Great Aunt Margaret’s Chocolate Frosting

Aunt Margaret (right) and my great grandmother, on my mother's graduation day from kindergarten. Their three vastly different expressions are curious, and priceless.

My son just celebrated his very first birthday.  I was naturally flooded with an enormous range of huge emotions.  But, instead of being very weepy and nostalgic for the entire month prior, staring at him constantly, willing time to stop, I instead funneled all of my sentimentalism into obsessing about his very first birthday cake.

This process was not unlike trying to make each precious decision about our wedding.  Would this be the best choice, that I will then look back on in a decade and remember with zero regrets and nothing but fondness?  Or even more, is this the best choice of all of the options I have entertained in my mind imagining this day for the last 3+ decades?

Of course, an impossible assignment.

But wanting it to be a perfect day and first cake experience for him, I pored over old family recipes scribbled in pencil on cocoa-powdered index cards.  My  first thought was my dad's carrot cake recipe.  It is spectacular.  But I kept looking, and came across again Aunt Margaret's Chocolate Frosting.  It is the perfect, dark, rich, everything your yellow birthday cake screams for recipe.  It is one of the top three recipes in our family's repertoire.  Certainly worthy of a first birthday party.

I then pictured him smashing his first piece of his first birthday cake into his face with his chubby hands, and pictured dark brown Jackson Pollock's covering the walls of my grandparents' condo.  (I also then remembered a first birthday I attended where the cake was red velvet, leaving the kid and high chair looking like something out of a slasher film.)

So opting for a more neutral hued confection, I finally settled on the dense-banana-cream cheese-miracle that is Amy's Bread's Monkey Cake, a cake so good a dear friend recently had it for her wedding cake.  Also, twelve years ago I lived right around the corner from the original Amy's Bread in Manhattan with my brother for a year, and it is a super special part of that neighborhood.

Ok, so what's the point?

The point is that he's one, and loved the cake, and mostly likely would have loved any cake.  I loved obsessing over what to make, baking it for him, whipping the frosting, and seeing him literally lick the plate.  I also loved that it was an opportunity to really go back to my cookbooks, my notes and my recipe cards and rediscover old favorites.

And work on something that I was excited to share with the people I love.  That, after all, is exactly why I cook.

Old Fashioned Dark Chocolate Frosting
By Catie Baumer Schwalb

This is my version of a classic homemade deep chocolate frosting recipe that has been handed down in my family for generations. Among other things, I have added a bit more salt to really give it a salted dark chocolate flavor.  Feel free to cut back on the salt, and adjust it to taste if that's not what you're looking for.  Either way, it is rich, moist, and wonderfully glossy.

3 ounces (3 squares) of unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 cup of sugar
4 ounces of unsalted butter
1 ½ cups whole milk
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla

In a heavy bottomed pot, gently melt the chocolate, stirring frequently.

When smooth, add all remaining ingredients, whisking vigorously to combine.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, continuing to whisk, to combine evenly. The mixture will thicken considerably once it reaches a boil.

Remove the pot from the heat, scrape the frosting into a bowl or container and allow to cool. Stirring from time to time will help it cool more quickly and evenly. The frosting will continue to thicken as it cools.

Frost or pipe as desired.

Note: Instead of vanilla, you can add other extracts or liqueur for a subtly different flavored frosting. Orange, hazelnut, almond and mint all work very nicely.


Blog-y’s first birthday!

My mother and grandmother, 1951.

Just a year ago today I published my first blog post.  There have been a bunch of changes over the year (including the name and url), but I am so thrilled where I have landed and am so excited for all that is ahead.

In the past twelve months I've published 35+ original recipes, about 15 DIY tutorials, and am just shy of 80 posts--which included a handful of months I needed to be away from my laptop to get our heirloom vegetable micro farm planted, weeded, and thriving.

I have finally managed to set up a Pitchfork Diaries facebook fan page, am no longer intimidated by twitter (@pitchforkdiary), and just this past weekend had an incredibly flattering feature on thekitchn.com.  A splendid way to start year number two.

Thank you so much for all of your invaluable interest and comments.  More delicious days to come.

Some of my favorite posts from the last year...

Homemade Fresh Ricotta

Salad Dressing 101

DIY Flavored Salt

Spicy-Tart Pickled Ramps

Baking with my dad: Craig Baumer's Carrot Cake

Baking with my dad.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my food heritage.  Partly because I have cooked little other than french food for the last two years, and simultaneously have spent more time in Chinatown than ever before.  And in part because as I wade deeper and deeper into a career with food, I am having strong food-related distant memories coming back to me.  I am remembering specific meals I had when I was a kid in startling detail.  Eating experiences I haven't thought about in decades are flooding back, making unexpected connections to paths I am exploring now--and in many ways, confirming that this was not an out of nowhere career change.

I have also started to revisit, and to collect and protect, old family recipes.  They are serving up smells and tastes that take me right back to meals with my relatives, some I've met, some I didn't get to.  And even more precious, is cooking from old family recipes, that are in the handwriting of those relatives.  I definitely feel them at the stove with me, looking over my shoulder as I stir and refer to their stained index cards.

I recently came across my father's carrot cake recipe.  My dad, who was an incredibly talented and curious home cook and baker, died just about 12 years ago.  I haven't made this cake, or had it, in at least that long.  First, it is the best carrot cake recipe I have come across, using at least twice as much fresh grated carrots as other recipes (in abundance right now at farmer's markets), resulting in an incredibly moist, yet grounded cake.  And also, it is such a powerful way to feel connected to him.  That little scrap of paper he sent me in college with the recipe could have so easily been lost.  I am so grateful I am a pack rat, and have it now to pass along.


(In his own words)

"Hi-Here goes. I'm going to eliminate the obvious, just give you the ingredients,OK?"
Carrot cake:
2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 cup cooking oil
4 eggs
4 cups grated raw carrots
3/4 cup chopped nuts

Mix dry ingredients, add wet stuff then carrots and nuts. Bake at 350 degrees in two 9 inch greased and floured pans for 25-35minutes. check for doneness in the center, it takes a while.

Brown 2 cups of coconut in 2 tablespoons of butter, don't burn. Drain and cool. Cream 2 tablespoons of butter and one package of cream cheese, 2 teaspoons of milk, and 3 cups of confectionary sugar. Add milk and sugar a little at a time. add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and fold in the coconut, reserving some for the top.

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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