Saturday, October 12, 2013

Adventures in Cooking and Baking: Review of The Kitchn's Warm Fudgy Pudding Cake Vintage Recipe, and Last Night's Dinner

Warm Fudgy Pudding Cake.  Yes, that's a cheese slicer used as a cake server.
If you make this for someone, you are practically guaranteed that they will do just about anything to get you to make it again.  This can be part of a great reward system.  Trying to get your kid to do the annual deep-cleaning of his/her room?  Promise them warm fudgy pudding cake at the end of their long cleaning session!  Don't make it a regular thing, though.  This stuff is heavy-duty.  Use with caution!
I'm feeling better, but I was sick for quite a while.  Last Saturday I went to see my doctor and she put me on a seven-day antibiotic, and it seems to have worked, because the junk in my respiratory system is gone, for the most part (I'm still coughing and blowing my nose, but not as much as earlier in the week) and my other symptoms (nausea, stomach trouble, dizziness, poor balance) are gone completely, thank goodness.  The past two weeks were exceedingly lacking in fun.

Life was pretty disgusting around here while I was sick, because unlike my roommate, who takes to her bed and locks herself in her room with the TV going 24/7 when she's sick, I am a social person.  Not content to lay in bed watching TV and sleeping, I was running around the house, sitting in front of the computer, eating in the kitchen and chatting with my roommate in the living room until I was hoarse and coughing and couldn't talk anymore.  She had to leave the room to get me to be quiet so I would stop coughing.

She developed some endearing nicknames for me while I was sick (easy for her, she was untouched by the bug):  Miss Sputum Galore; Sputum, Phlegm and Mucous Machine; and Ms. Mucous Machine.  One night before she retired for the evening, she said, "I will leave you to your snot fest." Ouch!

As much as she was making fun of me, she took really good care of me while I was sick.  She went shopping for me twice, she cooked for me (I usually do the cooking; she cleans up, since cooking really isn't her thing - her idea of cooking is done with a menu and a phone call), she got my medications, and she advised me not to eat or drink any dairy products, because that would add to the problem.  She didn't make fun of me for not showering or dressing for a week.  She also took care of the apartment.  So, as you can see, she is a really good friend.  A keeper!

In gratitude, I wanted to reward her generosity and kindness to me while I was sick (and in general).  So Tuesday, when I was feeling somewhat better, I made her favorite dish:  Creamy Mac 'n Cheese.  She loves that stuff.  I can't make enough of it.  It's gone in two days.

I had promised her I would make her Warm Fudgy Pudding Cake when I got better, because she loves that, too (look at that picture!  What self-respecting chocolate addict wouldn't love it???)  So last night I pulled out all the stops, and made her other favorite meal, spaghetti and sauce, and Warm Fudgy Pudding Cake.

The Warm Fudgy Pudding Cake is a vintage recipe from the wonderful website, The Kitchn, which is part of Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan's equally wonderful Apartment Therapy website.

The recipe can be found here on The Kitchn's website.  It's Emma Christensen's recipe.  She's an editor at The Kitchn.  It's copyrighted, so please credit her when linking.  

My experience with this recipe has been uniformly positive.  It comes out right every time.  My mom taught me how to be a good baker, and she taught me that the key is to measure everything accurately.  So make sure your measurements are even, not heaping and not scant, unless the recipe calls for it.  Also, follow the recipe exactly.  Unless of course, you're one of those talented people like my friend Diane, makes her own very delicious vegan version of warm fudgy pudding cake.  I have another friend in Britain who also makes a vegan version of this cake.

Before beginning any recipe, read the recipe through a couple of times and make sure you are familiar with it.  Assemble all the tools you need to make the recipe ahead of time - measuring cups and spoons, sieve, and three mixing bowls: small, medium and large.  You will also need a whisk to mix the liquid mixture and to combine the sugars and cocoa for the pudding topping.  I recommend setting aside a container for the 1/2 cup of milk to come to room temperature.  I use a half cup Rubbermaid container with a cover.   Set aside a ceramic ramekin into which you pour the melted butter while it's coming to room temperature.

