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On my recent trip, I managed to get in a lot of reading on my Kindle. On airplanes, waiting for airplanes, waiting for the bus to load, waiting in lobbies for everybody to show up to leave, and at night when I couldn’t sleep. A fun book was Mr. Mac and Me, by Esther Freud. It takes place in England in 1914. In a time and place where a 13-year old boy has a lot of freedom. Although the war is looming, this little village is relatively quiet and safe, as life used to be. Boys will be boys, and he enjoys sort-of spying on people, especially people he doesn’t know well. He imagines that a man who arrives in town to rent a house with his paints and easels, might be a spy. Thus begins a story that starts from that premise, but eventually takes you into a very special friendship that develops between the man, Mr. Mac, his wife, and this boy. The story is absolutely charming. War brings some brutal truths for everyone in the village, yet this friendship flourishes. Great book.

Occasionally I’ll latch onto a book about food or restaurants. This one, The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal, is a romance (not a sticky sweet one) about a youngish woman (and her dog) who take a big leap to Colorado when she’s offered a job as a chef. The restaurant is fraught with some issues, but the author weaves in a romance, her skills as a leader in the kitchen, throws in some recipes (that I have yet to extract from my Kindle pages, that I want to try) along with it, and you have a book that held my interest all the way through. Formulaic, I suppose, but it’s a cute story. Books about restaurants always divulge some new tangle of how a kitchen runs. I enjoyed the read.

If you haven’t already read it, you are missing a really good and insightful book, Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly. I was riveted from page one, all the way through to the end. O’Reilly has a very engaging way of re-telling history and making it ever-so readable and interesting. He weaves people’s stories, ones  you likely haven’t read or heard, into his narrative, to give you such a sense of place. You can just feel how these soldiers, pilots, prisoners and seamen made their mark, but likely all unsung heroes. It’s a must-read, it really is.

Having read some of Kent Haruf’s other books, I read Our Souls at Night. A lonely widow decides to invite a neighbor man, also a lonely widower, if he’d like to come to her home, at night, to spend the night. I simply can’t tell you anything else because it would give away the story. This isn’t a story about s-x, but about two lonely people who come together for friendship and companionship. It’s very sweet, not twee, but sweet. You really feel for both of these older people. Read it.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on November 25th, 2016.

moms_cocoa_spice_cake

Not, perhaps, the spice cake you’re used to – one that’s light and speckled with spices. This one is much more a chocolate cake. And not a lot of frosting, certainly not enough to spread on the sides. But good, nonetheless. My cake pans are not angled, yet the cake looks like they are flared. Oh well.

My mom did enjoy baking. But, I don’t think she enjoyed it as much as I do. My mom was a relatively plain cook. Products of Midwest parents, my mom and dad both grew up on simple fare, with their mothers rarely using spices or herbs to enhance meats or vegetables. Hence, my mother didn’t either. Only in baking did spices pop up. As I was going through old recipes (and throwing out the 3×5 card this was on – it took me awhile to physically DO that – the throwing of it into the trash – I mean, what if I lost my entire MasterCook files? – what if, what if – I also hated throwing away the ones written in my mother’s handwriting – it seemed like a bad thing to toss out that little piece of her. Can you relate?). Yet, I have my recipes backed up in 2 places (one on my computer and also on Carbonite) so I should feel assured my precious recipes won’t get lost.

What I remember of a spice cake my mom made wasn’t this one (now that I’ve made it) because the one I remember was moist and paler without any chocolate in it. Maybe it was a banana spice cake. I’ll have to go hunting further into my mother’s recipe box – I still have all those recipes – they’re ones I didn’t think I’d ever make – I took out the ones I thought I would, of which this was one. But this cake was good. Maybe not sensational. But if you like spice cakes (this one with cinnamon and nutmeg) this will satisfy for sure. For me, the chocolate was all I tasted, so my mother’s notes about increasing the amount of cocoa perhaps should be a cautionary tale.

cocoa_spice_cake_sliceI don’t buy Crisco anymore, but the newer trans-fat free type. It’s available at most markets these days. You can use Crisco if you want – I just prefer to not eat trans-fats anymore if I can help it. I also didn’t have lemon extract, so that ingredient was left out entirely. I suppose I could have used some lemon zest – didn’t think of it. I also didn’t use the egg yolk (raw) in the frosting. Why? I didn’t think an egg yolk would really enhance the frosting all that much, much less the possible dangers of eating raw egg. I never seem to mind nibbling on raw cookie dough, though, so why should I care. When I can avoid it, though, I do.

The recipe calls for all-purpose flour, or cake flour. I didn’t quite have enough cake flour, but I used what I had and added in more AP to equal the 2 cups (slight). I think the cake flour is the right way to go.

