August 31, 2010 § Leave a Comment
When I made the decision to start eating healthy again, I never imagined what would be the first cake recipe to fall in my lap. It is almost as if fate meant for me to make a diet change right at that very instant, meant for me to sort through our bins of whole grain flours, meant for me to skip right over the white sugar—and even the brown sugar, and land on a jar of unsulfured molasses. It meant for me to be browsing 101 Cookbooks at that very minute and open I recipe I had never thought to open before, despite the many times I have scoured the site for wholesome baked goods and sorted though dinner recipes, even knowing that I would never cook them because, let’s face it, I don’t cook. But at that very moment, I opened up this recipe for Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake and I knew the palate had changed.
If you do not love molasses, I suggest you stop here. This cake is not for you. It is entirely sweetened with molasses, which lends it a deep, dark color, so dark in fact you would swear it’s chocolate on looking at it. But that first bite, through the crunch of the walnut topping, reveals that that darkness is not chocolate at all. And you are not disappointed at the discovery. Because just when you thought someone so healthy could not be so deeply satisfying, you take another bite of cake and the flavors that were so unexpected in the first bite become wonderfully addicting in the second. It’s rustic, it’s hearty, it’s not for the faint-hearted (in the flavor sense of the idea, not in the butter content) and it’s, dare I say it, pretty quaint. And it’s one of those cakes that you have to cut off three tablespoons of butter from the stick, instead of just throwing the entire stick (or two) in the bowl. Have you ever noticed that most recipes call for either ½ cup or 1 cup of butter, conveniently the size of a stick of butter or two? I wonder who came up with that. Was it the recipe writers or the butter packagers?
But back on subject, you should make this cake. With more blueberries than I used, because blueberries have a habit of disappearing (read: I have a habit of eating them by the handful) when I am baking with them. And with the chopped walnuts on top, though I think many other nuts would do, sprinkled with (okay, I admit it) maybe a teaspoon of brown sugar. And bake it in one of your prettiest pans, because this cake deserves it.
This cake accompanied me to my old high school’s English office, alongside my travel journal, which I have been jamming full of sights, restaurants and many, many bakeries, to visit during the coming year. I have a Paris section (of course) and a Provence section (of course). And then there is Venice and Wales and Barcelona. And so many others that I am afraid I am trying to go everywhere, but I just can’t pick up a travel magazine and not want to go everywhere it writes about. I wonder if the French like molasses. I packed a jar of peanut butter and another of maple syrup, but now I am on the plane wondering if I needed to bring molasses too. I hope not.
Old-Fashioned Blueberry Cake
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
5 tablespoons milk (divided)
1/2 cup unsulphered molasses
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, barely melted
1 1/2 cups blueberries, frozen (I freeze fresh berries)
1 teaspoon flour
For the topping:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or a small rectangular pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small bowl combine the cider vinegar with 3 tablespoons of the milk. In another bowl combine the molasses with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Add the cider vinegar mixture into the molasses mixture, then whisk in the eggs.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just barely combined. Stir in the butter. Fold the blueberries, tossed with the small amount of flour, into the batter. Top the batter with the chopped walnuts and sprinkle with the brown sugar.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about thirty minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.
August 27, 2010 § 4 Comments
The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.
I made the browned butter pound cake and a batch of milk chocolate and black pepper ice cream from David Lebovitz. You can see all the details of the challenge and all the recipes we used on Elissa’s blog here. I had some trouble assembling the petit fours. When I tried to glaze them, the ice cream just started melting so I had to put them back in the freezer and try to frost them later, instead of pouring on the glaze. But the ice cream was truly delicious! Since my ice cream maker is still in boxes being shipped home from DC, I made it the low-tech way. David Lebovitz has great instructions for making ice cream without an ice cream maker.
August 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
I have been having a very difficult time with this post. Like much of my writing — essays, newspaper articles etc. — my blog entries usually just flow out. I don’t often mess around with how to phrase sentences. If a metaphor doesn’t form itself, I don’t push it. If a word doesn’t come naturally, I use another and figure I will return to it when the time is right. So when I do hit a block that has me staring at the screen and reforming a single sentence over and over again, changing single words and punctuation marks here and there, I know something is off about my subject matter.
I came home the other day and I decided it was about time I buckled down, started eating healthy again and got back into better shape. I tend to function better under rigid guidelines and tight schedules, and my diet works no different. I’ll get into funks where I eat only oatmeal and insist on just ordering coffee when I meet up with friends. And it may sound strange, but oftentimes I’m just happier that way.
Once I’ve decided to eat healthy again, it’s fairly easy to turn down that piece of sheet cake with the fake, fluffy, brilliantly white frosting and a greasy slice of pizza late at night. I’ve finally made that decision again and I’m sticking with it, and I relish that feeling of control. I relish knowing exactly what goes into every little bite I eat — I like adding the spoonful of sugar myself, measuring out exactly a half cup of milk and simmering a pot of whole grains, knowing that the only other ingredient is water. I like that getting back in shape means falling into a routine of running every day. Sometimes that tight schedule may mean arriving somewhere else a bit late or starting the morning errands two hours later, but it doesn’t mean I’m missing out on anything. It just means that I’m living my life, exactly how I want to live it. So that when I make this cake, with a full cup of extra virgin olive oil, I can cherish a bite or two and then give the rest away.
I understand that this can be a strange approach to food, especially for someone with a food blog. When I started reevaluating what I was eating, I spent some time thinking about this blog and what I was going to do with it. Should I pull a total 180 and start posting recipes from my parents’ 1970s vegetarian cookbooks? Should I instead focus on baked goods with lower butter and sugar content? Or should I start posting food I’ve never even tasted? The thought of abandoning this blog altogether scares me, I have come to rely on it so much that it would feel as though the ground had been yanked out from underneath me. It has been a source of satisfaction and accomplishment when other parts of my life feel like they are falling apart and it has restored my love of writing, which I had once thought was all I wanted in a career. It has given me a lot more faith in myself than two years of college ever did.
Moreover, I never realized starting this blog how quickly one forms a connection with one’s readers. I never realized how many times I would hear “I saw that on your blog,” or that people would ask about my new haircut or my scrapped knee without me ever mentioning it, or that friends of friends would actually read the words I’m writing and make the very same cakes I am pulling out of the oven. I would never want to abandon that feeling of companionship right as I am about to embark to another continent. I would never want to abandon this right before I start learning how to bake with just a stove top and a toaster oven.
But I realize some part of this blog needs to change as I start living on my own. In order for me to continue, and not feel guilty pulling a cake out of the oven for the hundredth time, I need to start feeling closer to the food I am producing.
I realized this as I toyed with the idea of making S’Mores cookies, chock full of graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey chocolate bars. We bought all the ingredients at the local Safeway, all the while I ignored the quiet voice in the back of my mind, which was saying you could make these all on your own. What I really should have been doing was buying graham flour. That voice in the back of my head finally stopped prodding my thoughts when my hands landed on the matte cover of Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce. I opened the book — one of the few cookbooks I own that does not sit on the shelf, abandoned — and flipped to the section on spelt flour, where the binding easily fell open on its own to this olive oil cake.
The fruitiness of good olive oil — I used De Cecco Extra Virgin — is paired with deep, dark chocolate and fresh rosemary in this cake, which is at once homey and ground-breaking. The flavor is wholly unexpected and yet, one even begins to think of the olive oil as the sweet note in this cake. I only had a couple bites of a slice and the rest of the cake went to mother’s Italian class. But when a cake is truly worth eating, a couple bites is all you need to feel indulged.
Olive Oil Cake
From Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce
3/4 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped into roughly 1/2 inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits you sift out. Set this bowl aside.
In another large bowl, whisk the eggs until light. Add the olive oil, milk and rosemary and whisk again. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the chocolate. Pour the batter into a fluted tart pan or cake pan (about 8-9 1/2 inches in diameter) and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
August 21, 2010 § 3 Comments
Well, I am officially home in San Francisco, a day earlier than I had originally planned. I spent my last week in DC alone in the Georgetown townhouse. The quiet was slightly eerie and because my key to the front door stopped working, I had to enter the house through the back alley every night, where the rats come out after dark. I never got a fully coherent explanation of why the otherwise very nice neighborhood is overrun with rats; this will be the subject of further research. But needless to say, when I had the opportunity to leave for my week home a day early, I jumped on it. Especially since it would mean being able to go to the Street Food Festival today on Folsom.
But as much I wanted to be home, it seems like someone doesn’t want me here. First, United lost my luggage. Luckily, I had only checked one bag with running clothes and cooking magazines. Then, a plywood sign like the one below fell on my and my brother’s heads at the Festival this morning when we stopped to look at “I left my (cart) in San Francisco” T-shirts. As such, we were not in the mood to walk the last block of food carts, which was packed full of mini red velvet cupcakes and chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches — the dessert block —, and instead chose to walk home through the Mission with ice on our heads. We already had the one dessert we were looking for — crème brulée from the Crème Brulée Cart, which I have only been following on Twitter for a year and had yet to pay a visit. Thick and creamy Mexican chocolate and vanilla bean brulées topped off a lunch of curry-fried chickpeas, papusas, veggie empanadas and spinach and cheese pirozhki. Yum. I am so glad to be home.
