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Archive for February, 2012

For some reason recently I remembered Mother, every once in a while, making some sort of spice cake and a pot of warm lemon sauce. As I recall, most of my siblings weren’t too fond of the sauce in particular, because it was quite tart. But it brought back fond memories for me, so I decided to see if I could find a reasonable facsimile.

My normal search starts (and usually ends) with America’s Test Kitchen. It is usually pretty easy to find a blogger who has put their recipe on the web. ATK is helpful because they test each recipe so many times and then explain why they went the direction they did with it. The explanation makes it easy to understand the why’s and wherefore’s of the recipe, rather than just giving a list or ingredients and processes. Understanding makes it easier to personalize.

Anyway, here is the ATK recipe for the Spice Cake. I followed this closely, except the cardamom was $13 for about 2 oz and I just couldn’t justify that expense, so let’s call this Cardamomless Spice Cake.

2 1/4 Cs unbleached all-purpose flour (11 1/4 ounces), plus extra for dusting pans
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
16 tbsps unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt
2 large eggs at room temperature
3 large egg yolks at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 Cs granulated sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
2 tbsps light molasses or mild molasses
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 C buttermilk, at room temperature

1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Combine spices in small bowl; reserve 1/2 teaspoon for frosting.

2. Heat 4 tablespoons butter in 8-inch skillet over medium heat until melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly, until butter is light brown and has faint nutty aroma, 2 to 4 minutes. Add spices and continue to cook, stirring constantly, 15 seconds. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. In small bowl, gently whisk eggs, yolks, and vanilla to combine. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream remaining 12 tablespoons butter with sugar and molasses at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl twice with rubber spatula. Reduce to medium speed and add cooled butter and spice mixture, ginger, and half of egg mixture; mix until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Repeat with remaining egg mixture; scrape down bowl again. Reduce to low speed; add about one-third flour mixture, followed by half of buttermilk, mixing until just incorporated after each addition, about 5 seconds. Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour.

4. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Zigzag the tip of a metal spatula through batter, pulling it to pan edges. Lightly tap pan against counter 3 or 4 times to dislodge any large air bubbles; smooth surface with spatula.

5. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 32 to 37 minutes. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.

Lemon Sauce

I scrounged around on the web and found a number of different recipes before settling on this one, that I then adjusted.

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs. + 2 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup water
2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. grated lemon peel
Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a sauce pan. Gradually add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir it for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter, lemon juice and lemon peel.

I bumped up the amounts of everything. Used the juice of one lemon (1/4-1/3C), plus zest of the entire lemon (almost 2tbsp?). Added probably 2 Tbsp lemon juice from the ubiquitous green bottle. Used 1 1/2C water and probably close to 2 Tbsp cornstarch. Only used 1/2C sugar even with the added lemon, but it was still sweet. Alot like thicker lemonaide. I’d like it to be still thicker, especially when warm.

Comments: We loved the aroma of the spices as they bloomed. The cake came together pretty easily and baked up nicely. I was surprised that the spice flavor was not more assertive. I might try adding more spices next time. The lemon sauce needs to be more tart for my taste, so I will likely cut back on the sugar next time.

Jill likes it, which automatically puts it into the winner-make-again category. Aubrey has adult tastes, cuz she won’t keep her hands off the cake. So now I have extra lemon sauce and leftover fresh ginger root…so I guess I’ll have to try a gingerbread cake now. Shucks:)

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Classical education emphasizes using the grammar years to build the memory as one would build a muscle. Frankly, as a long-time secondary teacher, I wondered about the value of rote memory. Was it just something for the children to do until their minds developed to be able to discuss? As I have taught this year in the grammar years, I have seen vividly the great educational value of developing one’s memory.

Tim Challies posted an excellent article – “Empty Mind, Empty Hearts, Empty Lives” – explaining what we lose when we rely on computers as our memory devices.

Those who celebrate the ‘outsourcing’ of memory to the web have been misled by a metaphor. They overlook the fundamentally organic nature of biological memory. What gives real memory its richness and its character, not to mention its mystery and fragility, is its contingency. It exists in time, changing as the body changes.” Where a computer takes in information and immediately stores it as data, the human brain continues to process that information and turn it into a form of knowledge. Biological memory is a living memory; computer memory is not.

(emphasis mine)

In other words, building one’s memory is not just adding information into a data bank and learning to retrieve it on command. Memory always involves some degree of meditation. We chew on the information till we achieve some level of understanding. We link it with other information which creates an exponential degree of understanding for each connection.

Memorizing changes who you are.

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