Because the last baking attempt was such a success (meaning the raccoons that got into the garbage seemed to enjoy the kindlech as no one else in the family did), I decided to try again, this time attempting kuchen, or coffee cake, still using the 1941 Jewish Cook Book by Mildred Grosberg Bellin. As I mentioned before, my character Rose bakes kuchen, and dammit, if I’m going to capture what life was like in the early 20th century, what better way to replicate it in my kitchen, baking just like my great-grandmothers would have.
Well for starters the recipe calls for me to scald the milk. “Do you think that means I yell at it?” I asked my son who was listlessly picking at the yellow peppers I make him eat as his sole vegetable of the day (if left to his own devices, the boy would eat nothing that resembles actual food). “Should I yell, ‘Bad milk! Bad milk!'”
“Huh?” he said.
“Never mind,” I said, turning back to the milk and my pot. Now, I’ve heated milk before. But I didn’t think my normal technique would work for this recipe, the one where I put the milk on the stove, stare it at wondering if it’s hot, leave to yell at a kid, and then decide it must be done because the milk has bubbled over to the stove top and brown chunks are coating the bottom of the pan.
So just like my great-grandmother, I Googled “scald milk.” Turns out if you stir the milk, it will heat up without the brown chunks! Crazy, I know! And wonder of wonders, it worked. I had scalded milk.
Next up was dissolving 1/2 ounce of compressed yeast. Uh, but the yeast cakes come in .6 ounces. Yes, I have a scale. Yes, I’m way lazy. I tossed it all in. I figure my great-grandmother probably never measured anything out; I wouldn’t either. After a little of this, a little of that, I had to let it sit for a while to rise.
What’s the deal with all this rising? The stuff never rises for me! So after a couple of hours, I called it done. And then we got to the next problem: Butter needed to be creamed.
Have you creamed butter by hand? No? Me neither. And I’m totally not starting now. So breaking with authenticity (again), I creamed the butter using my standing mixer. Ahhh…. I threw in the rest of the ingredients and switched back to hand mode. “With a spoon work for 10 minutes, then set the dough aside to rise again, overnight.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that my great-grandmothers must have been ripped. I mean serious muscles. Because working dough for ten minutes by spoon is not an easy task. I sat myself down on the couch, put the bowl between my legs, and stirred with all my might, while letting Million-Dollar Listing: Los Angeles take my mind off my workout. “This is incredibly hard!” I said to my husband who laughed at me.
“Give it to me,” he said in that annoying voice that implies my lack of strength training is actually affecting my ability to use my nonexistent biceps.
He barely lasted a minute. “Wow!” he said. “This is really hard to do!”
After ten minutes and a closing or two on Million-Dollar Listing, the dough seemed to be done. So I let it rise till morning.
Did it rise? Not really.
But you know what? The cake was amazing. So amazing my kids ate the entire thing and asked for more. So amazing they want me to bake it again. And I totally will. Using the standing mixer this time, of course. (And now that I’ve tempted all of you with coffee cake, I’d like to wish those of you who observe Yom Kippur, a meaningful fast.)