January 13, 2013

Bunny Cake and Granny Pizza, or Hello, Yes, I'm Back After Seven Months

One Easter, we went to Granny's house in Duxbury. I was in a flowery little girl dress, feeling pretty. I wasn't tall enough to see what was on Granny's kitchen counters, but the dining room table was at exactly the right height for me to spot what she had chosen as a centerpiece. It was a coconut cake shaped like a bunny. Fluffy with coconut flakes, it looked like it was sleeping in the middle of the table, oblivious to the shine and sparkle of silver and crystal and china.

We probably ate deviled eggs and mashed potatoes and lamb with mint jelly, but all I cared about was Bunny Cake. How would we cut into it? Would we chop off its head? Would it be a layer cake? Was there coconut icing in between the layers? How was no one else amazed that the cake was shaped like a bunny? I was so excited by the idea of Bunny Cake that I don't even remember eating it; all I can recall is the anticipation.

Granny could do that, could take food and make it more than just what we were going to eat. Without getting pretentious, she elevated meals by building comfort and luxury into them. Every splash of heavy cream or pat of butter was a little reminder that Granny cared. A year after Granny's death, I probably miss sharing meals with her more than anything else.

So I've finally worked up the courage to make Granny Pizza, a promise I made, oh, seven months ago. Why have I held on to this silly idea for so long, you ask? Because exposing Granny to her first bite of pizza would have been the best possible repayment for all the food love she showed me over the years. And, since I can't do that any more, the next best option is to make Granny Pizza and eat it all myself, in a fit of grief-induced carbo-loading.

I used Mark Bittman's basic dough recipe, because he's the bomb. And I used really simple, but really good ingredients, because that's what the nerds at America's Test Kitchen told me to do. Seriously: crushed tomatoes and Parmesan and Mozzarella. And here's a trick I learned: if you ever make pizza at home and wonder why it doesn't taste like parlor pizza, it's because you didn't add Parmesan. I always used to add whatever cheese I had on hand--cheddar, feta, etc. My homemade pizzas were good, but they wouldn't have cut it as Granny Pizza.

I needed Granny Pizza to be like that one amazing slice you have on a paper plate at 2 a.m., when you get flour on your fingers and you make ugly faces because you've forgotten to chew like a lady. Not that Granny would ever have forgotten to chew like a lady, or been awake at 2 a.m., or eaten from a paper plate, but you know what I mean.

And it worked. This pizza was exactly right. Crispy crust at the edges and, most importantly, underneath, thanks to a makeshift pizza stone (a.k.a. a baking sheet I flipped over and heated to 500 degrees). Salty but also kind of sweet because of the pure tomato flavor.

Granny would have loved it.

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