There was a time when I was the sort of woman who forced herself to fall in love with shopping, when in fact there’s nothing I loathe more than standing in a crowded dressing room trying on clothes that will inevitably disappear into the bowels of my closet. For a time, I hoarded expensive finery — clothing, handbags and shoes — while I wore the same ten outfits in rotation. It wasn’t until the past two years that I realized that I don’t care much for fashion, but I can spend hours in a bookstore or lose myself amongst the metal and appliances in a restaurant supply shop. So I’m back to wearing the same comfortable uniform while I steadfastly (and strategically) acquire kitchen accoutrements.
Since I’ve a small space in which to work, I have to focus on buying only what I’ll need and use. My stand mixer, food processor, Vitamix, and coffee maker take up a considerable amount of counter space amongst the fat jars of grains and dried fruit and nuts, and I use these appliances, which have been acquired over the past decade, frequently. All my other kitchenware is densely packed into cabinets and cupboards, and I’m acutely aware of the fact that I will likely die from an avalanche of muffin tins and baking sheets. My cat will poke and prod through the metal rubble.
As a bakery is my preferred landscape, my collection of tools and equipment reflects this: various springform cans, 8- and 9-inch cake pans, loaf pans, cookie sheets (in various sizes), dome tins, pie dishes, tart pans (in varying sizes). We haven’t even gotten to the graters, molds, spatulas (offset and silicone), and piping bags (admittedly, I am horrible at pipping and tend to never use my bags and nozzles). I tend to buy the tools for the sweets you often find me making and sharing on this space: cookies, pies, breads, cakes, tarts, and a fancy pastry here and there. Rustic baking, the informal and messy kind, brings me a kind of joy you can’t imagine, and often I take stock of my tools, much like my collection of books, regarding both with equal and measured affection. While a pair of shoes doesn’t evoke a memory for me, a pie made in celebration of a friend’s new business or important sale, or a book read in front of the ocean, will create moments I continuously find myself returning to.
Initially, I was put off by Sarabeth’s Sir Francis Crumb Cakes because they required a whole new set of tools I never conceived of buying — entremet rings, which is a fancy way of saying ring molds. I thought to myself that the recipe was a bit froufrou because I could simply use muffin tins or ramekins, but then it occurred to me that these rings opened up a whole new world of presentation. Domed muffins, biscuits, scones — within the confines of stainless steel, my goods would bake evenly and present themselves in their Sunday best. Rustic with a top hat, if you will.
Instead of waiting a month to get the rings off Amazon, or spending a PILE of money at the fancy shops, I tend to buy my equipment from restaurant supply stores. My favorite is Manhattan Restaurant Supply, a fairly no-frills shop, but I can always find exactly what I need. At supply stores I get the good stuff, a knowledgeable staff, and prices that can’t be beat. These rings were $4.95 each, where everyone in town hocks them at $7 a pop.
So that was my Black Friday. Buying ring molds and making individual coffee cakes that had me waking in the middle of the night to scarf.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
For the crumb topping
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 + 1 tbsp superfine sugar (I used organic cane, and it was fine)
6 tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
For the cake
Softened unsalted butter for the pans
1 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp whole milk
10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature
2/3 cup superfine sugar (I used organic cane, and it was fine)
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Special equipment: eight 3×1 1/2 inch metal entremet rings, which gives the cakes their grandiose shape, but I imagine you can easily bake these in a muffin tin and reduce the cooking time.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Lightly butter the insides of eight 3×1 1/2 inch metal entremet rings, and place the rings on the pan.
To make the crumbs, stir together the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a medium bowl until moistened. Compress the mixture in your hands, and then crumble it until it resembles the texture of coarse bread crumbs. Dip the buttered rings into the crumbs and lightly coat the insides, shaking off excess crumbs. Return the rings to the pan. Press the remaining crumb mixture with your hands until about half the crumbs are larger, about the size of peas. Set the mixture aside.
To make the cakes, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Mix the heavy cream and milk together in a glass measuring cup.
Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until smooth, about one minute. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light in color and texture, about three minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Gradually beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low. In thirds, starting with the flour and alternating with two equal additions of the cream mixture, add the flour mixture, mixing the batter after each addition until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Using a 2 1/2 inch diameter ice-cream scoop, transfer equal amounts of the batter into the rings. Place equal amounts of the crumb mixture over the batter in the rings. Using your fingers, tap the crumbs to help them adhere.
Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 20-25 minutes (my cakes took 31 minutes, so I’d just be vigilant about checking). Cool the cakes in the rings in a pan for 10 minutes. Using a kitchen towel to protect your hands from the heat, remove the rings from the cakes. Serve warm or transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. They cakes can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to two days.