I know I’m about the millionth blogger to do a post on Dorie Greenspan since she went on tour promoting her new cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, which is about what French people bake at home. But I can’t help it. She is so likable, and her cookbooks are so likable–and I’m not even a baker.
I saw her during her Chicago stop at Kendall College, which was co-hosted by the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance (GMFA) and Culinary Historians of Chicago (CHC). One of the things I love most about the events put on by these groups is that during the introduction for whoever is speaking, they always do a long plug for the next event–as in the one coming up after the one that we’re all currently attending.
Last month, when I went to a writers workshop with Kathleen Flinn, they introduced Kathleen by talking about an upcoming event about Duncan Hines–the MAN, not the cake mix. “I know it doesn’t sound interesting, but I think it really will be,” GMFA vice president Cathy Lambrecht said. In case you were wondering, Duncan Hines was one of the original restaurant reviewers; he self-published this popular little restaurant guide that he meticulously updated, removing any that fell out of his favor from the next edition.
So obviously I was excited to learn what was coming up after Dorie when I went to see her. Turns out it was a trip to Dekalb, IL that would involve a visit to a couple of wineries (yes, they apparently make wine in Dekalb). Then CHC president Bruce Kraig told a long joke about the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s untimely death, complete with “bun in the oven” and “rising” (yeast) puns.
But then there was Dorie.
Chic in all black and a colorful scarf with her signature close-cropped brown hair and roundish specs, Dorie said great little things like “I miss my oven,” and “I’ve never heard a French woman turn down dessert.” She told us that cream cheese had only just come to France during the last few years, where it’s affectionately known as “philadelphia.” (Until that point, she was the sole provider of philadelphia to her Parisian friends, schlepping it over from Connecticut 10 pounds at a time in her suitcase.)
She invited us into the process of learning what French people buy (macarons and layered cakes) versus what they bake at home (loaf pan cakes, simple tarts). And she admitted that despite swearing that she’d never do a macaron recipe in any of her cookbooks, she caved for Baking Chez Moi at the request of her editor.
It was a delightful morning that left me with an urge to bake–a feeling that doesn’t strike me very often–so I decided to make one of the first recipes in the book: vanilla bean and brown butter loaf pan cake. I chose this cake because I always like bakery recipes that involve cooking prowess of some kind (browning butter!), and because I love the name: gateaux de voyage, which translates to weekend cake. This is the kind of cake you bake and then take with you–on a little trip or to a picnic or a friend’s house. And all the while, it sits there getting tastier and fuller in flavor.
Brown butter and vanilla bean weekend cake
1 stick unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped of its pulp (could substitute 4 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract)
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dark rum or amaretto
Method: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350F. Butter a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan and dust it with flour, shaking out the excess.
Put the stick of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a boil, swirling occasionally (not stirring). Let it bubble until it turns a deep honey brown and smells quite nutty, 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t walk away from the pan–even if you become tempted to go searching for that lone bottle of dark rum in the liquor cabinet–the difference between brown and black butter is just a few seconds. And don’t be afraid of those little brown flecks coating the bottom of the pan; they provide beautiful flavor and color. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and vanilla bean pulp in a large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the pulp is well incorporated into the sugar.
Whisk the eggs into the sugar and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Still using the whisk, beat in the heavy cream (and vanilla if you’re using it in place of the bean), along with the rum.
Now switch to a large spatula, and gradually stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth batter.
Fold in the cooled melted butter in 2 or 3 additions, and then pour the batter into the loaf pan, smoothing out the top with the spatula.
Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Check the cake after about 30 minutes. If it seems like it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with foil for the remainder of the baking time.
When the cake is done, transfer it to a rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove it from the loaf pan and let it cool right side up.
If you have time, Dorie says to wrap the cake in foil or plastic and let it age for a day before serving to ensure the fullest flavor. This cake is heavenly with a cup of coffee or a little shot o’ dark rum.