All posts by marlenedotterer

Science Fiction and Fantasy writer

Cooking Post: German Chocolate Cake

I don’t have an overabundance of happy memories from childhood, but this is one: making German Chocolate Cake for my birthday. It was my favorite cake and my mother made it every year, and I always got to help. Eventually, I got big enough to make it on my own.

I don’t make it so often anymore because it’s very, very fattening. You’d think I could get it away with it once a year, but see, I have no willpower where this cake is concerned. I will gladly eat the entire thing over the course of two or three days. So now I only make it when I’ve got a crowd to feed. Today’s cake is going to my daughter’s pig fest tomorrow.

There’s a new generation of cooks out there, and I have a little suspicion that most of you don’t know what I’m talking about. You think I picked up a cake mix, right? Or maybe I ordered a cake from the fancy bakery down the street, with plain chocolate icing around the outside?

No. Pay attention now, this is important: I am talking about HOMEMADE German Chocolate Cake. The kind your great-great grandmother made in the log cabin around 1852, when Samuel German first created the sweet chocolate baking bar. Wikipedia says that the recipe was actually created in 1957, or at least that’s when it appeared in the Dallas Morning Star. Maybe so, or maybe that’s just when someone got it published.

No matter.

This cake is infused with joy for me. That means something. My mother and I did not have a great relationship, yet I can reach back and feel the joy in my memories of making it with her, all wrapped up in the heady touch and smell and taste of chocolate, butter, and sugar.

I’d love to take you on the journey with me, because I don’t want the human race to lose this recipe. Most people really do think the cake mix is fine, or that the German Chocolate Cake from a bakery is actually a German Chocolate Cake. I really want to show you how wrong that is. Not morally wrong (it’s just cake, after all), but oh-you-don’t-know-what-you’re-missing wrong.

Yes, it takes a bit of time and a bit of effort. But the best things in life always do.

The Cake

It starts by buying a bar of German Baking Chocolate. The recipe is inside the package, but I learned today that they (corporate marketing) have messed with it. It’s the same general recipe, but they skipped some steps and combined others. At first, I thought, “Eh, okay,” but about halfway through, the brakes came screeching on, and I said out loud, “No SIR, we are NOT skipping that step!”

So I’m going to give it to you the old-fashioned way, except for the beginning where I was still trying to follow the recipe. I’ll tell you what changed and you can decide how you want to do it.

The original recipe called for placing the chocolate in a bowl and pouring 1/2 cup of boiling water over it. Let it sit for a few mintues, then stir it until it’s all blended. While that’s happening, you place softened butter (3/4 cup, and that’s real butter. Don’t you dare use margarine) and sugar in a big bowl and beat it on medium speed (hand-held or stand mixer – either one) until it’s thick and creamy.

I guess they wanted to make it easier for the instant generation (you know who you are), so the MODERN recipe has you put the chocolate and butter in a big bowl and microwave for 1 or 2 minutes, then mix until blended. This is where I was following the recipe, so here’s what we have, before and after mixing.

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Chocolate and butter

 

I was not happy that I did it this way because… memories. In my memory, every step has it’s own flavor, probably because I was always tasting the batter at each step along the way. And I missed stirring the chocolate in the water, and tasting the seductive mixture of butter and sugar. Now I had a mix of butter and chocolate.

That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. It’s just not the memory.

Well, all right. We have butter and chocolate, so it’s time to add sugar. Pour in 1 and 1/2 cups and beat for a minute or so. Add 1 tsp vanilla.

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Sugar added to chocolate and butter

 

Now we move on to the eggs. There are 3 eggs separated. This is something else the modern recipe has changed. Now they just have you throw 3 whole eggs in there. This is what made me put on the breaks. I’m sorry, but it’s essential to separate the eggs. Do this one egg at a time, putting the whites in another bowl, and the yolk in the batter. After each yolk, beat the batter for one minute. No, this is  not too much bother. This helps make a fluffier cake. We want fluffy cake, no?

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Egg yolk ready to join the batter.

