Category Archives: Cakes

Definition: Chameleon Writer

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake whole 2

When I was in San Francisco last week, a fine, thin layer of buttery yellow pollen settled into the exterior corners of my car’s windows. I returned with watery eyes and a flooded calendar, and now, plumped with the delayed mental energy of a long weekend with colleagues from all over the country, it feels like a new year. But it’s not just the flowers.

I shouldn’t be surprised. The ides of April affects me this way almost every year. I feel new. Most years it’s because the part of season changing toughest on my body is finally over. Some years I feel new simply because those buds bloom. One year, it was because we had a child. Last year, it was because I started Benlysta, my no-longer-new-to-me lupus medication. And this year. This year, oh gracious, ever-surprising life, you have given me something to get ruffled about that doesn’t require additional trips to Swedish Hospital. It’s a new job. Only, it’s not really new.

I am a food writer, among other things. My job has lines, lots of lines. There are lines that define what I do on a weekly basis—I write for Sunset magazine quite regularly, and I dig around for new ideas, and I inevitably test a random recipe or two from a new book or for another person’s book or for, say, Highlights or Arthritis Today magazines. There are lines that define what I do on a monthly basis—I write for Edible Seattle, and on this blog, for example. These lines are the constants on my calendar. They are my structure.They are my steady dates.

But outside those lines, very little of what I do is well defined, beyond the computer on my lap right now. Recently, my 22-year-old sister fantasized a day when she might know what she wants to do for a living. I told her I still do the same. She wasn’t exactly spirited by my comment, but it’s true. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. So when I lifted off for the IACP conference in San Francisco, I had very little in the way of an agenda, but I did wonder whether other food writers—other authors with travel writing habits or photography habits or even sometimes-sidelined mosaic-making habits, anything—know what they want to be when they grow up.

What I do know about my job is that besides that faint weekly or monthly outline, I tend to be somewhat of a serial monogamist. I jump into projects and start swimming, breath held, eyes down. Most recently—and apologies for not having mentioned it sooner—I finished the text portion of a manuscript with the crew at Ivar’s. It’s a whale of a cookbook, based on dishes at the restaurant’s three full-service locations, that will be released this summer, to coincide with Ivar’s 75th (!) anniversary as a Seattle institution. It was fun to write thousands of words in Ivarese—a punny combination of history and educational fishspeak—but even more satisfying to learn the workings of a company run so well, by such a casual, understated, wicked smart management team.

Working with Ivar’s made me realize that part of what I love about writing cookbooks with other people, other chefs, or other business owners, is the jumping in itself. I like the challenge. I like the unknown depth. And landing in San Francisco, foremost on my mind was how to decide between being a ghostwriter—someone who writes cookbooks with and/or for other people—and being my own brand, with my own recipe style, and my own distinct voice. I felt torn.

So I asked people. The response astounded me. Why can’t you do both?, people asked. Somehow, twisted up in the details of each project and in the attempt to form a real writing identity, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could always be both. Giving my brain over to projects I enjoy but might not conceptualize myself (or even take credit for in the end) doesn’t mean giving my writing voice away for good.

Still, I’m a person who works by definitions. So for now, for this new year of work, I’ll call myself a chameleon writer. I can change shades with the weather and the sun, and when life and health get in the way, I can hopefully sit on a rock in the sun, just breathing, like I did for most of February this year. In and out. In and out.

And when the weather turns, and the tides change, and another project comes my way—this next one, should I sign on for it this week, is an absolute dream—I’ll find just the right color and jump.

These days, my sister is working as a baker in a small town coffee shop. It’s hard not to be motherly and tell her she’s doing just the right thing, trying her hands at new things as the opportunities present themselves. It’s hard not to tell her over and over that she could really be good at anything she set her mind to doing, and that diving into something new doesn’t mean leaving behind whatever stays on the shore on a given day or month or year. Mostly, though, it’s hard not to take my own advice to heart.

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

Here’s a cake that understands what it means to be a chameleon. Make it in one pan, as a single layer cake, with a simple pouf of whipped cream and perhaps a sliced banana or two on top, and it’s a 12-minute miracle. Gussy it up by baking it in two separate pans and smearing the layers with a cardamom-scented cream cheese frosting, and by golly, it almost looks like a birthday cake. Either way, it depends on moisture from bananas and Greek-style yogurt. It works with either all-purpose or gluten-free flour. (I’m curious to try it with a mixture of rice and oat flours.) I personally find it’s as happy on my breakfast plate as it is shared with friends after a celebratory meal.

And as far as I can tell, deep down, it doesn’t really matter how you make it, because you can always make it a different way the next time.

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake 1

Two-Timing Banana Cardamom Cake
Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate if it’s cooked in one pan. (Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.) Or fancy it all the way up and cook it in two pans, for something of a celebration. Bake the cakes for about half the recommended time, then serve them layered with a basic cream cheese frosting, made by whipping a stick of softened butter with 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (sifted), and cardamom to taste.

TIME: 10 to 30 minutes active time, depending on your day
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose or gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe

The 7:05 a.m. muffin

Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed 2Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed Mini Muffins

I grew up the uncoordinated child of two avid tennis players. All summer long, in Boise, Idaho, we organized our days around tennis, and around my mother’s aerobics classes (she also taught step aerobics, when she wasn’t lawyering), and around the pool hours. I was in no uncertain terms a gym rat, but not really the fit kind. I scuttled around on a predetermined path each day, planning my appearances to coordinate perfectly with events I knew would take place at given times. I wanted to be there to greet Billy the crazy tennis pro, and Maile the front desk woman (a gay person in Boise!), and of course to spy on the cutest lifeguards as they emerged from their cars. They were in high school, I’d heard.

In the winter, things were considerably less exciting. But at 7:05 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, just as my mother’s 6 a.m. aerobics class was about to end (I was permitted to go and “use the gym” on my own from an early age), a large white muffin truck pulled up outside the front door.

There wasn’t really a question about which one I wanted. It would be the almond-poppyseed. They were small and a little dumpy-looking, but they had the perfect crack in the top each time, and inside that crack, and all along the edge of each treat, there was a thin lemon glaze worth fighting one’s brother for. There were usually two or three almond-poppyseed muffins, but occasionally, they’d stick real almonds on the top, and that was never really an option for me. At 10, almonds were a flavor, not a thing.

And so it happened that at 7:05 this morning, emerging from a good sleep, I looked at the clock and my brain rewound twenty years. Here they are, in a slightly more modern form—made with Greek yogurt and without gluten, and based on a recipe from a friend, Jeanne Sauvage, whose book, Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays, probably thought its abuse might end on January 1st. No such luck.

Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppy Seed 1
Lemon-Glazed Almond-Poppyseed Muffins

Based loosely on a recipe for Applesauce Spice Muffins from Jeanne Sauvage’s Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays, these muffins have a thin lemon glaze that crackles when it dries. If you’d prefer two-bite muffins, bake the batter in batches in lined mini-muffin tins. The tiny muffins will only take 15 to 20 minutes to bake.

I used Jeanne’s gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for my muffins.

Time: 20 minutes prep time
Makes: About 18 muffins

For the muffins
Muffin liners
2 1/2 cups (350g) gluten-free all-purpose flour, such as Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup nonfat milk
Sliced almonds, for topping (optional)

For the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 18 standard muffin cups (or 12 standard cups and 12 mini cups) with muffin liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, poppy seeds, lemon zest, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the yogurt, and beat on low speed until combined. Add half the dry ingredients and mix on low to blend. Stir the almond extract into the milk, add to the bowl, and mix again. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Spoon the dough into the prepared muffin cups, filling them about three quarters of the way full. Sprinkle the tops with sliced almonds, if using. Bake the muffins until lightly browned (a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean), 15 to 20 minutes for mini muffins and 25 to 28 minutes for standard-sized muffins.

When the muffins come out, make the glaze: Stir together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer the muffins to a cooling rack, then drizzle or brush a little glaze onto each muffin. Let the glaze cool for about 10 minutes, then enjoy warm.

Note: Muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, gluten-free, recipe

Holiday Baking

HolidayCookieCollage_2

These days, life feels like it consists mainly of gathering. I’m gathering things for cookbook signings, gathering holiday gifts, gathering friends for dinners and parties, gathering photos and addresses, gathering tights I’ve ripped putting on with too-dry cuticles. It seemed only fitting to gather up a few of my favorite holiday baking recipes from Hogwash. Enjoy!

Coffee (with Cream and Sugar) Cookies
Salty Marcona Almond Toffee
Cardamom Snowflake Cookies
Ginger Shatters
Curiously Strong Buttermint Crunch
Nut-Smothered Chocolate-Dipped Pretzels
Heirloom Apple-Cranberry Pie

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Filed under Cakes, Cookies, recipe

All in the family

Photo by Lara Ferroni

My grandmother clucked and preened her way through Thanksgiving. While we cooked, she wandered from room to room, deftly dodging baby gates with 85-year-old leg lifts and cute little hops. She’d announce that she has the best looking brood of grandchildren, or that her granddaughters are the prettiest bunch ever. At one point I thought she might actually lay an egg. But other than the compliments she paid us, I didn’t really see June over thanksgiving, what with the parenting and cooking nonsense.

If I’d been with friends, I’d feel guilty. I’d feel like I missed something. But here’s what I like about family: I know they’ll be there. I know I’ll see June again soon, and that she’ll still cluck and preen when I’m around, and like a good recipe, there will always be new variations on the same conversations. Our visits happen a bit differently every time.

Here’s a cake that’s family, also. It’s always in my kitchen, constantly changing, but somehow still the same. It started here, with a kabocha squash-based bundt cake that’s been one of the most popular recipes on this site. That version, made with sour cream and maple, is deeply rich, almost a sin to eat in the morning but perfect as an afternoon snack. For Dishing Up Washington, I created a version that’s more fit for the morning, with hearty emmer flour, a lighter buttermilk glaze, and a bare smattering of hazelnuts.

