The Celluloid Pantry: Kitchen Ambition and Mildred Pierce (1945)

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

“I felt I’d been born in a kitchen and had lived there all my life.”

This is a confession. A man has been shot dead. The speaker is sitting in a police station wearing a fur coat. She dishes up a simmering story of love, jealousy, and murder – all beginning with cakes and pies.

In Mildred Pierce (1945), film noir is blended with “women’s melodrama,” creating a richly marbled effect. Joan Crawford plays a devoted mother and housewife, who earns a bit of money on the side baking birthday cakes for neighbors, in order to pay for extras for her daughter, like music lessons and fancy clothes.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

2 cups sifted Swans Down Cake Flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
4 squares Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup coffee syrup [recipe below]
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs, unbeaten

(To make coffee syrup, bring 1 1/3 cups water and 3 tablespoons sugar to a boil; add 3/4 cup ground coffee. Remove from fire, cover, and let stand 5 minutes. Strain through double thickness of cheese cloth.)

Sift flour once, measure, add salt and soda, and sift three times. Combine chocolate, butter, and ½ cup coffee syrup in top of double boiler; place over boiling water and cook until chocolate is melted, stirring constantly. Cool and add sugar. Add flour and milk alternately in two parts, stirring until blended. Add vanilla and eggs and beat 2 minutes. Bake in two greased 9-inch layer pans in moderate oven (350° F) 30 to 35 minutes. Spread Coffee Butter Frosting made with remaining coffee syrup between layers and on top and sides of cake. Decorate with a border of chopped pecans.

Coffee Butter Frosting

2/3 cup butter
5 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons coffee syrup (about)

Cream butter. Add part of sugar gradually, blending after each addition. Add remaining sugar, alternately with coffee syrup, until of right consistency to spread. (All measurements are level)