Still No Cooking, But . . . .

. . . . I did receive some interesting recipes from Martha Jones in Elberton, Georgia. Martha is a member of the church where Fred preached a couple of times over the last few months. She’s a retired home economics teacher and has written a cookbook, “Martha’s Favorite Recipes.”

The recipe that most interests me? Prune Cake. Prunes are unfairly maligned, too long associated with elderly relatives with digestive difficulties. If you don’t believe me, check out the very brief Wikipedia entry on prunes, which mentions the recent campaign to rebrand them “dried plums.”

So in keeping with the wishes of the Prune Council, or Dried Plum Council, or whoever wants us to think of prunes properly as the delicious, rich, tasty things they are, here is Martha’s recipe:

Prune Cake

1 c. cooking oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. buttermilk
2 c. flour
1 c. chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. all spice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. chopped prunes

Mix oil, sugar and beaten eggs. Sift flour, soda, cinnamon, all spice, and salt. Add alternately with buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. Stir in prunes and nuts. Mix and pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13″ pan (pan may be greased with Bakers Blend Cooking Spray). Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, cool, and pour topping over cake.


1/4 c. margarine
1/4 tsp. soda
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla

Place ingredients in saucepan. Mix and let mixture come to a boil. Pour over cooled cake.

Thank God for Frosting

Finally finished the cake last night, which I was making for a silent auction at church. (Do I sound like my grandmother or what?)

I dispensed with Cook’s Illustrated and their Consumer Reports approach to cooking and turned to James Beard’s American Cookery for the chocolate cake recipe. It was the Chocolate Custard or Devil’s Food Cake on page 676–a tender, light cake. Very tender. Especially when you cook it a tiny bit too long, which makes the waxed paper you used to line the pan stick to the firm (but not burned) edges of the cake and cause them to crumble.

But then: Here comes the frosting to SAVE THE DAY!!!

This is a variation on Fanny Farmer’s (1990 version) of Cream Cheese Frosting (p. 600). I love that recipe because it’s incredibly versatile–you can add most any flavoring you like.

Here’s what I did for this cake:

Mocha Cream Cheese Frosting

Frosts a 9″ 3-layer cake

16 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. butter, softened
3 c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. strong brewed coffee (espresso would probably work too)
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted

Set aside 1 c. of the sugar. Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add remaining 1 c. sugar until it’s sweetened to your taste.

I don’t care for very sweet frosting, so you may need to add up to 4 cups of the sugar.

Final confession: I actually had to use a mix of extra fine and confectioner’s sugar because I ran out of confectioner’s.

I bet that never happened to Fannie Farmer.

Fred Takes the Camera

Fred decided to chronicle my cake-baking efforts last night. I don’t think the pictures were quite as abstract as he would like, but here are the results.

The middle photo includes an Okratini–the East Tennessee version of the dirty martini. Just substitute pickled okra juice and a piece of pickled okra for your olives. Tast-ee!

Sadly, however, the cake was a disaster. The recipe was Cook’s Illustrated’s Classic Devil’s Food Cake, on page 476 of The Best Recipe. What were these people THINKING?

The beigish things you see in the photo are not nuts or Rice Krispies or anything edible, but LUMPS of congealed flour. And I actually followed the recipe this time (except for substituting finely ground coffee for instant, but having done that before, I don’t think that was the problem.) The problem, I think, was that the batter was the consistency of CHOCOLATE MILK.

Still, I ate about a quarter of one layer before throwing it out. Testing, you know.

Blue(ish) Velvet Cake, At Last

Belatedly, I realize that the entire point of the Amateur Gourmet’s Blue Food Contest is to make blue food look “appetizing,” not necessarily chronicle the efforts of a slightly off-balance person to produce blue food without blue food coloring. Nevertheless, the hotly pursued Blue Velvet Cake, while not aesthetically stunning or really even that blue, was actually . . . good.

I think it would be perfect if you just added some blue food coloring.

Or if you knew how to use PhotoShop and could also insert a picture of Isabella Rossellini.

Blue Velvet Cake

Grease two 9″ cake pans. Line bottom with wax paper and grease paper. Preheat oven to 350.

Puree in food processor:

Fresh blueberries, or thawed, wild frozen blueberries when it is February and blueberries are $3.49/cup. Puree enough to make 1 1/2 c of puree.

Sift together 2-3 times:
3 c flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c unsalted butter

Add to butter and cream until light:
1 1/2 c sugar

Beat in one at a time:
2 eggs

Turn mixer to low and mix in, or mix in by hand:
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves

Add, alternating:
Flour mixture
3/4 c buttermilk

Stir in:
Blueberry puree

Dissolve 1/2 tsp. baking soda in 1 tbsp. cider vinegar. Fold gently into mixture.

Divide batter evenly between cake pans. Bake 25 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center.

Frost with the following lemon cream cheese frosting:

1/2 c softened butter
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 c fresh squeezed lemon juice
3 – 4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

Mix above ingredients together until they are of consistency and sweetness you prefer.

And now the insanity is over. I can’t imagine that I will win the contest unless the Amateur Gourmet and Michael Ruhlman take pity on someone who devoted AN ENTIRE EVENING to creating FOUR BLUE FOOD RECIPES FROM SCRATCH even though she will probably never make it to New York to see the Blue Man Group.

But IF there is some kind of consolation or pity prize–say, having the Amateur Gourmet go out to dinner with us if he returns to the ATL–hell, I’ll take it.

She Wore Greenish-Purple Velvet

The first attempt for the Amateur Gourmet’s Blue Food Contest went . . . well, it went like this.

What you see above is not molded cat litter covered with grape Jell-O, but a Blue Velvet Cake– blueberry cake with blueberry cream cheese frosting.

I have made some important discoveries throughout this process.

One: Fresh blueberries cost $3.49 a cup in February.
Two: Pureed blueberries mixed with cream cheese = garish pinkish/purple nightmare.
Three: I am not normal. Witness conversation below with a co-worker:

Me: So there’s this Blue Food contest on the Internet, and I’ve been working on an entry.

Co-Worker (already looking bewildered): Blue food?

Me: Yes, blue is supposedly the most unappetizing color for food, so this contest is to see what people will make. I’ve been on a quest for the perfect red velvet cake, so I thought I’d try a BLUE velvet cake. I’ve got these blueberry cake recipes and I’m going to try to modify them–

Co-Worker: Why don’t you just add blue food coloring to a red velvet cake recipe?



Me: But I want to figure out how to make it with blueberries.

Co-Worker (trying again): What’s the prize?

Me: Two tickets to see the Blue Man group in New York.

Co-Worker: But we’re in Atlanta.

Back to the kitchen.