Tuesday, September 15, 2009
A few weeks ago I decided to bake a cake whose recipe I’d been looking at and thinking about for a week: Ruth Reichl’s Apricot Upsidedown Cake. Taken from her 1971 cookbook, Feastiary, this would be the second Reichl recipe I’ve tried since discovering her writing.
Reichl was the food critic for the NY Times, until she was offered editorship of Gourmet magazine. She’s known for a deliberately democratic approach to food writing (she was the first Times critic to ever assign three stars to noodle restaurants and other eateries not firmly in the European/French tradition). She is also known for the kind of writing you wish you did (or at least I wish I did): i.e. funny, warm, succinct, and mildly nostalgic.
In preparing the recipe, I was struck not just by the flavors, brown sugar, butter, and apricots…but by the simplicity of it. I imagined a meadly of toasty caramel flavors, set off with a simple golden cake underneath…and the apricots all turned to candy.
Was I wrong.
Imagine instead gloppy sugar-butter topping, too moist fruit (so I used peaches instead of canned apricots—none to be found in Jax), and a cake with too much sugar, so it scorches the top (which will be the bottom). After I pulled the cake out of the oven and tried to peel the burnt part off, I thought the cake might be rescued if I cooled it…turning it (maybe) into more of a bread pudding-like desert.
After trying it again, two hours later, it still tasted like something from Reader’s Digest circa 1977…before America realized it didn’t have to eat like it was still the war and things in cans weren't so good for you.
Baking is a science. So although I think I could see my way to creating something with these flavors, only a more subtle, fresh version, I am not sure I have the patience to try and try again.
I’m not sure what I take away from the whole experience other than beware of recipes from 1977…except maybe to remember that nostalgia is a dish best served sparingly…and probably cold.
Posted by madeleine at Tuesday, September 15, 2009