Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cooking with Insomnia

You know how people have grandmothers who wear housecoats, make a mean lemonade and pass along family recipes where the list of ingredients starts out with "2 sticks of Oleo"? I did not have one of those grandmothers.

My maternal grandmother, Gam as we call her, used to put on her leopard print nighty and drink a glass of Chablis before kissing us goodnight and whispering "sweet dreams." She wore Paris perfume, drove a VW bug until her late eighties and went to Europe for the first time when she was 76. She was a role model in many ways, none of which had to do with the kitchen.

I always wanted that quintessential book of recipes full of secrets passed down through the generations. Secrets that made people request your chocolate cake for parties or you quiche for brunches. Fortunately and unfortunately for me, I have to make my own. I say fortunately because this missing ingredient if you will, has fueled my desire to learn about cooking. I say unfortunately because I feel like I'm already behind. My sister and I are building our own repetoire and trade recipes each week or talk about things we want to make. I look forward to cooking with my niece, nephew and hopefully my own kids one day, but sometimes I just want to be with an old grandmother in her kitchen using the measuring cups she's had for years and telling stories about the time she got in trouble for staying out on the porch too long with a boy.

Last night I couldn't sleep, so I padded down to the kitchen. I flipped through cookbooks like I do when I need to relax and came across "Gateau au Yaourt" from Chocolate & Zucchini. The recipe came from the author's boyfriend's grandmother--who I picture as a loving French grandmother with a kitchen full of pots and pans she's had since before war. The recipe sounded easy enough--yogurt, some flour, oil, couple of eggs, vanilla and baking powder. It was so easy that even school children made it! In fact, the author made it when she was 5!

Never mind that it was 1 a.m. Never mind that I was exhausted. I should be able to make a cake that a 5 year old makes, no? I whipped up all the ingredients, threw it in a pan and chucked it in the oven. I had to wait for 35 - 40 minutes, but no problem, I'd clean up the kitchen in the mean time and maybe peruse through a magazine. A few minutes into the baking process however, I smelled something burning. What could that possibly be?

My cake, my so-easy-a-kindergartner-can't-fuck-it-up-cake had bubbled over and was making a perfect circle of batter in the bottom of my oven. "Shit!" I yelled, turning off the oven and grabbing pot holders to take the bubbling mess out of the smoking inferno without managing to singe my arm hair. I threw the cake on the counter and looked at the book. It had called for a 10 inch pan. I had poured the batter into my 8 inch pan. Merde.

By then I was about ready to pack it in. I'd try and make the cake some other time and started wiping up the mess. But then the fragrance started to make its way around the kitchen. It smelled like warm doughnuts, fresh out of the oven. So I paused for a moment and then spread a cookie sheet with foil and placed the 8 inch, extremely full pan in the middle of the cookie sheet and back into the oven. Then I completely forgot about the cake.

I managed to screw this cake up in every way imagineable, but guess what? It still turned out wonderfully. I tried a piece last night when it was still warm from the oven. Heaven. I floated upstairs and had sweet dreams of Gateau au Yaourt with lemon curd and fresh raspberries or Gateau au Yaourt with strawberries and whipped cream. This morning I managed to shave off a slice while running out the door.

I wouldn't trade my Gam for the world. And I bet Clotilde's boyfriend, Maxence, wouldn't trade his grandmother either. But I sure am glad they allowed me to share her for a while.

Gateau au Yaourt
from Chocolate & Zucchini

1/3 c vegetable oil, plus 1t to grease the pan (use a 10 inch pan for goodness sakes!)
1 c nonfat yogurt
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1T light rum (optional, I didn't use it--rum makes me feel like I'm back in high school and on spring break)
1 2/3 c all purpose flour (I used cake flour)
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides of a TEN INCH round cake pan with oil.
Whisk together the yogurt & sugar.
Add eggs one by one beating well after each addition.
Add vanilla, oil & rum (if using) and whisk again.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the pan to loosen and flip the cake onto a plate. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

You can't mess this thing up, trust me.


Anonymous said...

Okay, since Mitsy is the cook in this house, and I (Wanda) am not, I think I will try this one day. Maybe we can open a nice red and sip politely as I go about destroying the kitchen! Hell, if that fails, we can talk about boys and bubble baths!

(Sometimes!) Serendipitous Girl said...

You can do it Wanda, I believe in you. And you do look WAY hot in that apron.