Family stories are frosting on the cake

Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting , from the "The Brown Betty Cookbook," is a best-seller at the bakery.
Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting , from the "The Brown Betty Cookbook," is a best-seller at the bakery.

Generations of dynamic women inspired the recipes and anecdotes in a new cookbook from Northern Liberties' Brown Betty bakery.

Posted: October 26, 2012

At Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, they're selling cakes, of course, but there's something more:

It's a story of family, and you can see the names on the products in the display cases of the Northern Liberties-based bakery.

There's "To Miss Mary," a sweet-potato cheesecake named after an aunt who ran a beauty shop at 48th and Fairmount. And a sweet-potato cake called "Only for Eliza," after a country woman from Virginia with a soft touch for anyone needing a meal. And a chocolate sour-cream cake called "Dear Ruth," in honor of a woman who died young but is remembered for her fashion sense.

At the center of this family's story is Betty herself - Elizabeth Hinton, from 56th and Girard in West Philadelphia - whose daughter, Linda Brown, and granddaughter, Norrinda Brown Hayat, are the mother-daughter team behind the expanding bakery, which was launched in 2004.

The family stories and 49 recipes fill The Brown Betty Cookbook (Wiley, $22.99), which Norrinda Brown Hayat compiled as a tribute to her grandmother and to the other women over the generations. "These are the stories I heard when I was 8, 9, 10, 11 years old," said Hayat.

Colorful, dynamic women inspire the sweet recipes. Betty's flinty mother-in-law, Hattie, turns up in a chocolate ganache layer cake called "Hattie Don't Play."

The Hinton-Brown women did not seem to be destined to achieve baking glory outside of their circle of family and Pinn Memorial Baptist Church.

All through school, Hayat, now 35, buried herself in studies. As a young lawyer, she said, she found herself with a lot of free time after work. "I need to do some other project," she said.

Hayat ran down a short list, and commercial baking kept rising to the top. "I thought the market maybe needs this. It's something I can do with my family. And what better partner than my mom? I won't have to worry about breaking up or partnership issues."

In late 2004, Hayat and Brown - a longtime Philadelphia schoolteacher - rented a shoebox-size storefront in the brand-new Liberties Walk, the cornerstone of Bart Blatstein's development in Northern Liberties.

"It was a long, quiet winter," said Hayat, reflecting on the limited walk-up business. Hayat, meanwhile, wrote to every food editor in town, talking up the desserts. A newspaper blurb about the coconut cake helped turn the business around.

A bride, meanwhile, requested a red-velvet cake for her groom's cake. It was not in their repertoire. "We had a lot of time on our hands," Hayat said. "We tried it out. She loved it, and it ended up being our best seller."

A small Brown Betty retail shop opened near Rittenhouse Square in 2007 and had a three-year run. It was followed by a store in Liberty Place. Mother and daughter outgrew the Liberties Walk flagship in 2010, and moved into a bakery - triple the size - a few blocks south. Hayat was married that year, and now has an 11-month-old son, Kingston. She lives in Silver Spring, Md., and is a government lawyer.

Linda Brown and her other daughter, Norrina, run the shops, with help from Norrinda and Norrina's father, Norman.

Hayat said the cookbook was Brown Betty's next move as a brand. She scoured other bakery cookbooks and hunted for those whose authors mentioned their literary agents in the acknowledgments. There, in Baked in Brooklyn's book, was the name Alison Fargis, who sold it to Wiley.

They decided to give out all the recipes. Aside from some seasonal frostings, "we didn't hold back," Hayat said.

They even added a few recipes that are not made in the bakery, such as lemon meringue pie and carrot pie.

There's more to come from Brown Betty: Mother and daughter are testing a cranberry chutney and a pepper jelly.

Now that they have given out the recipes - and the secrets to preparing sweet potatoes for baking - are they worried that it might cut into their business?

Hayat laughed.

"I think times have changed and people don't have the time they used to," she said. "What I hope is that for holidays and kids birthdays, they'll pull out the book. But there are lots of times people come over for dinner and you have to run out and grab a cake. There are so many other occasions when you're not going to stack tiers."


Sallie Marie's Sour Cream Pound Cake

Makes 20 servings

Nonstick cooking spray with flour

4 cups cake flour

3/4 teaspoon regular salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 sticks (11/2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups granulated sugar

8 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon pure rum extract

1 cup sour cream

About 3 cups vanilla buttercream (see note)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10-inch angel food cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light and fluffy and then add the sugar on low speed until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended. Add the vanilla and rum extracts and beat until blended.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternately add the flour mixture and sour cream to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beating until smooth.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, 60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. To frost the cake, turn it bottom-side up onto a cake plate. Using an offset spatula, spread the buttercream all over the cake.

- From The Brown Betty Cookbook, by Linda Hinton Brown and Norrinda Brown Hayat (Wiley & Sons, 2012)

 

Note: To prepare the vanilla buttercream, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 6 ounces cream cheese (room temperature) and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature) and a pinch of regular salt and beat, scraping the bowl as necessary, until mixed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add 31/2 cups confectioners' sugar, beating until blended. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

Per serving: 577 calories, 6 grams protein, 71 grams carbohydrates, 51 grams sugar, 31 grams fat, 157 milligrams cholesterol, 345 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Jean's Road Trip (Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting)

Makes 20 servings

Vegetable shortening

Nonstick cooking spray with flour

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon regular salt

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red food coloring (1/2 ounce)

3/4 cup boiling water

1 recipe cream cheese buttercream (see note)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat three 9-inch round cake pans with vegetable shortening, line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper, and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed to blend.

3. In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk, butter, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and food coloring until just blended.

4. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture in 2 batches, beating on low speed until blended. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low, slowly pour in 3/4 cup boiling water, and beat until blended. The batter will be thin.

5. Divide the batter equally among the prepared pans and bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes before turning them out onto wire racks to cool completely. Remove the parchment paper.

6. To assemble and frost the cakes, place 1 cake layer, bottom-side up, on a cake plate. Use an offset spatula to spread 1 cup of the buttercream on top. Add the second cake layer, bottom-side down, and spread 1 cup of the buttercream on top. Top with the third cake layer, bottom-side up. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining buttercream.

- From The Brown Betty Cookbook, by Linda Hinton Brown and Norrinda Brown Hayat (Wiley & Sons, 2012)

Note: To prepare the cream cheese buttercream, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 3/4 cup 100 percent white grape juice to a boil. Continue to boil until reduced to 1/2 cup. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk 3 ounces cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Replace the whisk attachment with the paddle attachment and beat 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature) into the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping the bowl as necessary, until light and fluffy. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until pale yellow and almost doubled in volume, scraping the bowl as necessary, about 4 minutes.

In another bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk 2 large egg yolks until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes, then add the cooled grape juice in a slow and steady stream until blended. Increase the mixer speed to high and whisk until very light and fluffy. On low speed, add 2 tablespoons sugar-free maple syrup and 4 teaspoons vanilla extract to the egg yolk mixture. Increase the mixer speed to high and whisk until smooth.

Add half of the whipped cream cheese-butter to the egg yolk mixture and whisk on medium speed until blended. Add the remaining whipped cream cheese-butter and a pinch of ground cinnamon and whisk until fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary, about 5 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

Per serving: 345 calories, 4 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, 23 grams sugar, 22 grams fat, 114 milligrams cholesterol, 299 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Contact Michael Klein at mklein@philly.com.

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