For quite a while the neighborhood bakery seemed to be dying out, just like the neighborhood butcher and other individually-owned businesses. Along with this unfortunate trend was the loss of the history and the cherished recipes that were part of the community’s character. Thankfully such bakeries are beginning to make a comeback as shoppers recognize the originality of the baked goods offered in small storefronts and the stories behind them. The Brown Betty Bakery is one such shop.
Started by Linda Brown and her mother, using cherished family recipes, the bakery opened in a part of Philadelphia that was still under development. The beginning of the business’s life was a struggle as the community was still growing and foot traffic was low. Linda and her mother continued to work their day jobs to ensure the rent would be paid. Luckily a good review by a food critic spread the word about the charming bakery and helped to make it successful.
The Brown Betty Cookbook is a smallish hardcover book with plenty of full-color pictures of the amazing baked goods offered at the bakery. The book is divided into three sections: cakes, pies and cobblers, and cookies and brownies. The recipe that I chose to try is called Hey Thelma (all of the cakes are named after family members), and is actually available for order at the bakery itself for those lucky enough to live in Philadelphia. It is a chocolate buttermilk cake with a coconut filling and chocolate glaze. While the cake is a bit of an undertaking to make, it turns out a chocolaty cake with a soft crumb, rich filling, and slightly bitter chocolate glaze. All the individual parts work together amazingly well to form a complex whole, and not a crumb made it to the next day.
Hey Thelma: Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Caramel Coconut Filling
Serves 20 people
Active time: 25 minutes Total time: 55 minutes
Nonstick cooking spray with flour
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon regular salt
¾ cup buttermilk
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup boiling water
1 recipe Caramel Coconut filling (recipe follows)
1 recipe Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening, line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper, and spray the pans with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the buttermilk, butter, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until just blended.
4. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture in 2 batches, beating on low speed until blended. Increase the mixer to high and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly pour in ¾ cup boiling water, beating until blended. The batter will be thin.
5. Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans and bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pans for 15 minutes before turning them out onto wire racks to cool completely.
6. To assemble and glaze the cakes, place 1 cake layer, bottom-side up, on a cake plate. Use an offset spatula to spread the filling on top. Add the second cake layer, bottom-side up. Pour 1 cup of the glaze over the center of the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to spread the glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Chill the cake until the glaze is set, about 15 minutes.
7. Pour the remaining glaze over the cake and spread it, covering the top and sides of the cake. Chill until the glaze is set, about 3 hours.
Caramel Coconut Filling
Makes 1½ cups
Active time: 10 minutes Total time: 1 hour and 56 minutes
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
¾ cup chopped pecans
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1. Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Spread the coconut and pecans on 2 separate rimmed baking sheets. Place the pecans on the upper rack of the oven, and the coconut on the lower rack of the oven. Bake the nuts and coconut until golden, stirring occasionally, 10 to 16 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
3. Increase the oven temperature to 425°F. Pour the condensed milk into a 9-inch pie pan. Cover tightly with foil. Place the pie pan in a large roasting pan, fill the roasting pan halfway with boiling water, and bake for 45 minutes. Refill the roasting pan with water, if necessary, and continue to bake the condensed milk until it is caramel colored and thick, about 35 minutes longer. Remove the pie pan from the oven and stir the coconut, pecans, and vanilla into the thickened condensed milk. Cover with foil to keep warm until ready to use.
Makes 2 cups
Active time: 15 minutes Total time: 45 minutes
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2½ sticks (1¼ cups) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoons cognac
1. In a bowl set over a medium saucepan of simmering water, stir together the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the cognac and stir to blend.
2. Let the glaze cool until lukewarm but still pourable, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.