I’m hoping that the next time I head down to see June, I can bring her this. She’s good at having just one more little slice–a habit this cake facilitates by the nature of its curves–so we’ll sit and chat and drink good coffee, and maybe fry up an egg or two. And with any luck, I’ll be doing the same thing in fifty years with someone I’ve never met.

And pssst–if you’re here looking for squash recipes after seeing me on Q13 Fox, here’s the recipe for Roasted Squash with Maple-Cumin Caramel (PDF).

Photo by Lara Ferroni

Kabocha-Buttermilk Bundt Cake (PDF)
Every fall at the University District Farmers Market in Seattle, shoppers ogle the winter squash. Ranging from the expected oranges and yellows to vibrant reds, greens, and even bluish hues, the variety is stunning — but for baking, I go for kabocha squash almost every time. Green or orange skinned, kabocha squash has a rich, yellowy flesh that mashes up soft and smooth (like canned pumpkin) when it’s cooked. Stirred into a stunning bundt cake made with emmer flour from the Methow Valley, it’s the best way to capture a Washington fall in a cake. Yes, it’s a cake. But it’s best for breakfast.

You can leave the cake simply glazed, or top it with a flurry of toasted hazelnuts or toasted coconut right when the glaze goes on. This cake can also be made ahead, wrapped in foil and plastic, and frozen up to 1 month. Glaze after defrosting at room temperature.

Special equipment: 12-cup bundt cake pan or 10-inch tube pan
Makes 10–12 servings

Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup emmer flour or whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ packed cups mashed kabocha squash (from 1 small squash)
¼ cup chopped toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts) or toasted sweetened coconut flakes (optional)

Glaze
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon buttermilk or water

Note: To roast the squash, slice the squash roughly in half and remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop. Roast cut side down on a parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheet (no need to oil it) at 400°F for about 1 hour, or until the skin is easy to poke with a fork. (Timing will depend on the size and age of the squash.) Let the squash cool, peel away the skin and any other tough pieces, and mash it like you would potatoes, until smooth.

If you’re afraid of cutting the squash, you can also put the entire thing — stem and all — into the oven, and bake it a bit longer. Just be sure to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff before you mash the flesh. Stir any leftover mashed squash into oatmeal or risotto.

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously (and carefully) butter the bundt cake pan, and set aside.

2. Whisk the flour, emmer flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.

3. Whip the butter and granulated sugar together on medium speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use an electric hand mixer) until light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing between additions.

4. Stir the buttermilk, honey, and vanilla together in a bowl. With the machine on low, alternate adding the dry and wet mixtures — first some of the flour, then some of the milk, then flour, milk again, and finally flour. When just mixed, add the squash, and mix on low until uniform in color.

5. Transfer the batter to the prepared bundt cake pan, smooth the top, and bake (I find it easier to transfer if it’s on a baking sheet) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs, and the top springs back when touched lightly. Let the cake cool 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully invert it onto a serving platter.

6. Make the glaze: When the cake is cool to the touch (after about an hour), whisk the confectioners’ sugar, honey, vanilla, and buttermilk together until smooth, adding water if necessary to make a thick, barely pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze (or pour it right out of the bowl) along the crown of the cake, allowing it to ooze down the inside and outside of the cake. Sprinkle the nuts over the glaze, if desired. Once the glaze has dried, the cake keeps well, covered in plastic wrap at room temperature, for up to 3 days.

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Filed under bread, Breakfast, Cakes, Dishing Up Washington, recipe

All the single ladies

Kabocha Cake with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting 2

I don’t plan on being single anytime soon. But these days, since Jim is spending almost a month at sea for work, the way I plan my life feels different. I don’t really leave time for those slow weeknight meals, the kind that gently unfold once everyone’s home. It’s not that I mind cooking for just myself and a three-year-old. It’s that somehow, spending the evenings with other moms and their kids—having mediocre pizza, or a cacophonous dinner at our favorite pho place, or just hanging out at home, piling a few kids into someone’s bathtub after the inevitable toddler drama—feels easy.

I don’t know what I’d do without these ladies. They know each other, but they’re not necessarily friends. Many of them float into and out of my life from week to week or month to month, by accident or necessity, depending on the season. What they don’t know is that at times like these, when I’m balancing work and life and a kid without hands-on help from my husband, I line them up like helpful little G.I. Janes, one night after another. One stops at the store for me for milk. One helps when I back over my son’s walker with the car. Another picks all my ripe grapes, because she knows I don’t like Concords and they’ll be a mess if I don’t take care of them. Unknowingly, each one helps with these single little acts of kindness, adding up to make these weeks not just doable, but enjoyable, and not at all single-feeling. I love them for it. This weekend, Graham and I will head to Boise to visit my parents (his first visit since 2009), and some of those ladies will take turns walking the dog and petting the cat and watering the vegetables, supporting me in much more tangible (but actually less important) ways.

I made this homey little gluten-free breakfast cake for them. It’s a fallish squashy sort of a thing, scented with allspice and topped with a fluff of honey-sweetened cream cheese frosting. I’ll take a piece with us on the airplane—because wouldn’t you?—and leave the rest on the kitchen counter, so that as they come and go, these friends that make my life whole, they can stop for a bite. They’ll cut jagged pieces from the pan, or maybe even dig in directly, with a fork, and hopefully, they’ll taste the sweetness they’re giving me each day.

honey-cream cheese frosting

Kabocha Cake with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting (PDF)

Every fall, as soon as the leaves show the faintest hint of color, I bring a kabocha squash home. Roasted (whole, stem and all) in the oven at about 400° for an hour or so, a volleyball-sized kabocha yields about six cups of mashed squash. In our house, it goes into simple cakes and muffins—if I’m not eating it straight off the roasting pan with a spoon, like baby food.

This cake is tinged with allspice and flavored with honey, but you could use any fall spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom come to mind as excellent substitutions) and substitute maple syrup or sugar for the honey, if you prefer. Since it’s not too sweet, I like it best for breakfast.

Makes one 8-inch square cake

Dry ingredients
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup millet flour
3/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fresh ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients
2 cups mashed cooked kabocha squash (or one 15-ounce can pumpkin)
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup milk (cow’s milk or rice milk)
1/3 cup liquefied coconut oil (warm before measuring)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting ingredients
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with oil or butter, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Whisk the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until no white spots remain.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cake is firm in the center and just beginning to brown at the edges. Cool to room temperature.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the frosting ingredients together on medium speed for 2 minutes, until fluffy. Spread the frosting onto the cake, and serve.

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, gluten-free, recipe

Sated

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread 2

I’ve never been the type of person who is capable of forgetting to eat a meal. I don’t get it. Telling me you forgot to eat lunch is like saying you forgot how to walk, or you just up and forgot how to breathe. Eating, to me, is an involuntary activity. I don’t remind my heart to keep beating, either.

But as natural and deeply ingrained as hunger for food is, hunger for other things often escapes me. I forgot, for example, how hungry I could be for the deep, careful, knowing bond between old friends.

I didn’t mean to forget. I think about these college girls all the time. We email, and call occasionally. But spending a weekend with them—a relaxing, schedule-free, unproductive, coffee-drinking, couch-and-beach weekend—filled me up in a way I didn’t even know I needed. I’d simply forgotten that I needed to sit on a beach in someone else’s lawn chairs, giggling and interrupting and squealing and volleying hard questions back and forth across the sand.

Friends can be more sating than food that way. It’s quenching, when someone knows you well enough to both tease you in just the right way and buy you the right chicken salad from the deli. When you watch other people’s children play and see a friend’s smile in someone so small. When you know it’s okay to pick that little person up and swing her around, because somehow, deep down, she knows you’re not a stranger.

I was sad when the weekend ended. But in a strange way, I’m glad it did. I came home with a different awareness of what might constitute “need.” I came home thinking What am I hungry for?

It’s a loaded question, of course. The first thing that hit me was a need for normalcy in the kitchen. Tomorrow marks one year of eating gluten-free for me. And as much as I’ve learned new things in the kitchen—learned to love new ingredients, and cook with a different chemistry in mind, and avoid things that aren’t good for me—I’ll admit I haven’t quite achieved a feeling of normalcy when I pick up a knife or turn on the stove. I came home feeling motivated to find the new normal I’ve been avoiding–and odd sensation to bring home from a girls’ weekend, but one I need to address nonetheless.

And so it begins: a long, exciting, maybe challenging tour of my stomach’s memory. I want new normals for the staples of my past. For me, since I started baking before I started cooking, this probably means treats. It means chocolate chip cookies and cakes and sweets. And given my penchant for the stuff, it certainly means banana bread.

Here’s one that started with a look inside Deliciously G-Free, a book I’m admittedly biased against simply because it has a too-perfect face on the cover. I started with her banana bread. I got as far as mixing the dry ingredients together before taking a sharp turn off the page (which, for me, is later than most days). I kept the brown rice flour base, but incorporated almond flour, quinoa flour, and cocoa powder, twisting the recipe from banana bread into something more toastable, and perhaps a little sweeter.

I don’t want to say I was surprised. But, well, yeah. I was surprised. It looked like a chocolate snack cake I wanted to dig into any hour of the day. It sliced like banana bread, only the crumb was sturdier, so it was toastable. It even traveled well. I smuggled it in my purse to a doctor’s appointment when I didn’t have time for breakfast, wrapped in a paper towel that didn’t quite contain the crumbs. I served it for dessert, next to scoops of vanilla ice cream. I toasted it for a snack for Graham, who looked around guiltily as he ate, bewildered, wondering what alien force had persuaded his mother to offer him chocolate bread in the middle of the afternoon.

And now, with one lonely heel resting on the cutting board, wavering in that ill-defined space between being saved (because it’s so worthy) or forgotten (because there’s another loaf in the oven), my house smells like a home. My house smells normal.

And, at least in the banana bread department, I’m sated.

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread whole

Chocolate-Almond Banana Bread (PDF)
First inspired by the banana bread recipe in Deliciously G-Free by Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Ballantine, 2012), this sliceable snacking cake is part breakfast, part dessert, and part all irresistable. If you’re looking for something closer to dessert, substitute chocolate chips for the almonds.

Active time: 20 minutes
Makes one 8- by 4-inch loaf

Vegetable-oil spray
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium-sized ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/3 cup milk (or chocolate milk, if you have it)
1 cup whole toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan with waxed paper (use a piece as big as the pan is long, don’t worry about covering the short ends) and spray the paper and exposed pan parts with the vegetable-oil spray. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the brown rice flour, almond meal, arrowroot starch, quinoa flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum. Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on low speed between each addition. Add the vanilla, mashed banana, and milk, and mix on low speed for another minute or so.

Add the dry ingredients, and mix again on low speed until no dry spots remain, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula if necessary. Gently fold the nuts in by hand.

Dump the batter into the prepared pan (the batter will come almost to the rim), smooth the top, and bake on the oven’s middle rack until the center of the bread springs back to the touch, 60 to 70 minutes.

Transfer the loaf pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Using the waxed paper, gently lift the bread out of the pan and let it cool another 30 minutes or so before slicing.

To store, let the bread cool completely, then wrap in plastic and store at room temperature up to 3 days.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, recipe, snack, soy-free

This cherry’s got moves

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I like to think of myself as open-minded, but I’ve always considered myself above Jell-O. I’m above Rainier cherries, also, in part because they’re too damned sweet and too damned pretty, but mostly because once, on Cape Cod, I overheard a woman telling her daughter that “rainy-er” cherries come from the rainier part of Washington. If there’s a way to kill a fruit’s glamour, that’s it, right there. I know I’m a loner for it, but I don’t like Rainiers.

But oh, the Orondo Ruby. When a friend in Wenatchee, WA – a fruit guy and cider maker I met writing Dishing Up Washington, which, for the record, is completely, totally, 100% finished and heading to the printing press – offered to send me some new kind of cherry, I assumed it would be red. Sure, I said. I’ve only met one cherry I didn’t love. I didn’t have time to consider a wooden crate full of jumbo-sized cherries that must be the love child of Rainiers and something much darker and spunkier, like a Benson or a Vans. But by the time I’d bitten through his crisp scarlet skin (yes, with a name like Orondo, he has to be male), the tartness had taken hold, and I couldn’t fault him for the light flesh. This cherry, he’s more striking than any I’ve seen – Orondos aren’t native latinos (they’re from Orondo, WA), but the name fits because deep down, this cherry is a flamenco dancer. This cherry moves. He’s sweet, but he’s also quite sassy. I am in love.

But before all that, when the box landed on my doorstep, I knew the Orondos were too pretty for pie. (Nobody puts Baby in the corner.) So I decided to pile them up in a tart, sliced any which way, to show off the contrast in color between the skins and the flesh. Simple enough right?

Not really. Because in my cooking lexicon, a tart piled with raw fruit has always had a crust made with wheat flour and a filling made with eggs. And I’m not eating wheat flour or eggs these days.

Here’s where the Jell-O thing comes in. The crust was easy enough – a quickly-stirred mixture of quinoa, coconut, and almond flours, along with some chia seeds that work amazingly well as a binder, and I had a beautiful, sweet crust that was much easier to handle (no pie weights!) than many traditional ones.

But the filling. (Damn the egg thing.) I wanted to stay away from dairy, not because I’m avoiding dairy, but because I’m suddenly hyper-aware of food allergies. (You read this, didn’t you?) Well, that, and the coconut flour in the crust had me hankering for something more exotic. So that blushing, sweet center? It’s essentially homemade coconut-cherry Jell-O. As in, made with gelatin. As in, creamy tart filling I can eat. As in, I am suddenly a fan of using gelatin and of cherries with light, sweet flesh.

New things are wonderful, aren’t they?

Coconut Cream Tart with Cherries and Chia Seeds (PDF)
You can use any type of cherries for this slightly quirky tart, but note that dark red ones (rather than the light-fleshed Orondo Ruby or Rainier cherries) will bleed their juices onto the filling a bit. Look for ingredients like coconut, quinoa, and almond flours and chia seeds in the baking section of a health foods store, or in a large yuppie market like Whole Foods.

Note that because nut and seed flours have such different textures, it’s best to measure them by weight, if you can.

Active time: About 1 hour
Makes 1 9-inch tart

For the crust
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup (30g) coconut flour
1/2 cup (60g) almond flour
1/2 cup (60g) quinoa flour
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the cherry-coconut cream
1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk, stirred
1/4 cup cold water
1 packet powdered gelatin (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1 pound fresh, firm cherries, pitted and halved or sliced, for topping the tart

First, make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place a nonstick 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and set aside.

Blend the flax seeds with the hot water in a small bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk the coconut, almond, and quinoa flours together with the chia seeds and salt. Add the brown rice syrup, brown sugar, olive oil, and flax mixture, and mix and mash the crust with a large fork until no dry spots remain and the mixture looks like cookie dough.

Dump the crust into the tart pan, and use your hands to squish it into a roughly even layer on the bottom and sides, taking care not to make the corners too thick. (It should be about 1/4 inch thick on all sides.)

Bake the crust for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside.

Meanwhile, make the cherry-coconut cream: Pulse the pitted cherries in a food processor until finely chopped, about 10 one-second pulses. Transfer them to a medium saucepan, add the 1/2 cup sugar, and bring the mixture to a strong simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes more, until thickened slightly.

Transfer 2 cups of the cherry-coconut cream to a medium bowl. (You’ll only need the 2 cups. Eat the rest.) Place the 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water, stirring until the mixture looks like applesauce. Place the bowl in a pan filled with about an inch of boiling water, and stir the gelatin mixture until it turns clear. Add this clear liquid to the warm measured filling, stir well, and pour the filling into the tart crust.

Let the tart cool to room temperature, then transfer the tart to the refrigerator. Chill until the filling is firm, about 4 hours.

Just before serving, pile the halved or sliced cherries on top of the crust (you can be fancy, if you’d like, but plopping them on works just as well), and serve.

Note: Here’s a great primer from David Lebovitz on how to use gelatin.

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The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project 2012

Chocolate-Basil Passover Cake

I’m just Jewish enough that every April, I remember Passover’s coming. I remember matzo ball soup and brisket and that we should all feel very lucky, but I never quite remember the Passover story. I know there was something about Moses and a basket, but who’s son was he again? And what’s this about parting the Red Sea? Or was it the Black Sea? Forget remembering all four questions.

Luckily, I have a brother who remembers everything, and can write. Every year, Uncle Josh’s Haggadah Project (PDF) frames the Passover story in modern times, pairing a practical Seder guide (which I desperately need) with political commentary.

Take the story of Moses:

Although a child of extreme privilege, as Moses grew he became aware of the slaves who worked for and were laid off by his adoptive father at his corporate offices around the world. When Moses saw that his new father figure made millions of dollars and paid an effective 15% tax rate while the other 99% of the population paid more while trying to make ends meet on measly salaries, he joined the “Occupy Giza” Movement and wound up killing a distracted CEO who wandered into the camp while making deals on his Blackberry.

Or the tale of why the Jews made matzah:

Fearful that that the sometimes progressive but often backward magic underwear Pharaoh would change his mind, our people fled in a hurry. Instead of packing fresh bagels and lox and a nice baguette with organic brie like they imagined normal Jews would, you know, if they ever went camping, our people had to slap together some flour and water and bake it pronto. Only later did they realize the stuff had the texture of saltines and the flavor of cardboard. We called it Matzah, and we eat it as a mitzvah eight days a year instead of bread, which always seems like a good idea on the first night but gets old after half a box.

On the first night of Passover, I’ll make a chametz-filled cake in the shape of a train for my kid’s third birthday, and forget Passover exists. On the second night, I’ll do brisket or chicken or whatever seems most Passover to me at the time, and I’ll read Uncle Josh’s Haggadah, which is themed “for the Great Recovery” this year. (That seems so appropriate for me.) We’ll eat flourless chocolate cake spiked with basil. On the third night, I’ll celebrate Easter with my husband’s family, and we’ll eat leftover cake and I’ll feel guilty we’re not doing Seder twice, like some people do.

And then I’ll take another bite of cake.

Uncle Josh’s Haggadah Project 2012 (PDF of full Haggadah, by Joshua Howe)

Chocolate-Basil Passover Cake (PDF)
A true torte typically replaces a cake’s flour with nuts or breadcrumbs, so I won’t call it that, but this deeply chocolaty, dense confection, rimmed with dark ganache, just almost too decadent for the word cake. It’s a take-off on a chocolate-basil truffle I tasted Seattle’s Theo Chocolate a few years back.

Note: If you have a double boiler, use that to melt the chocolate.

TIME: 40 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings

For the cake:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (65% to 75% cacao)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 packed cup fresh basil (leaves only)
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

For the ganache:
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (65% to 75% cacao)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and center a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of wax paper or parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Place the butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan and melt over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the mixture is smooth, transfer to a large mixing bowl, stir in the vanilla and salt, and set aside.

Next, make a basil sugar: pulse the sugar and the basil together in a food processor until the basil is very finely chopped and uniformly green in color. The sugar will look slightly wet.

Add the basil sugar to the chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, blending completely between additions. Sift the cocoa powder over the batter and fold it in until no dry spots remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.

Bake the cake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top of the cake barely begins to crack. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a round serving plate.

