This is a midnight cake.
I made this late one night, after a day of trying and failing to make treacle tart. Days when baking fails you are always disappointing–not just because a recipe didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, but because at the end of the day you’re left without dessert. And that just won’t do.
Today, we do science.
That’s my catch-all term for recipes I can’t quite explain. This one involves no baking, and just has one ingredient: maple syrup. A pinch of salt is optional, as is a quarter-teaspoon of vegetable oil, but only maple syrup is necessary to make this science happen. By boiling the syrup on the stove until it reaches a very exact temperature (235 degrees Fahrenheit), setting it in an ice bath until it reaches another exact temperature (100 degrees Fahrenheit), and stirring it for twenty minutes or until it reaches an approximate consistency (peanut buttery?), we create maple butter. This is not to be confused with the other maple butter, which is maple syrup whipped into butter. There is no science in that.
I am a crumble convert.
I’m used to making double-crusted pies, which involve a warm fruit filling sandwiched between two buttery crusts. Crust is my favorite part of pie, so it just makes sense.
But streusel topping is my favorite part of fruit crumbles and crisps. (Not to be confused with buckles, grunts, slumps, and other fruit desserts that sound unattractive.)
Pecan pie feels like the epitome of Thanksgiving. Not that it’s the epitome of my Thanksgivings, as I’ve only ever had it on Thanksgiving once–last year, in fact–but there’s something about it that seems so quintessentially Thanksgiving. The pecans, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla all bring rich, warm flavors to the pie–flavors that, when combined with the eggs, butter and corn syrup, result in a dark, nutty pie, the perfect indulgence to cap off an evening of overeating.
Cheesecake can be such a production. Springform pan, two pounds of cream cheese, water bath, accompanying toppings and/or sauces. If you want to make a tall, impressive cheesecake that serves sixteen, that’s great (and please invite me over). But I only ever want to make a simple cheesecake–something my two-person household is capable of finishing in a reasonable amount of time. Cheesecake is my favorite dessert and I won’t go through a rigmarole every time I want to make it. So I reject the idea that cheesecake must be baked in a springform pan.
There are a lot of delicious cheesecake recipes, and this one certainly isn’t remarkable compared to many of those. This isn’t the cheesecake you make when you want to feed a crowd or impress people with presentation. But if you want cheesecake and nothing more, this is an excellent recipe to use. It’s simple and straightforward, and I’ve made it so often that I have the recipe memorized. This is baked in a nine-inch pie tin and serves (“serves”) eight in manageable, pie-sized wedges. It’s smooth and creamy like all cheesecake should be, and the tablespoon of vanilla ensures that there’s plenty of flavor to complement the cream cheese tang.
There’s nothing like squeezing dozens of key limes to make you extremely acquainted with your open wounds. It’s like a roll call for injuries. You’re suddenly very much aware of what you thought was just a small scratch, and any and all paper cuts take the chance to remind you that they still exist. And key limes are tiny, so you’ve got a long way to go. Let’s get started.
I like to believe these cookies are the ones Frog and Toad can’t stop eating in that children’s book Frog and Toad Together.
The Frog and Toad series, for the uninitiated, is a series of books, each one containing several short stories about Frog and Toad’s adventures. And their adventures are relatable. It’s none of this Curious George business, with a monkey flying away in a hot air balloon or working in a chocolate factory. Frog and Toad are too low-key for those shenanigans. Instead, the stories are about things so everyday that they’re almost dull. Toad loses a button from his jacket. Frog writes a letter to Toad so he has a reason to check the mail. Toad plants flowers and waits for them to grow. These are some chill amphibians.
In my favorite story (naturally, as food was involved), Frog and Toad can’t stop eating cookies.
I don’t decorate.
Part of it relates to my utter lack of artistic ability, and part of it stems from my philosophy that food is there to taste good, not look pretty. Many people are capable of doing both, but I’d rather focus on the thing I can actually do. What really perplexes me is when presentation seems to take precedence over taste, which I imagine is how fondant came into being.
But if I’m baking something for someone else, I feel a need to at least try. In this case, I got a little ambitious.
I am not from the South. As a result, the only cornbread I’ve had is closer to cake than actual, southern cornbread. Actually, I’ve had southern cornbread; I just try to push the memories of bitter, crumbly cornbread out of my mind because it’s not the cornbread I know and love.
I’ve tried a few recipes, and I’ve found I most like those that call for equal amounts of flour and cornmeal. And, of course, the ones that call for lots of sugar. My bag of cornmeal tried to convince me that 1 tablespoon of sugar would be sufficient. Even more insultingly, it added in parentheses that the tablespoon of sugar was “optional.” How dare you, Bob’s Red Mill. Sugar is never optional. I laughed in Bob’s face as I added a heaping half-cup of sugar to the batter. Shauna 1, Bob 0.
People can go a little overboard with the “Once you make X, you’ll never want to buy it from stores again!” guarantee. Because no matter how delicious that bread I baked was, I can promise you that I’m still going to buy sliced bread for my sandwiches. The same goes for many things, especially anything involving a large vat of oil, like donuts.
But it is true of some things, at least for me. For most of my life, the only cinnamon rolls I had came from a Pillsbury tube, or from a Cinnabon store at the mall. And I was content with those. But then one day, in the summer of 2009, my friend Kate and I had some leftover yeast after making pizza dough and we used it to make cinnamon rolls from scratch–and nothing was ever the same. Homemade cinnamon rolls have ruined me, to the extent that I have no interest in the Pillsbury or storebought ones, even if presented to me on a platter (which is really quite rude of me, to reject something I’ve been offered. I told you they ruined me).
The bun is just so soft–not flaky like the Pillsbury ones, but soft in the way that freshly baked bread is meant to be. The bottoms are slightly chewy after absorbing the brown sugar-cinnamon-butter mixture that melts to the bottom of the pan as the rolls bake. And the cream cheese frosting has an actual cream cheese-y tang to it because it hasn’t been smothered with too much sugar. Once I tried that combination of deliciousness, there was no going back.