Friday, August 29, 2008

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

My son cycled through the typical boy interests of Thomas the Tank Engine, Superheroes, Captain Underpants, and Pokemon, and his passion for stereotypically male toys was heightened by his Asperger’s. Up until age 4, in fact, he had to be reminded to use female pronouns to refer to girls and women (a language quirk common to those on the spectrum). As a feminist mom, I encouraged him to play without gendered discriminations, so I was thrilled when he requested a tea set at age 3. It turns out that he thought the titular hero in A Bargain for Francis was a boy badger (in this tale, Francis has to best Thelma on some tea-set negotiations). But we did get to have a couple teddy bear tea parties. The only other time DS has patently strayed from boy’s town is when he requested an Easy Bake Oven. His sweet tooth overrides any other categorical ideas he may harbor. I happily and wistfully obliged.

As a five year old, I yearned for an Easy Bake Oven. I dreamt of their small metal cake pans. I coveted the ovens of Tracy and Kit, girls who lived across the street and down the block. I ached to witness the light bulb work its magic. And I longed to eat those tasty little cakes. My mom’s response was, unequivocally, “No.” Reasonably, her argument was that once you have the oven, you have to keep shelling out money to buy the expensive pre-measured mixes. Less than a year later, I began to bake with the real oven, but the Easy Bake version had lodged itself in my heart. Ouch.

DS and I did bake a few treats in his Easy Bake Oven. But, in all honesty, the cakes had a bland, sawdust flavor. And having to worry about a little one getting burned dissipates nostalgia right quick. Plus the new version lacks the retro panache of the EBO in my heart. What retains that retro flavor, though, are my 1957 Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cook Book and my 1968 Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. This latter collection has some terrific cookie and cake recipes (as well the inspirations for my Mad Men dinner). And the “junior” cookbook has an ethnographic quality, capturing the strange diet of white middle class kids in mid-century. It provides the secrets to such special delights as “’Ham’ Loaf Hawaiian” (canned loaf meat, mustard, sliced pineapple, and brown sugar), “Tuna and Chips Casserole” (can of cream of mushroom soup, tuna, peas, milk, and crushed potato chips), and an “Italian Pizza” made with Bisquick. Here’s my son’s favorite classic 1950s lunch (made with real cheese rather than the processed kind. . . but the soup is Campbell’s):

But to keep up with DS's sweet tooth, I've turned to these updated kid-pleasers from a recent issue of Bon Appetit.

Is it a brownie or a cookie? A cookie brownie? A brookie? A crownie?

Warning: This recipe far exceeds the capacity of your Easy Bake Oven!

From The Sweet Pea Bakery & Catering: “Brownie-Chunk Cookies” (as translated by me)

2 ½ Cups of flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

¼ teaspoon of fine sea salt

2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature

1 Cup of packed golden brown sugar

½ Cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Cup of walnuts (I omitted these . . . for the kids)

½ recipe of chilled Old-Fashioned Brownies (recipe below) cut into ½ inch cubes.

Nonstick vegetable spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment. Whisk first 3 ingredients in medium bowl. Beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Fold in brownie cubes.

Drop spoonfuls on baking sheets, spraying them with nonstick spray as needed. Flatten mounds to 1 inch thickness. Bake one sheet at a time 18-20 minutes.

Old-Fashioned Brownies

5 oz. unsweetened chocolate chopped

1 stick of butter

2 Cups of sugar

1 teaspoons of vanilla extract

4 large eggs

¼ teaspoon salt

1 Cup of flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 13x9x2 inch metal pan with foil. (I’d spray the foil with oil, too, b/c mine got a little stuck). Stir chocolate and butter in heavy saucepan over low heat until melted. Cool.

Whisk sugar and vanilla into chocolate mixture, then whisk in eggs and salt; stir in flour. Spread into pan. Bake until tester in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 minutes. Cook in pan, then cover and chill overnight.

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