Inside my window

October 9, 2010 § 1 Comment



I made something today (smiles). I don’t really know what to call it. I think that is the reason I am having such a hard time starting the paragraph. You see, I took the kilo of apples à cuire, which I purchased at the market for 1 euro, peeled them, loving how the skin came off easily in long curls, and tossed them in the stove pot. I took a couple spoonfuls of my leftover dulce de leche and a couple more of butter and added them to the pot. And hovered over it, smelling the air above it anxiously, as the mixture simmered and bubbled and boiled. I ate a cup of stewed apples then, just plain and simple, and set aside the pot while I prepared the shortbread.

I stood by the open window, looking out at the courtyard through the lacey curtains, my hands in the metal bowl, gently crumbling the cold butter into ground hazelnuts. When I felt the need for sweetness, I added an arbitrary cupful of sugar and a light drizzle of maple syrup. And then I padded the dough into a fluted tart shell, setting aside a quarter of it for the topping, brushed the top with the stewed apples and crumbled the remaining dough on top of it all. I had no idea, putting my creation in the oven, what it would result in. Would the apples soak through the shortbread? Would it cook through? Did I add enough flour? I had no idea beyond the feel of the dough in my hands.

It browned, to a crispy, golden hue. The apples turned to jam — a thick, tart layer with a hint of cream from the dulce de leche — between two layers of nutty, buttery shortbread. Except it’s less like shortbread and more like those little nutty cookies you make at Christmas-time, covered in powdered sugar. The crumble top crunches when you bite into a slice and then the soft texture of the apples takes over. The bottom holds up, but just barely, as you lift a slice from the pan. And for a moment, I feel like I have achieved something today.

And then I am taking a slice back to bed, where I am working on a million projects at once, trying to straighten out applications, travel plans and my life after Paris.

The sans-cœur and hazelnut gâteau Breton

September 21, 2010 § 3 Comments



The sans-cœur. How do you explain that you have no heart? We studied a bit of negation last week and a young Japanese man professed that he was sans-cœur. It’s a strange concept to grasp, the idea that you can float (or trudge) through life without feeling, without love, without a heart. Is it a concept that can be laughed off, categorized under people-have-said-stranger-things-and-not-meant-them-at-all? We read a love letter from l’écrivain Victor Hugo to his lover Juliette aloud in class today. At the instruction of our professor, we were forced to emphasize each phrase, as though we really believed such intense love and feeling were possible. Our professor holds fast to the idea that wild, powerful love is possible and so our daily conversations often consist of a dialogue of pessimists with her gasping in romantic despair every time we express such hopelessness.

Maybe when you are finally alone, when you finally have a chance to breathe and take in the world around you, maybe then you realize how lonely many people are. It could be the old woman who walks up to you sitting on a bench and asks if you’re Swedish, hoping to launch into a discussion of the recent election, and then, upon the discovery that you are in fact American, is just as eager to discuss George W. Bush and the war on terror. Or it could be the man sitting next to you on the bench, smoking a cigar, who at first seems totally harmless asking questions about your studies until he starts trying to touch your face.

Or the woman you sit down for lunch with in the office — cheese, bread and wine finished with a small gâteau chocolat fondant — who has just discovered that she may lose what is left of her eyesight in her one eye. At this moment in my life, I don’t think I could imagine —and I hope I shouldn’t imagine — waking up one morning without my eyesight. The very thought makes me want to never go to sleep, to stay forever awake and looking, looking at everything around me. It makes you think that life is short, but when you see all these people in this city looking for someone, anyone, to talk to, you find that life is also long.

Life is those moments that stretch out forever while the plates are being cleared and you are waiting for dessert. Life is those moments when you decide that waiting is not enough, that you will have dessert before you will have anything else.

I made these little cakes for Jennifer’s Sugar High Fridays. The theme of September was bite-sized desserts and you can find the full announcement on My Diverse Kitchen. I have to say this is pretty much the theme of my life these days as everything I bake now can be eaten in a couple bites, provided you don’t eat the entire batch.

Hazelnut Gâteau Breton
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Makes 12 mini muffins

125 g. sugar
30 g. ground hazelnuts
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
114 g. salted butter, browned
130 g. flour

1 egg yolk for glaze (you won’t need the whole thing)

Preheat the oven to 325 F/160 C. Butter and flour your mini muffin pans. Combine the egg yolks and hazelnut flour until well blended. Mix in the sugar, then add the vanilla. Gradually whisk in the browned butter. Gradually add the flour to the wet mixture, stirring until just combined in order to avoid a tough cake. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling each about 3/4 full. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each cake generously with the egg yolk. Using the back of a fork, deeply mark a criss-cross pattern on the top of each cake. Bake cakes until deep golden brown on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Ils disent qu’ils sont perdus

September 17, 2010 § 1 Comment



My little apartment gets pretty cold in the morning. There is a little gap under the door and when I creep (or clamber) down the ladder in the morning and my feet hit the stone floor, I shiver a little. But I like waking up early, seeing the morning sun light up the little courtyard outside my window, through the lacey curtains, making myself a cup of tea and checking my email before heading out the door.

Lately, I have been getting some questions about my true happiness, whether life really is like I tell it in the blogs, whether I am really doing okay. What is life like, living alone, people ask. Well I am finding that I really do enjoy living all alone. I like coming home late at night to an empty room and puttering around in the morning without ever having to make conversation. For many people, Paris is a place where you come to find yourself. I don’t know how many people are actually successful in that endeavor, but that is their original reason for coming anyway. They end up staying a month, half a year, sometimes decades. People in my classes, ils disent qu’ils sont perdus. Some don’t like talking about the future for fear that their dreams won’t come true, some all they want to talk about is the future. Some say that they are currently sans-abri — indeed there are many, many homeless people in Paris, mostly old men curled up on stairways and in Metro stations. Most aren’t dangerous, indeed many will wish you a very pleasant day. One man sleeps on a stairway near my building, the same place every night, and he offers a smile every time I walk by.

But he wasn’t there this morning when I set out around 7 a.m. to walk to a metal bridge on the Seine, on which lovers have affixed locks engraved with their names. I chose not to run there, as I usually would, knowing there were some errands I needed to run later, and running errands (or being seen anywhere in public really) in workout clothes is franchement inadmissible in Paris. It was chilly this morning, the beginning of fall, and I had forgotten that Paris merchants get a slow start in the morning and most stores don’t open until 10 or later. I gave in and ordered the 4 euro café to sit instead of the 2 euro café you take at the bar, drifted through the pews at Notre Dame, which I have been meaning to do since my first days in Paris, and generally took my sweet time in order to arrive exactly as the doors opened at 10 a.m. As I walked, I munched on one of these little cakes.

I made two of these late last night, when I had been getting ready to go out and then decided against it. The pears are delicious fresh from the market, poached, served warm or chilled, or in these little chocolate cakes. I remain always surprised when my creations come out of the toaster oven looking just right.

Chocolate Pear Cake
Adapted from Confessions of a Tart


2 oz unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 oz dark chocolate, melted
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, or Dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 pears, poached

Poach the pears: peel, cut in half and core the pears. Combine 1-2 cups of water and 1/4 cup of sugar in a sauce pan on medium-high heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the pears (add more water if needed to cover the pears), bring to a low boil and cook for 15-20 min or until tender. Drain and set aside.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Butter 2 cake pans (4-inch diameter)

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, being sure to check on it often. Add the melted chocolate to the sugar-butter-egg mixture and mixture thoroughly. In a separate bowl, combine the flour cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients and mix until just barely combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans. Arrange the sliced pears in a circle on each cake. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Old-fashioned blueberry cake

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.

The Daring Bakers: Ice cream petit fours

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.

Olive oil cake

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

Dry Mix:
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

Wet mix:
3 eggs
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.

The perfect end to a day of exploring

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.

Jam Crumb Cake
From Epicurious, via Honey & Jam

For cake:
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.

A lemon-lavender loaf for the whole family

August 8, 2010 § 2 Comments


When I was younger, our family spent a summer at family camps in France. I was ten years old, shy, incredibly picky about what I ate and a little intimidated about spending a couple weeks solely in the company of French kids. We spent our first week at Les Lavandes, in the town of Rémuzat near Nyons. We had a small sunny room by the field, where teenagers and young men played soccer and smoked cigarettes, and we dined in a large room at communal tables. During the daytime, I went off with the other kids my age for organized hiking and swimming. My brother was too young to leave my parents in a strange new country, though there were camp activities for his age group. So instead, I was the one of the family shoved off to do all the traditional camp activities. I played name games, learned about different trees and animals native to the region, and on the last day, accompanied the family of a new friend on a daylong hike. We packed crusty bread and cheese and set off with several other families, though not my own. At the end of the hike, my mother drove out to pick me up, because my ten-year-old self refused to camp out without my parents.

At the end of the week, we drove to a second camp called Pont-Les-Bains. There, I feasted on M&M Ice Cream Pops and played boules (bocce in Italian, which is the name most Americans know it by) with the girls my age. There, we ate at smaller family tables, much like at a restaurant. I don’t remember liking much of the food, which would explain why the M&M ice cream stands out so clearly in my mind.

Though the premise of the camp — complete immersion with real French families — made me nervous at times and I was forever self-conscious of my slight English accent which the girls my age called “adorable,” this summer stands out from any other vacation I have taken. I had never seen France quite like this before, though I had been on a couple of occasions, and I made some friends with whom I kept in touch with for many years afterward. Indeed, as a child, I was big on snail mail, with penpals in France and Australia. We would send friendship bracelets enclosed in letters decorated with colorful stickers back and forth across the oceans and I collected the cutest notecards for such occasions.

Real memories of this summer are fuzzy for me, though blurry images of cobblestone roads and small bridges remain in my mind, alongside more vivid images of vibrant purple lavender. When I got home, I collected long stalks of lavender from the farmers’ market and colorful fabrics, fashioning small lavender pouches. They smelled lovely, though I think I made more pouches than anyone in the family ever needed or wanted. Now, I know there are other uses for lavender; it can be used in many baked goods, giving classic cakes and cookies a fragrant lift. Lemon loaf is a huge favorite in my house and this is probably the best one I have ever made. The loaf is wonderfully moist, with lavender and lemon zest in the batter, and glazed with thin lemon juice icing. A light garnish of lavender is a pretty touch on top of the loaf.

Meyer Lemon Lavender Cake
From the Former Chef

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter (the original recipe called for oil)
2.5 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp fresh lavender flowers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, lemon zest and lavender. Add the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven. Using a long wooden skewer, poke holes in the top of the cake, all the way to the bottom, about 1″ apart.

You can see the original recipe for the lemon glaze, which called for heating the sugar and lemon juice to make a syrup. I simply combined the lemon juice with confectioners sugar to make a very thin icing, which I used to coat the top of the loaf.

Bites of sunshine: Mini mango cupcakes

August 2, 2010 § 2 Comments


The Washington D.C. metro stations are located deep underground, requiring long escalators to transport you into the depths of the tunnels. For the eternity you are in the tunnels, packed in like sardines with the other commuters — and tourists depending on the time of day — all other life seems to stop beneath the fluorescent lighting. And then, you emerge on the other side, the sunlight hits your face from the top of the escalator, and for a moment, you stand there blinded until your eyes adjust to the new streets.

Ascending from the escalator of the Eastern Market Metro station was like arising into a different city; it projected me back to my hometown of San Francisco, where street vendors, farmers’ markets and flea markets are in full force on Saturday morning. Buckets of plump, juicy blackberries, soft enough to crush between your fingertips, and wooden crates overflowing with fuzzy peaches, both yellow and white lingered in the sun as we made our way past the first tables of the market. Our eyes were drawn to the glittering silver earrings, paintings of the city bursting with color and bright friendship bracelets in patterns I would never have attempted in 5th grade. One man sat behind a wide array of baking dished painted with bright blue and yellow flowers, inducing child-like delight in me.

On the corner, a photographer brought her lens up close to an old man strumming a guitar and a younger, slightly worn-down, man peddled the Street Sheet. We sat down for lunch at the Montmartre Bistro, where we ordered buckwheat crepes stuffed with prosciutto and cheese and fluffy omelets filled with spinach and fresh tomato. I finally saw crates of summer heirloom tomatoes, brilliant reds and oranges swirling together on their smooth skins. People sat on the sidewalks, eating grilled crab cake sandwiches and sipping lemonade, each poured over an entire lemon. We bought marbled soaps, made in a woman’s home kitchen, cut off of long slabs, in scents of African earth and pure peppermint.

When we finally descended back into the Metro tunnel, we were exhausted, stuffed and bearing several packages. It would only be fitting now to leave with a recipe made with fresh, seasonal fruit. These mango cupcakes are like tiny bursts of sunshine; the cake is studded with pieces of caramelized fruit and the frosting is a light buttercream, folded with mango purée. I actually preferred them without the frosting, when they are just barely sweet, much like those of the original author of the recipe. This is a special post, for the simple reason that the recipe is written in French. I am moving to Paris at the end of August and, over the next few weeks, I will be transitioning a lot of my baking to French to gain a fuller immersion experience. For this recipe, I used mango instead of apricots, for which the original recipe calls, though I am sure these cupcakes are equally good — or better — with apricots. Apricots bring to mind childhood summers spent in the south of France, though I am unsure of whether the apricots are real memories or ones I have sentimentally fabricated over the years.

Original recipe reprinted here, can also be found at Les Gourmandises d’Isa

PETITS GÂTEAUX AUX ABRICOTS ET AMANDONS

Pour 8 personnes :
12 abricots
12 noyaux d’abricots
1/2 tasse ( 125 g ) de beurre fondu
2 cuillères à table de miel
3 oeufs
3/4 tasse ( 150 g ) de sucre
1 cuillère à thé d’extrait de vanille
1 et 1/2 tasses ( 180 g ) de farine
1 et 1/2 cuillères à thé de poudre à pâte ( levure chimique )
1/2 tasse ( 60 g ) d’amandes en poudre

Préchauffer le four à 400 F ( 200 C ).
Préparer un moule à muffins en les garnissant de 8 caissettes à cupcakes.

Dénoyauter les abricots en réservant les noyaux et coupez-les en petits dés.
Fondre 2 cuillères à table de beurre, prélevé sur la quantité initiale dans une poêle et faites-y revenir les abricots avec le miel durant 10 minutes, en remuant régulièrement pour qu’ils caramélisent de tous côtés.
Casser les noyaux d’abricots afin d’y récupérer les amandes. Plongez-les une minute dans de l’eau bouillante, puis enlever la peau qui les recouvre.
Hacher grossièrement les amandes et réserver.

Blanchir les oeufs avec le sucre, au batteur électrique puis ajouter la vanille.
Ajouter la farine et la poudre à pâte, puis le reste de beurre fondu, les amandes en poudre, les amandes d’abricots hachées et les abricots.

Séparer la préparation dans les moules préparés et enfourner pour 25 à 30 minutes ou jusqu’à ce que les petits gâteaux soient dorés et qu’un cure-dent inséré au centre, en ressorte propre.
Sortir du four, et laisser refroidir sur une grille.

Hazelnut honey cakes

July 29, 2010 § 1 Comment



The thunder rolled in and out, the sky just cleared after a sudden downpour. I’m tucked into a hidden enclave in a Starbucks, idly passing the hour between the end of work and my dinner plans. This sounds a lot more comfortable than it actually is, like that image of yourself tucked under the covers in bed with a warm mug of hot chocolate on a rainy day. Except it’s summer, so I’m drinking iced tea and the Starbucks is air-conditioned to the highest degree I ever thought possible. Or should that be the lowest degree? Either way, it’s cold. Very cold. Kind of like my office building, which seems to fluctuate between being an oven and being a freezer. But never mind, it’s summer and the minute I step outside again, I’ll forget all the problems I have with air-conditioned buildings.

And apparently Starbucks closes at 6 p.m., so that will be sooner rather than later. I have never heard of Starbucks closing earlier than 11 p.m. before, but I am hardly surprised in this city, which seems to operate on the strangest schedule. It’s like one world of the city shuts down after 5 p.m. and a whole new world opens for the evening. Never get caught sitting in a coffee shop when it’s time for happy hour and dinner reservations and barhopping to begin.

These hazelnut cakes are perfect for summer, light enough for those 100 degree days and homey enough for when the storms roll in. They are spongy and delicate, due to two types of leavening — whipped, fluffy egg whites and baking powder. I made these because I wanted to finally use a new jar of raw honey, that I bought a long time ago at the Princeton Tuesday Farmers’ Market. That and I wanted to use my brand-new fluted tartlet pans.

Gâteau aux noisettes et au miel
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini and Les Gâteaux de Mamie

6 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup flour
A pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs
1/3 cup hazelnuts
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 level tablespoons honey

Pre-heat the oven to 360°F.

Blend together the sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder. Separate the eggs. Add the eggs yolks to the flour/sugar mixture. Melt together the butter and honey in a small saucepan, and pour this into the batter. Chop the hazelnuts, and fold them into the batter.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
Pour into a floured cake or tart pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (25 for cupcakes, more for a single cake). Let it cool down a moment, then turn it out on a rack to cool completely, and serve at room temperature.

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