And…the fire alarm just goes off in my house as my family sautées salmon for dinner. Got to go.
Also, I just realized that you can like and tweet my blog posts. Cool?
August 19, 2010 § 3 Comments
Yesterday, I ventured out into the old town of Alexandria. I had a real reason for going; I had an appointment for a haircut at DeZen Spa purchased with a deal earlier in the summer. Making it to the appointment on time was a mad dash from the office, frantically pushing through the rush-hour people traffic at the Chinatown Metro station and finally hopping onto the Yellow line for a long ride into Virginia. But I did arrive on time, just in time to chop off all my hair…well most of it. My hair now falls just past my chin. I feel a little like Kate Hudson in Le Divorce when she cuts off her California blonde hair for a short, sophisticated French do. Only I’m not quite in Paris yet.
Afterward, I went off to explore Alexandria, as the last time I was there with my whole summer household there wasn’t much chance to see the area. I stopped in at Le Pain Quotidien, looking at the pastries and tarts behind the glass windows before moving in. I walked into La Madeleine and ordered a mango iced tea and a mini lemon tart, which was disappointingly not at all tart. On the way back to the Metro station, in search of an Old Town deli, I stopped in at a small clothing shop, An American in Paris. The front door was locked but the slight woman who owns the shop came hurrying to the door to let me in. The store was lined with clothes in rows on every wall and the woman instructed me on how to view each piece — take from the rack by the hanger, not the clothing, and gently feel the texture of the fabric between your hands. The key to good clothing is the fabric, she noted in a slight accent. She is originally from Avignon, though her father’s family is Italian and her daughter lives in England. She cooed with delight when I said I was moving to Paris, then proceeded to give me a lecture on being careful and not getting entrapped in the partying Americans that frequent Europe. We Europeans, we grew up being cautious, you American girls are so sheltered and naïve, she said. I just laughed and headed to the dressing room with a gorgeous pink dress with a huge appliqué flower front-and-center and crepe-like skirt that is longer than anything I have ever worn but made of such beautiful fabric I couldn’t resist. Glamorous, she said, was in.
I wanted so badly to make this woman happy that I actually considered buying one of the pieces, which were each priced at $295. But knowing what a shock that would give my bank account — and reason reinforced when she commented that she loved my skirt, which I think is the only clothing I have ever purchased at Wal-Mart — I resisted and said I “would have to check with my mom,” which means “no.” I think I can be an American in Paris without that price tag.
I have spent a lot of time in the past week researching Europeans cities and countryside, their hole-in-the-wall restaurants, stores and hotels. I’ve been mapping out travel routes and Eurorail tickets, trying to narrow down which weekend trips are feasible and which are going to remain dreams. I’m determined to make it to Barcelona and Dublin. But I also want to see the country, the farms; I want to go to Southern France and relive childhood vacations and explore the grandeur of Irish hills, as I’ve never before been. More than I want to taste the food everywhere, I can’t wait to recreate the food in my little apartment kitchen. I just hope I find people to eat it!
I brought this cake into the office, partly to get it off my hands and party to distract from the disappointing apricots in my previous post. It’s a cake you make in the middle of winter and likewise in summer, as I did. It seemed overly sweet when I first tried it, still piping hot, but the flavors melded together over the next few days and the sweetness lessened. I would say, best on the second or third day.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup jam or preserves
For crumb topping:
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9-inch square or round cake pan.
For the cake:
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together butter, milk, and egg in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Pour batter into cake pan. Dollop jam all over surface, then swirl into batter with spoon.
For the crumb topping:
Whisk together butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt until smooth. Stir in flour, then blend with your fingertips until incorporated. Sprinkle crumbs in large clumps over top of cake. Bake cake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides begin to pull away from pan, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.
August 17, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Apricots. I love the word. I love the way it rolls off the tongue. So many different letters in one word. I think apricots are a beautiful fruit — lush and orange — on the outside. Yet despite these appearances and knowing many people who profess to love the fruit, I have never taken a bite of an apricot that has not been disappointing. The whole fruit just squishes in my hands and I am left with a mouthful of mushy, stringy apricot flesh. Seduced by the beautiful sunset tints of the exterior and then let down. Every. Single. Time.
