a bite of history

Saturday night I told Papi that I wanted to learn how to cook Cuban food. Before I could even begin to muse about the potential picadillos, arroz con pollos, and flans I might concoct, he pulled a raggedy looking book off our overstuffed cookbook shelf called La Cocina en el Hogar. It was a book his great-grandmother bought from a shop in Little Havana when she first came to the US in 1964. She passed this book on to my father. While the yellowing pages are full of delicious authentic dishes, I was more interested in the time-tested recipes written in my great-grandmother’s elegant cursive that had been inserted into the pages.

Reading her recipes was like going back in time. I was amazed at how easy it was to translate terms such as “melted” and “sifted” from Spanish to English. I was humored by her inventive Spanglish terms, such as “osterisase” – translation: mix in an Oster blender. Most of all, I was inspired to revive these recipes that had been laying dormant for more than 20 years.

After a late night of recipe reading, it was no surprise that I woke up at 7:30 with the urge to bake. I immediately went to the store and loaded up on flour, sugar, butter, cocoa, and chocolate chips (which I have to replenish on a biweekly basis).

My first project came from my old new discovery: my Mamamama’s “Cake de Naranja,” orange cake with an orange curd filling and orange glaze. I immediately noticed that she had forgotten to include a leavener in her cake recipe, so I made some slight adjustments and ended up with a moist and tender yellow cake with a hint of citrus. I think next time I’ll add some orange zest, but I wanted to follow her recipe as diligently as possible the first time around. I took this cake to lunch at my Abuela’s house, and everyone was excited to taste one of Mamamama’s recipes again. From what I hear, she was an incredible and avid cook. I know I’ll never rival her expertise, but I’m increasingly convinced that one day it will be discovered that a love for cooking is genetic.

I also made two batches of banana bread, one marble swirled (a new invention!) and one chocolate chip-pecan. I’m going to be selling these today as part of the “sugar cured” baked goods line, and donating a portion of the profits to Relay for Life.

Later that night I made white chocolate chunk brownies and chocolate chip pecan blondies, but I was on such a sugar high by that point that I forgot to take a picture (see “sugar cured” post for a photo of the same recipes).

I think I’ll take a break from baking today, but I already have plans in the baking making for tomorrow!

(Recipes after the jump)

Cake de Naranja
2/3 cup butter softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
2/3 cup orange juice
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease two 9x 2 round cake pans.  Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes.  Add eggs one at a time.  Add orange juice.  In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Slowly add it to the liquid ingredients and beat until just combined. Bake for 24 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Orange Curd Filling:

2 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
2 tsp flour
2/3 cup orange juice
1 tsp butter
1 tsp lemon juice

Place a couple inches of water in a pot and allow it to come to a simmer (this will be used as a double boiler).  In a heatproof bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, flour, and orange juice.  Place mixture over pan of simmering water and, whisking constantly, allow mixture to heat until it thickens (the whisk will form lines in the mixture).  Once this point is reached add the butter and lemon juice.  Refrigerate the curd for about three hours, until it is completely cooled.

3 tbsp butter, softened
6 tbsp orange juice
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Beat together ingredients using an electric mixer until smooth and thick, about 5 minutes.

To assemble cake:
Place first layer bottom side up on a plate. Spread curd evenly over cake (you will probably have extra curd).  Top with other cake layer, bottom side down.  Pour glaze over the cake and allow it to drip down the sides.  Allow glaze to set for about 30 minutes before serving.  If not eating right away, store in the refrigerator and take out about 30 minutes before eating.

Joanna Banana Bread

My favorite classic recipe that never fails. Adapted from Mr. Food Makes Dessert.
½ cup oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 overripe bananas, mashed
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

½ cup chocolate chips or nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan.  Whisk together oil and sugar.  Add eggs and beat until combined.  Add mashed bananas.  Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Add milk and vanilla (and chocolate chips and nuts, if using) and stir to incorporate. Pour mixture into pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with small crumbs adhering to it.  Allow bread to cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes.  Turn loaf out onto rack and allow it to cool completely before slicing.

From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
Makes 16 2-inch squares
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 cup flour

½ cup each of chocolate chips and nuts (optional, be as creative as you want)
Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease an 8×8 pan.  Stir together butter and brown sugar.  Add the egg and vanilla.  Stir in the salt and flour.  Stir in chocolate and/or nuts.  Pour into prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes (err on the side of underdone—they’re better that way).  Allow to cool in pan on a rack before cutting.


1 Comment

Filed under Joanna

One response to “a bite of history

  1. Cellina

    Thank you for sharing such a great family/food discovery. All of my dad’s recipes are in memory, but I wish I had some of my grandmother’s written down. I’m gonna try my hand at that cake, but mine will be a gf (gluten free) version for my husband, the flour nazi!

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