While the cake cools, make the ganache: place the chocolate and the cream in a small saucepan, and stir constantly over very low heat until melted and smooth. Using a flat spatula or knife, spread the ganache over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides, if desired. (Hint: Using the ganache immediately will mean a thin coating that drips easily down the sides of the cake; in this case, it’s best to frost the cake over a cooling rack, then transfer it to a serving plate. You can also let the ganache cool a bit, then spread it just on the top, more like a thin frosting.)

Serve warm or at room temperature. To store, let cool completely, then cover and keep at room temperature up to 3 days.

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Spiders

Apricot Yogurt Cake

Yesterday morning, I saw a teensy orange spider crawling up an invisible ladder through the air, speeding toward the edge of my kitchen counter. Just when he reached the underneath corner, he fell down about four inches and bounced a little, right in midair. He climbed again, and dropped again, over and over. He tumbled enough times that I found myself staring at him, coffee cup caught halfway to my lips, saying, “Buddy, I get it. I’m right there with you.” I laughed a little. Then I caught myself having a heart-to heart with a spider, so I drank my coffee.

It’s been a fall-and-climb-back-up-again kind of time around here. It’s been shingles and coughs and sad family times, mixed with summer and Not Summer and snails eating my strawberries. The spider reminded me that we’re not always climbing up. We have to fall sometimes. That’s nature. But a few hours after my wildlife encounter, my sketchy biology knowledge came screaming in, and I realized Mr. Spider had been building a web. I don’t typically take my life lessons from eight-legged creatures, but in my desperate attempt to make sense of his daily endeavors, it occurred to me that maybe I should think of life as more of a web than a one-way trajectory. We build, then we fall, and someday, the pattern supports us when we need it.

That cake up there has had some up and down days, too. First, it was an apricot upside-down cake, still made with yogurt, but crowned with a swath of fire. It looked nice enough, until we ate it, and discovered that with apricots just on the top, there wasn’t nearly enough fruit flavor for the thickness of the cake itself. So I toyed with it, and gently folded the apricots right into the batter—and used more of them. I guess in name, the dessert was demoted from upside-down cake, which sounds somehow special, to just cake with fruit (not to be confused with fruitcake). So it’s no wonder it didn’t look quite as spiffy. In fact, when it came out of the oven, all puffed up about the apricot slices being inside, I could see it sort of pouting, despite the extra sparkle I put on top. It’s hard to tell a cake it was never meant to be prom queen.

But she is what she is. This is not a cake that struts across the table. And as I learned, this is not a birthday cake. (Although I should have known better, I’d hoped to put fancy candles in it for my sister’s birthday, but when it came out of the oven, I knew it wouldn’t be right.) This is the cake that stands quietly in the corner while the pretty girls get picked, until someone realizes that under humble crumb and awkward flecks of orange, there’s a bite that pits the tang of the season’s first apricots and tart plain yogurt against the sweetness of sugar in just the right way. This is the cake that eats just as well after two days as it did after two hours—whether you’re up or down or somewhere in between. It’s made with whole-wheat pastry flour, but it’s not dry or too, uh, healthy tasting. You could use regular all-purpose flour, of course. Either way, she’s the kind of cake you make when other things just aren’t going all that well, because you know she’ll be there for you.

The next time I feel like I’m on the downside of web building, I’ll make it again—maybe with raspberries, or blueberries, or plums. I’ll spoon a mascarpone whipped cream on top, because I’ll remember it, next time. Then I’ll sit down with a fork, and a cup of coffee, and watch for spiders.

But for now, I’m up, because an advance copy of my first cookbook just arrived on my doorstep. And the cover is puffy, people.

Apricot Yogurt Cake (PDF)

Topped with a flurry of turbinado sugar, this cake has a bit of a crunchy top, like a muffin—the perfect counterpoint to its moist, tender texture. The apricots make it rather delicate, so be gentle as you flip it out of the pan (or scoop the slices right out when the cake is still hot). This cake would love a scoop of mascarpone cheese-spiked whipped cream.

Active time: 15 minutes
Makes one 8-inch cake

Butter and flour for the pan
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 medium firm-ripe apricots, pitted and cut into 8 slices each
1/4 cup turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with the butter and coat with a thin layer of flour. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until blended. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla, then stir it into the egg mixture.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, and fold them in until all the flour has been incorporated. Gently fold in the fruit.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and pat down any wayward apricots. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar in an even layer over the batter. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes on the middle rack, or until the cake is puffed, golden, and beginning to brown at the edges. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter, and serve warm.

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Passover for procrastinators

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake 2

It’s a shame that my brother’s an environmental historian, because he’d make a damned fine food writer. He’d be one of those issues writers, verbose (in a good way) about Things That Need To Be Discussed. He’d be a good raw milk advocate, and he’d detail the best way to cure venison sausage, and he’d write about how a stranger fries trout in Tennessee, if there are really good trout in Tennessee. (I’m not one to know.) And every April, his Haggadah (PDF) – the religious guide to the Jewish Passover service that’s traditionally done the same way every year – would be anticipated like the New Yorker’s cartoon issue.

That’s how I see it. It’s not that I look forward to The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project – that’s what we’ve all come to call it, my family and the separate group of friends he shares Passover with each year in San Francisco – because I’m so into religion. On the contrary, I only really like the tradition of Passover because it instigates a familial bond we might not otherwise get every year when April rolls around. I don’t really observe, if by observe you mean cutting out everything but matzo. (I do add matzo to my diet, though, and as my sister points out, it makes fine fodder for a prosciutto and cream cheese sandwich, which is obviously Kosher.) I stink at remembering the story, and frankly, I don’t find it all that interesting, which means that reliably, on the day Passover starts, I’m frisking the internet for a dummy’s guide to the Seder plate when I get a nice long email from Josh. I know that makes me the world’s worst Jew, but seriously, doesn’t the whole schmegegge about Moses floating down the Nile in a wicker basket get more interesting when you learn that it was found on Craigslist, listed as a two-bedroom with on-site laundry?

Here, celebrating means channelling Josh’s voice, and a proper feast, and not much on the religious front.

This year, I’ll be celebrating with my husband and Graham, who might be actually old enough to find the matzo. My mom will be here, as will my sister, and whichever soul walks past the door when we open it. We’ll start with artichokes with homemade garlic aioli, then we’ll have matzo ball soup, fragrant with lemon peel and peppered with parsley. There will be brisket with carrots and parsnips, and sautéed spring greens, and roasted potatoes. And then, when we can’t possibly eat a bite more, we’ll have cake.

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake 1

Flourless cake is the Kate Moss of the pastry world. It always seems like it should be too anemic to stand up, but there it is, beautiful, even if you wish you didn’t think so. This version, structured with almond meal and eggs and flavored with bananas and cocoa, isn’t exactly congruent with the whole doing without concept that surrounds Passover. But you know what? Once you take a bite, I’m not sure you’ll be all that concerned.

Flourless Chocolate-Banana-Almond Cake (PDF)
Flourless cakes have been a Passover staple for ages. Although this simple, satisfying cake is made without chametz, you may find yourself making it all year long, because it carries the flavor of a chocolate-infused banana bread but only takes half the time to bake. The cream cheese ganache that tops it is like a cross between whipped cream and cream cheese frosting—serve it dolloped on top of the cake, with extra sliced bananas.

Time: 20 minutes active time
Makes: 8 servings

For the cake
Vegetable oil spray
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the cream cheese ganache
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup regular cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Note: If you can’t find almond meal, make your own: Toast slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Let cool completely, then grind cooled nuts in a food processor or coffee grinder.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-inch cake pan with the vegetable oil spray. Line the pan with a round of parchment paper, and spray the parchment. Set aside.

Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl with a large fork, then stir in the sugar, honey, salt, and vanilla. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs for about 1 minute on medium speed, or until foamy. Add the sweetened banana mixture, and mix again on medium-high speed until very smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond meal and cocoa powder, and mix on low speed until well blended. Add the canola oil, and pour the batter into the prepared pan. (It will be thin.)

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake is slightly domed and firm in the center. Cool cake 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto cooling rack (run a small knife around the edges if necessary), then invert again onto a plate.

While the cake cools, make the cream cheese ganache: Beat the butter and cream cheese in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Add the cold cream and sugar, and whip again on high speed, scraping the bowl occasionally, for a minute or two, until light and fluffy.

Serve the cake with the cream cheese ganache, topped with extra banana slices.

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A sweet gift

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread 1

I know! I know. I’ve been gone.

It’s not that I haven’t been cooking. On the contrary, I’ve been cooking like a maniac. I’m working on a recipe development project for a corporate client, which means most workdays, three or four recipes come streaming out of my pen. So I’ve been cooking – that is, when I’m not planning, shopping, researching, or typing. There’s a little army of Tupperware containers marching out my front door every day, headed to neighbors and friends, because we simply cannot eat the volume I’ve been producing.

I’ve loved it, except for three things: First, the culinary brainstorming involved has left me spent in the ideas department. When we have room for a meal I don’t have to write about, I’ve been gravitating toward the simplest things. Lettuce from the back yard with oil and vinegar. Grilled asparagus. Cereal for breakfast. Cereal for dinner.

I also don’t like how when you sell a recipe to someone, you don’t always get to sell the exact recipe you wanted to create. (I once heard something about the customer always being right . . .)

The project, unfortunately, also does not involve much baking. I thought this was a good thing, when I took it on, but I didn’t account for 55 degrees and raining on the first morning in July.

This morning, I addressed all three, with a simple, unique-to-me, warming cornbread recipe that hits the dessert key without being overly sweet. I’ll bring one loaf as a gift this weekend, when we camp at a friend’s cabin in the mountains, and we’ll eat the other for breakfast in our tent, smeared with jam and probably a little dirt, when Graham gets up at 5 a.m.

Happy 4th.

