Classical music, bubble bath, and really good desserts are best savored with one's eyes closed, in my experience, and I know that the jolly co-authors of The Back In the Day Bakery Cookbook would agree with me, because in the intro to the recipe for Coconut Cream Pie, Cheryl Day reminisces about sitting with her dad at the counter of a coffee shop the first time she had the pie, she and her dad eating it with their eyes closed because it was sooo good.
You know this is not going to be one of those kale-is-really-delicious when served with a splat of wasabi and a Brussel sprout abused with fennel when you see that Cheryl, a former Soul Train dancer, refers to the pie, which has five eggs, two cups of half and half, and two cups of heavy cream as "refreshing and light." Any other doubts you have will be erased upon learning that the foreword is by Paula Deen. All the same, the book -- with recipes from the couple's much-loved bakery in Savannah -- also has some sophisticated savory recipes, like Bacon-Jam Empanadas and Roasted Cheddar Pecan Rounds and a number of rustic breads. It was written to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their bakery. Dancer Cheryl and funk musician Griff met in their early twenties and reconnected 15 years later, when they discovered a mutual delight in scratch baking. The book has anecdotes about each lavishly illustrated, droolworthy recipe, as well as good tips for the novice and accomplished baker alike. For example, when a recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, they recommend using one with 99 percent cocoa content for a more intense flavor. Or when a recipe calls for bringing the eggs to room temperature, why you should not ignore it: Because when you add them to your creamed butter, the batter will resist mixing.
The recipe that caught my eye was for Hummingbird Cake, because it is pretty as a bride in June. Here is the recipe:
Hummingbird Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
hums of happiness
Serves 10 to 12
Spiced with cinnamon and studded with pecans, this cake is a true Southern classic. Bananas and pineapple give it a luscious texture, and its flavors mingle and grow more intense the day after baking.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 5 large bananas)
One 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment and butter it as well. Lightly dust the pans with flour, tapping the pans on the counter to shake out the excess.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, mace, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), beat both sugars with the oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, bananas, and pineapple, mixing until just combined. On low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds, beating until combined; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Fold in ½ cup of the pecans.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Tap the pans firmly on the countertop to remove any air bubbles from the batter. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes, then remove the layers from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
To assemble the cake: Level the top of one of the layers with a serrated knife so it is flat. Place it cut side down on a serving plate. Using an offset spatula or a butter knife, spread the top of the layer with a dollop of frosting. Place the second cake layer on top, right side up, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Decorate the sides of the cake with the remaining 1 cup of pecans. The cake can be stored wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature.
Excerpted from The Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook (Artisan Books). Copyright 2012. Photographs by Squire Fox.
I'm giving this book to my sister for her birthday, but it's really more of a gift for me: I hope she makes me the Hummingbird Cake. And the Chocolate Heaven Cake. And the Salted Apple Caramel Pie.
You can order it from Amazon.com for about $16. It'll do until I can get down to Savannah and try the Days' 'Nana Puddin'.