17 February 2010

A Baker After My Own Heart

This past-obsessed Park Slope baker sound like someone I could get along with. Also, like someone hoping for a "Julie and Julia" type book and movie deal. Still, I wouldn't mind tasting some of those cakes.

Park Slope baker will bake 100 cakes from '30s and '40s era and chronicle efforts in blog
A Park Slope baking enthusiast is making a mission of cooking her way into the past.
Susan LaRosa, 54, spent years collecting old boxes and scrapbooks full of homemade recipe cards from the first half of the 20th century at estate and yard sales.
"They were really treasures, and almost historical documents that reflected what people were really eating in the 1930s or 1940s," LaRosa said.
Now, she has vowed to make about 100 of them over the next year, and she is chronicling her efforts in a blog, acakebakesinbrooklyn.blogspot.com.
LaRosa views the recipes - often typed or handwritten - as windows into the lives of the people who authored them.
A yellowed and stained recipe card for buns bears the name "Ida Zepp," and notes at the bottom that, "These rolls were served hot at Ida's announcement party, May 1, 1937."
Some index cards with basic cake recipes have been given overly romantic names, like "Gold" and "Moonlight Lemon," which LaRosa attributes to a frustrated housewife.
"These are the personal papers of women in an age when they didn't have a voice," LaRosa said. "I think a lot of creative women expressed themselves through baking."
LaRosa, director of marketing at the Henry Street Settlement and a largely self-taught baker, has lived in Park Slope since 1982 with her husband, Paul, a television journalist and former Daily News reporter.
Deciphering the recipes isn't always easy, especially when they give measurements like "butter the size of a walnut," or leave out key details such as pan size.
A gingerbread cake LaRosa made from a 1919 collection of recipes put together by Mrs. Osbourne of Bay City, Mich., bubbled over after she underestimated the pan size, and ended up a smoking, charred mess.
Many of the recipes seem to represent the culture of their time, although LaRosa found that some may have been better left in the dusty annals of history.
For example, a raisin spice cake concocted during the lean years of World War I - dubbed Canadian War Cake - was made with no eggs, milk or butter, and only a modest amount of shortening. "It looked and tasted like a brick," LaRosa said. "It makes you happy we don't have rationing during these war times."

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