The New York Times ran an old recipe in its magazine Sunday, for something called Teddie’s Apple Cake, c. 1973. I looked at the picture and thought, Mmm, might have to try that one. I left the magazine open on the kitchen table, and when Alan stumbled in, exhausted from a day spent doing battle on the Field of Mars, he took one look at it and said, “I want that cake.”
“OK, I’ll make it,” I said. Later, he said again, “I really want that cake.” I took this as a mandate. So when he called in sick the following day, having been felled by a Force 5 head cold, I decided to make Teddie’s Apple Cake as part of his therapy.
Readers, I’ll cut to the chase: Teddie’s Apple Cake is one fine cake, and very therapeutic. Next time I make it, I’m going to follow the lead of the Wednesday Chef, who cut the sugar a bit and substituted
dried fresh cranberries for raisins; my sole criticism is that it’s a tad too sweet, and the cranberries will be a nice contrast. My contribution: The recipe calls for an angel-food cake pan, but I’d guess you could substitute a bundt pan in a pinch. It’s a big, chunky cake, so it may not unmold from a bundt perfectly, but you could take that chance.
What I want to talk about today is the counter-narrative in the Sunday NYT story, seen here:
Boris Portnoy, the pastry chef at Campton Place in San Francisco, says that the cake’s texture reminds him of Black Magic Cake, a moist oil-based chocolate cake, the recipe for which could be found on the back of a Hershey’s Cocoa tin.
But like most chefs who try out the old recipes for this column, Portnoy was frustrated by its simplicity. ‘‘It’s just good and normal, but kind of one-dimensional,’’ he says. We agreed to disagree, and then he had his chance to make something multidimensional — and vastly better.
Portnoy came up with a number of modern desserts inspired by the flavors and ideas in Teddie’s apple cake — one involved walnuts, olives, an almond mousse and roasted quince; another black walnuts, dulce de leche and olive oil.
Friends, this is one reason people are afraid to cook these days. The hours and hours of cooking shows, the time spent watching the “Top Chef” contenders sweat out the arrangement of one sprig of watercress, an artful smear of sauce and a single scallop on a triangular white plate has terrified way too many people who are perfectly capable of claiming their place at the stove. Just look at the phrase in that first quoted paragraph: “frustrated by its simplicity.” Most people are delighted to discover something that looks complicated isn’t. And look at those alternative takes on the recipe — olives, roasted quince, dulce de leche, mmm yummy, just what I’m looking for in an apple cake. Olives. I ask you.
I’d be happy to eat Boris Portnoy’s pastry, and I’m sure it’s wonderful. But I think even Boris would admit that the best food is peasant food, and peasants don’t have time for almond mousse. Give me a nice lumpy stew over a perfectly pureed root vegetable melange with a little dab of creme fraiche any day.
(And how many people have watched Padma Lakshmi take a bite of some contestant’s creation on “Top Chef” and thought, “I bet she’s going to run offstage and puke it all up in five, four, three, two…”)
If you keep reading that story, you’ll learn that Boris rejected the olives in favor of something, er, simpler. At least flavor-wise. You still have to pick some thyme and do some gymnastics with egg whites. I might try that recipe. But I bet Teddie beats it hands-down.
I’ve been sent so many YouTube gems of late I was thinking of doing an all-video post, but instead we’ll make it all-video bloggage:
Who has time to put these things together? Crank that soulja boy, Barney.
And finally, this is my godson, the next Ginger Baker.