enough for 2 pies).
1 regular (not deep-dish) pie crust

Preheat oven to 350.  Beat eggs, then add sugar and vanilla.  Melt butter and chocolate together over low heat.  Let chocolate mixture cool somewhat, then pour chocolate mixture, small portions at a time, into egg mixture.  (You don’t want the chocolate to cook the eggs.)  Beat well after each addition.  Pour into pie shell.  Bake for 30 – 35 minutes at 350 F.  Serve with whipped cream.

(Note: filling will rise above crust, but will go back down once the pie is removed from oven and it cools.)

That’s some cupcake, cupcake

Cupcake by Crumb in RaleighI have to confess, the cupcake craze has not swept me along. I find that most have the wrong percentage of cake to frosting – about twice as much frosting as cake. Now, I have nothing against good frosting, but I want a bite of both each time. And cupcakes I’ve sampled from bakeries, until now, have seemed like just miniature cakes, not exploring the possibilities of the cupcake’s petite form.

Then, just before Christmas, a friend lured me to an unlikely cupcake locale: a corner of Designbox Gallery at 323 W. Martin Street in downtown Raleigh that was holding an annual holiday crafts sale. There, Shotbox offered coffee from Ty Beddingfield, the original owner of Third Place, and Rich Futrell of Durham’s Counter Culture Coffee. But the stars were cupcakes from Crumb, with bakers Carrie Gephart, formerly of the stellar Hayes Barton Dessertery (yes, the place behind the pharmacy at Five Points) and David Menestries.

I ordered a chocolate cupcake with chocolate mousse filling, and buttercream icing flavored with jalapeno and cilantro. This was a cupcake revelation. Just enough icing to enhance the cake without drowning it, with the cilantro adding a green-mint like flavor. The jalapeno provided a subtle jolt in the back of the throat. The cake was not too sweet (another beef I have with most cupcakes).

The blog at the Crumb website implies that the take-out operation may be back this month. Let’s all hope so. I hate that I missed the one with candied habanero buttercream and Patron tequila. If you want all the cupcakes to yourself, you can place orders through the website.

Food news roundup

The News & Observer’s food section today had a nice story about my friend Foy Allen Edelman and her new cookbook, “Sweet Carolina.” She has a booth at the N.C. State Fair, which runs through Sunday. Foy was also kind enough to include my cookbooks, and I’ll be signing on Friday, Oct. 23 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (the books are there all the time). Come by and see us in the Kerr Scott Building. Read the article here.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch has fascinating things to do with green tomatoes, beyond frying them and sticking them in a delicious biscuit (my favorite). Read about it here.

Can it be? A shortage of pumpkin as Thanksgiving nears? Kathleen Purvis of the Charlotte Observer explains it here.

And you can’t smoke in most restaurants but you can still get free matches. The New York Times explains the trend here.