A Mother's Day Tale

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Marilynn and Sheila Brass, known as the Brass Sisters, celebrate Mother's Day by recounting a story of their mother that made her cry tears of despair. They also share their mother's favorite recipes. Marilynn and Sheila Brass have a new PBS show called The Brass Sisters: Queens of Comfort Food, which airs on WGBH in Boston. Their new book, Heirloom Cooking, is due out in October 2008.

Mama’s Chocolate Velvet Cake
Makes 10 slices

1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup milk
¼ tsp baking soda
3oz bitter chocolate, melted
2 Tablespoons hot water
2 ¼ cups sifted cake flour
2 ½ tsps baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Confectioners sugar (optional)

1.  Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 10-inch springform pan with vegetable spray. Cut a parchment paper or wax paper liner to fit the bottom of the pan. Insert the liner and coat with vegetable spray. Dust pan with flour and tap out the excess. (This cake can also be baked in an 8-cup Bundt pan.)

2.  Add lemon juice to milk, stir, and set aside to sour, about 15 minutes.

3.  Combine baking soda, chocolate, and hot water in a small bowl, stirring briskly. Let cool slightly. (The mixture will become very stiff but will combine with batter.)

4.  Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.

5.  Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until soft and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and blend in. Add chocolate mixture and combine. Add vanilla to soured milk. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk to batter.

6.  Place batter in springform pan. Bake 35 minutes (45 minutes for Bundt pan), or until tester inserted into cake comes out dry. The top of cake may be slightly cracked. Place pan on rack and allow to cool 30 minutes. Run a butter knife gently around edges and remove sides of pan. When completely cool, run butter knife around bottom of pan, invert cake, and remove the wax paper liner. Place the cake on a serving plate and dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. Store cake loosely wrapped in wax paper at room temperature.

Sweet Tip: This cake cuts easily when cooled to room temperature. Do not attempt to cut it while it is still warm, though - it will crumble.

Mama's Apricot Strudel with Cream Cheese Crust
Makes 40 slices

For Apricot Filling
8 ozs dried apricots
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
15 soda crackers, broken into crumbs
1 cup pistachio nuts, toasted

For Dough
½ cup butter
4 ozs cream cheese
1 2/3 cups flour
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup cold milk
¼ cup butter, melted

1.  Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover a 14-inch by 16-inch baking sheet with foil, shiny side up. Coat the foil with vegetable spray or use a silicone liner.

2.  To make the filling: Place apricots in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes, or until apricots form a soft paste. Check on fruit periodically to see that it does not burn, especially toward end of cooking time. Transfer apricot paste to a bowl and add lemon juice and sugar. Allow to cool.

3.  To make the dough: Place butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream until soft and fluffy. Add flour and salt and mix to combine. Add milk to form a soft dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until firm enough to roll out.

4.  Remove dough from refrigerator and divide into 4 sections. Roll out one section of dough on floured wax paper or parchment paper to a 1/16-inch thick rectangle. Brush surface with melted butter. Place one fourth of the apricot filling at top of dough leaving a 1-inch edge. Sprinkle one fourth of nuts and soda cracker crumbs on top of filling. Roll strudel lengthwise from top to bottom, like a jelly roll, using paper as an aid. Place strudel on baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

5.  Brush each strudel with melted butter. Bake 20 minutes at 400°F. Turn oven temperature down to 350°F and bake 10 to 12 minutes more. Brush once during baking with melted butter. Remove pan from oven and place on rack. Cool for 10 minutes. While still on pan, cut strudel diagonally into 1-inch slices. Continue to cool. Store between sheets of wax paper in a covered tin.

Sweet Tip: Serve this strudel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. It is best when eaten within 2=two days.

Music break: Mountain Greenery by Larry Elgart