We’ve all seen grocery store shelves ravaged, shoppers so intent on stocking up before a storm that they leave only crumbs of bread and puddles of milk in their wake.
But when a snowstorm sneaks up on you the way it did Monday, there’s not much we can do except cook with what we’ve got at home. And when it comes to baking projects — the fun stuff we all like to do when snow is falling and the wind is blowing — well, sometimes we’re out of luck.
But you can plan ahead (and with more snow expected this week, that might be prudent!). Have a few ingredients on hand and there’s always something you can find to mix up and throw in the oven for a sweet reward.
Here are a few tips on how to stock the pantry so you can always make simple recipes, which are good projects for keeping the kids entertained, too.
• Always have an extra package of all the basics: flour, sugar, eggs and butter.
• Be sure to check your supply of baking powder, baking soda and light brown sugar. With just those, you can make just about any simple cake or batch of cookies.
• A few other good pantry items? Slivered almonds, pecans and walnuts. Lemons, limes and oranges. Extracts like vanilla and almond. For more advanced baking, powdered sugar and corn syrup.
• And chocolate, of course. Semisweet bars and chips.
Even though baking is more scientific than cooking, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few substitutions here and there. No currants? Raisins will do. A recipe calls for almonds but you only have hazelnuts? Give it a try! A cake that calls for lemon zest will taste just as good if you use oranges, and you can almost always swap yogurt and sour cream and get the same results.
Here are a few other susbtitions you can make.
Buttermilk. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to one cup milk and let sit for 10 minutes.
Dark brown sugar. For 1 cup, substitute 1 cup white sugar mixed with 1/4 cup light molasses.
Light brown sugar. For 1 cup, substitute 1/2 cup dark brown sugar mixed with 1/2 cup white sugar.
With a well-stocked pantry and the know-how to make substitutions, we’ll all be ready to go the next time a surprise storm greets us.
This recipe, by Dorie Greenspan in Baking: From My Home to Yours, can be made with ingredients you probably have at home, even if a storm catches you by surprise. It takes its name from Greenspan’s friend Ingela’s mother, who used to “claim that you could start making it when you saw guests coming up the road and have it ready by the time they were settling down for coffee.” Not quite. But real close. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
- 1 cup sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- About 1/4 cup sliced almonds, blanched or not
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350. Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast iron skillet or other heavy, ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch round cake pan or even a pie pan.
- Pour the sugar into a medium bowl. Add the lemon zest and blend the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended. Whisk in the salt and the extracts. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour. Finally, fold in the melted butter.
- Scrape the batter into the skillet and smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar. If you’re using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.
- Bake the cake for 25-30 minutes or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside; the inside will remain moist. Remove the skillet from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it. You can serve the cake, warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate.