This is a story about baking perfect sweets.
Not those multi-tiered constructions you see on TV or desserts by pastry pros with not a single crumb out of place.
This is about baking sweets for Mom or Grandma by adding an ingredient that makes them perfect --- lots of love.
"When a mom or grandma receives something special that their kids or grandkids made, it's wonderful," says Amy Atlas, mother of two young boys. "It's a little piece of their heart."
Atlas, the author of "Sweet Designs: Bake It, Craft It, Style It" (Hyperion, $27.99) and blessed with a grandma who taught her to bake, is a wizard at creating fabulous dessert tables. She also likes letting kids help in the kitchen, especially when it nurtures their inner Picasso.
"If they're decorating a sugar cookie or helping decorate a cake or cupcake, let kids have fun with it and be their own little artist and take pride in it," says the New Yorker.
And because family time in the kitchen is also about creating traditions, "Why not do something where you're baking with your kids and make a special gift for Grandma? Or maybe Dad's getting in the kitchen with the kids and making it for Mom," she says.
"It's this bonding moment in the kitchen."
Prep: 2 hours
Cook: 45 minutes
Makes: 16 to 24 little cakes
Note: Adapted from a recipe for Florentine pastry squares in "The New Antoinette Pope School Cook Book," by Antoinette and Francois Pope. You can bake the batter in a 9-inch square pan (for 16 roughly 2-inch squares) or use a 13-by-9-inch pan, for 24 shallower, roughly 1 ½-inch squares.
2 ¼ cups cake flour, lightly spooned into cup
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup each: sour cream, milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange extract
1 ½ sticks butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 large eggs, well beaten, to measure ½ cup
Orange icing, see recipe below
Decorations (candied violets, pastel-tinted buttercream frosting rosettes, etc.)
Heat oven to 350 F. Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt; set aside. Combine sour cream, milk and vanilla; set aside. Lightly butter a 9-inch square or 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Line with waxed paper; butter and flour paper.
Cream butter in a bowl with an electric mixer, 1 minute. Add sugar, a little at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add eggs a little at a time to butter mixture, beating at high speed until incorporated. Scrape down sides. Lower speed. Add flour mixture, ½ cup at a time alternately with ¼ cup liquids; beat after each addition only until smooth.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until cake tests done, 35 minutes for a 13-by-9-inch pan. (For the 9-inch pan, after 35 minutes, increase heat to 375 degrees, bake another 10 minutes.) Remove cake from oven; cool on wire rack.
When cake is room temperature, loosen sides with a knife; invert onto wire rack. Carefully remove paper. Cut cake in squares with a serrated knife; place squares right side up on cake rack set over waxed paper.
Spoon icing over each square; use a small spatula to cover sides. Let glaze dry 30 minutes. Add more sifted confectioners' sugar and orange juice to icing remaining in the bowl to make a slightly thicker mixture. Ice squares a second time. Decorate as desired. Store in a cool place, or refrigerate then let come to room temperature to serve.
Orange icing: In a bowl, mix ¼ cup orange juice with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add 3 cups confectioners' sugar (sifted to removed lumps) little by little, beating until smooth. Add more sugar if needed to make a glaze that coats the back of a spoon.
Nutrition information: Per square for 24 squares (without icing): 155 calories, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 85 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
1 fudge chocolate brownie mix
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
Nonpariels, colored sugars or candies
Prepare fudge-type chocolate brownie mix according to directions; pour into baking pan lined with parchment that has been lightly buttered. Bake; cool in pan on wire rack. Remove from pan; cover and let sit overnight.
Remove parchment. Cut in shapes with a knife or cookie cutter dipped in hot water, then wiped off. Chill, 1 hour.
Melt 12 ounces semisweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl (on medium, stirring every 30 seconds). Dip brownie tops in chocolate. Set on wire rack, chocolate side up. Refrigerate, 10 minutes. Decorate with nonpareils, colored sugars or candies. Refrigerate to set chocolate.