A couple of weeks ago I had never heard of Amelia Morris or her blog Bon Appetempt. But then I was wandering the end caps at my local library while the Tornado debated Pokemon books and movies and this book jumped out at me and demanded that I take it home right away. I think the cover caught my eye and then the blurb fully reeled me in. The first sentence talked about Morris attempting a chocolate peppermint cake for a Christmas brunch and the results being not quite so pretty but very tasty and how that set her on an adventure of attempting different recipes. Can you see why I was hooked? Thankfully, I missed the fact that the cover also called it a "Coming of Age" story because I'm usually not a fan of those.
I liked Amelia from the start. We meet her at 5 years old trying to get into wrestling because that is what her very adored brother loves and her less adored but still loved father. From there we go through her parents' divorce, custody arrangements, stepparents, high school, college, and discovering that life doesn't always turn out exactly how you expected. Through it all she manages to not take herself to seriously (looking back I mean, I have a feeling the young Amelia was pretty melodramatic) and is incredibly honest with her mistakes and missteps. I did really appreciate that she never fails to take responsibility for her actions even when she can understand why she reacted or did what she did she also doesn't take on unnecessary blame.
But it was when she really started cooking that I went from enjoying this book to really connecting with it. I came later to cooking as well. When I got married I could barely boil water and had no interest in changing that. J did some of the cooking and we ate out a lot. But then about 6 months after we got married he left for a business trip which was supposed to last 4 days and ended up lasting 3 weeks. Somewhere in week 2 I had this moment. I was sitting in the living room watching a show picking at my 10th takeout meal in as many days and I realized this was ridiculous. I had a college degree, I could write complicated programs and was allowed to work in systems relating to national security and I couldn't cook chicken? And from there I started my own journey and found my way to not only being able to cook but really enjoying it and it becoming one of my primary interests. While I think our backgrounds are very different I really understood where Morris was coming from as she went on her own journey starting with the not so pretty chocolate peppermint cake.
I ended up really enjoying this book. You never quite know what you're going to get from those impulsive book grabs but this was one ended up being a delightful and unexpected treat. While food is a big part of the book - especially in the last half - there is a lot about acceptance, perseverance, and really growing up. I'm so glad I listened when this book called my name. If you want to get a peek at Amelia's writing you can check out her blog here. My only complaint is there isn't a recipe index in the book which makes it a little harder to find the one I want but I can work with that!
I had a hard time picking a recipe to share because there are so many that I want to try (including one for Red Wine Risotto, Pasta Carbonara, A Very Pretty Orange Cake, and a number of others) I finally decided on one that was one of the first ones in the book. This recipe had my mouth watering from the start and came at the end of a chapter I particularly enjoyed where she spends time working in Argentina.
Simple Vanilla Cake with Dulce de Leche
For the dulce de leche:
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
For the Cake:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for buttering the cake pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Remove the paper label from the can of sweetened condensed milk and submerge the unopened can in a large, deep pot water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, adding water as needed to keep the can completely underwater.
While the can is simmering, make the cake.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans, line the bottom of each with parchment paper, and then butter the paper as well.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well combined, 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs one at a time, letting each one fully absorb before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for a bit longer. Keep the mixer on low and gradually add the flour mixture until it's completely combined. Add the milk and vanilla and beat the mixture on medium speed until just combined.
Divide the batter between the two pans. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 28 to 32 minutes. Let the cake cool in their pans on wire racks for about 15 minutes, then turn them out onto the racks to cool completely.
When the can of sweetened condensed milk has simmered for 2 hours, use tongs to remove it carefully from the simmer water and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Carefully (again), open the can and scoop the dulce de leche into a bowl: it should look like creamy caramel. Whisk until smooth.
Ideally, you want to move straight into assembling the cake at this point. (You want the dulce de leche to still be fairly warm so that you can pour it onto the top cake layer and get some pleasing drips along the side of the cake. The goal is for it to look rustic. But if the dulce de leche is too cold to form proper drips, no worries! Just spread it over the top with a butter knife in a nice thick layer.)
To assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a platter. Spread a layer of dulce de leche over the surface. Top with the second cake layer. Finish by topping with the remaining dulce de leche.
I'm linking up with Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads
And happy birthday to the woman who made the best lemon meringue pies and kept a jar of Hershey mini-s around at all times. She would have been 95 today.