I have found from experience it is best to begin the recipe by taking out all the ingredients, especially the milk, and allowing them to come to room temperature.  It makes for a smoother batter.  Also, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, the first thing you should do is take the half cup of milk, put it in a warm spot, and let it come to room temperature.  The second thing you do immediately after that, is to melt the butter on the stove (not in the microwave, as I had the unfortunate opportunity to discover last night  - insert exploding noises and subsequent mess here).  I swish the butter around in a small saucepot so it melts evenly.  It also melts quicker this way.  When it's melted, pour immediately into a small ceramic bowl.  Metal will hang onto the heat too long.  A small ramekin is fine.  I can't tell you how long it took me to figure that out - I finally caught on last night.  Then set the melted butter in the ramekin aside to allow it to come to room temperature.  Don't set it someplace too cold, like near an open window on an autumn evening (guilty) because then it will solidify and you'll be tempted to put it in the microwave.  That's how I got exploded butter allover the microwave and kitchen counter last night.  It's all a learning process!  In hindsight, I perhaps should have employed the "defrost" setting.  I had to melt another batch of butter and wait for it to cool.  It takes about half an hour for the milk and butter to come to room temperature.

When the butter and milk have come to room temperature, you can commence making the recipe.  The reason you let the milk and butter come to room temperature, is because you will whisk them together with vanilla to make the liquid mixture for the cake batter.  If the milk is too cold, and the butter is too warm, the cold milk will cause the butter to turn into crumbly clumps, and, while it doesn't hurt the cake any (even the batter is delicious!), it makes for a clumpy, not-completely-incorporated batter, and I prefer a smooth, well-incorporated batter.  It's easier to spread, and I think it tastes better.  It has a better mouth feel.  But having clumps doesn't ruin anything.  Your family and friends and roommates will still love you.

After you've evenly measured your dry ingredients and sifted them into the large mixing bowl, mix them around, to make sure they're well blended.  Combine the milk, melted butter and vanilla in the small bowl, and whisk them together.  Then pour them into the dry ingredients, and using a large, sturdy wooden spoon, mix the batter together well, mixing in all the dry ingredients from the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Pour the delicious batter into the greased 8x8 baking pan (I prefer to use glass pans, because I don't have to worry about using a knife on them).  Give the bowl to someone to lick.  The batter has no eggs, so you don't have to worry about salmonella.  I can attest to the tasty goodness of the batter.

The rest of the recipe is pretty self-explanatory.  Last night required some planning ahead of time, because I knew I wanted to have the cake for dessert, but I wasn't sure I would have the energy to make dessert right after preparing the dinner.  So I mixed the batter ahead of time in the late afternoon, and added the pudding topping.  Before I put the cake in the oven a few hours later, I poured the cup of water over the pudding mixture.  Unfortunately, there was a glitch here, too, because I had forgotten to turn on the oven to preheat.  So I lost some time heating the oven, but only 15 minutes.  

The sauce took 45 minutes to cook.  The pasta took longer to cook than anticipated as well, so the sauce was done cooking before the pasta was ready, but as long as the sauce didn't burn, it wasn't a problem.  The cake also takes 45 minutes to cook.  The plan was to pop the cake in the oven as soon as the sauce started boiling, so they would be ready at the same time, and I could set the dessert out to cool while we were having dinner and cleaning up.  It didn't quite work out that way, but no harm, no foul.  No foods, dishes, utensils, or people were injured in the making of last night's dinner and dessert!

As for storing the cake before it was ready to bake, I have a nice Pyrex 8x8 baking dish with a plastic cover, so I just covered it and set it on the living room coffee table.  It made an attractive centerpiece, LOL.  If necessary, it could probably go in the refrigerator overnight, if you wanted to do that.  Just add the water right before you put it in the oven.

The Kitchn's recipe recommends having the cake with ice cream.  Last night we had it with ice cream for the first time.  Our local deli has a limited selection of ice cream, so I bought Chocolate Haagen-Dazs and Cookies & Cream Haagen-Dazs 14 oz. containers.  I would've preferred vanilla, but they didn't have it.  We had the chocolate ice cream in the afternoon as a light treat to whet the appetite for better things to come.  We had the Cookies & Cream on the cake, and it was super!

I can't say enough good things about this cake.  Last night with the ice cream, especially with the chocolate cookies in the ice cream, it was heavenly.  Still warm, it is crumbly and soft, and with the melted pudding, it's like one of those chocolate lava cakes or chocolate molten cakes you get in restaurants.  With the cool creaminess and crunch of the Cookies & Cream ice cream, it is really a delight for the senses!

We had the cake for breakfast this morning, with Italian bread and butter.  My roommate had her spaghetti for lunch.  I had mine for dinner, followed by two slices of cake.  We were both amazed that the cake lasted all the way to dinner the next day.  It's usually gone with breakfast.

I had put the cake in the refrigerator overnight, and the next day it had a chewy texture, with a nice bite to it, and the cold had given the pudding filling more of a "pudding" consistency, as opposed to being liquid, as it is when it is warm from the oven.  In short, this cake is good hot or cold, with or without ice cream.  It's versatile and easy to make, and it is sure to please your intended recipient(s) immensely.

