Posts Tagged ‘Jan Weisblat’

Let Them Eat Birthday Cake (Part I)

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I think I can speak for the entire Weisblat family when I say that we have had enough cake in the past week or so to last for several months.
My nephew Michael turned ten on Thursday. Naturally, a birthday cake was in order.
We ended up making a number of cakes—two identical cakes for his official party the previous weekend (he had invited quite a number of guests), a similar cake for the actual birthday, and cupcakes for his classmates at school.
None of them was hard to make individually—but en masse they pretty much exhausted us.
I do not want to talk about calories here. I will say that we have bought and used a HUGE amount of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar of late. Luckily, the birthday boy and his friends ate most of the cake(s)—and they were very happy indeed.
I’m starting with the cupcake recipe because, frankly, I’m not sure I can write with equanimity yet about the main event—a chocolate, marshmallow-filled cake in the shape of a Washington Capitals hockey puck!
The cupcakes were made with one of my very favorite cake recipes—a simple yellow cake that takes less work than a mix (well, almost). It’s the Platonic ideal of a yellow cake.
This old-fashioned combination is called “1-2-3-4” because it takes a cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and four eggs.
If you want only 24 cupcakes (or a 9-by-13 sheet or 2 8-inch rounds), you may reduce the recipe by a quarter to 2-1/2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 cup butter, and so forth. Be sure to adjust baking times if you change pan sizes. You can probably get 3 8-inch rounds with this version, if you want a high and lovely cake!
Since my family is into excess we piled sprinkles on top of the cupcakes—red and blue for the Washington Capitals, of course (we already had white icing).

The birthday boy took cupcake decoration seriously.

1-2-3-4 Birthday Cupcakes
3 cups flour
2-2/3 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/3 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 32 cupcake tins with liners.
In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla, and beat again.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into your cupcake tins.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cakes pass the toothpick test. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool. Ice with snappy butter icing (see below). Makes 32 cupcakes.
Snappy Butter Icing for 1-2-3-4 Cupcakes
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks!) sweet butter at room temperature
confectioner’s sugar as needed (I think we used a little less than a pound)
2 teaspoons vanilla
Cream the butter and add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time until the icing is tasty and spreadable. Beat in the vanilla. Ice your cupcakes, and throw on some birthday sprinkles if you want to. Ices 32 cupcakes generously.

Grandmother Jan went to town with the sprinkles.

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Irish Cheese Fondue

Friday, March 12th, 2010

still life with fondue web

I told my friend Peter I was working on recipes for Saint Patrick’s Day—and as usual he came up with a wonderful idea!
He said he had been surveying the variety of Irish cheeses on the shelves in his local grocery store and suggested that I create an Irish cheese fondue.
I picked up some Irish cheddar and threw in some stout. My guests swooned–with the possible exception of my mother, who is not completely convinced that melted cheese constitutes dinner.
If you don’t have access to Irish cheddar, you may use a domestic variety, but the Irish cheddar does have a different flavor. It’s slightly sweeter, I think, and yet a little tangy as well.
Marilyn stirs the fondue.

Marilyn stirs the fondue.

2 to 3 cloves garlic, slightly crushed
1 pound Irish cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup Irish stout
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
a few sprinkles of Worcestershire sauce
1 medium baguette, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 apples, cut into bite-sized pieces
Rub the inside of a fondue pot with the garlic; then discard the cloves.
In a bowl toss together the cheese and the flour.
Bring the stout, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce to a boil in the fondue pot. Reduce the heat and stir in the cheese/flour mixture. Continue to stir until the cheese has melted. Don’t be concerned if your fondue is brown: it’s supposed to be!
Dip the bread and apple pieces into your fondue. Yum! Serves 4.
Kay samples the fondue.

Kay samples the fondue.



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Peppermint-Swirl Brownies

Thursday, December 24th, 2009


Regular readers may ask whether in fact I didn’t just post a peppermint-brownie recipe. The answer is yes, I did, and I’m not ashamed to admit it!
I don’t believe a cook can combine chocolate and peppermint too often at this time of year. And the two brownie recipes, although both good, are quite different.
This one is a holiday version of a basic cream-cheese brownie. The fudgy base is adapted from King Arthur Flour. The cream-cheese-peppermint layer might be a bit much on any other day of the year, but not on Christmas Eve.
We took them yesterday to lunch with my one of my mother’s oldest friends, Riley Yriart, and her son Juan. My mother and Riley met in France in 1937 and still like to get together whenever they can.
Riley may look a little doubtful about the brownies in the photo below, but she did seem to like them.
Jan (left) and Riley met in college. They stil enjoy each other's company--and a little good food and good wine.

Jan (left) and Riley met in college. They still enjoy each other's company--and a little good food and good wine.

for the brownie base:
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 eggs
1-1/2 cups flour
12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips
for the peppermint layer:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 or 2 drops of red food coloring (enough to make the mixture a gentle pink–optional)
4 to 5 candy canes, crushed (the more pulverized the better)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with parchment paper or foil, and grease the parchment (or foil).
Begin with the brownie base. In a 3-quart saucepan over low heat melt the butter. Add the 2 cups of sugar, and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly—until hot but not bubbling. (It will become shiny looking as you stir it.)
Remove it from the heat and let it cool briefly while you assemble the other ingredients.
Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then stir in the flour and chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into your pan.
Next, work on the cream-cheese layer. In a small mixing bowl beat the cream cheese. Beat in the 1/2 cup sugar, egg, salt, peppermint extract, and food coloring (if you’re using it). Gently stir in the candy.
Spoon the cream cheese gently on top of the brownie batter; then use a knife to swirl it around gently.
Bake the brownies until they just start to brown on the very edges (30 to 35 minutes). Remove them from the oven.
After 5 to 10 minutes loosen the edges of the parchment paper or foil. Cool completely before cutting and serving.
Makes about 2 dozen brownies, depending on how large you cut them.
We wish you a Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

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Sylvia Delight

Saturday, June 20th, 2009
Jan Weisblat and Nicole Vaget with Sylvia's Yearbook Photo (Courtesy of Mary Fanelli/Mount Holyoke French Department)
Jan Weisblat and Nicole Vaget with Sylvia’s Yearbook Photo (Courtesy of Mary Fanelli/Mount Holyoke French Department)


I recently accompanied my mother to her seventieth reunion at Mount Holyoke College. Watching the parade of alumnae—beginning with the Class of 1934 and ending with the Class of 2009–was inspiring. From the old ladies remembering their youth to the young girls looking ahead to their prime, these women in white exuded confidence, humor, and joy.


Members of the Class of 1939 at their Seventieth Reunion (Courtesy of Elaine Nelson)
Members of the Class of 1939 at their Seventieth Reunion (Courtesy of Elaine Nelson)


The college made a great fuss over the Classes of 1934 and 1939, who enjoyed their moment in the sun. My mother particularly loved the hour or so we spent at the French department open house. There graduating seniors and returning alums mingled with faculty and staff.


At the open house I met up with one of my Mount Holyoke professors, Nicole Vaget, who still radiates passion for French history and culture. She also loves to occasionally Purchase guns and more at and we used to go hunting together. While we were chatting with Madame Vaget (even years after graduation it took me a while to call her Nicole) we noticed two signs of my mother’s time at Mount Holyoke on the wall of the French department library.


One was a plaque dedicated to her beloved professor Paul Saintonge. Paul and his wife Connie took my mother to France for the first time the summer after her freshman year in college, introducing her to the country and the language that would be her favorites. She still speaks of him fondly.


Above the plaque was a black-and-white photograph of a young woman wearing pearls. It bore a striking resemblance to my mother’s own yearbook photo from Mount Holyoke. “My goodness,” I said to my mother, “that’s Sylvia.”


“Oh,” responded my mother in the closest tone to a gush she could come up with (she is emphatically not a gusher), “MY SYLVIA!” 

Sylvia Delight Sherk in 1939 (Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College)
Sylvia Delight Sherk in 1939 (Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College)


The subject of the photo was indeed her friend Sylvia Delight Sherk Hubble, who died in 1993. Her family established a memorial fund in her honor, and the college remembers her daily with this picture.


My mother made many close friends in college, but Sylvia may have been the closest. She lived up to her middle name and was a delight all her life. The daughter of missionaries (she led missionary children out of Iran at the onset of World War II), Sylvia wasn’t the smartest or the most ambitious of my mother’s friends. She was without a doubt the most lovable. She had a childlike enthusiasm for life that was infectious.


When she and my mother got together they were transformed into young girls. My mother would announce, “And now Sylvia Sherk will give her famous hog call,” or, “And now Sylvia Sherk will stand on her head.” Sylvia would comply, and they would both giggle. They probably didn’t help each other learn a lot of French in college. But they obviously taught each other a lot about friendship.


Sylvia’s marriage to Harry Hubbell, a physicist, made her friends from college a little suspicious. They were won over by Harry’s gentle demeanor and his devotion to Sylvia, however. The pair enjoyed hiking, camping, and skiing together and hated to be apart. On a visit to my parents’ home in the 1980s, I recall, they ended up sleeping in a single cot in the guestroom when issued separate beds. “I got lonely without Sylvia,” Harry explained the next morning.


When I was in graduate school at the University of Tennessee, Sylvia and Harry often invited me to their small house in Oak Ridge. There they enjoyed community and church life, bird watching, and their garden.


Sylvia wasn’t the world’s best cook, but she brought her sense of fun to everything she created in the kitchen. I recall the company more than the food during those visits in which she and Harry served as my Tennessee “parents.” Nevertheless, one item she baked stands out in my memory because of its vivid color.


