Of Cakes and Flours

April 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

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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.

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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?

Did somebody say cake?

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.

Fresh pow, cookies and whole grains

March 7, 2011 § 1 Comment



Commitment is a funny thing, and one most of my friends know I’m notoriously bad at. Something about not having options at all times scares me, and then finally I get my heart set on something and decide I need a concrete, definite plan of execution. For instance, I’ve dabbled in planning for the Vancouver, Oakland and Whidbey Island marathons over the past two months. I’ve accelerated and decreased training accordingly (albeit, probably more like arbitrarily). And then this weekend I decided it was time to buckle down and actually commit, I looked up the Western Pacific Marathon — the plus being that I wouldn’t have to fly to it — and signed myself up. And then, just to blow your socks off on my commitment levels today, I also signed myself up for a new CSA box, which shall remain unnamed for now, and committed myself to at least 4-weeks of farm fresh produce delivery. I know 4-weeks may not seem like a very large commitment to some, but hey, it’s huge for me. Since I can hardly seem to stay in one city for more than a couple of months, it seems silly to commit to a year’s worth of fresh produce anyway.

Sometimes my indecisiveness pays off in the form of several baked goods in the place of one. We went up to Lake Tahoe this weekend for skiing. I spent most of my childhood on the hill racing through off-course gullies, dodging trees and occasionally getting stuck in the fresh powder. I remember protesting the suggestion of joining the ski team because why in the world would I want to spend all my time on the slalom. I spent the rest of my time eating candy bars and Oreo brownies and drinking hot chocolate in the lodge with my instructors or my parents. Real food was a big time no-no during my time on the slopes. Actually, I think it was a big no-no for most of my childhood come to think of it, as my pre swim practice snack was often two Snickers bars in the locker room. Get that image of a chubby pre-teen out of your head right now, my metabolism was like a race horse back then. But despite the fact that most of my life skiing has revolved around junk food, when I think ski hill now, I think homely and hearty whole grains.

I made this loaf cake with graham and whole-wheat flour, 3 yams and 2 tablespoons of butter. It is incredibly moist, verging on being a bit too moist, and good toasted with a bit of peanut butter even four days after it was made. I feel healthy eating it even with the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top. Sure, it’s not for everyone (my little brother stood around in the kitchen making faces while I was making it) but it’s one of those recipes that is really guilt free. The cookies are whole-wheat chocolate chip and can be found here. The last and first time I made them, I quickly swore they were my new favorite cookies. This time, they were perfect the night of and hardened after a day, losing the chewiness I usually look for in chocolate chip cookies. Will have to work on that because I love the deep nuttiness the whole-wheat flour brings.

Yam Loaf Cake
Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Sweet Potato Muffins

3 small yams
1 cup graham flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 white flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
pecans, semisweet chocolate chips and tablespoon extra brown sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast yams for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until they’re tender when pierced with a fork. The bottoms should be dark and the juices should be beginning to caramelize. Let cool and peel. Puree in a blender with the buttermilk and yogurt. Add the egg and melted butter and mix thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Fold together the wet and dry mixtures, being careful not to over mix.

Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Scoop in batter and top with a sprinkling of brown sugar, pecans and semisweet chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour

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.

Sugar High Friday #71 Roundup!

November 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

First off, a huge, predictable and excited “it just started snowing here!” declaration. The only thing better than hat shopping in Paris is hat shopping in snowy Paris, because, you know, that makes your purchase all the more justifiable.

Secondly, another super excited announcement: This month, I was the host of Sugar High Fridays, an event started by Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess, wherein every month a blogger picks a theme and we all bake to it. I chose November’s theme which was “Desserts with a Hidden Surprise” and I am posting the roundup today!

I had some lovely contributions…delicious and elaborate cupcakes, cakes and even donuts, which I am sharing here today. Thank you to everyone who submitted something!


Mr. and Mrs. Swan Meet the Swans made Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with a Cheesecake Truffle Surprise, topped with Pumpkin Pie Frosting and Sweet Cinnamon Sprinkle.


Lisa from Life From Here made Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling.


Ryan from Ryan is Baking made Peanut Butter Buttercream Filled Double Fudge Chocolate Cupcakes: rich dark chocolate cupcakes filled and frosted with a fluffy, creamy peanut butter buttercream and topped with chocolate sprinkles and half a Reese’s cup.


SilverMoon from Dragon Musings made Rainbow Cake for her daughter’s fifth birthday. It’s a white iced cake, with vibrant colours in the batter.


Sara from CaffeIna made bomboloni alla Nutella, Italian filled donuts.


Natalie from Seattle Lunchbox made banana-filled butterscotch cookies: classic cookie dough, but with warm, gooey banana and the sweetness of butterscotch.


Jackie Ruins the Cake made Pumpkin Rolls: It may not look very pretty, but it’s pumpkin and it has Nutella in it, therefore it is delicious.


Katie Rose from Level 2 Mommy made these homemade Hostess Cupcakes. The title says it all but they are chocolate cupcakes covered with chocolate ganache with a vanilla cream filling hidden inside.


Mansi at
Fun and Food Cafe
made Chocolate Cake with Avocado Frosting: Layered Chocolate Cake is good, but unlike your regular cake, this one is a healthier alternative with a layer of Avocado frosting and slivered almonds adorning your chocolate cake. The frosting is so good, you’ll never guess it has Avocados!

For the challenge I made shortbread cookies with two different fillings: crushed pistachio with maple syrup and chocolate covered hazelnut. You can’t tell from the pictures what’s inside (I had to rush the cookies off to class) but that’s part of the point no?

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