I always thought that if a kid can read, he can cook. However, as I get more and more into cooking, I’m learning it ain’t necessarily so. The watchful eye of a parent, or anybody at all who knows what they’re doing, is a wonderful thing.
Now that he’s seven, my pal Will is reading gang-busters. So shouldn’t he be able to cook? Witness this one-act play staged in my kitchen.
The literate mini-chef
A boy with a red apron around his neck, like superman’s cape on backwards, surveys the counter. Amid open drawers, he checks his stash against the instructions in his book. Tins and bags, bowls and spoons. a grinder and hand mixer, eggs, flour, berries, garlic, a Styrofoam package of soggy chicken wings and some cocoa… all this calms him. He checks the book again.
Boy: Hey, Vinny, I’m making a chocolate angel cake for Isla’s birthday!
Vinny: Wow! That takes a bit of effort. Know what you’re doing?
Boy: Sure, Man. How hard can it be? The recipe’s only two pages long. It’s in this book, here. And look at the picture… cool, huh?
He shows off a glossy page, spattered with hardened chocolate and egg yolk. He returns the book to its holder and stirs the contents of the bowl with his hands. Batter coats his knuckles, right up to his wrists.
Boy: Want to taste? Here. Taste, Taste!
Vinny: Maybe I’ll wait till the party. Sure you know what you’re doing?
Boy: Sure, Vinny. I can read, you know. And I’ve checked carefully. Besides, I come from a long line of great cooks. Grannie was famous for her Scottish shortbread, and Grampa made the best haggis in the township. Mom and Dad are no slouches in the batter department, either.
Vinny: Great. That’s great, Pal. So… what’s in this thing? Looks a little too lumpy for a cake batter… don’t you think so, chef?
Boy: Just good healthy food here, Vinny. It says 16 egg whites but I only had 8 eggs… so I tossed in the whole works to make up for it. It’s not so easy to break ‘em open. I smashed them on the counter and scooped them into the bowl. It was hard keeping the shells out. Got most of them, though.
Vinny: Ahh. I see…
Boy: It didn’t really say, but I used chocolate milk instead of water. And whole-grain flour instead of that yucky white processed stuff…
Vinny: Hold on, there. You don’t need that second cup of milk you’re pouring.
Boy: This one’s for the chef. Down the hatch!
Vinny: Yes… I see. Must keep the chef well-oiled. But you still haven’t told me… What are those LUMPS?
Boy: Aha! The secret ingredient! What would an angel cake be without wings? [Pointing at the chicken wings on the counter...] I tossed in two of ‘em, along with a clove of garlic and…
Vinny: WHAT are you thinking? Your cake is completely crazy!
Boy: No, look – right here… Oh! No! On the first page is the recipe for angel cake. But the pages are stuck together! I’ve finished up with a recipe for chicken stew!
What can we learn from this little drama? Reading, as you can see, is only half the battle. You also need some cooking sense. When you’re starting out, advice can be helpful. Nothing beats experience.
Heavenly chocolate angel cake
8 servings (249 calories, 0.5 grams fat, 53 grams carbs and 8 grams protein per serving)
- 1 ounce (1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa
- 1/4 cup boiling water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 3/4 cups sugar (12.25 ounces)
- 1 cup (3.5 ounces) sifted whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 16 large egg whites (2 cups or 17 ounces)
- 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- In a medium bowl combine cocoa and boiling water. Whisk until smooth. Add vanilla.
- In another medium bowl combine 3/4 cup sugar, flour and salt and whisk to blend.
- In a large bowl beat the egg white until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. Gradually beat in the remaining 1 cup of sugar or add the stevia equivalent.* Beat until stiff peaks form.
- Put 1 cup of egg whites in the cocoa mixture.
- Dust the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, over the remaining egg whites and fold in quickly and gently with a slotted spoon.
- Whisk the cocoa and egg white together, then fold into the batter until uniform.
- Pour into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
- Run a small metal spatula through the batter to prevent air pockets.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean. The centre rises above the pan when baking and sinks slightly when done. The surface has deep cracks.
- Invert the pan, placing the tube opening over the neck of a soda bottle to keep it well above the counter top, and cool for about 1 1/2 hours.
- Loosen the cake with a long metal spatula and invert on a serving plate. Decorate.
*Tips: This cake is high in protein and antioxidants and low in fat, but high in sugar. Substitute some of the sugar with stevia if you want to reduce empty calories. If you replace too much of the sugar with stevia, the texture will not be as light, though. Use the left-over yolks to make custard or lemon curd.
This recipe is based on one in The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum and Dean G. Bornstein, p. 162.