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).
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
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)
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.
Getting a recipe from a chef, with the intention of including it in a cookbook, is really pretty easy. First, you pick up the phone and call the guy, or the gal, or the person they’ve chosen to represent them to the press (read: the person who takes the blame for the chaos on their calendar and threatens them with brutal whippings if they fail to comply to your timetables). You explain your project, and they profess undying love for you and it and the prospect of seeing their name and restaurant in print in six and a half years. (They can’t wait!) And then you get the recipe.
Or not. There’s always a little hiccup between the time you ask for the recipe and the time you press “save” on your own version, because only in a very small minority of cases does the person in charge of the business end of the knife have the writing skills to get a cohesive recipe together, the organization to get information to you before you’ve seen the same season twice, and the experience cooking at home to understand that we don’t all cure our own prosciutto and that eight quarts of stock is not a quantity most soccer moms can cook on one podunk kitchen burner.
Here’s how it really works: in June, a chef says he’ll send you a recipe by August 1st. On August 10th, you write him to remind him you’re still waiting. (You should have known to lie to this one about your deadline.) On September 1st, after several more emails, most of them from him promising he’s going to work on it THIS WEEKEND, you promise you’ll march yourself into his kitchen the very next day. Magically, the recipe arrives.
First, you gather the ingredients. You wonder whether he’ll mind if you change house-cured anchovies to regular oil-packed store-bought anchovies, knowing full well that in his true opinion, you’re ransacking his recipe and misrepresenting his restaurant. You create a mini internal struggle between the two of you in your mind, all over the anchovy, before even picking up the phone. Four days later, with his permission, you change the anchovies, then move through the ingredients list, pausing only briefly to consider whether your general tourist audience will be petrified by the mere mention of preserved lemons. You elaborate on coddling eggs, because surely there’s someone in your readership who thinks it has something to do with raising them without time-outs or swear words. You want your reader to end up with something that works, something that tastes so good they’ll make it again, something that’s true to the chef’s original intention—but you also need to make sure the reader starts cooking in the first place.
And so it goes for each recipe (all 75 you’re trying to translate). You scale flaky, creamy lemon bars down from a recipe that serves exactly 384, toying and tinkering until you’ve found a recipe that works and tastes almost if not exactly the same as the bakery’s, and uses 2 eggs, rather than 2 3/4 eggs. You insist on a recipe for homemade lebnah, because no, not everyone knows how to make it. (But for the record, it’s painfully easy: greek yogurt, salt, olive oil, stirring, cheesecloth.) You delicately skirt the directions for dehydrated olive oil. You beg chefs for permission to offer substitution suggestions for lamb stock, mustard oil, and pickled green garlic, not because you aren’t thrilled to use these things—you’re thrilled yourself, because they taste so good—but because you know this particular cookbook has to be a mixture of things that are a little exciting for those who qualify for that loathsome category, “foodie,” and things that are downright doable, for folks with any level of cooking skill and mouths they can’t make patient with an extra martini. And when someone picks up this book, in the spring of 2012, you won’t have any control over what page they see first.
One thing is clear: most of the recipes from chefs, both from Seattle and the rest of the state, are awesome. They’re creative and intelligent and unusual and useful. But sometimes, they’re also really long and complicated. So with that latter group of home cooks in mind, while you’re waiting for chefs’ recipes to come or not come, you test things that please you with their simplicity but scream “Washington” just as loudly—homemade corn dogs, like the ones for sale at the Chesaw Rodeo, and braised goat shanks that take no more work than a weekday pot roast, and potato soup from a farmer in Colville. You make grits with a smoky Mt. Townsend Creamery jack cheese called “Campfire,” and pair them with collard greens made with bacon, yes, but also apple cider and cider vinegar, for sweetness almost equal to the tang, but not quite. You layer local goat cheese into gratins, and make the easy herbed baked eggs a kind, kind woman made you at her bed and breakfast, before a horse ride through Washington wine country. And in their own sweet time, the chefs’ recipes float in.
And then, just when you feel like the number of chef’s recipes you have on hand to test might suddenly surpass the number of recipes you’re alternately asking, waiting, or begging for, and you’re thinking snarky things, a chef emails you, out of the blue, from Bainbridge Island. “So, about that simple bone marrow recipe. How was it?” Oh, gosh. You know the one. When you tasted it at the restaurant, it was topped with a gorgeous, sharp-sweet huckleberry and onion mostarda, and the recipe was written perfectly, with clear directions on how to buy the bones, what sort of knife to use for scraping them, and why it’s best to roast them on a shallow bed of salt. It fits neatly on one page. But you haven’t tried them yet. The huckleberries, once fresh-picked, are in the freezer in an unmarked paper bag. You even have the perfect spoons, the little teensy ones a friend sent you from Spain. “Um. Um.” You stammer. “I was hoping to try them this weekend.”
And so it is that writing this book has become, in a way, a nice, long stay in a culinary glass castle, where I alternate between throwing miniature private fits about the ineptitude and disorganization of restaurant chefs, and loathing myself, for being equally inept and disorganized (or more). I bitch about quantities fit for a fundraiser rather than a dinner table, then I’m humbled by recipes that appear on my e-doorstep in mint condition, from Seattle chefs like Tom Douglas and Holly Smith and Lisa Nakamura and Rachel Yang and Ethan Stowell, to name a very few, and remember that each and every one of these chefs is not giving me their recipes for fame or fortune (no, certainly not fortune), but because they’re proud of what they do, and proud of their place in the state’s general food scene. They’re proud, and deservedly so.
And in the end, when I’m done acting cranky and undeserving, and think how cool it will be when all these recipes and mine are bundled together in a project that’s as much a dinner guide as it is a relic of the Northwest’s gustatory times, I’ll be proud to have them all, too. I won’t remember who was late or who I had to call three times for an oven temperature. I’ll just remember that I want to go back to their restaurant, to eat, and to smile.
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