Yesterday, I went to Whole Foods for lunch with one of my fellow interns. We were seduced by the tiny, orange apricot morsels at the front, with their skins slightly tinted sunset red. We bought a cartoon and carried it back to the office, eagerly looking forward to the beautiful fruit feast. And then it turned out to be ugly and mushy and I wondered why I had let myself hope for a wonderful apricot.
So I was given the task of taking these apricots home and making a cake of them. Slather them in sugar, caramelize them, enfold them in butter and flour and make them beautiful inside and out. I am sad to say I failed in this. I did make wonderfully light tea scones, the ones my mother always made as I was running out of the house for school. I would grab a handful of three or four, still warm on the cooling racks, split them in half and spread them with blackberry jam and honey, and then make a mad dash for the car. Sadly, I had to pick the apricots out of the scone before eating, much like I do with raisins in most baked goods. I’ll say the apricots were just there for decoration, but I had hoped for more, so much more.
If anyone knows a recipe for seriously delicious apricot cake (or really anything, desperate here), I would love to hear it. I’m all about second — or third or fourth — chances here.
From Having Tea
Recipes and Tablesettings by Tricia Foley
August 16, 2010 § Leave a Comment
August 11, 2010 § 2 Comments
A torrential downpour just started here in Washington D.C as I write this post. I am always amazed by how quickly a sunny day can turn into a thunderstorm. Here, it is not unusual for a quiet summer day to end with the tree down the block being split in half by lightning. When I stare out of the window at work in awe at the darkening sky, my co-workers just laugh at me, the typical California girl, who doesn’t seem to understand that this is simply how East Coast weather works. I was lucky enough to catch a tiny glimpse of calm as I walked home from the bus stop, and then was caught in the downpour again, which started just as I stepped out the door to drop of my dry cleaning.
It’s days like these that require a little bit of comfort the minute you step in the door. The kitchen has always been a place of comfort for me, a place where we gather around the counter to roll out pizza dough, cut sugar cookies into hearts and stars (or, in my house, elephants) and make large, steaming mugs of hot chocolate with lots of Dutch cocoa. It is also the place where I learned my first lessons in patience, following directions and then, in breaking rules.
Perhaps my first real memories of the kitchen come from my grandmother’s house in Victoria, Canada. I used to love my grandparents backyard, with its tire swing, blackberry and raspberry bushes, plum trees and tall stalks of rhubarb. Late August, before all of the grandchildren returned to school, we would pick blackberries from their backyard until our fingers were stained purple and we had several yogurt containers full. My grandmother froze a lot of the fruit but she also made crisps, pies and flans. I was not an immediate fan of cooked fruit, but I gradually grew to liking crisps — though the sweet, oat topping was my favorite part — and from there, pie.
I am firm believer in the idea that pies and crisps are meant to showcase the fruit. A lot of recipes out there these days seem to pile on an unnecessary amount of sugar. With a lot of cherries on hand, and some blueberries thrown in for good measure, I started off making this piecrust. However, when I got to making the filling, I omitted half of the sugar and used some flour in place of the cornstarch.
All Butter Crust (Pâte Brisée)
From Elise on Simply Recipes
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4 to 8 tablespoons ice water
Cut the sticks of butter into 1/2-inch cubes and place in the freezer for 15 minutes to an hour (the longer the better) so that they become thoroughly chilled.
Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse 6 to 8 times, until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it’s ready. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.
Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a clean surface. Gently shape into 2 discs. Knead the dough just enough to form the discs, do not over-knead. You should be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. These small chunks of butter are what will allow the resulting crust to be flaky. Sprinkle a little flour around the discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days.
Remove one crust disk from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes in order to soften just enough to make rolling out a bit easier. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully place onto a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the pie dough down so that it lines the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the pie dish.
Add filling to the pie, discarding most of the liquid.
Roll out second disk of dough, as before. Gently place onto the top of the filling in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of dough rounds firmly together. Trim excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving a 3/4 inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with a fork. Score the top of the pie with four 2-inch long cuts, so that steam from the cooking pie can escape. *I cut out fluted circles for the top pie crust and dusted with a bit of cinnamon sugar as I didn’t have an egg for the egg wash.*
These are the ingredients for the sweet cherry filling as described by A Sweet Pea Chef and adapted from Smitten Kitchen. I can’t say I exactly followed this recipe, as I used both cherries and blueberries, a dash of orange juice and flour instead of cornstarch. It worked out really well.
4 cups pitted fresh cherries (about 2 pounds unpitted)
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar (adjust this according to the sweetness of your cherries)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F. and bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack.