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The Returned: How to Cook a Wolf

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

If I’m making amends for the sins of abandonment committed against my cookbooks here, it seems extra appropriate to do right by a book that isn’t even actually mine but rather one I borrowed from a neighbor and then proceeded to bury under an ever-growing pile of unread Lucky Peach issues. (Okay, I have a problem. We’ve clearly established that at this point.)

If you’re unfamiliar, How to Cook a Wolf (published originally in 1942) is a quick read, part rallying cry and part cookbook designed to aid and inspire home cooks in a time of stress and limitation. When I started the book, I was immediately struck by how much the ideas M.F.K. Fisher had about economics, nutrition, and making do had to say (adjusting for inflation and accounting for the proximity of war) to me sitting in my living room arm chair in 2014. My appreciation for her outlook only grew as the pages turned, as did my trust in her advice and appraisals after acknowledgements such as this one, crediting her sources for a “Cream of Potato Soup” that follows a bit of a tirade on doing things “correctly” vs. “eating according to your own tastes.”

However, there are compromises that can be admitted, whether you approve of them or not. Here is a recipe, a combination really of Escoffier’s Soupe à la Bonne Femme and one I found in a calendar published by the gas company in the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland.

Hear, hear! That’s a world-aware outlook and a flexibility of approach I can get behind. (It’s also probably why I can’t really hang with the Cook’s Illustrated folks, but that’s a convo for another post.)

Canned Tomato Soup

Think of it as adding a little Warhol pizzazz to your baking?

I’m personally satisfied to report that I have now finished the book and returned it to its rightful owner, along with a portion of a cake from its pages that I just had to try out: Tomato Soup Cake. Also known as Mystery or Conversation Cake due to its surprising secret ingredient (which I doubt any taste tester would be able to ID), this is one of those recipes that seems to trace back for a lot of people to grandma’s special version and holiday family gatherings (and probably an advertising pamphlet produced by Campbell’s Soup!). It’s a spice cake that uses no eggs and only three tablespoons of fat, making it easy on the pantry and easily vegan to boot. You can dress it up with the mix-ins and spice combinations that best suit your guests and top it (maple cream cheese frosting, anyone?) however you like. I’ve included my version below, but as Fisher says, you should make yours “to you own tastes!”

Tomato Soup Cake: Ready to Bake

Tomato Soup Cake
from How to Cook a Wolf

3 tablespoons shortening (or butter)
1 cup sugar
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice (I used 1/4 teaspoon of each of the following: ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.)
1 1/2 cups nuts and fruit, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 cup of each of the following: raisins, walnuts, and dates.)

Optional topping:
3 tablespoons powdered sugar dusted over top

Heat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (line bottom with parchment if you are extra nervous about cake removal—I did and don’t regret it, but it was perhaps overkill for a cake of this texture). Set aside.

Measure flour and spices into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream shortening and sugar together until well blended and fluffy.

Stir baking soda into the soup and mix well. Add this and the flour/spice mixture to the creamed sugar in several alternating portions, mixing until fully incorporated. Fold in nuts and fruit.

Spoon into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top (batter will be quite thick). Bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Top as desired.

Cake stores well and pleased even my non-spice-cake-liking friends, for what it’s worth.

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

The Countdown: The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake

In Wonderland Kitchen, recipe research almost always equals Google searches and Evernote-taking. I rarely crack an actual, physical cookbook when looking for knowledge and inspiration, and yet I cannot seem to stop buying them! And those that don’t arrive on my doorstep via UPS show up skillfully wrapped in the hands of generous friends or as orphan cast-offs schlepped home from some musty church basement book sale.

Now, here they all sit in precarious stacks around my office, their beseeching gaze rivaled only by the CDs I have yet to split the cellophane on and review for work.

And so, as a 2014 self-improvement project that does not require public exercise, I’m on a mission to review each book in turn, to sit down and get to know it a little, and select a recipe which I will make and share here with my kitchen crew. Which is to say I’ll be doing this for me, but hopefully you’ll get something out of it, too.

Real world cookbooks present challenges

Real world cookbooks present challenges

I’m starting out with The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook. Now, this is honestly a very lovely book featuring beautiful but not-too-precious photographs and charming writing. But while I follow their blog, lust after their farm house, and appreciate a balanced collection that won’t break my toe if it slides off the counter, really it’s leading out of the gate because my awesome mother-in-law gave me an autographed copy for my birthday and I still haven’t made anything from it!!!


