THE CAke historian podcast: Laura Shapiro

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You can find Laura online at laurashapirowriter.com, and her books What She Ate, Julia Child: A Life, Something from the Oven, and Perfection Salad are everywhere books are sold.


“Just little old me” had great fun finding vintage advertisements for using cake mix. Here’s a few favorites:

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A Pancake Cake for Eleanor Roosevelt
”Now, living on her own and greeted with rapture and respect by crowds around the world, she was eager to give everyone her own favorite dessert. ‘A pancake dessert’ reported Entrup [Eleanor’s cookh]. ‘You make it like a large layer cake, and she had maple syrup with she used to bring in from Vermont and maple sugar. What you had to do was put the maple sugar between, and then you poured the maple syrup over, and you served it warm.”
—From
What She Ate

After reading about this I became, frankly, obsessed. Luckly my family loves pancakes, so I had eager tasters for a few weekends at least. Tinkering about began on my 41st birthday, the age Eleanor was when, in 1925, Franklin had Val-Kill Estate built for her. That was Eleanor’s home, the only truly her own, and where she spent the rest of her life following Franklin’s death in 1945 until her own in 1962.

 I like a clean edge for a more cake-like look so I use either a 9” cake ring to cut-out each individual pancake or trim away the thin bits with scissors.

I like a clean edge for a more cake-like look so I use either a 9” cake ring to cut-out each individual pancake or trim away the thin bits with scissors.

A 9” or 10” base-sized non-stick skillet works best for this.
Makes approximately six pancakes in a 9” and five pancakes in a 10”

Ingredients:
4 T (57 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 c (300 g) cake flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt (use 1/4 t if table or fine sea salt)
2 T sugar
2 1/2 c (600 g) whole milk
3 large eggs

Melt the butter and set aside to cool to room temp. In the meantime, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and coolish butter, then whisk the dry ingredients into the wet. It’s okay if there’s a few lumps.

Heat your skillet at medium and do a small test pancake. This one always, without fail, fails.

Use 1 c (200 g) of batter per pancake, evenly spreading the batter over the surface of the pan. Let cook as you would a pancake of any size, watching for the edges to dry and bubbles to form over the entire surface, about two minutes. Use a larger, wider spatula to flip—I prefer a flexible fish spatula. Cook the other side for about a minute until browned. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the cakes from burning before fully cooking inside. Slide onto a plate, cover to keep warm, and keep on keeping on until you run out of batter.

Once you have your stack, do it Eleanor-style and sprinkle a few teaspoons of maple sugar* between each layer followed by a decent pour of maple syrup over the lot. I’ve also tried this with a generous smear of butter between each later; chopped up crispy bacon on top; and even Lemon Mascarpone Cream. Note, these are not huge, fluffy pancakes, rather a sort of hybrid pancake/crepe. If you want a loftier result, separate the yolks from the whites and fold in the stiffly beaten whites before cooking.

 Topped with bacon!

Topped with bacon!

 Clouds of Mascarpone whipped up with a splash of heavy cream and lemon zest and juice to-taste.

Clouds of Mascarpone whipped up with a splash of heavy cream and lemon zest and juice to-taste.

*Can’t find maple sugar? Make it!

The (Second) Cake of the Episode: Laura’s answer to the end-of-episode question was to bake and share with her daughter a peach variation of this cakeish Magic Apple Plum Cobbler from genius Deb of Smitten Kitchen. I recently made a version using a mix of nectarines, blackberries and marionberries as well as another with strawberries and balsamic vinegar. The recipe is solid and amazing and pretty much my new favorite thing.

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