Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Although Valentine's Day fell on a Friday this year, I had the day off from work (because I worked last Sunday). But despite that, I had a fairly lazy day. Slept in, didn't get out of jammies until noon, and then ran errands all afternoon before completing our annual Valentine's Day rite - NOT going out for dinner.
Yes, that's right. For the first few years of our coupledom, my husband and I got gussied up and tried fancy restaurants with special Valentine's Day meals. It was incredibly expensive and not a great experience. So, a few years ago, I decided that at-home meals were best.
Of course, typical turn-of-the-last-century holiday meals were often based around a color theme, thanks to home economists. But rather than go the route of pink-tinted mayonnaise and radish roses, I decided that the perfect way to keep things to a very Valentine-friendly red-and-white color scheme was to make a heart-shaped pizza, with red and white heart-shaped toppings.
I won't give a recipe, largely because I used store-bought dough and store-bought sauce to make it. But I will say prepare to use a whole pound of shredded mozzarella and set your oven to 450 or 475 F for the best pizza baking experience. My last word of advice? Don't grease your pan - use semolina flour to dust the pan and/or your work surface - it makes a lovely crunchy crust, and is traditional. Years ago Chad got me a pizza stone and peel, and although I've only used it a few times, I thought I would give it another go. I normally make two pizzas on two sheet pans and it works great. I always make two pizzas because they're never as big as the kind you get from a pizza parlor and we like to have leftovers.
Lots of semolina flour was in order to make wiggling the raw dough off of the peel and onto the hot stone work, but work it did. The only downside? Because the stone is smaller than a sheet pan, I wasn't able to make the pizza as thin as we like it - and the crust really puffed up. Which wasn't bad, I just prefer it the other way.
Once we chowed down on some pizza, I decided to bake a cake. But, because I'm me and typically lazy, I thought Lazy Daisy Cake would be perfect. But also because I'm me, and I can never resist tinkering with recipes (and because I'd bought several quarts of fresh strawberries), I added a layer of strawberries to the bottom of the pan. In retrospect, should have mixed them in, but still delicious how it turned out.
I first learned of Lazy Daisy cake from Marion Cunningham's lovely cookbook, Lost Recipes: Meals to Share with Friends and Family, but it's a 1920s-era staple. I made it for my 1920s Garden Party a few years ago and it was a big hit. But! a 9x13" pan only went so far with that crowd, and people love it, so always make more than you think you'll need.
Lazy Daisy Cake is a type of hot milk cake - a type of sponge cake that combines whole whipped eggs with baking powder and hot milk to give it a lovely lift and a springy texture. The "lazy" part is two things - first is you don't have to separate the eggs before you whip them (although the mixing is anything but "lazy," especially if you are stubborn and do it by hand like I do). Second is the topping - a mixture of butter, brown sugar, shredded coconut, and heavy cream that gets popped under the broiler to caramelize before serving. Which is far easier than making a frosting and then frosting a layer cake.
It's certainly not as pretty as a frosted layer cake, but it tastes fantastic - well worthy of any Valentine. Of course, if you'd like this the pure way - leave out the strawberries, or serve them cold on the side. My husband likes this with liquid cream AND whipped cream (and, sometimes, so do I - it's that dairy farmer heritage), but just about any dairy topping is delicious.
My version is based on Marion's, but doubled.
Lazy Daisy Strawberry Cake
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (2 tablespoons, then 6 tablespoons)
at least 1 quart fresh strawberries (optional)
6 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (or finely chopped pecans)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9"x13" metal pan (do NOT use glass!).
Beat eggs and vanilla until thick, then gradually beat in sugar until very thick. Add flour, baking powder, and salt all together, then stir into egg mixture until smooth and thick.
Heat milk and 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat until butter is just melted.
Meanwhile, wash, hull, and cut strawberries into quarters (cut the big ones into sixths).
When butter is melted into milk, pour hot into batter and stir well until fully combined. Either stir in strawberries, or place in bottom of pan and pour batter over. Bake immediately for 30-45 minutes or until top is golden brown and springs back when touched.
While cake is baking, take the saucepan from the milk mixture and add remaining butter (6 tablespoons), brown sugar, cream, and coconut (or pecans) and heat until butter and sugar are melted, then remove from heat. Do not boil. When cake is done, turn off oven and turn broiler on low. Spread the top of the hot cake with the coconut mixture, then broil for about a minute (watch it - it burns easily) until the coconut mixture caramelizes. Remove from the oven and let cool before serving with the dairy topping (liquid cream, whipped cream, milk, ice cream) of your choice. Or eat plain.
What did you do for Valentine's Day? Did you eat at home and cook or bake something special? Tell me in the comments!
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Sarah Wassberg Johnson has an MA in Public History from the University at Albany and studies early 20th century food history.