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Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Well, my book group is the people who, when you screw up the dessert, they’ll still eat it and say “yum.”

I had signed up for dessert. It all started so innocently — cake and ice cream, easy, right? So I made a 1-2-3-4 cake from a really old stack of recipes that is somehow connected to Grammy (more on that another time). Great, simple cake, three layers, not too thick so there’s plenty of room for icing.

Then I started the icing. Again, a Gram recipe, this one marked as “Excellent!” in her handwriting. Caramel icing, meaning lots of light brown sugar, melted and swirling with cream, butter and vanilla. The kitchen smelled heavenly.

The trouble showed itself when I had to let the icing cool to room temperature, then beat it to thicken it up. Hmm, not much time. And I had used one of my favorite All-Clad pots, very heavy and thus superb at holding heat. I pulled out the arsenal of “cool it down” activities: The fridge for a bit. Ice cubes in a bowl, set the pot into that. Blowing on the bottom of the pot. Raking my fingers through my hair.

The icing would not set.

It was 7:30, time to actually BE at book group. I had three lovely layers of cake, two pints of ice cream . . . and a huge pot of caramel “sauce.”

I schlepped it all off to book group, arriving late and frazzled. In the warmth of that familiar circle of friends, I started to calm down. It helped tremendously that we were eating Bettina’s great food (for those of you who don’t know Loulies, that’s Bettina and Suzanne, and you want to know their food).

And the solution dawned: If the icing would not set, then I’d shred the cake too. Done. A pile of palm-sized cake chunks, piled on the antique cake plate and served with Bettina’s silver tongs, went around the table followed by ice cream — and the icing in a pitcher.

I love my book group: They said “yum,” and poured on the icing.

Caramel sauce (not icing) from Baking Family

I-Love-My-Book-Group Caramel Sauce

Serves 10 readers, plus a husband and three boys who came home later

  • 4-1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups light cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine the sugar, cream and salt in a big-enough saucepan for them to boil up. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until the mixture forms a very soft ball in cold water, about 230°F if you have a candy thermometer. Remove mixture from heat and stir in the butter. Cool to lukewarm, or until it’s time to take the sauce somewhere. Add vanilla and mix in well.
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It’s a gingerbread time of year. My cousin Christopher sent me a note this past week asking about Grammy’s gingerbread, feeling like a little spicy dark cake would help round out his snowbound New York life.

What? I did not yet have this on the blog? I couldn’t believe I had not posted it yet, but then I remembered why: Conflicting hand-written recipes. Which was the real one?

Steph eating Fallen GingerbreadAs it turns out, the pan was the clue; only one recipe specified the correctly shaped baking pan. Grammy made her gingerbread in a bundt or tube pan, creating a round cake with a big hole in the middle. If you were serving this for any sort of occasion, that big hole was a perfect “bowl” for a pile of whipped cream.

That’s not what made this gingerbread stick, though. What I remember best about this O-shaped gingerbread was the lament. Almost every time Grammy made it, her gingerbread fell. A sunken crease deflated the ring, and Grammy wondered what on earth had gone wrong. According to her, this dessert was a failure every time. She’d apologize, she’d agonize, she’d throw her hands up–ignoring the fact that everyone loved her gingerbread.

I envisioned fixing Grammy’s perennially collapsed gingerbread, solving its issues. But really, why? It tastes delicious. It’s an excellent foil for whipped cream and for homemade applesauce. It always stays moist, a challenge for many gingerbreads.

So rather than say the cake needs fixing, let’s just call it like we see it: Fallen gingerbread. Go ahead and smile when you see that crease. Tell people this is exactly the way the cake should be. And if your cake DOESN’T fall, shoot me a note and tell me what you did differently!

Fallen Gingerbread from Baking Family

Fallen Gingerbread

Serves 6-8

  • ½ cup butter (1 stick) at room temperature
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg, well-beaten
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan. (I’d suggest you do this even if the pan is nonstick.)

Tip: Just move creamed butter and sugar aside, beat egg in the same bowl before combining all

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg. Sift all dry ingredients together; mix water and molasses. Add the dry and the wet alternately to the butter and sugar mixture, about half of each at a time.

Pour batter into the pan, and transfer to the oven. Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester, skewer or broom straw inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in pan, then loosen around the edges and turn out onto a serving platter. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

In my family, pecan pie was not really our thing. Dad made something called Chess Pie, and we fondly referred to it as “pecan pie without the pecans” — which we did not miss at all.

On a troll through Grammy’s marked-up cookbooks, though, I found a recipe for pecan pie that caught my eye. Why? No corn syrup. Most pecan pies are held together with a minor bucket-full of light corn syrup. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m a fan of having my sweetness taste like sugar.

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