The frosting contains both cocoa and coffee. On the recipe it’s called a “coffee” frosting. I made espresso so I’d be sure to taste the coffee (yes, you could). It makes only enough to frost the center and the top – if you like a bit drizzled down the sides, or you really want it frosted all over, you’ll need to make more (double it for drizzles, triple to frost all over). The only cocoa_spice_cake_sidecomplaint I have is that the sides of the cake that were exposed got dried out during the 3-4 hours it sat on my kitchen counter. That’s not good. If you have a cake cover, use it! Otherwise, eat it right away. I have the left overs covered in plastic so hopefully it will be okay.

I served the cake with a drizzle of heavy cream (above photo) but I wanted you to see the better side view (see sliced almonds in the cake – which didn’t sink to the bottom).

What’s GOOD: the cake was FULL of flavor, mostly chocolate. I liked the almonds – next time I’ll use walnuts if I do make it again. My favorite part was the frosting – it wasn’t so profuse that I didn’t enjoy a bit with many of the bites. This isn’t a super-soft cake like a cake mix cake, but it was moist. However, the cake did soak up the cream on the plate. It was very tasty. My friend Bud slicked it up in no time, and I sent him home with enough for 2 meals, I think. Cherrie isn’t a fan of chocolate, particularly, but she might eat this. We’ll see.

What’s NOT: For me there wasn’t quite enough frosting, so it was barely sufficient. I liked the coffee accent (which was only in the frosting) so it was a very nice flavor. I don’t think this cake would keep long without getting stale. I’m giving all but one tiny sliver to my neighbors. It’s not because I don’t like it, just so I won’t eat it all myself!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

My Mother’s Cocoa Spice Cake

Recipe By: My mother, Fay Orr’s, recipe – don’t know origin
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
3/4 cup shortening — buy trans-fat free type, not Crisco
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups cake flour — or 1 3/4 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa — original recipe was 1 T, my mother’s notes suggested 1/2 cup (what I used – too much)
3/4 cup buttermilk — or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract — optional (or some lemon zest)
1/2 cup nuts — chopped (walnuts, pecans or almonds)
COFFEE FROSTING:
6 tablespoons butter
1 large egg yolk — optional
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons hot coffee — [I used espresso] and may need more for the right consistency

NOTE: My mother’s recipe showed adding 1 T. cocoa to the cake batter, but her hand-written notes said to increase to 1/2 CUP. Having made this, I think less would be better, so I’ve suggested 1/4 cup. Use your own judgment. I’d also add about a T. more buttermilk if you use 1/4 cup cocoa as the cocoa is just like adding more flour to the batter.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch layer cake pans. Set aside.
2. Cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Sift flour once before measuring, then sift the flour with baking powder, salt, soda, cocoa and spices. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Beat the batter well so there are no streaks of dry ingredients. Add vanilla, lemon extract and nuts. Pour into the two prepared pans.
3. Bake cake about 35-40 minutes, testing it by inserting a toothpick in the center which should come out clean. Cool cake in pans and cool completely before frosting.
4. FROSTING: Cream butter and blend with egg yolk (if using). Add cocoa and mix well. Sift sugar and cinnamon together, then add to creamed mixture, alternately with the hot coffee. Beat until smooth, adding more coffee or powdered sugar to make it spreadable. Use a bit less than half to frost between the layers and use the larger portion on top. If you want to have nice frosting drips down the sides, increase quantities of powdered sugar and coffee. There is just enough to frost the middle and top (barely). The cake sides will begin to stale if not covered (use toothpicks in cake and cover with plastic wrap).
5. SERVING: Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for sure! Or a drizzle of heavy cream as I did. Just know the cake will soak most of it up before you can eat the cake!
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 24g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 257mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on November 27th, 2016:

    I like the look of this. Did you keep the card with your mother’s handwriting on it? I surely would have done so.

    I didn’t. I thought about it. And thought about it. I have many others with her handwriting, but this one I decided to toss once I input it into my computer. But I had misgivings about doing it. I’m trying to get rid of stuff. Maybe I’ll give the entire big recipe box to my San Diego daughter who would probably really appreciate it, though I doubt she’d cook many, if any of the recipes. . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on November 30th, 2016:

    I admire you for organizing all those recipes–what a huge project! I need to do it, too, but haven’t taken the plunge yet!

    My favorite cake that my mom baked when I was growing up was a buttermilk chocolate one. It called for shortening, too, but about 15 or 20 years ago, I took a chance and substituted butter. It worked great, and I’ve never looked back. A couple years ago, I was making it for my son’s birthday, and I put out all the ingredients for the frosting as well as the cake. Then I put all three sticks of butter into the cake! Didn’t realize what I’d done until I was ready to make the frosting and couldn’t find the butter. And guess what? It was even better than usual, and it didn’t fall or turn out heavy. My son said he’d like it that way all the time, but I’m not going that far!
    But I’d call that a true never-fail cake.

    I’m sure most of us have made some similar mistake – I did that once myself. Can’t recall what it was in, and I thought the cake tasted okay, but not great. Nobody else knew or noticed, thankfully! . . . carolyn t

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