'Brown Sugar': Soul Food Culture

Joyce White's Latest Part Cookbook, Part Community Celebration

Cover of Joyce White's 'Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends'

hide captionCover of Joyce White's Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends (HarperCollins 2003)

Joyce White re-created beloved desserts from African-American communities around the country in her latest book, Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends — part cookbook and part celebration of the myriad elements of African-American culture.

White invites Day to Day listeners to cook up a little family history of their own with these three recipes, plus anecdotes excerpted from the book:

Chocolate Spice Cake

I met Amanda Thompson years ago and right away we decided that we were long-lost cousins. That was after we started exchanging childhood memories and learned that at the beginning of the last century both of our families had at one time lived in Clarke County in Alabama.

"And you know everybody in those little towns were kin to each," says Amanda, who is church secretary at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Harlem. Her pastor, the Reverend James Lawrence, who was a guest at my marriage about one hundred years ago, nodded and said we sure look alike.

Amanda and I always talk about our common roots, and then we vow to go down South and search through court and church records and do our family tree, but we haven't had time yet. We will, though.

But it doesn't matter anyway. She is a real sister, and a dear friend. And we both love this spicy, chocolate cake, which is a variation of a down home Devil's Food Cake. The batter also make finger-lickin' cupcakes.

1 cup very hot strong brewed coffee

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, such as Nestle, Hershey's or Ghirardelli (not Dutch-processed)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 to 3 teaspoons ground ginger

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Creamy Chocolate Glaze (see below)

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter generously an 8 by 3-inch round pan or an 8 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch springform pan. Dust the pan with flour and shake out excess flour. In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup of the hot brewed coffee and the cocoa and mix until smooth. Set aside. (Save the remaining coffee to stir into the batter.) Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

Combine the butter, both sugars, ground ginger and the cloves in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use a large mixing bowl and a handheld electric mixer. Beat the mixture on medium-high or creaming speed for 4 to 6 minutes, scraping the bowl two or three times with a rubber spatula.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract and cocoa and coffee mixture and beat 2 minutes, or until pale and fluffy. (Mixture may look curdled, which is alright.) Set the mixer on low speed. Alternately add the flour and remaining brewed coffee to the creamed mixture, mixing only a few seconds after each addition, ending with the flour.

After the last addition, beat the batter on low speed for 1 minute, scraping the bowl as needed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top of the batter with a spatula and shake the pan gently to settle the batter.

Set the pan on the lower oven rack. Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, and the cake springs back when pressed lightly. touched. The top of the cake may show thin crack lines, which is characteristic.

Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack and cool in the pan for 10 to 12 minutes. Loosen edges of the cake with a metal spatula, tap gently and turn out of pan on to the rack. Place the cake top side up on the rack and cool completely.

If using a springform pan, unfasten the sides of the pan and remove. Carefully invert the cake onto the wire rack. Run the tip of a metal spatula between the bottom of the pan and the cake. When loosen, lift off the bottom of the pan.

Cool the cake top side up on the wire rack. Before serving, using a metal spatula, spread the top and sides of the cake with the Creamy Chocolate Glaze (see below). Let the icing set for about 20 minutes and then using your hand, cover the sides of the cakes with the chopped nuts.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Creamy Chocolate Glaze

This is a rich and easy-to-make old-fashioned chocolate sauce. A tablespoon of brandy or cognac gives it a nice punch.

6 ounces good-quality bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream or undiluted evaporated milk

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon dark rum or brandy or

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cut or break the chocolate into 1/2-inch size pieces and set aside. Combine in a heavy stainless steel saucepan the cream or milk, corn syrup, butter and brandy or rum or vanilla extract. Place on medium heat and cook for about five minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling but not quite boiling.

Immediately move the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate pieces. Whisk the glaze briskly until smooth. Cool completely and then spread generously over the cake or cupcakes. Makes a generous 1 cup — more than enough for one cake. Left-over glaze can be frozen in a small container or put in a jar and kept in the fridge for several weeks to use for spooning over plain cake or ice cream.

Orange Tea Cake

Years ago Mama served this cake to the church sisters whenever the Missionary Club met at our house. After baking, the cake was moistened with a fragrant orange syrup and allowed to cool. On cold winter days, the cake's aromatic citrus flavors were bracing and warming.

