Sunday, April 12, 2009
Love, Loss and What I Baked: Scarlet O'Hara
For most of 1997 I worked at Conari Press, a small book publisher in Berkeley. I had the pleasure to work with some amazing and creative people, including the co-author of my book The Party Girl Cookbook, Nina Lesowitz
1997 was a pivotal year for Nina. She turned 40, went through a divorce, moved and met her future husband. She also dressed up as Scarlet O'Hara and passed out matchbooks to strangers inviting them to "light her fire."
See, we were publishing a book called Hells Belles: A Tribute to the Spitfires, Bad Seeds & Steel Magnolias of the New and Old South (written by our colleague and friend, Seale Ballenger) and cooked a scheme to promote it at BookExpo by having Seale and Nina dress up as Rhett and Scarlet and hand-out promotional matchbooks. Being the "go-for-it" good sports they are, they eagerly jumped into their roles and had a blast.
So, for Nina's 40th Birthday I knew I had to attempt my first doll cake - and dress her like Ms. O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler. I baked the Black Magic Cake (recipe follows) in a large metal bowl. It took a LONG time to bake, but worked like a charm. I found a black-haired off-brand Barbie at the dollar store, and even found a mini straw hat in the doll making dept. of the hobby shop. I stuck green sequins into her ears with straight pins for earrings.
The dress is inspired by the one Scarlett wears in the "Picnic at 12 Oaks" scene:
I cheated a little and did vines instead of clusters of flowers, but I think it worked, and most importantly - Nina was thrilled!
Black Magic Cake
This is the best, easiest chocolate cake ever. I've made it hundreds of times. Sometimes I forget the salt or vanilla, sometimes I use buttermilk usually I don't and it still comes out yummy every time. I also love that it calls for oil rather than butter - which means you can make it on the fly without having to wait for butter to soften. I can get this puppy into the oven in 10 minutes.
The recipe is from my well-worn, butter-stained copy of Hershey's Fabulous Desserts, a circa 1990 recipe book that I picked up at Crown Books in LA and have had for a million years - the book pretty much opens itself to this recipe.
1-3/4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup strong black coffee
1 cup buttermilk, regular milk or sourmilk (1 tablespoon vinegar + milk to equal 1 cup)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350
Grease & flour two 8 or 9" cake pans or a 9" x 13" baking pan. In large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, soda, powder and salt. Add eggs, coffee, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. The batter is very thin.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes for round pans, 40-45 minutes for a sheet pan, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.
Also makes great cupcakes - used a 1/4 cup measure to fill standard cupcake pan