italian cream cake

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: This is the best cake in all of the whole entire world and possibly the universe and whatever else there is out there that we have not yet discovered and which may actually take over our planet, mine it for resources and leave us devastated and begging for Will Smith to pull out a cigar and babble something about fat ladies singing.

Every single time I make this cake, people go nuts for it. It was my sister Tina’s favorite cake growing up and Mama would make it for her birthday. My childhood palate preferred the simplicity of buttered noodles and angel food cake, but my grown up palate has come to understand and appreciate the beauty and richness that is this wonderful cake.

The recipe comes from my family’s favorite cookbook, Cookery N’Orleans Style by Chiqui Pumilia Collier. My own copy is stained, tattered, torn and just one of my most treasured possessions. I encourage you to try to grab a copy if you can : )

cookbook_400

I’ve made just a couple tweaks to the original recipe (that’s the beautiful thing about cooking) but I’m posting a picture of the recipe from the book below so you can try it either way … or both!

Ingredients:

Have all ingredients at room temperature. I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

  • 3 extra large eggs, separated
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup butter flavor Crisco (I know, I know … just do it.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup super finely chopped toasted pecans (seriously … toast them.)
  • A handful of flaked coconut

I do all of this in my Kitchenaid stand mixer. If you don’t have one, get ready to do a lot of electric hand mixing : )

Generously grease and flour three 9″ cake pans.

With the whisk attachment on your mixer, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Slowly add one cup of sugar and beat to the consistence of meringue (stiff but not dry.) Set aside.

Cream butter, Crisco, remaining sugar, salt and vanilla. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat until it reaches the consistency of whipped cream. (This is for realz, people. Don’t stop when you think it is well mixed. This stuff needs to pretty much almost float out of the bowl.)

Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk. Beginning and ending with the flour, add the flour and the buttermilk mixture alternately into the butter mixture. When it is well-combined, fold the egg whites in by hand. Be gentle, people! Once the egg whites are in there, gently fold in the pecans and the coconut. Scatter well and then gently stir, just a couple times.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Bake at 325° for approximately 40 minutes … super important that you do not overbake this cake. Check it at about 35 minutes. It’s done when the sides begin to pull a little away from the pan. You can also do the toothpick test. Cool, remove the pans, and frost with Italian Cream Frosting (recipe continues below.)

Italian Cream Frosting ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 pkgs (12 ounce) cream cheese
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Up to 1 pound sifted powdered sugar (I always use a little less … just tasting it as I go until I like the level of sweetness.)
  • 1/2 cup super finely chopped roasted pecans. (Spray them with a little cooking spray, roast them, salt them just a little bit and then chop them almost to a mince.)
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Beat all ingredients except the pecans to the consistency of whipped cream. When you frost the cake, sprinkle some of the pecans on top and then toss them against the sides of the cake all the way around.

And, as promised, the original recipe from my copy of Cookery N’Orleans Style. Sorry about the stains, arrows, post it flags, check marks, and general used quality of the page. It’s seen many a perusal : )

italian cream cake

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pumpkin bars

I don’t love pumpkin. I also don’t hate pumpkin. I pretty much want my pumpkin to be kept to a reasonable level of consumption. That means I am not a fan of Everything Pumpkin Season.

This is a relatively new thing, this Season of all Pumpkin-ness. It starts right at the end of September (although it’s been creeping toward Labor Day at an alarming pace) and continues until December 1st. You can’t go anywhere without being bombarded by pumpkin. Coffee shops, donut shops, lip balm, air fresheners, soups … SOUPS, folks! Pancakes, ice cream, pumpkin dip.

Stop the madness. No more pumpkin exploitation.

save the pumpkins

Growing up, I was only subjected to pumpkin consumption at Thanksgiving. And it made sense, then. People carved Jack O’Lanterns for the Halloween, and then turned them into a beautiful puree afterward to be set aside for the baking of the pies. Not that we ever did that in my family. We were pretty much canned pumpkin people. Generally, I’d get one piece of pie, eat a few bites, remember that I wasn’t a huge fan, and be good for the year.

See ya next year, alliterative pie : )

There are, however, a few pumpkin-y things I’ve grown to love. One of those is this (and only this) recipe for pumpkin bars. And, honestly, it has one helluva lot more to do with the icing than it does with the bars themselves. Still, these bars are moist in the best possible way, not too heavily spiced with the flavors of the fall and really quite generally delicious.

If you’re not up to making your own pumpkin puree, you can sub the canned stuff. But you’re seriously missing out if you do that. So don’t do that. Best advice I can possibly offer.

Ingredients:

For the pumpkin puree:

  • 3 smallish or 2 mediumish pumpkins

For the bars:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (grate some fresh with a zester if you’re feeling adventurous)
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly ground is fabulous)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 25-30 oz pumpkin puree -OR- 
  • 1 large can (29oz) solid pack pumpkin if you didn’t do the puree.

