The Coy of Cooking: Adventures with Bettina (Part 2)
As I remarked in Part 1, Bettina—the housecoated heroine of A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband—is herself the form and model of womanly perfection. But do not think for one minute that her life is free from calamity. Heavens, no.
Remark the opening of Chapter 19, “Bob and Bettina Alone.” That’s a rather grim title, no? As well it should be. After a long day of singing to her canned goods and dancing with the carpet sweeper, Bettina’s world plunges into darkness.
“Why, Bob, look at the front of your Palm Beach suit!” exclaimed Bettina, after she had greeted Bob at the door. “What in the world have you been doing?”
“Pretty bad; isn’t it!” said he, ruefully. “Frank Dixon brought me home in his car, and he had some sort of engine trouble. We worked on it for awhile, but couldn’t fix it, so he phoned the garage and I came home on the street car. I must have rubbed up against some grease. Do you suppose my clothes are spoiled?”
“No-o,” said Bettina, slowly, “not if I get at them. Let me see; what is it that takes out auto grease? Oh, I know!”
Of course you do, Bettina. Of course you do.
After a trauma like that, a man sure as hell needs comfort. Feed him . . .
Bettina’s Dutch Apple Cake
As in Part 1, here is the recipe more or less at it originally appeared—followed by my own notes on the process.
1 cup flour
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp butter
1 egg, well beaten
⅓ cup milk
1 sour apple
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Mix flour, salt, and baking powder. Cut in the butter. Add milk and egg. Mix well. Spread one-half an inch thick in a shallow pan. Pare and cut the apples in lengthwise sections. Lay in rows in the dough with the sharp edges pressed lightly into the dough. [Spread the other half of the dough over the apples.] Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top. Bake thirty minutes in a moderate oven. Serve with lemon sauce (recipe follows).
½ cup sugar
⅛ tsp salt
1 tsp flour
1 cup water
1 tsp butter
2 tbsp lemon juice
Mix the sugar, salt, and flour well. Add the water slowly, stirring with a whisk. Cook seven minutes. Add the butter and lemon juice. Serve hot.
Bettina’s recipe is supposed to serve two. Probably she would have called it “dainty.” She calls almost everything “dainty.”
I, on the other hand, was looking to serve my un-dainty panel of four husbands (plus me, the dainty cook). (For a full description of the panel, see Part 1.)
Looking over the ingredients, I felt sure the cake would fit in what my grandmother and Beatrix Potter called a patty pan. This is a baking tin shaped like a pie dish, but usually of quite small capacity—sometimes little more than a cup or so. My grandmother’s patty pan would have held a single jumbo muffin. Dainty.
Bettina doesn’t specify what sort of pan to use, but it didn’t seem possible that she could have meant to use the 6-inch by 6-inch baking dish that I use for small batches of brownies. That little scrap of dough wouldn’t stretch to fill the bottom.
I decided, therefore, to double Bettina’s recipe and put it in the 6-by-6 pan. Then every husband could have a mouthful. I’d also double the lemon sauce.
Well, guess what?
The cake was beautifully puffed and appealingly golden brown. It filled the pan nearly to the rim. It was also far too thick. The dough—which itself has little in the way of flavor—is meant as a mere delivery system for the apples and the spice, the sugar and the sauce. When it’s that thick, you notice how bland it is. Had I used Bettina’s proportions and the same pan, it would have been close to perfect.
Close to perfect, because three of five husbands noted the cake tasted good but was a smidge dry. Not surprising, given scant amount of moisture and fat in the mixture.
The remedy, which I recommend, is to make lavish use of the lemon sauce. Don’t drizzle it delicately, in the modern fashion. Drench each slice of the cake. Drench. Yes, it’s basically sugar syrup with a whisper of lemon. That’s the point. Drench!
A few other notes, potentially of use especially to inexperienced bakers.
You may notice that one sentence of the cake recipe is in brackets. I added that one myself, as Bettina tells you to spread out one half of the dough but never tells you what to do with the second half. (So there, Little Miz Perfect! Ha ha ha!)
To “cut in the butter” is to put the chilled bit of butter into the bowl with the flour mixture, and slice it into tiny, tiny fragments using either two knives or—my preference—a useful hand-held gadget called a pastry cutter. (This is how many classic baked goods start, including American pie crust, shortbread, and some species of biscuit.) The butter must be ice cold when you begin, and you should work calmly but briskly. When the cutting in is finished, what you’ll have will be a dry mixture that looks kind of like coarse cornmeal or crumbs.
For the sour apple, try a Granny Smith. Don’t use an apple that bakes into mush, like a Macintosh. In fact, don’t use a sweet apple of any variety—because unless you have the candy cravings of a four-year-old child, your teeth will recoil in horror. You need the tartness of the apple to counteract all the sweet, sweet, sweet.
A “moderate oven” is somewhere between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I split the difference and used 365 degrees, so the sugar would melt and the dough would rise.
Five out of five husbands on the panel were pleased, with some reservations about the thick and somewhat dry cake layer. There was particular praise for the overall flavor, a cross between a coffee cake and a sweet roll. Because the cake was so sweet, all felt that the dainty portions—about the size of an average brownie—were really just the right size. Every husband said he’d be happy to see it again.
From the cook’s point of view, it’s a quick recipe with a good yield that uses surprisingly few ingredients. If you need to throw together a dessert in a hurry and on a budget, you could do far worse.
And By the Way . . .
Bob’s Palm Beach suit recovered fully, though Bettina does not condescend to tell us what she used to get out the auto grease. Bettina triumphant, yet again. Because she is Bettina.