 

Now it’s time for the dry ingredients. First, get a smallish bowl and mix 1/2 cup flour with 1 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp salt. This is me, so of course I used whole wheat pastry flour. There is no white flour in my house. Stir this until thoroughly mixed, then add to the batter, beating it until smooth.

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Flour, baking soda, salt

Next, scoop 1 and 1/2 cups of flour into your bowl. In a measuring cup, pout 1 cup of buttermilk. Now you are going to alternate mixing in some flour, beating it, then buttermilk, beating it, then flour, etc., until all the flour and buttermilk is beaten thoroughly into the batter. I usually do it in thirds, but I just eyeball it. Just be sure to mix well after each addition. In the pictures below, you’re seeing the dark brown batter of chocolate, butter, sugar, and egg yolk. By the time you finish adding the flour and buttermilk, you will have a thick, gloopy, light brown batter.

Now is the most important step. I can’t believe the modern version skips this. Remember the egg whites we put in another bowl? We are going to beat them till firm peaks form, then fold them into the batter. You will end up with a large amount of thick, pale, fluffy batter. Please, if you make this cake, do what I say, not the directions. Separate those eggs, beat the whites, and fold them into the batter. You will rejoice later. I promise.

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That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now just pour that thick, gorgeous batter into a greased cake pan. Spread it around till it’s even – it’s so thick, it doesn’t really pour.

Usually, this cake is baked in three layers, and you can do that if you want to. For me, it’s always just been a sheet cake, and I’m happy with that.

Bake it at 350 for 30 minutes. While it’s baking you can move on to Step 2.

The Frosting

The cake is great, but it’s the frosting that sends it over the edge to galaxy-wide, too-good-to-be-true-goodness. And once again, you cannot skimp on this. You won’t find this flavor in a box or can or bakery-made cake. Fortunately, there are far fewer steps. This is actually pretty easy to make.

Get a medium-sized saucepan. Add 3/4 sticks butter, 1 can evaporated milk, and 4 egg yolks. (Yes, you have to separate the eggs again. Sorry). Whisk this up and put the pan on medium heat. Add 1 and 1/2 cups sugar and 1 tsp vanilla. Stir. Tradition demands you use a wooden spoon. I think it adds something to the flavor.

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Evaporated milk, egg yolks, butter, sugar – life is good

 

Set the timer for 12 minutes and stand right there stirring the whole time. I find it helps to have a book to read. Don’t stir fast… slow and steady is what you need. After 9 or 10 minutes, your pudding will be bubbling along merrily. Keep stirring. It thickens up a bit and turns a slight golden brown. Usually 12 minutes is the magic number. Take the pan off the heat and turn the burner off.

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This frosting is really just caramel pudding

 

Add 2 and 2/3 cups shredded coconut – the recipe calls for a 7 oz package of Angel’s Baker Coconut, which is pre-sweetened. Honestly, the last thing you need is more sugar. What were they thinking? Just use plain shredded coconut. Also add 1 and 1/2 cups chopped pecans. Stir it up, pour into a bowl, and refrigerate for an hour or two. It will thicken a lot as it cools. Perfect, caramel-y goodness!

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Almost done!

 

It goes without saying that you can taste at every step in the process. This frosting is not safe from me, even while it’s cooling.

When all is cooled and ready, I just pour the frosting over the cake and spread it around a little. No fancy decorating needed. If you do the 3 layers, spread frosting between layers and on top. It’s too heavy to work on the sides, which is maybe why bakers came up with the idea of plain chocolate frosting there. I think it ruins the experience, but hey, it’s subjective.

THIS right here… is heaven!

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Oh, those extra egg whites? Make an omelet if you want. I made Lemon Macaroons.

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Female Protagonists, Part the Second

Okay, then. I promised a post on this. If you didn’t read the linked article from Friday’s post, you can go do that now. Or, not. It’s not a surprise to anybody that well-rounded, non-stereotypical female characters are mostly absent in the starring role, whether we’re talking about books, movies, TV, or whatever.

As a kid, I read lots of books with female protags. I don’t remember thinking these characters were inferior to their male counterparts. I also never questioned if they “should” be doing or saying the things they were doing and saying, or if those things were more appropriate for men. I sort of took the world as it appeared to me and didn’t try to read nefarious meanings into things.

Well then, of course, I grew up. What a shock that was.

Written for Their Time

But let’s talk about a hero of my innocent youth: Nancy Drew. She had all kinds of smarts, was a strong leader, fair, and good. I don’t remember her ever asking for permission for anything. It’s true, she WAS dependent on a man (her father) for her support, but hey, she was only 18 years old. She had a boyfriend who occasionally helped out with mystery solving, along with her two girlfriends and their boyfriends. But Nancy ran the show. The guys never showed up and took over for the ladies. They were strictly sidekicks. I don’t think they were even in every book.

It’s true, no one actually dated, and everyone was unfailingly polite. There was never a mention (that I remember) of anyone going to college or having a job. The books were sort of unrealistic in that way, or maybe my memory is hazy. Everyone was also white, good looking, and wealthy. This was the early 60’s and written with 60’s sensibilities. I believe the series continued to be written for many years. Maybe they improved.

Anyway, as a hero, Nancy rocked. She saw what needed to be done, and she did it. Or delegated. She understood the strengths of her people and she let them use those strengths. She never apologized for being a woman or even for being young. For me, this was very empowering. I internalized that, whether I realized it or not. So I grew up confident in my abilities. Sadly, I didn’t have a script to follow, and neither did the people around me. Especially the people around me. If they’d only known their lines, things would have gone a lot better for me back then.

Writing Female Protagonists

Of course, in thinking about all of this, I decided to go back and look at my own writing. Now, I do have female protags and I think they’re pretty strong characters. It’s important to me that I write women who live full lives and have equal status in the world. But each character is different and has to come to this in her own way.

Casey  – The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder

Casey was my first female character and she’s part of an ensemble cast. But she has  a real battle to wage for equality. We don’t meet her before the accident that takes her back in time to 1906, but she makes it very clear who she was and who she expected to be. Born in California in the late 20th century, she had no doubt of her equal status with men. It was in her blood and bones, and there was nothing Edwardian Ireland could do to convince her otherwise.

Shipbuilder was mostly about Thomas Andrews, and Casey’s story is wrapped up in his. The book ends  at the resolution of the Titanic sinking. But if I had a chance to write about the rest of Casey’s life in the early 20th century, we would see that she never backed down. Women were fighting for equality, dying and imprisoned in that battle, and our Casey would be right at the front, not just leading the charge, but with knowledge of how to make the fight better and more inclusive of ALL women, of any race, nationality, or sexual orientation. She would have confronted the Church and the government about the Magdalene Laundries, and insisted that women’s equality included the right to say NO to forced sex, and even the right to choose whether to bear a child. She would join the fight for better wages and working conditions for men and insist it applied to women too.

Oh, our Casey had red hair for a reason. She was a firecracker. If I ever get around to finishing the third book in this series, you just may get to see some of this.

Moira and Sarah – The Time Travel Journals: Bridgebuilder

Sarah is one of my favorite characters. She’s Casey’s granddaughter, born in an alternate  universe changed by the presence of time travelers. In 1980, Sarah is an engineer like her grandfather was, except she builds spaceships rather than ocean vessels. Thanks to her grandmother, Sarah never had to fight to get a science education or a job just like a man with her degree would have. It’s just the way the world is.

Sarah is happiest when she’s tinkering in the lab, figuring out how to create working machines. She’s MacGyver with overies, a hacker of chemicals, computers, machines, and neutrons. More than her male co-characters, Sam and Andy, Sarah is the real “bridgebuilder” in this book, the person who builds the machines that do what Sam or Andy want them to do.

Moira, on the other hand, has to fight for every step she takes. She’s a 17-year old school girl in the first universe, living on an unstable Earth in 2080. Much of the planet has become uninhabitable for humans. Governments have fallen apart, puppets of religious leaders and war lords. As the step-daughter of a politically powerful and violent preacher, Moira is destined for early marriage and a lifetime of beatings and bearing children. It doesn’t matter that a teacher called her “the next Einstein or Hawking.” On this Earth, women do what men tell them.