Baking pan ready for action

Now then, this is one of those books helpfully (if you’re into that kind of thing) arranged by season, starting with winter and a cozy list of baking projects. Though the recipe for “Snow Cream with Sweetened Condensed Milk” was tempting, I’m not sure that there’s any snow in Baltimore I’d feel safe serving to guests. As I paged through my options, I did appreciate that the desserts each seemed possible to execute without a professional pastry chef on stand by. A few of the recipes included commercial candy, which is not something I’d ever considered, and so usually being all DIY and kale and whatnot, I decided this was the way to go. Malted Milk Chocolate Cake: come to mama!

The cake came together just as easily as the one-page recipe implied, and the 9×13-inch pan serving 12-16 is no joke—this is a homey yet decadent chocolate cake-brownie of a treat, so you may want to keep your pieces quite small. I didn’t find it dry in the least, but offering coffee or a tall glass of milk to balance out the richness would not be amiss.

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake: Unbaked

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake
from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

1 1/3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup malted milk powder (I could only find chocolate flavored, and just went for it)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup coarsely chopped malted milk balls
(If you can promise not to eat more than three balls before baking, you can buy the 5 oz box. All others might want to consider purchasing more. I roughly halved the milk balls and just gave the pile an extra whack or two at the end for minimal rolling-to-the-floor.)

Butter a 9×13-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment. Butter the paper as well and flour the pan. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Measure out the milk and add the malted milk powder and the vanilla. Stir to combine.

Into a medium bowl, measure out the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Run a whisk around the bowl several times until evenly incorporated. Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly mixing in each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Lower the mixer speed and add the remaining dry (excepting the milk balls) and liquid ingredients in several alternating portions, starting and ending with the dry. Scrape down the mixing bowl and make sure all the ingredients have been evenly incorporated. (I failed a little here–learn from my mistakes!!)

Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and even out. Sprinkle the milk balls across the top.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until a cake tester (I’ve been loving using left over kabob skewers for this) comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the pan edge.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Cake can be served from and stored in the pan.

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake

Bon Attempt*: Dishes to Try (and Try Again)

Pickled Turnips

So, things have been going in Wonderland Kitchen, they just haven’t been going “OMG, I totally have to tell you about this ah-maze-ing cookie recipe I just invented” great. That, or they’ve been going “this other person’s recipe is awesome and I posted about it last year” (so repeat as needed).

I’ve also been doing a good bit of cooking for real people beyond my husband (or unintentionally for my cat, when my back is turned, the little sneak!). It seemed rude to stick a lens in a guest’s face during an 8 a.m. breakfast, but in hindsight I’m feeling less shy, so beware future visitors!

Anyway, this being Sunday, I thought perhaps a little confession time was in order–air the laundry and wipe off the counters for the week ahead–and so in no particular order, some recipe takeaways for when the CSA first slams back into the rotation and houseguests make last minute visits. What have you been cooking as we slide into summer?

A Reminder that You Can Pickle For Tomorrow What You Can’t Consume Today

Turnips with Beet

Since the crisper drawer was already bursting with greens, I picked up a couple bunches of these white turnips and pickled them according to David Lebovitz’s recipe. Here I thought I was innovating, but hardly! I did however get distracted and ended up with an overly salted and garlic-y finished product. Will have to try this one again, because the beet slices resulted in an amazing brine. And I do have a soft spot for pink food.

A Reminder to Prep Guest Breakfasts Ahead of Time

Granola and Refrigerator Oats

I’ve posted about this Little Blue Hen granola before, which I like especially because it includes an abundance of nuts and seeds with nary a spec of dried fruit in sight (though I’ll cop to offering the guests a handful of DIY raisins at their discretion, because come on). I also like to make little cups of refrigerator oats before heading to bed (I substitute kefir for the milk and yogurt) and then just pass out the jars and spoons in the a.m. Haven’t had an unfinished portion yet.

A Reminder to be Brave with Your Summer Soups

Spring Asparagus and Broccoli Soup

I have been having a lot of luck lately with those “use up five things from the in-house stock” on the fly dinners, and this has been especially helpful now that there’s a lot more produce around. As we crawl towards the end of the week and another pick-up looms, sometimes the stuff just needs to be used up. That’s how I ended up with asparagus, broccoli, and spring onions in a soup pot, simmered with just enough veggie broth to cover, and then pureed with the last of the dill and the remaining 1/4 cup of cream in the bottle. A light spring soup, tasty both hot and cold.

A Reminder to Double the Doctor Kracker Knock-Offs

DIY Seeded Crispbread

Fair warning that these are very crisp crackers, but they are just like the ones that come eight to a box in the grocery. If your family is as addicted to them as mine, you have come to the right place for the knock-off recipe. But be sure to hide a few for your own eating: this was the lone piece of cracker left in the bag when I went back to take a picture and have a snack.