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread 2

Sweet Rosemary Cornbread (PDF)

If you’re giving the bread as a gift, or just want it to look extra adorable, pop a sprig of fresh rosemary onto the batter before the bread goes into the oven. Then hurry it to the lucky recipient while it’s still warm, with good butter and a jar of creamed honey.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 2 (8” by 4”) loaves

Vegetable oil spray or butter, for greasing pans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two (8” by 4”) loaf pans, and set aside.

Whisk the dry ingredients to blend in a large bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients together in a different bowl, then add to the dry ingredients, and stir until no dry spots remain.

Divide the batter between the prepared loaf pans, smooth with a spatula, and bake until brown at the edges and just cracking in the center, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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A banana bread epiphany

Chocolate-Covered Walnut Banana Bread (blurry)

If you squint, this banana bread doesn’t look much different from your average chocolate- and walnut-stuffed rendition. It’s perfectly moist. It makes a house smell like there’s something good about gray fifty-degree days in mid-June. But open your eyes, and you’ll see that the walnuts are actually coated in the chocolate first. Open your mouth, and you’ll get one fantasy bite after the next, all crunchy and chocolaty and soft at the same time.

Last weekend, we stayed with my aunt and uncle in Berkeley. In the morning, there was banana bread, which we toasted and slathered with butter using sturdy Swedish wooden spoons. The first day, I couldn’t put my finger on what was so delicious. But the second day, picnicking on the carpet at the Oakland airport, I realized the walnuts were actually individually coated in chocolate – an effect that, for whatever reason, absolutely makes a difference.

I’m not sure where my aunt’s bread was from – whether she made it herself or bought it somewhere – but an hour after our wheels touched down at SeaTac, I was at the grocery store, buying the ripest bananas I could find.

I’d like to introduce you to my new favorite banana bread. Can someone please help me articulate why it’s so much better than banana bread with chocolate and walnuts stirred in?

I’m convinced. I’m just not quite sure why.

Chocolate-Covered Walnut Banana Bread

Chocolate-Covered Walnut Banana Bread (PDF)

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: 2 loaves

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups whole walnuts (toasted, if you’d like)
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (from 3 large, ripe bananas, a little more or less won’t hurt)

Melt the chocolate chips slowly over low heat in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Add the walnuts and turn to coat all the pieces evenly. Spread the nuts out on a large piece of waxed paper so they’re not touching each other, and let cool until the chocolate has hardened.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8” x 4” loaf pans (or spray them with a baking spray that claims to do the same job), and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a mixing bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream 1 1/2 sticks butter and both sugars together on high speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until blended between additions and scraping the side of the bowl when necessary. Add the vanilla and the mashed banana, and stir until blended. Add the dry ingredients about a third at a time, mixing on low just until blended between additions, then gently stir in the chocolate-covered walnuts by hand.

Divide the batter evenly between the loaf pans, smooth the batter flat, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the tops are browned and beginning to crack and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out with just a few crumbs attached.

Cool in pans until comfortable to touch, then remove from pans and cool completely on a cooling rack. Store up to 3 days at room temperature, well wrapped, or freeze up to 3 months.

chocolate-covered walnuts

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A ten-minute cake

Buttermilk Banana Cake 3

The story that accompanies this cake is extremely short: I’m on an insane dose of steroids. Steroids make a person hungry. They make me crave, in particular, anything remotely sweet. (Steroids also make you believe you’re invincible, which is why I reorganized the living room and four bookshelves this weekend.)

I’ve made it twice now, in three days. It’s the love child of banana bread and the simplest vanilla cake, just sturdy enough to carry across the living room in the palm of your hand, if you’re into that sort of thing, but sweet enough to dependably call a dessert.

The first time, I noticed that it only took me about ten minutes to scrape together. The second time, it took 8, but then I realized I’d already heated the oven and the milk and eggs were out on the counter. That adds a portion of a minute, easily.

So it might take you eleven minutes. Twelve, if you’re a deliberate masher or if you have an unreasonably large kitchen.

For the record, the kind of steroids I’m on do not make one a better athlete. Unless eating cake is a sport. In that case, sign me up.

Buttermilk Banana Cake whole

Ten-Minute Buttermilk Banana Cake (PDF)

Laced with cardamom, this stir-and-dump cake is a good, reliable crutch for the dessert-desperate. Serve the cake warm, with whipped cream and sliced bananas, if you’re so inspired.

TIME: 10 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, well mashed
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of another mixing bowl. Add the sugar, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and the oil, and gently fold the batter together with a spatula, just until no dry spots remain.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center.

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge. Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate. Serve warm.

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The macaroon I was craving

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake 2

These days, because Graham prefers to monopolize one of my upper appendages at all times with his babooning, my recreational kitchen activity falls into two distinct camps: Things I Can Do While My Child Naps and Things I Cannot Start Until He Goes to Bed. In the former group, I place things like “eat a bowl of cereal,” “empty the dishwasher,” and “throw a salad together for lunch.” Since this time of year, most produce hasn’t quite mastered the art of needing nothing, these are not usually exciting things. The latter hosts more ambitious projects, like making a few pans of lasagna for the freezer, or a batch of chicken and kale stew – you know, useful, dinnerish things. This is not a time in my life for French onion soup, or homemade pasta, or for fancy layer cakes.

But somehow, late last week, in the space of a morning nap, I made a macaroon cake.

By now, you must know I have a weakness for simple cakes. To qualify as “simple,” there are criteria to meet: A simple cake must be made in one bowl, without the aid of anything electric. It must be single-layer. It must beckon the next day at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m. And, above all, it must be flexible – gussy-up-able for a party, or delicious made in its absolute simplest form, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, and eaten straight out of the pan. Simple cakes are the favorite jeans of the dessert world. (Last week, I retired my favorite jeans. It was time; jeans make better doors than windows. I’m a wreck about it.)

I thought, when I slid it into the oven, that this was a cake that wanted a little drama. It had been so simple to make – just a little melting, a little whisking, and a little folding, plus enough coconut to satisfy last week’s macaroon issue. I thought I heard it cry for frills and lace, in the form of a flood of deep chocolate ganache and a blizzard of toasted large-flake coconut. I melted chocolate. I toasted coconut. Only, when the cake came out, it cried louder to be eaten. I listened. (Pay close attention, readers. Anthropomorphizing desserts enables you to excuse any lack of self-restraint in the kitchen.)

When you have a cake that’s less patient than an almost-one-year-old, there’s not much you can do. I recommend taking a seat on the porch steps, just inside the shade line, so you (and perhaps a small hipster) can watch the camellias absorb a warm spring afternoon. I’m not sure there’s anything nicer.

Well, okay. Two slices is pretty nice, too.

(You Passover people: I’d be willing to bet it’d be fabulous with a scoop of Coconut Bliss.)

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake

Double Chocolate Macaroon Cake (PDF)

It’s a cake. No, it’s a chocolate macaroon. No, wait, it’s a cake. It’s both! Stuffed with coconut but stirred and baked like a regular cake, this sweet confection is quick to make and absolutely satisfying. Eat it straight up, right out of the pan like brownies, or fancy it up with a drizzle of ganache and a flurry of toasted coconut. (For real drama, make two, and layer it up.) My preference is somewhere in between—topped simply, with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Note: I melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave with good results. In my appliance, two 30-second increments on high power (stirring in between) works well.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (65% to 75% cacao)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
1 cup unsweetened medium-shredded coconut (such as Bob’s Red Mill)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and center a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of waxed paper or parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Place the butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan and melt over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as the mixture is smooth, transfer to a large mixing bowl, and stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, blending completely between additions. Sift the cocoa powder over the batter and fold it in gently with a spatula until no dry spots remain. Fold in the coconut, then pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake the cake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges of the cake just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center is puffed. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack, then again onto a round serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature. To store, let cool completely, then cover and keep at room temperature up to 3 days.

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Filed under Cakes, dessert, gluten-free, jewish, recipe

A cure for cooktongue

Pear Cream Cake 1

I love Thanksgiving, when it’s in the kitchen, because it condenses all the ups and downs of cooking into just a few short hours. There’s the thrill of a big, brown bird, so heavy it takes two to baste. The disappointment of bland pureed meat from a too-boring pumpkin. The challenge of making whipped cream biscuits early in the morning with two crying babies, even when there are four hands. The carrots that sagged when I orphaned them on the stove for just a minute too long.

Gosh, that’s looking an awful lot like a meal I didn’t love.

I did, though. I loved it. It just took me three days.

Maybe I had a case of cooktongue. You know, cooktongue: the inevitable disease one acquires when cooking for too many people for too long. Serious side effects include food tasting terrible no matter the seasoning, boredom with dishes that usually excite, and difficulty chewing.

Our guests said dinner was good, but I thought they were just being nice. On Thursday, the only flavor I got was sawdust, ground to different consistencies and scattered around my plate. Before the pies came out, we wrapped a pretty platter of food up for E, who didn’t arrive until Friday. I was a bit wistful, shuffling it into the depths of the fridge, half hoping it would be forgotten. I hadn’t noticed the layers three different types of sausage created in the cornbread stuffing, or the hard cider in my sister’s first gravy, or the way a real, good ham coats the mouth with velvet.

Howes in the Hallway

What I did taste, while my cousin and my sister and I buzzed about on Thanksgiving day, was my family. I felt a laugh roll down my tongue and out into the air when I realized, after accusing them of gathering in the kitchen like a pack of rabid dogs, that a few of my female relatives had moved their semi-private conversation to the landing immediately outside the bathroom. (This is my family.)

Graham's Family Tree

I tasted Hong Kong, when my uncle described his meals at home there, and the sweet-and-sour fried eggplant he had at a guest house outside Beijing. I tasted the sweet potatoes, before feeding them to Graham, bourbon and all. I tasted the cold, wet air, as my cousin and I darted out the door for a massage, laughing, both of us having just found our children spots on the family baby-go-round. I tasted something between joy and happiness, peppered with satisfaction, each time a someone put a new handprint on Graham’s family tree. (Next, we’ll ask friends to add handprints in a different color.) And I tasted a little regret, for having committed to hosting Thanksgiving last year, when I didn’t know how I’d be feeling this year.

But for the most part, no, I did not taste the food in front of me.

Then Sunday afternoon, I woke up from a good, long nap, completely healed. E never got to her Thanksgiving plate, and when dinner rolled around, I put the entire thing in our new microwave. (We had a microwave before, but it lived, usually unplugged, in the basement. It’s a miracle, this thing, and much more useful living within arm’s reach of the refrigerator. Welcome to 1967, Jess.)

The kitchen itself is not anywhere close to healed, however. This morning, a glance up at the pot rack revealed my blue saucepan – the one we used to make a base for Friday’s turkey pot pie – clean inside but still dripping with gravy outside. There are little piles of flour in every countertop corner. Stray sprigs of thyme keep sticking to my socks. And inside the refrigerator – a fridge, I might add, that now has a broken drawer, a door handle that continually pops off, and a complaining freezer compressor – all balance has been erased.

It’s not that we have so much food left over – a roasting pan-sized pot pie does miracles for leftovers. (I insist you try it with bacon and Brussels sprouts next time. Really.)

It’s the dairy. It’s disturbing our refrigerator’s chi. At last count, I saw two quarts of heavy cream, one quart of half and half, one pint of half and half, a half gallon of eggnog, 2% milk, whole milk, whipped cream, and two half-used big containers of sour cream. That’s a lot of halves. In the produce department, we have half a head of kale, half a bag of cranberries, and a few onions. That’s it.

I have nothing against cream. (Clearly. If you’ve been here before, you know that.) I’m just afraid of wasting it.

So yesterday, at the risk of reinstating what my friend Kathy calls the Thanksgiving butter coma, I decided to make a cream cake.

I’d also filled a big bowl with crisp, fat red pears for the week. They’re just now finger-dentable. I thought of making pear clafoutis, but wanted something sliceable – something creamy and eggy, but not so dangerously (read: endlessly) spoonable. Something for snacking, but not a cake with bonafide crumb.

Pears for cream cake in pan

I cut the pears thin (no peeling required) and pinwheeled them into a springform pan. (Don’t panic. It turns out the pinwheel doesn’t matter, because the batter covers the pears almost entirely.) I whirled room temperature eggs and sugar together, spiked them with cream, and folded in just a bit of flour, for stability. As the cake baked it puffed – slowly at first, but eventually cracking in the center. It cooled quietly into a rich, custardy disc. Then it stood up and asked me to make another pot of coffee, STAT.

Unsugared Pear Cream Cake

Standing alone in my kitchen, forking bites in between sips, it tasted like an overgrown pear-studded crepe, caught halfway between breakfast and dessert, three-quarters of the way from cake to clafoutis.

Thank you, family, for coming. But thank you for going, too. I do believe this cooktongue thing has cleared up.

Pear Cream Cake 2

Red Pear Cream Cake (PDF)
Caught between cake and clafoutis, this rich, custardy dessert is actually best for breakfast. Use pears that are just ripe enough to dent with your fingers near the top.

TIME: 20 minutes prep time
MAKES: 8 servings (or 2, if you’re me)

Butter, for greasing pan
2 large red pears (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and sliced 1/4” thick (no need to peel)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting), optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Use the butter to generously grease a 9” springform pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet, and arrange the pears on the bottom of the pan, overlaying them or stacking them so they’re in a roughly even layer.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs until blended on medium speed. Add the sugar in a slow, steady stream and mix until light, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the cream and vanilla, and mix again for 30 seconds or so. Sprinkle the dry ingredients on top, and mix by hand until just blended – the batter will be thinner than regular cake batter, and may have a few small lumps in it still.

Pour the batter over the pears, poking any stray fruit under the surface if it pops out. Bake 40 to 50 minutes on the middle rack, until set and puffed in the center and golden brown on top. (If the cake seems to be browning too quickly, place a baking sheet on a rack immediately above the cake for the remainder of the baking time.)

Let cool 10 minutes in the pan. Run a small knife around the edge of the cake, remove the outside ring of the springform pan, and let cool another 15 minutes or so before cutting and serving, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

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Filed under Cakes, fruit, recipe

A cake to crush on

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake 2

I saw you at the farmers’ market this weekend. You picked up a kabocha squash – that big, tough-looking green one, with the woody stump – and fairly considered it. You turned it around and around, right side-up and upside-down. It wasn’t without effort, of course – the weight of the thing made your market bag trip over your shoulder blade and careen down your upper arm, at which point you wondered how you’d get the beast home. Then your buddy said, “So, how do you think you get it open?” And I watched you put that poor squash down.

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but you made the wrong decision, sister. A kabocha squash can be a big thug of a thing, but it is not (despite those witchy warts and scars) actually scary or difficult to use.

And I don’t mean to be smug, but I should know. These days, with sore joints, a can opener is my nemesis; I do not cut hard things. The thought of hacking into anything tougher than a bagel (much less quartering a big ol’ squash) brings tears to my eyes. But I love kabocha. So my choices are threefold: 1) stop buying squash and be sad, 2) let my husband finally buy the Samurai sword he’s always wanted, and pray he doesn’t hurt the counters or himself, or 3) skip the farmers’ market and buy pre-cut squash at the grocery store.

tired tanned kabocha squash

But oh, wait. WAIT. There’s a fourth. See, you don’t actually have to cut into a kabocha before you cook it, if you want soft squash. You can just put it in the oven, stem and all, and roast away at 400 degrees. It comes out like I do after a too-long day at the beach—tanned and tired, a bit stinky and maybe a little slumpy. But it’s as easy to cut into as a stick of room-temperature butter. I almost snatched your sleeve to tell you, right there at the market booth, but that would have been so awkward and stalkerish.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake close

See, if I’d grabbed you, I would have had to tell you about my kabocha-maple bundt cake, too. As if you needed someone yakking to you about a cake that went out of style five decades ago. As if you need more kitchen equipment. I mean really, who owns a bundt cake pan anymore? I certainly didn’t. But last week, after testing a donut recipe for my friend Lara’s upcoming book (it’s tentatively called The Doughnut Cookbook, now who could argue with that?), one with an addictive maple glaze, I had maple glaze on my mind. It tangoed around in my brain with all sorts of ingredients, until settling on—well, drizzling down, really—the sides of a bundt cake hued with the rich, sweet flesh of a kabocha squash.

Bundt pan

I broke into my neighbor’s house to borrow a bundt cake pan. (Okay, maybe there was a key involved, but rifling through her cupboards with no one in the house, it felt like a break-in.) I stirred and whipped and mashed, until I had a butternut-orange batter tinged with maple syrup and spunked with sour cream. Up it baked, in a meticulously buttered and floured pan – in 40 minutes, which was less time than I expected – then out it came, gorgeous and spongy and smooth in all the right places and, I daresay, almost sexy. Aside from the oft-abused line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I’ve never given the bundt cake a second thought, but goodness, yes, they’re sexy, with all those curves. Add a quick maple-vanilla glaze and a sprinkling of nuts, and you’ve got a head-turner.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake TOP

But enough about the way she looks. I have to tell you this: She might be my best-tasting cake. Ever.

I’ve told you before that I’m not much of a cake person. I don’t like the way dry edges call out for frosting—in my opinion, a cake shouldn’t need frosting, and frosting shouldn’t need cake. Each should be delicious on its own, but they should complement each other when they’re put together. Like people, I guess. But like people, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. This cake is different. The glaze is diamonds on a woman too beautiful for jewelry: certainly not needed, but once they’re there, how could you take them off?

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake top

I love this cake because it’s equally appropriate for the plate at 8 a.m., 4 p.m., or 8 p.m. (and, I suspect, at 4 a.m., although I didn’t get the opportunity to try). I like it because I let it sit for two days before serving it to a crowd, and it was still perfectly moist. I like it because unlike a regular dessert cake, it’s hard for others to tell how big a piece you’re really cutting for yourself, so you can have ten little slivers, if that suits you, or one giant hunk, without looking like a princess or a pig. I like that it has a rich, dense crumb, all the way to the edges. I love that it’s easy to cut. And most of all, I love that nothing about making it hurts me right now.

The problem with kabocha, in my house, is that we never seem to have enough. Roasting up a soccer ball-sized specimen left me with about a quart of mashed squash, and I’m already panicking about how to use the last of it. Do I make another cake and freeze it for my mom’s visit next week? Or do I whirl it up in the blender with a bit of coconut milk and a dab of curry paste, for a quick lunch soup? Or do I sacrifice an ice cube tray, and freeze the rest into little cubes, for Graham to eat, once he gets past the initial shock of putting something besides milk in his mouth?

Oh, dear me. I might just have to roast another. I’ve actually just purchased my own bundt pan, so you can guess where the kabocha will most likely go. I want to try the cake with cardamom.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake CUT

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Bundt Cake with Maple-Vanilla Glaze (PDF)

Kabocha squash has a rich, yellowy flesh that mashes up soft and smooth (like canned pumpkin) when it’s cooked. To roast it, slice a kabocha roughly in half and remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop. Roast cut side-down on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet (no need to oil it) at 400 degrees until the skin is easy to poke with a fork, about an hour. (Timing will depend on the size and age of the squash.) Let the squash cool, peel away the skin and any other tough pieces, and mash the squash like you would potatoes, until smooth.

If you’re afraid of cutting the squash, you can also put the entire thing – stem and all – into the oven, and bake it a bit longer. Just be sure to scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff before you mash the flesh.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: About 16 servings

For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (at room temperature), plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (8 ounce container)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 packed cups mashed kabocha squash

For the glaze:
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons water (plus more, if necessary)
2 tablespoons chopped toasted nuts, such as hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously (and carefully) flour and butter a bundt cake pan, and set aside.

Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing between additions. Stir the sour cream, maple syrup, and vanilla together in a bowl. With the machine on low, alternate adding the dry and wet mixtures – first some of the flour, then some of the cream, then flour, cream again, and finally flour. When just mixed, add the squash, and mix on low until uniform in color.

Transfer the batter to the prepared bundt cake pan, smooth the top, and bake (I find it easier to transfer if it’s on a baking sheet) until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs, and the top springs back when touched lightly, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Kabocha-Maple Sour Cream Coffee Cake DRIPPING

Let the cake cool 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully invert onto a serving platter. When cool to the touch (after about an hour), make the glaze: Whisk the sugar, syrup, vanilla, and water together until smooth, adding additional water if necessary to make a thick, barely pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze (or pour it right out of the bowl) along the crown of the cake, allowing it to ooze down the inside and outside of the cake. Sprinkle immediately with nuts, if using.

Once the glaze has dried, the cake keeps well, wrapped in plastic, at room temperature, up to 3 days.

MAKE AHEAD: Cake can also be made ahead, wrapped in foil and plastic, and frozen up to 1 month. Glaze after defrosting at room temperature.

Dirty bundt pan

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, dessert, farmer's market, lupus, recipe, vegetables

A cake baked all at once

Blueberry Cake with Coconut Streusel 3

It’s a question that keeps coming up: Who is this person in my dryer?

I don’t mean there’s actually a human being in my dryer, of course. That would be mean, and very cramped (although not impossible, if the college story my friend tells is true).

I mean that every time I take clothing out of our dryer, I have a bit of an identity crisis. There are burp cloths tangled around maternity t-shirts, tiny diaper covers Velcroed to the thick seat of my bike shorts, and bras with much more infrastructure than previously necessary. I must look like a beginning stargazer, squinting sideways, mouth agape, as I try to identify each article: Mine? Graham’s? At least Jim’s clothes are all the same. But I keep wanting to ask: Who are we now?

The process of getting our clothes clean does seem to represent motherhood perfectly, though. I can almost always start a load of laundry, but the follow-through is inevitably not so hot. I’ll shove everything in and forget to turn the machine on, or put all the wet clothes on the line to dry and forget they’re there when it starts to pour rain. Or I’ll wash and dry everything just fine, and leave it smashed in the hamper for four whole days. It’s always something.

This is my new life. It doesn’t really bother me, all this underachieving in the laundry department. I’m getting used to not ever completing a single task all at once. I wash my hair in one showering, and condition it in the next. I water one half of the plants on the back porch, and hope I can return for the other half. I start a sentence and can’t quite . . .

The thing is, I really like seeing baby clothes on the line outside. I like that I never finish an email in one go, because there’s always something I’m more compelled to do. That something is my son. It’s cheesy, but it’s true. I’m happy for the distraction.

What does bother me is how the laundry concept translates to the kitchen – or doesn’t translate, as the case may be. You can’t start cooking chicken, get busy with a baby, and just serve the chicken raw. Dinner is not usually delicious half-cooked.

Oh, that? Honey, that’s a cake. I made it just for you, only I never got around to putting the batter in the oven. Sorry the candles don’t quite stand up.

Luckily, I have enough common sense – barely – to know that starting in on a batch of homemade ravioli is a really bad idea these days, if I actually want to serve it for dinner. Ditto for anything that requires attentive browning, or baking, or even a stir-fry that requires too much chopping. Or, for that matter, anything that has to be cooked by me, as opposed to my husband, who often swoops in mid-meal when Graham gets hungry or cranky. Simply put, I have abandoned the old kitchen Jess and developed a new persona there.

The new kitchen Jess has been doing things in 5-minute chunks. I’ll marinate chicken for the grill at 9 a.m., or cook wheat berries at 10 p.m., just because I know that chances are good our kid will be asleep at 11 p.m., when I need to take them off the stove. I cook simply, relying mostly on olive oil, salt, pepper, and good basic ingredients. I rarely make more than one thing that requires more than 10 minutes of my time, and – here’s the kicker, the biggest change – I almost never add additional tasks while I’m cooking, because putting the knife down to coo at Graham is way more fun (no offense) than, say, scribbling down a recipe for this here blog between stirs. Herego, the scrumptious recipes I do want to share, like the orrecchiette I sautéed last week with Swiss chard, tomatoes, and summer squash and drizzled with a goat cheese cream, never get written down. (Okay, so that one wasn’t so simple. Delicious, though.) Like the laundry, it’s not that I mind the new program, but it does take some adjusting.

The most basic problem with the new deal in the kitchen is that I don’t always get to eat what I want to eat. I’ve been eating cherries, but with the time required to pit the things, cherry pie is definitely out. The hubby has been requesting ribs, but I’m not sure I can hack the incessant basting required of my favorite recipe. My yearly batch of raspberry jam? Yeah, right.

Last weekend, when the glossy leaves of the huckleberry bushes we encountered on a hike reminded me of the Trafton family birthday cake, I started hankering for a fat, fluffy cake with berries buried in the bottom. I didn’t have to have the exact birthday cake – my birthday’s a month away still, after all – but something similar was in order, something rich but still light, made with the blueberries rolling out of our local markets right now. I needed a ten-minute blueberry cake. I assumed it would be weeks before I could get to it.

Then my Friday afternoon plans fell through. Exhausted by a 45-minute stint as Mr. Personality at my doctor’s office, Graham started rubbing his eyes – a first for him, talent-wise, and a sign I decided I shouldn’t ignore. I tucked him into his crib, and by the time his eyes were closed for good, I’d slid a cake into the oven. It took 15 minutes, to be honest, because at the last minute I snowed it with a coconut streusel, on a whim.

Graham stayed asleep for another hour. While the cake baked, I wandered around the house, collecting the sheets I left on the line outside overnight, putting away dishes I’d meant to put away that morning, replenishing the dog’s water. . . Then I just sat at the kitchen table with a glass of water, breathing in the scent of a cake baked from start to finish without any major distractions.

It’s a new kitchen, but it feels good to know that sometimes, I can make the same things. And some day, I know, baking a cake won’t seem like a big deal at all.

Blueberry Cake with Coconut Streusel
Blueberry Yogurt Cake with Coconut Streusel (PDF)

Made with honey-flavored Greek yogurt (I used the “Greek Gods” brand from Seattle), this cake is a tangy, airy, crunchy-topped celebration of summer. I like it best at about 4 in the afternoon.

TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 9 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup for streusel
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup large flake unsweetened coconut
1 cup sugar
1 cup Greek yogurt, preferably full fat and honey-flavored
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8” square (or 9” round) cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside to cool.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small mixing bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, make the streusel: stir together the remaining 1/4 cup flour, the brown sugar, and the coconut, and set aside.

In a big mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla together until blended. Add the melted butter in a slow, steady stream while whisking, then fold the dry ingredients in with a spatula until almost all the white is gone. Gently fold in the blueberries. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, smooth it flat with a small spatula, and top with the streusel.

Bake the cake on the middle rack for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cake is browned and firm in the center. Let cool 15 minutes in the pan before cutting into squares and serving.

Blueberry Cake with Coconut Streusel 2

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Filed under Cakes, fruit, recipe

Direction

Whole Wheat Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

I woke up directionless. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to do—no, not that. I have deadlines and edits to make, errands to run, things to do, just like every other day. And goodness knows I could certainly stand to pull those furry tomato plants from last summer out of the ground.

I just couldn’t get anything started.

I walked to the bathroom, and back into the bedroom. “I’m having trouble envisioning my day,” I told Jim. “Tell me what to do.”

Normally, this is not a problem. Normally, I have three days’ worth of Post-It notes fluttering around inside my brain. But we moved my office downstairs this weekend, and the little deer paths I’ve tread between rooms upstairs no longer lead me to the expected destinations. The Post-It notes are hidden under layers of thoughts about paint colors and blue sky days and all the little pieces of paper one finds behind a desk when one finally moves it.

“Go north,” said Jim. Smartass. I looked around—north was right back to bed. But I wasn’t really tired.

I headed to the kitchen, and took two sticks of butter out to soften. There, I thought. Now something will get done.

Butter has authority that way, in my kitchen. Put an apple on the counter, and it might just sit there for days, but when butter comes out to soften, it doesn’t stay long. Butter gets me moving.

Again, it worked. I puttered, and found a groove at the keyboard, and went for a walk, and when I came back, I needed pound cake.

I’m not talking about anything related to Sara Lee. I didn’t want it to be too heavy, and I wanted something that was as comfortable under a cloak of plain yogurt as it might be with a splash of heavy cream and a spoonful of lemon curd.

I know, I hear you: It’s pound cake. It has to weigh something.

Of course. But I knew there was a pound cake that sat more lightly in the stomach, one that was a smidge healthier. It wasn’t so long ago that we finished those cookies, after all.

I turned to a favorite pound cake recipe, one on the lighter side, from Maria Helm Sinskey’s book, The Vineyard Kitchen. Hers is soaked with a sugary lemon glaze that’s delicious, but not so healthybreakfasty. I brought in the whole wheat pastry flour, and scrapped the glaze, and by golly, didn’t it smell just like pound cake in about 30 minutes.

I was disappointed, though, by how it looked. All that whole wheat meant there was no sunny yellow top (I skipped the food dye, too), and no obviously spongy texture. It was not a cake I could physically wring the butter out of, and when it came out of the oven, I sort of missed that. I don’t think I’ve ever had—or even heard of—a whole wheat version, and I was afraid, at first, that I’d messed with something that should simply be enjoyed in its original state, or not at all.

vanilla bean pound cake with kathy's syrup

So I left it, for a few hours. Until I needed a snack. I sliced into it, and its texture—like a hybrid of pound cake and cornbread textures—crawled around in my mouth, exploring, breaking apart. It wasn’t heavy, but it was still sweet. Onto the plate it went, with that dollop of yogurt, and a good drizzle of Kathy’s maple syrup.