I know that seems excessive and perhaps it makes the story sound cliché-ish. But I’m only extrapolating from the rumblings of many of today’s religious extremists. Hey, I’ve been a religious extremist. I know the kind of world they want to see, and it’s a writer’s job to explore what life can look like if we follow certain paths.

Moira needs a lot of help to escape her prison, so she is not your usual, strong, kick-ass heroine. But this is what happens in real life. Moira doesn’t have super strength or a top-notch talent with deadly weapons, or even great courage. She does have a brilliant mind, intense curiosity, big dreams, and tenacity. And she has people who love her and see her potential. Some of those people put their lives on the line to help her, but here’s the thing: she doesn’t let them down. Even with help, the only way to escape a prison is to make the effort, and take the chances you get. And the best way to stay out of a prison is to build a new life, and Moira shines at that. She’s got her eyes on the stars and she’s not stopping until she gets there.

Oy, look at the time, and I’ve only covered two books! This is longish, too, so I’m going to publish it and give you a part 3.

Who are your favorite heroines? What do you look for in a good female protagonist?

 

In Our Garden: Western Tanager

This summer we’re seeing a bird that’s new to us. It’s quite striking and got our attention right away. This gorgeous bird stops by most days to drink from our rock fountain in the back yard. It’s called a Western Tanager. I haven’t been able to get its picture yet, so this one is borrowed:

Western Tanager

Copyright: Dave Ryan

Western Tanager

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voting Libertarian? I hope you or your kids never get sick — Dr. Jen Gunter

My thirteen-year old boys had an appointment this week. When we were done the provider who normally chats with me in that provider-to-provider way abruptly changed the conversation to tell me he finally deciding who was getting his vote. I was expecting this to be the lead in to some new Donald Trump joke. However, he […]

via Voting Libertarian? I hope you or your kids never get sick — Dr. Jen Gunter

Eat This While You Read That: Lee and Miller – Cedar Writes

Here’s a post featuring my favorite author team, their books, and a favorite character’s favorite food. A favorable post!

From ETWYRT:

A couple of weeks ago I featured a lowly, plebian sandwich on ETWYRT. Today’s recipe is pretty much the exact opposite of the zombie apocalypse grilled cheese. I really enjoy the Liaden serie…

Source: Eat This While You Read That: Lee and Miller – Cedar Writes

Least Healthy Foods are the Most Subsidized

People who read this article will probably those most interested in food and health. The people who NEED to read it, are the folks who eat mostly processed food.

So  if you know me and you eat lots of processed food, please read. Especially if your kids eat mostly processed food. Convenience is great, but it’s not everything.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/07/are-farm-subsidies-killing-us

Crap Shoots and Other Good Times

I just did something I already regret. I had a hamburger. Not just any hamburger either, but one completely devoid of worth. Worse than a waste of calories, it was practically a killing meal.

In case you’re wondering if it at least tasted good, no it didn’t. Like I said, devoid of worth.

The joke on me is that I thought I was ordering the vegetarian option. See, I’m a spoiled Californian. When I go to a hamburger place and see portobello mushroom as one of the hamburger options, I think it’s a grilled portobello mushroom instead of a hamburger patty.

But I’m not in California,  I’m in Texas. The San Antonio airport, to be exact. So… It’s beef with a few mushroom pieces on top. Along with grilled onions and .. well, it was supposed to have Swiss cheese, but I confess I couldn’t find it.

Sounds good, though, right? So I shrugged and took a bite. Now it wasn’t awful or anything. No reason to immediately spit it out and refuse to eat it.  I wish it had been that bad. It was just… meh. Sort of tasteless, which is hard to do to grilled portobello and onions, but they managed it.

About halfway through the thing, I noticed I was fighting a lot of grease. As in, driping off my fingers. I did a little inspection, then turned it over to examine the bottom if it. The bottom bun was saturated with grease. I lifted the bun off. It was soaked all the way through. I squeezed it like a wet dish rag. Grease literally oozed from the bread onto my napkin.

So now my stomach feels leaden and I’m really wishing I hadn’t eaten that thing. It may take a month to get over the damage.

You should avoid Steaks and Shakes in the San Antonio airport.

Just sayin’.