A Reminder to Not Burn Your Hand When Baking Life-Changing Bread

My New Roots: Life Changing Bread

This is the pre-baked look of My New Roots’ much-discussed Life-Changing Bread. The first loaf I made with really beautiful Bob’s Red Mill oats and specially purchased hazelnuts and thought it was a neat breakfast item but not necessarily life changing. The second time I was way more chill about it, just used the walnuts and the somewhat crappier instant oats I dug out of the pantry, and also tossed in all the seeds left behind in the bag of the above-mentioned seeded crackers. Aside from the accidental seering of the back of my hand on the oven while flipping the bread over, I’m enjoying the second batch even more. I keep it sliced and frozen and simply defrost a piece each morning in the toaster.

A Reminder That Not All Baking Need Exhaust Your Patience

Joy the Baker: Sweet Berry Lime Cake

Short version: I needed a cake for company, and I had about an hour to make it happen. Joy the Baker to the rescue!

A Reminder That Sometimes the “Failures” Are Still Pretty Tasty

Tomato Basil Popovers

I always have excellent results with this King Arthur popover recipe, so I used that as the base when–for some reason–I started dreaming of breakfast treats flavored with tomato. My first effort included 1 tablespoon tomato powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, a handful of chopped basil, and about 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. They were good, but not quite what I’m looking for just yet and I lost most of my usual pop (I’m guessing the weight of the cheese didn’t help). A work in progress.

A Reminder That Not All Failures are Failures If You Adjust the Frame

Cottage Cheese Fail

I got it into my head after the cream cheese making that DIY cottage cheese would be no. big. deal. I researched a few available recipes and thought things were going pretty well, but my curds didn’t survive the straining process. I’m guessing I didn’t cook my curds long enough. Proper looking curds or no, the cheese still tasted fantastic and I used it like a rich ricotta on toast and pizzas with much success. The curd skills will come another day. There were also fresh peas at the market, which meant it was time again for smoky tahini peas!

Peas and Cheese Crostini

*With apologies to Bon Appétempt, whose kitchen antics are funny and whose dishes look awesome. However, as I have never eaten at her house, it’s her blog name that I’m particularly enamored with–so much so that I felt only minor guilt in kinda stealing it for the title of this post! That acknowledged and confessed, onward into the kitchen…

Ripe Strawberries, Ripe!: Strawberries and Cream Cake

Strawberries and Cream Cake

I’m not really much of a fruit person, but when there were strawberries–strawberries everywhere–it felt shameful to walk away from the farmers market empty handed.

So it was that I ended up with about a pound of perfectly ripe fruit and no practical application in sight. What I did happen to have was a pint of gloriously rich heavy cream, which led pretty quickly to baking motivation, a sentiment efficiently fueled by a fear that this lovely fruit would be left to spoil as the busy week wore on. Add in our great neighbors willing to share an evening on the front porch, provide the Prosecco, and supply the plates and napkins, and a party was in process before the dessert was completely situated on the cake stand.

After reading through the comments, I decide to pour my cake batter into two pans rather than split a single layer after baking, which sped the cooking time up considerably (about 17 minutes total) and cut down on the mess. The next time I try this recipe, however, I think I’ll stick to one and see if that alters the texture favorably. This cake is firm and heavy–a bonus if your berries are very, very juicy, but mine were of the smaller and tarter variety. I think splitting the cake before baking may have only made the density more of a challenge and I found the crumb to be a shade drier than preferable. Could have all simply been a matter of user error on the part of the infrequent baker, admittedly. I’ve never claimed to be much of a Martha Stewart. More of a Mr. Wizard, if we’re frank about it.

 Strawberries and Cream Cake: Assembly

But I doubt I’ll ever be able to top the look of this cake when assembled. I had never heard of mixing in a bit of plain gelatin with the whipping cream to help it maintain its form, but that is a take away I will not soon forget. Even a couple days later, a lone leftover piece still held up well in the fridge.

And of course, I couldn’t help but belt out “Ripe strawberries, ripe!” from the iconic street scene in the musical Oliver Twist while hulling the fruit to fill this cake. My sincere apologies to all those within ear shot.

Strawberries and Cream Cake
from Martha Stewart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, plus more to sweeten berries
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Butter two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment. Butter the top of the paper and thoroughly flour the pans.

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the sliced berries with the desired amount of sugar and toss gently to coat. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, measure flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Using an electric or stand mixer at medium speed, cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl and add eggs and yolks, one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add in the flour mixture (in three parts) and the milk (in two parts), alternating between the two and mixing just until combined. Divide batter between the two pans and smooth the surface.

Bake about 17 minutes. The edges of the cakes should be deeply golden and a cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean. Cool ten minutes in the pans before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.

When ready to assemble the cake, prepare the whipped topping. In a small sauce pan add two tablespoons cold water and sprinkle gelatin over top. Heat on low just until gelatin dissolves and then allow to cool down.

Beat the cream with 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks hold. With mixer running, drizzle in cooled (but still liquid) gelatin and continue beating until cream is once again holding soft peaks.

Place bottom layer of cooled cake on serving plate. Top with half the strawberries (I had fewer berries, so went with the slight variation you see pictured) and half the whipped cream. Top with the second layer of cake and the rest of the cream. Chill for at least one hour to allow cream to firm up and berry juices to penetrate the cake. Remove from refrigerator and top with remaining strawberries 15 minutes before serving.

Falling Into the Season: Maple Apple Bars


I didn’t post about the fact that my pal Marie and I cooked a bushel and peck worth of apples last weekend, ran them through (a freakin’ hand-crank) food mill, and put them into jars. But we did. We even added caramel to some, and calvados and cardamom to others for an adult-rated version. It was quite a delicious project, not terribly backbreaking when all was said and done, and should keep us in applesauce and apple jam for the foreseeable future. But more than that, it was an afternoon of fun in that way good work with close friends can turn out to be. Company in the kitchen is an important ingredient that shouldn’t be overlooked.

As it turns out, however, this applesauce also now connects me to a new acquaintance far beyond my kitchen walls. Thanks to the RSS/Twitter feeds streaming through Wonderland, I feel as if I have “met” a small army of amazing cooks who have so generously invited me into their homes and thoughts through their online writing. Amie Watson reached out to me after connecting with Wonderland Kitchen though a friend and suggested a recipe trade. I thought this was a most excellent idea.

Apples for Maple Apple Bars

Once she told me she was going to make my cereal bars gluten free (an adaptation I’m excited to share), I thought–since I’m so into coconut oil these days–that perhaps I could completely anti-dairy and non-glutenate her Honey Almond Squares. But on reflection (and the realization that my chickpea flour cupboard was empty), I decided that was the opposite direction to take things. Considering the above-mentioned applesauce, plus the crisp weekend weather, I would add the wheat back in, swap in some deeper and darker sweet notes, and see what I got. I perhaps got completely carried away, but Amie’s recipe seemed welcoming to adaptation. Use an apple! Or use a pear! I like this approach; it’s much more in line with how I like to cook, and also where I tend to fail when baking. When the recipe offers guidelines as to where variation is possible, that’s my best chance for success right out of the gate.

And I don’t think I’ve ruined Amie’s recipe in the process! I like to think of this version as just the opposite side of the same dessert coin. Where her bars, with their higher honey, mango, and almond notes, would make a perfect welcome to the warming temperatures of spring, here we say hello to the brisk snap in the fall air. It’s a rich, moist, spicy cake, and it practically begs you for a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you’re feeling super decadent (and not lactose intolerant–sorry Amie!).

Maple Apple Bars: Baked

Maple Apple Bars
adapted from “Honey Almond Squares” as seen on Amie Watson’s Multiculturiosity

For the cake batter

1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup applesauce
1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 apple, cubed
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

For the streusel topping

1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp rolled oats, coarsely ground
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup butter, cubed

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter an 11″x7″ glass baking dish and set aside.

2. Measure dry ingredients for streusel topping into a bowl. Using your fingers, work in butter until the mixture is roughly incorporated and crumbly.

3. Using a stand mixer or in a large bowl, cream butter and maple syrup. Beat in the egg. Next, stir in the vanilla extract and apple sauce.

4. Measure dry ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Add to the liquids and stir just until all ingredients are incorporated. Fold in walnuts and apples, then spoon batter into prepared baking dish, smoothing it out evenly with a spatula or the back of a spoon.

5. Sprinkle streusel topping over the top and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Pretty in Pink Week: Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit Cake with a Hint of Mint


And so we come to the close of pink week in Wonderland with this lovely, perfect-for-spring bundt cake. While I swear it looked a little pinkish in the original recipe picture, it was, in fact, not pink at all. However, I’m having trouble getting too broken up about that because this cake is fantastic. I don’t usually get terribly excited about sweet treats; I do not often find myself considering cake for breakfast. As soon as my fork hit a slice of this one, restraint crumbled.

Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit Cake with a Hint of Mint

The cake itself has a spongy, almost angel food-like spring to its crumb but a rich flavor since in this case the yolks also go in the batter along with grapefruit juice, lemon zest, vanilla, and, well, lots of sugar.

The mint-flecked glaze was a really interesting idea. Initially I wasn’t a fan of its actual taste–not because of the mint, but because of the powdered sugar (too sweet). Once it soaked in a bit, however, I liked it a lot more, which has left me wondering about what syrups might suit its profile well. I’ll definitely be making another, so there will be opportunities for experimentation.

Bake one up for yourself!

Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit Cake with a Hint of Mint process

Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit Cake with a Hint of Mint unglazed