I sat. I ate. Then I had another piece, this time plain. And now, midway through the day, I’m grateful there’s no buttery sheen hanging around the corners of my mouth. It’s about time I found a pound cake that doesn’t ruin my dinner. Or my lunch, for that matter.

So it ain’t no Sara Lee. But I still love it—especially how without being soaked with a singular flavor, like lemon or almond, it has more flexibility to go from dessert to breakfast to snack, changing flavors every time. So no matter how much direction you have (or don’t), it works.

Pound cake with syrup and greek yogurt

Whole Wheat Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (PDF)

Adapted from Maria Helm Sinskey’s glazed lemon pound cake recipe in The Vineyard Kitchen: Menus Inspired by the Seasons (Cookbooks), this whole wheat pound cake makes those who can’t skip dessert feel a little less guilty—and makes those who can simply look forward to breakfast. Serve it drizzled with maple syrup and dolloped with Greek yogurt; for a treat, toast the bread with a little butter in a nonstick pan and serve with chopped fresh fruit.

You can also substitute 2 teaspoons vanilla extract for the vanilla bean.

TIME: 20 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 9”x5” loaf

Butter and flour for greasing the pan
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
Seeds from 1 (6”) vanilla bean
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9”x5” loaf pan and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

In the work bowl of a standing mixer, whip the butter, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions, if necessary. Add the dry mixture and the buttermilk in three additions, alternating between the two, and mix until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Smooth the top down, and bake for 1 hour, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and a knife inserted into the very middle comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Store cooled cake at room temperature in a sealed container, or wrapped in plastic.

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Filed under bread, Cakes, dessert, recipe

My New Noodle Soup

soba noodles

New Noodle Soup. Say it.

(Out loud, I mean.)

New Noodle Soup. Fun, isn’t it?

I know why. It’s because somewhere in there, you get to say “noo-noos,” like a two-year-old. Who can resist the sound of a food whose pronunciation requires the same mouth shape as its eating?

But clearly, noo-noos are not what one orders in mixed public adult company. Even I couldn’t do that. How unfortunate, especially this time of year, when traveling sniffles have most of us fighting hard to pretend we don’t have fall colds, and noonoos are just what we need.

But I do. I have a cold. And I’m going to be on the radio today, so last night I started hitting the liquids hard, trying anything to bring my bedraggled voice back. For dinner, it had to be my own version of the terrific chicken noonoo soup I had last weekend.

When I sat down at ART, the restaurant at Seattle’s new Four Seasons Hotel, I was a little shocked to find chicken noodle soup on the menu. It reads like such a pedestrian choice for an appetizer. Not exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to order in a room where the bar counter is backlit by ever-changing shades of fluorescence. But the soup – fine filaments of spiced vegetables, twisted up with soba noodles and black silkie chicken in a deeply flavorful broth, and topped with a poached egg – was anything but plain.

I didn’t have any desire to recreate the exact same soup. The carrots, cabbage, and squash were sliced micro-thin, for starters, and the presentation was far fancier than anything that happens in my house—the gorgeous ceramic bowl, the fanfare of a waiter pouring the broth over the noodles, yadda yadda. And I didn’t have time to hunt down a chicken that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book. But I couldn’t ignore the way the egg yolk glided into the broth, infusing it with a richness that makes chicken soup feel even more healing than usual.

I thought I tasted a hint of miso in the broth at ART – but when I asked, I was assured that I was just tasting the richness of a stock made with silkie black chicken, whose meat is known for its deep, almost gamey flavor. Once I got the miso in my head, though, I couldn’t get it out – so I spiked our soup with a dollop of miso paste.

Course, the plan was to eat half of it, then take it out of the fridge this morning, pop a newly poached egg on top, and take a few slightly more attractive photographs for you, in the daylight. But when I went to take it out of the fridge, I discovered my husband had taken the entire container for lunch.

Guess I’ll have to make more noo-noos.

new noodle soup

Chicken Soba Noodle Soup with Miso and Poached Egg (PDF)

At ART, Chef Kerry Sear poaches the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes wrapped up in a layer of plastic wrap. He lines a ramekin with the wrap, cracks an egg in, twists the ends to seal, and puts it right into a pot of boiling water. His method worked perfectly for me, but poach using whatever method you like best.

I found the timing worked well if I put the chicken stock, water for the pasta, and water for the eggs on the stove at the same time.

TIME: 25 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

8 cups rich homemade chicken stock
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3/4 pound)
2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 bundle soba noodles (about 1/3 pound, or the diameter of a quarter)
1 tablespoon yellow miso paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large eggs, poached
Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice mix, optional)

Bring the stock to a bare simmer in a large saucepan. Add the chicken breast, celery, and carrots, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Shred the chicken and return it to the pot with the vegetables.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to boil for the noodles. Cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and set aside.

Add the miso to the soup, and stir the noodles into the soup to warm. Season the broth to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary. Using tongs, divide the noodles between four soup bowls, then add vegetables, chicken, and broth to each. Top each bowl with a poached egg, and serve with a few sprinkles of shichimi, for a bit of spice, if desired.

Close to Wolf's Chickpea Salad

For those who have come from KUOW, here’s a PDF of the chickpea salad recipe I mentioned, from How to Cook a Wolf (pictured above), and here’s the vanilla-olive oil cake.

Art Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Filed under appetizers, Cakes, chicken, dessert, gluten-free, kitchen adventure, lupus, Pasta, recipe, salad, Seattle, side dish, snack, soup, vegetables

My first family recipe

Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread foil

I’m not sure what makes breakfast breads so darn attractive.

Maybe it’s the way I wrap them in foil – always in foil, except for when they have a glaze, in which case I use waxed paper – and nibble away, slice by slice. The first time I open the foil, I take the bread out completely, slice it on a cutting board with a proper knife, and return it to the foil, tucking it in like a child. The second time, I cut it still in the foil, with a regular dinner knife, and the blade smooshes some of the bread into the crinkles of the foil, so things start to get messy. By mid-afternoon I’m carving slivers, really miniature breakfast bread towers out of the loaf, then by dinnertime, I scoop bread out with anything—knife, spoon, fork, spatula, whatever. I don’t even bother to re-wrap it. And of course I don’t use a cutting board. By the time it’s gone, the foil is the only proof that the loaf was loved. It’s torn and pliable, wrinkled and leathery, skin after a summer of too many sunburns. There are little bits of moist crumb clinging to its cracks, and dried crust sifting through the bottom of the foil, where an errant fork poked through.

Maybe I find the way the bread cuts a bit endearing – I can never get it straight up and down, even if I’m trying my best to be precise.

Or maybe it’s the way it feels in my mouth. It’s soft, yielding, layers of cake and vegetable and sweetness light on the tongue but hefty in the belly. (It’s rarely the low-fat version.)

Zucc bread recipe card

Or maybe it’s just that breakfast bread is familiar. This recipe is based on my grandmother’s zucchini bread recipe, which I finally found, at my brother’s request. It was tucked into a metal recipe box, with the other habits from her 50’s kitchen, on someone’s personalized recipe card. (We’re not sure who Sandy Jones was, but we can see she wasn’t big on directions.)

I’m sure it’s not quite what Josh had in mind – I added cornmeal, like he asked, and updated the loaf with a bit of whole-wheat flour. But this bread tastes far too normal and delicious (homey, really) for Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread, which sounded to me before like a breakfast bread from Mars.

It’s not quite my zucchini bread. I’d add different things, if it were my recipe – flaxseed meal and spices, and yogurt in place of some of the oil, or perhaps a bit of buttermilk for tang. Less sugar. And nuts, for sure, if Josh wasn’t looking.

But it’s not mine – it’s my grandmother’s. And even with my brother’s touches, the first taste brought me back to a memory I didn’t know I had: I was sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of juice, playing with the lazy Susan, pretending I didn’t see my grandmother’s husband pour himself a Pepsi at 8 a.m.

When I made this, it occurred to me that my family doesn’t really have family recipes. At least, I didn’t think we did. There are things my mother makes that I love, and she’s a glorious cook, but she doesn’t own a recipe box (at least not one that I’ve seen). There are no recipe compilations. Sure, she made zucchini bread, delicious roasts, and challah, and the occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies when I was growing up, but I can’t think of a single recipe that I think of as “hers.”

Maybe I just like breakfast bread because it tastes like family.

And yes, actually, zucchini and sweet potatoes do go together.

Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread

Zucchini-Sweet Potato Bread (PDF)

Based on my grandmother’s recipe for zucchini bread, updated only with a bit of whole wheat flour and a smidge more baking soda, this breakfast treat isn’t as avante garde as it sounds. You’ll love the sweetness the potato adds, but probably won’t notice its flavor.

TIME: 30 minutes active time
MAKES: Two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaves

Baking spray
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purposed flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini (from 2 medium, or 3/4 pound zucchini)
2 cups grated sweet potato (from 1 medium peeled sweet potato, about 3/4 pound)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Coat the insides of two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” baking pans with the baking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flours, cornmeal, soda, salt, and cinnamon to blend, and set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand-held mixer), whip the sugar and eggs for 2 minutes on medium-high speed, until light. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix to blend. With the machine on low, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time, mixing until the flour is just incorporated. Stir in the zucchini and sweet potato.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans, and bake 60 to 70 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of one loaf comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then transfer loaves to racks to cool to room temperature. Store wrapped in foil, at room temperature for a day or two, or up to a week in the refrigerator. Cooled loaves can also be wrapped well in plastic and frozen up to 3 months.

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Filed under Breakfast, Cakes, recipe