Cooking & Baking

A Letter to my Grandma, or, Why I Heart Food Network

When I moved into my first apartment, my grandma presented me with a full complement of kitchen equipment that she had painstakingly collected at Goodwill and other thrift shops for years preceding. And then, she did the same for each of my three younger sisters in succession. Nearly twenty years later, I’m still using the dishes and tools she gave me (as well as the ones she has continued to gift in the intervening years). This post is adapted from a letter I wrote her for her birthday early this week, and I share it in her honor.

Dear Grandma,

I wanted to tell you about all the baking we’ve been doing, especially because you have played an important role in it. We don’t get cable at home, but we had access to it recently in a place we were staying, and we got into watching some baking shows on the Food Network with the kids. Their favorites were a “Kids Baking Championship” and a hilarious show called “Nailed It!” in which amateur, low-skilled bakers try to recreate extravagant baked desserts. In any case, they put me up to a “baking challenge” — which basically meant I had make something using a) chocolate, and b) frosting. They were steering me towards cupcakes, but in poring over Cake Mix Doctor* recipes I decided instead to try the “Kiss Me Cakes” I have always thought looked so good. The Kiss Me Cake doctors up a brownie mix for a fudgy base, tops it with a layer of chocolate ganache, and sprinkles the whole thing with raspberries and a dusting of powdered sugar. (You can also decorate with a little decorating icing if that’s not enough chocolate for you.) It’s baked in heart-shaped pans for a kind of Valentine’s-theme look.

Despite your outfitting me so well in the kitchen, I don’t have individual heart-shaped tart cups (does anyone???) — but I do have the double set of heart pans you gave me when I moved into my first apartment. We had so much fun that we made the recipe for company again a few days later, and Varghese, who says he doesn’t care much about brownies, proclaimed the tart “pretty special.” I am sure the heart pans had something to do with it.

As much as the fun kitchen time it’s inspired with the girls, I also love how the baking show vocabulary has become part of our lexicon. Melting the chocolate chips for the ganache, I reminded the girls of what we learned from the very proper British bakers about not scalding it: “Now remember, chocolate will melt in a child’s pocket!” When we want to frost something in a hurry, we wish we had a “blast chiller.” And when we’re ready to try something we’ve never tried before, “marble fondant” has become shorthand for admirable advanced technique.

Lily is now counting down to her birthday, and she wants a dolphin cake. (Did you know April 14th is National Dolphin Day? I didn’t.) Who can say yet whether we will form a dolphin by cutting baked cake into shape, sculpting sea mammals out of fondant, or some other elaborate scheme using mountains of buttercream and Rice Krispie treats? I can tell you one thing: I’m going to have to invest in stand mixer. (I know — you are horrified right now to learn that I haven’t had one all these years.)

We’re looking forward to seeing you this summer. Hope you had a good birthday and please know we are thinking of you often — especially during our “baking challenges.”

Love always,
Erin (& all)

* Also a gift from my grandmother.

I should have taken a photo but it was gone to quickly. This one from Life, Love & Sugar is glorious and similar — though ours were heart-shaped …

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