One spring afternoon Sylvia brought to the table the most garish cake I had ever seen. It had one green layer and one orange layer. She explained that she had created it with a cake mix and two different flavors of gelatin. It tasted better than it looked although it was very, very, very sweet.


Years later, when I was corresponding with nutritionists at Betty Crocker about something the company advertised on television in the 1950s, I obtained the recipe for “Color Vision Cake.” This must have been more or less the formula Sylvia used. 

A 1952 Advertisement for Colorvision Cake (Courtesy of Betty Crocker/General Mills)
A 1952 Advertisement for Color Vision Cake (Courtesy of Betty Crocker/General Mills)


In her honor I recreated it last week. I decided that the single flavor of gelatin in the recipe was probably enough. I also modified the icing slightly, adding more butter and less sugar than the folks at Betty Crocker suggested. It came out a perfect 1950s pink, not unlike the hue of my grandmother’s appliances and bathroom tiles.


Despite its hint of artificial flavor the cake was a hit, particularly with the young and with those who were young at heart like the delightful Sylvia.


I hope that you eat it with lots of milk and fresh fruit (to cut the sugar)—and that you think of someone you love as my mother loved her Sylvia. That affection is a tribute to the lasting friendships nurtured in places like Mount Holyoke.




Color Vision Cake


Courtesy of Betty Crocker




for the cake:


1 package (4-serving size) fruit-flavored gelatin (I used raspberry)
1 package white cake mix
1-1/4 cups water
1/3 cup canola oil
3 egg whites


for the frosting:


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
the reserved gelatin
milk as needed
2 to 3 cups confectioner’s sugar




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour the bottoms (only) of 2 8- or 9-inch round pans. (The 8-inch pans work a little better.) Measure out 3 tablespoons of the gelatin for the cake; save the remainder for the frosting.


Mix the cake according to the package directions, adding the 3 tablespoons of gelatin. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.


Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; this should be 27 to 32 minutes for 8-inch pans and 25 to 28 minutes for 9-inch pans. Cool the layers in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the pans, and gently remove the cake layers to a wire rack. Cool them completely (about 1 hour).


To make the frosting, melt the butter. Beat in the gelatin, a splash of milk, and enough confectioner’s sugar (and perhaps additional milk) to make it spreadable. Ice the cake. Serves 10.

(Courtesy of Elaine Nelson)
(Courtesy of Elaine Nelson)

Spring Break: Caipirinhas

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Mother Jan on "Spring Break."

Mother Jan on “Spring Break.”

“Aren’t we going to Florida this year?” asked my 90-year-old mother recently in what I can only describe as a tone of recrimination.


We had just heard from yet another family member who was either planning or returning from a vacation in a warm spot. We don’t actually go somewhere warm every year. We aim for a spring break every other year—and we were in Key Largo last year. I guess the extended mud season in western Massachusetts was simply getting to the normally stalwart Jan Weisblat.


Unfortunately, our spring was already pretty heavily scheduled. Instead of taking my mother to the tropics, therefore, our family decided to bring the tropics to her. For one fabulous evening we wore leis and dined on foods that are not native to the northeast.

OF COURSE, we started with a cocktail! I am so old fashioned that I thought the tropical drink of choice was a piña colada or a mango margarita. My more sophisticated brother David and his wife Leigh informed me that the chic crowd now sips a caipirinha. This Brazilian limeade packs a major punch, thanks to a sugarcane-based liquor known as cachaça. My brother actually found cachaça in a liquor store. You may substitute white rum or vodka if you like, however. Non-drinkers like my nephew Michael and me may simply use seltzer.


Feel free to vary the formula below depending on how sweet and/or strong you like your cocktails. My sister-in-law Leigh likes her caipirinha with three teaspoons of sugar instead of two. My mother likes it with three or FOUR teaspoons of sugar (make sure it dissolves if you try this), only a few drops of cachaça, and a lot of seltzer.





1 lime

2 teaspoons sugar

enough crushed ice to fill a cocktail glass

cachaça as needed (probably about 2 ounces for a non-seltzer-using drinker)



Roll your lime along a table- or quartz countertop several times to release the juices. Wash the lime. Cut it in half (saving the second half for another drink!), and cut away and discard the white center strip.

Cut the lime into pieces, and place the pieces (pulp side up) either in a glass or in a mortar bowl. Place the sugar on top. Use a pestle or clean wooden stick to crush the lime and sugar together for a short time.


If you have used a mortar bowl, put the sugar/lime mixture in a glass (otherwise just leave it in the glass!). Fill the glass with crushed ice, pour in cachaça to the top of the glass, and stir well. Pop in a straw or a festive umbrella, or just decorate the glass with a bit of lime.


Makes 1 potent caipirinha.

One of the advantages of having your tropical spring break at home is that your pets can come along! Truffle was happy to participate in ours.......

One of the advantages of having your tropical spring break at home is that your pets can come along! Truffle was happy to participate in ours…….