Man, I like pie. Cherry paaaah. Blueberry paaaah. Banana cream paaaah. Pecan paaaah. I can’t eat a whole pie in a sitting, but I would if I could and that, of course, can be a problem. But there’s also a problem with not being able to eat the whole thing, because if I have a taste for pie and make one for me, by the time it’s half gone, the rest is half shot.
Hmmm, a sweet dilemma, and one only easily addressed by buying pie by the slice from some shop. Not acceptable.
The same goes for layer cakes, and baklava, and biscuits, and scones, and sweet rolls and on and on.
So I really like this Debby Maugans Nakos and her new cookbook, Small Batch Baking (Workman Publishing, $13.95, 452 pp.). The Birmingham, Ala., food writer and housewife has come up with both clever technique and hundreds of recipes for “when just enough for 1 or 2 … is just enough.”
Her book pretty well covers the canon of baking, from savories like rustic bacon biscuits and rosemary focaccia to and through sweets like vanilla banana caramel flan and blueberry lattice tarts, in each case scaled down for one or two, at most three, people.
I have to draw a personal line at a recipe for lemon-lime coolers that makes only six cookies; or oatmeal cookies — two oatmeal cookies. That’s downright ascetic, almost punitive baking.
But cherry pie? Debby’s recipe for basic pastry dough takes only 1/2 cup of flour and equally small portions of the rest. Her technique is to make rustic pan-less pies by rolling out two 6-inch rounds, mounding cherry filling in the center and folding the pastry up and over it. Bake time is only 35 minutes.
That technique isn’t at all unknown. But her solution to making a layer-cake for two is slick. Cake pans? Soup cans, pineapple cans or any straight-sided 14- to 15-ounce cans are perfect for a one-person layer cake; or an 8-ounce can for a single-layer. In each case, the can must have no snags or sharp edges from opening, no dents, has had the label removed and been thoroughly washed out. Well-buttered and with a circle of parchment that fits snugly in the bottom, it makes a fine micro-cake pan.
She makes baklava in a loaf pan, crumb cakes in a jumbo muffin pan (using only three of the cups), tarts without any pan at all.
Besides all the baked goods, she includes plenty of recipes for frostings, cream toppings, sweet garnishes and sauces (and you need know only that fresh passion fruit sauce is one that plays large in these small dishes, as proof that these are not mundane, low-on-lavish creations).
Here’s a good example of Debby’s Lilliputian baked goods.
Fudgy Mocha Layer Cake
(Recipe adapted for space)
Makes 2 cakes; serves 2
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted, and a little more for flouring the “pans”
1/4 cup boiling water
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons sour cream, room temperature
Yolk of 1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt
For mocha fudge frosting, see step 7.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter and lightly flour the inside of two 14- or 14.5-ounce cans, tapping out the excess.
2. In a small heatproof bowl, combine boiling water, espresso and chocolate. Whisk until smooth and let it cool slightly.
3. In another bowl, whisk together sour cream, egg yolk, oil and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk to blend.
4. In a third, medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt, then add chocolate mixture and whisk just until blended and smooth.
5. Spoon batter into prepared cans, dividing evenly. Bake on a cookie sheet until a toothpick comes out of the center clean, 30-35 minutes.
6. Cool the cans on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of each cake, invert the cans to remove the cakes, and let them cool completely, upright on the rack.
7. For frosting, combine 1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream; 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a saucepan on medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped; and 1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract, then whisk until smooth. Refrigerate, whisking several times as it chills, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours
8. Split each cake horizontally, frost the cut side of each bottom layer, top each with the second layer, and cover each cake with the rest of the frosting.Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]