Mama made her cake with locally grown pecans. I also love this cake with pistachio nuts. And a couple years ago, I began "spiking" the orange syrup with a couple generous tablespoons of orange rum, or orange liqueur. Real yummy.

Cake batter:

1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons grated orange peel

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

Orange Syrup:

1/3 cup orange juice

1/3 cup granulated sugar or crystals sugar

2 or 3 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or orange-flavored rum, such as Bacardi O.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter generously a 9 by 2-inch round pan, or 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan, or an 8 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch springform. Dust the pan with flour and shake out excess flour. Scatter the shelled pistachio nuts on a baking sheet. Set the pan in the oven on the middle shelf and toast the nuts for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon once or twice.

As soon as the nuts are lightly brown and fragrant, remove from the oven and transfer to a plate. Spread the nuts on a tea towel and rub briskly with the towel to remove the skins, or cut away the skins with a small knife. (You can also buy already skinned pistachio nuts and omit the last step.)

Toss the nuts with 2 tablespoons of the flour and set aside. Sift together the remaining flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Combine the butter, orange peel and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use a large mixing bowl and a handheld electric mixer. Beat the mixture on medium-high or creaming speed for 3 to 4 minutes or until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing about 30 seconds after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract. Mix together in a small bowl or cup, the sour cream and orange juice. Stir until well-blended. Add the flour and sour cream-orange juice mixture alternately to the creamed mixture, mixing only until just blended.

Set the beater mixer on low speed and beat the batter for 1 minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once. Scatter the nuts over the batter, and mix just until blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Shake the pan to settle the batter.

Place the pan in the center of the hot oven on the middle shelf. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until golden brown, puffy, and a knife inserted in the centers comes out clean. Set the pan on a wire rack but do not remove from pan.

Prepare the orange syrup: Combine in a small saucepan the orange juice, sugar and liqueur or rum. Set the pan over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring the syrup to a boil and cook one minute. Remove from heat and pour the hot syrup over the cake in the pan.

Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a metal spatula or knife around the edge of the pans to loosen the cake and then tap the pans gently. Carefully turn out the cake onto a wire rack. Cool completely, right side up. If using a springform pan, unfastened the sides of the pan and remove. Carefully invert the cake onto the wire rack. Run the tip of a metal spatula between the bottom of the pan and the cake. When loosen, lift off the bottom of the pan.

Cool the cake top side up on the wire rack. Serve the cake with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Variation: This cake is also delicious made with either tangy lemon juice or sour or Seville oranges. Since lemon and Seville orange juice is tart, increase the sugar in the syrup to 1/2 cup, if desired, and proceed as directed in above recipe.

Three Sisters Coconut Pie

A couple of years ago, I received an e-mail from a stranger, who told me to be sure to include a coconut custard pie in my upcoming dessert cookbook. She then continued with a few paragraphs of applause. Don't we love fan mail, and don't we love and appreciate girlfriends?

At that very moment I was wrestling over three recipes for coconut pie: from Brenda Richardson, from her cousin, Bernice Lewis, and from Norma Boucher, the tennis coach. All three of the women are dear friends, and I love all three recipes. So the following recipe is a composite, using Brenda's nutmeg, Bernice's buttermilk, and cream of coconut from Norma, who hails from beautiful Jamaica in the Caribbean.

There may have been a few sighs when I explained the compromise, but not one sister put her hands on her hips (smile)—and everyone loved the final result.

1 partially baked pie crust

3 large eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons flour or cornstarch

1/4 cup coconut cream (such as Coco Lopez or Coco Goya)

2 cups buttermilk or undiluted evaporated milk

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, or to taste

Set aside the pie crust to cool. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the eggs, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Beat briskly with a whisk until well-blended. Stir in the coconut cream, milk, salt and vanilla extract, mixing until blended. Add the coconut and stir again.

Pour the filling into the partially baked pie crust. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the nutmeg. Set the pie on the middle oven shelf and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pie is puffy and light golden, and a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Don't overbake. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

If you decide to chill the pie, bring to room temperature for 20 or so minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Variation: Toss 1 1/2 cups freshly shredded coconut with 1 tablespoon sugar and substitute for the sweetened flaked coconut.

Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins, copyright 2003 Joyce White

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: