Of Cakes and Flours
April 23, 2014 § 1 Comment
Clockwise from left: a huge mug of homemade hot chocolate from last weekend; at the Prohibition Pig is Waterbury, Vermont; a young sheep rolled in hay at the barn down the street from my office (the perfect lunch break!); at a sugar-shack in Vermont.
I’m sitting on the couch in utter defeat because I have failed, again, at cooking rice. Predictably, as I was chopping broccoli and snap peas, my rice turned into a gelatinous glob of sticky starch. And here I am once again struggling through several meals of mushy rice. What a mess. And hardly surprising by now.
I’ve recently become obsessed with the abundance bowl from My New Roots. I’ve tried several riffs with spring vegetables, tofu, avocado, and variants on both her spring and winter sauces. Buttermilk, garlic, parmesan, green onions, maple syrup, and lemon juice? Yes please. That was my riff on spring abundance. Pumpkin seeds, lime juice, maple syrup, and mint? Bring on the winter riffing. Now if I could just get the rice right. Until then, this girl is going to stick with quinoa.
My experimentation with grains tends to come and go in phases. I’ll occasionally go on a bender of “weirdo” flours and try to sneak buckwheat and oat flour into everything, but my cupboards are generally stocked only with white, wheat, and spelt flours. Spelt has made it into my regular rotation and is a staple in my weekend waffles. Aside from that, I’m a real butter, white flour kind of baker.
So Passover presented an exciting challenge. I picked up a bag of brown rice flour and started using it for everything! I made chive pancakes from 101 Cookbooks, and made a second batch of the batter several days later, repurposing it for a sweet breakfast of lemon-sugared crepes. And then I made a cake. That’s right, I made a gluten-free cake, something I never thought would appear on this blog.
Dense with almond meal, and moist even days later, this cake is a real winner. I used all olive oil in place of the vegetable oil and melted butter, and rice flour in place of the all-purpose flour, and served it with slices of grilled pineapple. The cake isn’t kosher for Passover because of the leavening ingredients, but hey, you win some you lose some.
Cranberry Upside-down Cake
December 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m pretty vocal about cake. Notably about not liking most cakes. If I eat a cupcake, it’s for the salted buttercream frosting. If I eat a layer cake, it’s either because I’m starving or I can’t resist a sugar rush. But if I slice off a sliver of a dense, vanilla cake topped with gooey, caramelized brown sugar and sticky, candylike, tart cranberries and pop it on top of the toaster for added warmth and crunch, you can believe that I really want to eat that cake.
I made this back in late-November but somehow December has turned into a whirlwind of papers and projects and now finally, just as winter break is about to start, internship applications and you never saw it. Somehow (don’t look at me!) nothing has been posted in almost half a month. And I’m here to rectify this, because really if you wanted to stray from the cranberry sauce but stick to the cranberries, this showstopper wouldn’t be out of place on your holiday dessert table. Sure it has imperfections; the bright cranberries balloon out on the surface like tiny pieces of confetti tossed in the air, the sticky sugar top (or bottom depending on how you look at) flows like syrup around everything in sight when you flip the pan, and it is so laden with fruit and liquid that the cake itself threatens to split down the middle when still warm if you don’t call in reinforcements. But the eye won’t be able to stray from it to the other competing desserts on the table. This I swear. Plus, who doesn’t like cake you can toast and eat for breakfast for days afterward?
Blueberry Boy Bait
August 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
There’s a funny story behind this cake, one that has nothing to do with me making it for a dinner party at an Italian friend’s flat in Prague. We sat around the table eating caprese and pasta and drinking wines he selected from the downstairs cellar, listening to him play American classics on the guitar, and then had this cake before heading out. But really, this cake is from the days at Princeton, sitting around the common room when we were supposed to be doing work, flipping through pages and pages of foodporndaily.com and stalking Smitten Kitchen.
One girl on my team had a particularly unhealthy obsession with blueberries (or healthy as we liked to say because blueberries are a good recovery food) and I had a truly unhealthy obsession with blueberry muffins, so this cake was the perfect match. I can’t remember the day one of us stumbled upon it on Smitten Kitchen but it has been a must-make since then, particularly due to its catchy name “Blueberry Boy Bait.” You could have two possible questions at this point and they would be a.) How is a bait different than a cake? And b.) Does it really rope in boys as the name implies?
Apparently in a 1954 Pillburg Bake-Off, a 15-year-old girl won second place in the junior division with this cake. She said that the cake was named due to its effect on boys. Now, I have no idea whether that is true or not, needless to say I didn’t try it out, but the story in itself makes the cake that much more exciting. I mean, I couldn’t imagine myself at 15 having the savvy to win boys over with cake. But I guess some people are more advanced than others….
I guess try it out sometime on a boy of your choosing. Hey, if a 15-year-old girl can do it, I think you might be successful. Though, beware, there is a ton of butter in this cake. As in, it tastes like butter. You can decide for yourself whether or not that is a good thing, but I will say that the tartness of the blueberries helps balance it out.
Apricot-Cherry Upside-down Cake
July 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
The other day I was sitting on our rooftop balcony, overlooking the grassy area between the houses on our block, wearing Ray-Bans, book in hand, wanting for a friend to arrive. This cake was sitting on a heavy wood cutting board on the table and places were set for two people. The plates may have been a bit chipped, but this cake came out of the pan perfectly intact; so perfectly in fact, that I still like looking at the pictures of it in awe at how pretty it was.
Upside-down cakes make me really nervous. Actually, cakes made me nervous in general. I always, always manage to skip a step in the recipe and never wait long enough for them to cool and end up with a cake that needs significant patching up. Add to that the stress of having to flip something upside down, and I’m left with that brief but sickening moment wondering if I’m going to end up with a picture perfect slab of cake or a gooey, broken lump of cake and cooked fruit. But that queasiness was gone in a flash when this cake overturned beautifully.
We ate some for lunch that day, some for breakfast the next day, some with a glass of Slivovitz the next night. Basically everyone I know if this city ate some of this cake, which is a very good thing because there was quite a bit of it. The other point of triumph is that I finally found some produce that was more than just edible here. In the states, I would never pick up a basket of cherries at a corner store, from a table right next to the liquor shelves. But I will say that the apricots I purchased here were the first fresh apricots I have ever enjoyed eating in my entire life.
How’s that for eating in the Czech Republic?
Apricot-Cherry Upside Down Cake
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes one 13 x 10 inch slab cake
For the fruit layer:
6 tablespoons butter (90g)
1 1/2 cups packed (270g) brown sugar
About 20 apricots, quartered
2 cups of cherries, halved and pitted
For the cake layer:
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125ml) plain yogurt
In a saucepan, melt the 6 tablespoons of butter. Add the brown sugar and stir constantly until the sugar is melted and begins to bubble. Remove from heat and pour into the baking dish. When the caramel mixture is cooled, top with rows of cut fruit. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350F (190C).
Cream the 8 tablespoons of butter and sugar until fluffly. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, and beat until smooth.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold in half of the flour mixture, then the yogurt, then the remaining dry ingredients. Mix until the flour is just incorporated.
Spread the batter over the fruit layer and bake for about 40 minutes. The center of the cake will be set and the fruit may bubble around the edges when it is done. Remove the cake from the oven, let cool for about 20 minutes and flip the cake out onto the plate.
Brown Butter-Squash Loaf Cake
March 3, 2011 § 2 Comments
I think I’ve mentioned before that public transportation around San Francisco is often a very interesting experience. From having guys ask for sexual favors on MUNI to having people sit far too close to me on purpose to today, when I was quietly sitting at the back of the bus minding my own business when I was surrounded by a group of five men who were talking quickly in Spanish and leering at me every so often. However, they disembarked a couple of stops later, much to my relief, and a little boy who could not have been more than four years old sat down with his mother next to me. The mother looked frazzled, with an infant wrapped in a patterned felt blanket, very clearly salvaged from a discount store, and trying to keep track of her oldest son, who looked tired, standing with his school backpack. The younger boy was carrying a little Happy Meal box filled with French fries and clutching the toy in his other hand. He grinned up at me and I thought how sad it was that he was excitedly clinging on to the McDonald’s Happy Meal box and that he would likely never smile over the top of a crème brulée, made with locally-sourced, organic milk, that he would likely never know the world of food that existed beyond potatoes fried in vats of fat. But at the same time he looked happy.
There is a lot of discussion in the sustainable, good food movement about making locally-sourced, organic food available to everyone. But despite all the talking about making healthy food accessible to all, the idea does not seem to perpetrate across the board. Even in San Francisco, which is arguably the local produce capital of the U.S., the idea of eating all-local, all-organic food remains a mantra deeply attached to elitism. Something about telling people how they should eat, attached to the high price tag of artisan and organic food, seems to really put people off. Time and time again, at farmers markets, food festivals and seminars, you are likely to see the same crowd. The food movement does have an audience, but it lacks in diversity. The vast majority of “good” food remains inaccessible to the lower classes.
I’m not sure what the solution to this is. On one hand you want to support the food producers who are doing their best to provide a handmade, healthy product while supporting all the workers that are part of the process through good wages and working environment. On the other hand, the fact is that most people can’t afford to buy $16 bags of coffee beans and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. So, in order to explore the issue, I am starting a new little pet project to see exactly how much can be done with a box of locally sourced ingredients. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, please try this loaf cake. After a series of failures in the kitchen, this has helped restore my confidence a bit. Rifted off of Heidi’s (101 Cookbooks) recipe for brown butter squash bread, this is a quick, decently healthy cake. I replaced the oil with more pureed butternut squash, used two-thirds buckwheat flour and one-third white instead of whole wheat pastry flour, and omitted half of the sugar. Next time, I think I’ll try replacing some of the butter too. Oh and I also added chopped candied ginger, because I could eat that stuff out of the bag.
Brown butter-squash loaf
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamon
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons well-pureed roasted winter squash*
1/4 cup (I used skim)
1/3 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger (I used the uncrystallized kind)
Brown the butter in a small pot over medium heat until it seems nutty and the butter solids are nicely toasted. Allow the butter to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, you can put it in the fridge as well.
Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Butter and flour a 1-lb loaf pan, or roughly 9x5x3-inch.
Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamon and seat salt in a large bowl. Set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, squash and milk (I have found that adding the milk to the squash in the blender aids the pureeing process). Whisk in the melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold until just combined. Fold in candied ginger.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for about 50-60 minutes or under the edges of the cake are browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Conquering the Monet exhibit
November 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
Early Saturday afternoon found me scurrying across to the 16eme arrondissement to the Grand Palais to see the special Monet exhibition. I was meeting a couple of friends from class and as Monet is one of the few painters whose work I enjoy looking at in large quantities, I was quite excited. It was a brisk but sunny morning and the Christmas market stands were already set up along the Champs d’Elysées as I joined my friends in line outside the Palais.
Two hours later we were still standing there and contemplated for the first time, giving up and heading to a more accessible museum. And then the line moved a couple feet and we decided to stay. I had my hands wrapped up in my scarf and my feet seemed frozen at the soles but still, we stayed. Another hour later and we were finally in the final quarter of the line; I now had my scarf wrapped around my head, covering my ears and mouth. The old French ladies behind us had started sharing hard candies with those around them, the French couple in front of us had long abandoned the line and everyone was trying to make conversation in an attempt to distract themselves from the fact that they could no longer feel their toes. For my part, my teeth had started chattering and when we eventually made it to the very front of the line, I was huddled up in a ball on the bottom stairs of the Palais. It was only then that the stern French guard took pity on me and beckoned us inside.
The exhibit has had a grand amount of success, with tickets selling out in the middle of the week through the weekend; even those with pre-purchased tickets must wait in a significant line before being allowed entrance. Once inside, the first few rooms are packed with people, but the crowds slowly thin out as the exhibit progresses. It is surprising walking through the rooms, how many of his oeuvres have made it out of France to the United States, though somewhat understandable given the cold reception Monet’s style of painting originally received in France. I especially enjoyed the fact that we were able to view his works on lightplay — paintings of the exact same spot painted at different times of the day, under different lighting such as the two Le Pont du Chemin de Fer at Argenteuil, one of which is at the Musée d’Orsay and the other of which is in Philadelphia— side by side, as they might have been intended, and not separated by oceans of water between two museums.
As we pushed ourselves back into the cold, into the midst of the Marché de Noel along the Champs d’Elysées, we said it was a visit well-spent. Though perhaps it could have been a bit better organized, so as to avoid such long lines, as I have never before seen a French person abandon a line before getting what he wants. And perhaps we should have been better prepared to wait as well — I should have brought these little cakes, which are here by popular demand by several women in my class. Only in France would banana bread be a new, novel idea!
Adapted from Joy of Baking
1 cup (115 grams) walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, browned and cooled
2 ripe large bananas, mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine the butter, bananas, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Gentry fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, making sure not to overmix. Bake at 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C in a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan for about 55 minutes or until the top is golden brown and knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
The family secret
November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
I didn’t realize how much I had settled into a routine in this strange foreign country until I left it for an even stranger foreign country and returned, very early one Sunday morning to a light rain, misty skies and wet streets. Quite soon after I returned, I was forced to bundle myself up and run a couple blocks to the closest convenience store because my shelves were empty and it being Sunday, every grocery store in the area was closed. As I walked out of the door, in a sleep-deprived educed haze, I stumbled into stands and stands of furniture vendors, French women selling vintage hats and men trying on classic suit jackets in the middle of the street. I thought for a moment I had turned down the wrong street, and wondered if I had forgotten my neighborhood that easily, until I spotted the couples dancing at the fountain at the base of rue Mouffetard, clustered together tighter than normal under a white awning, and I knew I was home.
Since my return, I have been trying to force myself outdoors but find it increasingly harder to leave the warmth of my bed and my apartment’s heater, which may or may not work consistently. Walks home from work are enjoyed only with the first gingerbread cookies of the season, but even then with the longing for the gingerbread men I used to make in my kitchen in San Francisco — the French boulangeries it seems, are not champions of the baked goods not requiring pounds of quality butter. But the spice, even if the cookie is a bit too hard, is much appreciated, as is the simple sugar glaze that never ceases to make me quite content.
And then I’ve been baking some things as necessity arises. For instance, I made my mother’s famous chocolate torte for a class party, which resulted from no one knowing what they were supposed to bring to accompany wine tasting and thus bringing whatever they could think of. My mother makes this quite a few times a year, for family birthdays, for dinner parties with close friends. This is the cake I would invariably wake up to sitting on the kitchen counter a couple times every year whenever the family had somewhere important to be or someone important to celebrate. It has never been perfectly smooth on top (and I confess my ganache-making that morning left much to be desired), but it never ceases to impress. As a child, I found it much too strong and chased it properly with an exorbitant amount of whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. But now I can enjoy it as is, with its simple chocolate ganache on top. I am convinced that French alcohol is much stronger than its American counterparts as this cake tasted decidedly of rum this time I made it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as my (French) professor declared it the best chocolate dessert she had ever tasted.
6 tablespoons or 75 grams butter
6 oz. or 150 grams semi-sweet or dark chocolate
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup or 120 ml sugar
1/4 cup or 60 ml flour
6 T or 90 ml ground almonds
1/4 cup or 60 ml rum
Preheat the oven to 190/375 degrees (C/F). Butter and flour (I use cocoa powder for the “flouring”) a 8-inch pan. Melt the chocolate over the stovetop. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the melted chocolate and run. Beat in egg yolks. Fold in flour.
Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
Fold the egg whites into the batter, minimizing stirring. Some egg whites can remain unmixed.
Bake for 30 minutes.