For the icing:

  • 2 packages cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups butter at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp half and half
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Powdered sugar to taste (I like mine a little less sweet than most, but toss up to a pound in there if you can handle it ~delicate shudder~)

First, make the puree. (I don’t typically do this right when I’m making the pumpkin bars. I usually have some already made in the freezer.)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the pumpkins in half and scoop out the pulp and the seeds. If you like them, save the seeds for roasting. I’m not a big fan (shocker) so I just throw the whole bunch of stringy gut nastiness away. If you’re an even more fabulous human than me, you probably do something compost-related with it or perform some ritual to bring forth good blessings upon yourself. Rock on.

Plunk the pumpkins on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven to bake for 45 minutes or so. The small ones might take a little less time, the medium-ish ones a little more time. You just want them to be fork tender and very lightly browned with wrinkly skin.

Cut the pumpkins into reasonably sized pieces for processing or blendering. Peel off the skin and pop them into one of the afore-mentioned devices in batches and blend until smooth. Give it a squint. If it looks sort of dry sprinkle in a little water. If it looks a little too watery, dump it in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl between batches.

Use immediately or store in mason jars until ready to use.

Now, lets get started on the actual pumpkin bars. If the oven isn’t already on from making the pumpkin puree, preheat it to 350°. Butter two 13x9x2 baking pans.

Mix together the eggs, oil and sugar until well blended. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices and mix thoroughly. Add pumpkin puree and blend well. Pour into the prepared baking pans and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

Once they have cooled, make the icing. Mix the cream cheese and softened butter until smooth. Add the half and half, vanilla and powdered sugar. Blend well. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.

christmas fudge

I know. It’s not Christmas and this is my second post about Christmas candy in a row. I have good reasons (not that I need to explain myself.) I posted the peppermint bark recipe because someone super special needed it and that’s just how I roll. And I’m posting this one because it was up next alphabetically in my “Add to Blog” folder. Which is also how I roll.

Some people zig. Some people zag. I … am inexorable.

Honestly, I don’t even really need to type up this recipe and post it. You can get it off the label of any jar of marshmallow creme/fluff. But I’m typing it up and posting it anyway, for a couple reasons.

  1. It’s damn good fudge.
  2. I have a Christmas category that wouldn’t be complete without it.

I’m not typically a proponent of prepared foods (still working on ridding myself of even prepared spices and condiments) but I’ve tried a millionty thousand fudge recipes. Many of them were good. But none were as good as this. And so here it is:

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar marshmallow creme/fluff
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Chopped nuts if you want em. I never do.

Line an 8×8 baking dish with aluminum foil and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow creme, sugar, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a full boil and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and pour in chocolate chips. Stir until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Add vanilla (and nuts if you want em) and stir to combine. Pour into prepared dish and refrigerate until firm.

aunt duree’s bread pudding

Make no mistake about it: this bread pudding is substantial. It makes a sweet, dense, cinnamony square that is delicious either fresh out of the oven or cold. It comes from my Mama’s Aunt Duree Duran, who also gave us the rich and delicious gumbo recipe I make every Christmas eve. Mama made this bread pudding often when we were growing up, and my favorite pieces were always the buttery/crisp corner and edge bits.

I’ve made this with just about every kind of flour-based bread you can imagine, but it’s best with slightly stale French bread. I’ve even made it with a mixture of breads, so just go any way your little heart desires with it.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • A 1lb loaf of stale bread, torn into pieces
  • 5 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Cinnamon to your taste (lots!)
  • 2-3 cups whole milk
  • Raisins (bleck. optional.)

Preheat oven to 350°. Put the butter in a glass/pyrex 9×13 pan and stick it into the oven to melt. Toss all the ingredients except the milk in a large bowl and stir to combine. Begin adding the milk, a bit at a time, until it reaches the consistency of thick soup.

Take the baking dish out of the oven, and carefully pour the mixture into the melted butter. Stick it back in the oven and bake until brown … about 45 minutes.

Mama’s handwritten copy:

bread pudding 1

bread pudding 2

apple crumble

Crumbles, crisps and cobblers all occupy the same delicious space in my culinary brain. How can you go wrong with fruit wrapped in or covered by or baked with sweet crusts laced with rich butter and brown sugar? Pulled from a hot oven and covered with a scoop of vanilla ice cream …

… sweet mother of mercy.

Ingredients:

  • 12 of your favorite kinds of apples, peeled, cored and given a rough chop
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350°. Place apples in a deep 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle with the sugar.

In a large bowl, toss the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and butter. With a pastry cutter (or 2 knives if you’re like me and keep forgetting to buy a new pastry cutter since the last one broke) work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like crumbs.

Spread flour mixture over the apples and bake until golden, about 40-45 minutes.