The time-honored way of showing love in an Italian family is to offer food. Whether we're celebrating, mourning, happy, sad--if we're breathing, there's a table filled with great things to eat. Life's too short, so eat what you love and love what you eat.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
COOK THE BOOKS: THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE
It's time once again to Cook the Books. Our Crispy Cook, Rachel, chose a classic, Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse, for our reading and dining pleasure.
In my research of this 1946 Carnegie winner, I was not surprised to find that it was a favorite of J.K. Rowlings. In her biography, Smith quotes Rowling as saying: "Perhaps, more than any other book, it [The Little White Horse] has a direct influence on the Harry Potter books." Elaborating, Smith cites Rowlings' use of highly unusual names for her characters and a tendency to be richly descriptive in her passages about food. He recalls that in the last chapter alone, Goudge describes a plethora of sweets--plum cake, saffron cake, cherry cake, iced fairy cakes, gingerbread, eclairs, meringues, syllabub, almond fingers, parkin, cream horns, rock cakes, chocolate cake, lemon curd, jam sandwiches--and draws the parallel between Goudge's focus on food and Rowlings descriptive passages of feasts at Hogwarts.
Another parallel can be drawn between Maria, the teenaged orphan traveling with her governess to the unfamiliar world of Moonacre Manor and Harry Potter, another young orphan transplanted to the mystical world of Hogwarts. It's as easy to imagine the delight of post-war children reading the description of Maria's turret room and chuckling over the antics of Zachariah, the cat, and Wrolf, the dog, as it is to witness children today poring over some 800 pages of text, revelling in the latest adventures of Harry Potter and his best chums, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
While I was familiar with many of the dishes mentioned in the novel--a former high school teacher of British Authors, I had encountered them in my reading--I could not recall ever having heard of fairy cakes. An hour or so of Googling presented me with some divurgent opinions regarding this sweet. Most posts regarding fairy cakes simply equated them with cupcakes. Other posts suggested that fairy cakes were highly decorated cupcakes, lighter than cupcakes, or smaller than cupcakes. Still others insisted that the sweet is called fairy cakes because the top is sliced off, the cake filled, and the top cut in half and reassembled in the form of wings on top. Recipes for fairy cakes ran the gamut from sponge cake to lemon cake to chocolate cake, and everything in between.
I chose to make a variation of the recipe I found on Becks and Posh. According to blogger Sam, an English gal living abroad, Becks and Posh is modern Cockney for "nosh." She reveals that learning to make fairy cakes was "de rigeur" for British children and that these cakes are "childish wonders which attract magical fairies."
Since believing in magic is what keeps us young, I whipped up a batch of these fairy cakes and left one out on the kitchen counter overnight to see if I had any takers. I'll let you decide for yourself at the end of the post by revealing the photo I snapped with my hidden camera.
Here is my version of fairy cakes, a take-off on Sam's recipe:
4 oz butter (at room temperature)
4 oz superfine sugar
2 eggs (at room temperature)
zest and juice of 1 Navel orange 1 cup self-rising flour
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar and beat until completely incorporated (the mixture will be pale yellow). Fold in the flour. (it is important that you fold it in gently; this batter has a very different texture than a regular cake batter; that difference translates to a very sumptuous crumb).
Use a scoop to divide the batter into the 12 prepared liners. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely, then frost with the fondant icing (recipe follows).
Gradually add just enough of the juice from 1 orange to the confectioners' sugar, beating hard, to make a stiff fondant. Use a drop or two of food coloring to reach desired shade. Use an offset spatula to spread the icing on each fairy cake.
As so often happens, sometimes the simplest of ingredients go together in just the right way to produce alchemy. I doubt I'll have need for any other recipe for future "fairy" cakes. While I lured my fairies with color instead of silver dragees, feel free to be as magical as you wish in your decorations. You may even lure a unicorn.