For dinner last night, in addition to the spaghetti and sauce, we had Italian bread, which was delicious.  I got that at our little deli, too.  It's a pretty good little deli!


The recipe for sauce isn't copyrighted, and I've changed it around a bit from the original.  I got the original off the back of a box of Mueller's Spaghetti eons ago, probably back in the 1990's, when I first really started learning to cook, and was desperate for anything.  I didn't start making the sauce until recently, when I went through my recipe box thoroughly, and got rid of a lot of stuff that I never used.  When I looked at this recipe for sauce, I thought, "This is too easy.  I'll have to try it."

Fortunately, I have it memorized.  Yes, it's that easy.  It's called quite simply, "Homemade Spaghetti Sauce."  I've changed it quite a bit from the original.   Here's my version:

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (use the oil of your choice - I just like EVOO)
1 cup of onions, finely chopped (roughly two medium-sized onions)
3 cloves of garlic, minced (if using jarred minced garlic, three 1/2 teaspoonfuls - heaping, if you like garlic)
Two 28-oz. cans of crushed tomatoes (I prefer Redpack or Muir Glen Organic)
1 cup of water
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons of McCormick Italian Seasoning (I like McCormick compared to some brands that are out there, but obviously use what you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons of oregano (our motto is that you can never have too much onion or oregano)
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper

You can adjust the seasonings to your taste.  This recipe makes for a very aromatic, spicy sauce, which we like.  Your preference may differ, so adjust for it.

First things first:  Combine your sugar, herbs and spices in a small ramekin.  Put on the counter next to the stove where you will have assembled all your ingredients and a large wooden spoon for stirring the sauce.  Rinse, dry and remove the tops from the cans of tomatoes.  Pour the water and set aside on the counter.  Set out the oil, and set out your tablespoon measure.

Heat the oil in a 5-qt. Dutch Oven or heavy pot over a medium flame.  Coat the pan with it.  When it's sufficiently hot, add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add the onions and saute for 2 minutes.  The recipe calls for 3 minutes, but I find my garlic burns then, so I recommend a shorter sauté time.

Add the tomatoes, then the water.  Stir, then add the sugar, herb and spice mix.  Stir again.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover.  Allow the sauce to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom or sides of the pot.  Serve over macaroni of your choice.  Spaghetti is good, but you can use penne, rotelle or rotini, or whatever your heart desires.  You can also use it for making lasagna, manicotti, or ziti.  Any dish that calls for sauce, really.  It makes 6 cups of sauce.

Make a pound of pasta to go with this recipe.  Boil the water in a large pot or Dutch Oven and add a handful of salt (I like Kosher).  Follow the directions for cooking on the pasta box.  I recommend putting the water on to boil right after adding the sugar, herb and spice mixture and covering the pot and lowering the heat on the sauce.  This way the water in the pot has ample time to come to a boil and the pasta has time to cook, so the pasta and sauce will be ready at roughly the same time.  Last night I put the water on when the sauce had 30 minutes cooking time left, and the pasta wasn't ready when the sauce was finished cooking, because the water took a long time to come to a boil.  Lesson learned!

With a pound of pasta, we had about 4 servings of pasta.  But we're big eaters (no kidding!), so your yield may differ, depending on how many people you're cooking for (I cook for two).  If you need more, make another pound of pasta.  Pasta and sauce is one of those versatile combos that are gone in short order, so it's not likely to hang around long.  And as my roommate noted last night and today, it's even better the second or third day.

The sauce I made from this recipe last night was the best yet.  It was aromatic and spicy.  It was meaty and it adhered well to the spaghetti and the bread (yes, we mop up our sauce with bread.  Don't put butter on the bread first, because the sauce will slide right off and land on your nice shirt).

The way I judge whether something tastes good or not, is that I get a certain tingle in my jaw when the food is in my mouth.  This tells me that the seasonings are perfect, the flavor is great, the mouth feel is pleasing, the chocolate is nice and smoky ... I look for the tingle to make sure I've hit all the right notes in the recipe.  Then I'm satisfied.  Last night the dinner and dessert both met that standard.

Last night we had leftover spaghetti, so I put aside two containers, and mixed the spaghetti with the sauce, for lunch and dinner today.  I still had more sauce leftover, so I put away a large container in the freezer to save for later.  We certainly have enough macaroni to use with the sauce.

I ate the last of the Warm Fudgy Pudding Cake for dessert tonight.  It was the longest it's ever lasted in this house.