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
2 eggs
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

1 comment:

  1. I was thrilled! I'm sure finding my "inner Scarlet" and working with you on The Party Girl Cookbook had everything to do with the turn my life took for the (much) better!
    That cake blew me away then, and I'm still in awe of your creativity and prowess.