May 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
Life looks different at 7,000 feet. Surrounded by trees, one day filtering sun, the very next dusted with snow, we adopt a simpler cabin lifestyle for a few days. It’s a familiar holiday thanks to the proximity of the Sierras to our city life, but one with tinges of exoticism nonetheless, even in the kitchen. At mountain heights, a favorite pot of ragu boils at a lower point, lending an even gentler touch to the hours of simmering. But the alchemy of baking at altitude is unpredictable at best, like my mood on days one through three of thinner air. For both reasons, I always make sure to bake a cake at sea level in advance of the three(ish) hour car journey and bring it ready to slice on arrival (if not en route).
More often than not, I find my mountain cake coming from a bundt mold. Perhaps there is some inherent sturdiness in the Teutonic origins of this ring of cake, with its own peaks and valleys, that begs to be part of a trip through treetops. Or perhaps it’s because bundts are such great vehicles for clearing out the fridge of otherwise doomed-to-sour tubs of yoghurt or cartons of milk. Either way it has come to be a staple holiday pleasure to unearth a hunk of cake from a backpack, slightly squashed but otherwise unscathed by its journey. We unwind tight layers of wrap and enjoy a hearty slice in wooden cabin surrounds, before bedrooms are assigned or hiking boots hung.
We’ve passed through many of these cabins. They vary in size and décor, but all share a smoky, dusky aroma – the stuff of which gentlemen’s perfumiers’ dreams are made. Once the cake is eaten and bed chosen, my next task is to interrogate bookshelves and kitchen cabinets, wondering whose dream this home represents. Most cabins sport a number of bestsellers, edges curled from time on the beach, not deemed worthy of suitcase space once the week away from the grind is over. On this trip, our whimsically decorated abode boasts tasteful shelves of Joan Didion and David Sedaris, with nary an airport purchase to be found. Almost disappointingly tasteful. But the kitchen yields the pleasingly predictable set of plastic margarita glasses and ursine mugs, and the familiar pro-level sauté pans next to a drawer of too-blunt knives.
While I peruse this cabin and set up Henry in his new play area for the week, I’m munching a piece of chocolatey sour cream bundt. I know I can’t be the only person who ends up at the kitchen door, scratching my head over what end for the 7/8ths of the tub of sour cream. I would start a business selling the stuff in tablespoon packets, but then that would deprive us all of many cakes that chiefly exist for the purpose of using up the rest of those tubs. I’m a huge fan of chocolate cake where the flavor comes from cocoa rather than molten chocolate – easier to work with, somehow more intense yet lighter in texture, and bursting with a superfood (surely proof of nature’s divinity if nothing else). The cake edges are perfectly chewy, the interior light and soft. We light the wood fire and cut another slice.
Cocoa Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food
The method for this cake is delightfully simple: no messing with mixers involved. Perfect for a quick bake. Bundts make for excellent party cakes given the size and ease of slicing. I was lazy when making this cake and omitted the icing. I’d be tempted to add a cup of chocolate chips to the batter if I was going this route again, although the plain cake is excellent just as it is. The un-iced cake also keeps well in the freezer: if you do choose to ice it, you’ll need to eat it within a few days.
1 cup/8oz/2 sticks/230g unsalted butter
1/3 cup/1oz/30g cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup/250ml water
2 cups/9oz/250g all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups/350g sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup/125ml sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
4oz/110g bittersweet chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids)
1 1/2 tbsp. agave nectar or corn syrup (UK folks can sub golden syrup)
1/2 cup/125ml heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
Thoroughly grease a 12 cup bundt tin (the first time I made this cake it did stick a bit so make sure you really get into all the nooks and crevices of the pan. For bundts I prefer an oil spray as it’s so much easier although I generally grease with butter for better flavor). Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt and water and melt over a medium-low heat, stirring. Remove from the heat as soon as the mix is melted, and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking soda, using a whisk to combine well. Add half the melted butter mixture and whisk until blended – the mixture will be very thick at this point. Whisk in the remaining butter mixture. Add the eggs one by one, whisking well to combine in between. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla until the whole mix is smooth and has a ribbony-texture.
Pour the mixture into the greased pan and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is done, the edges will be pulling away from the pan slightly, and a toothpick inserted in the centre will come out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 15-20 mins and then turn out onto a rack to complete cooling. If you are making the glaze, ensure the cake is completely cool before adding this.
The cake will keep well-wrapped in the freezer for 2-3 months, and wrapped at room temperature for 4-5 days.
Combine the chopped chocolate and agave nectar in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan and add the sugar. Over a medium heat, stir until the cream is very hot and the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. If the consistency is very runny, you can let it sit for a minute or two to thicken. Drizzle over the cake.
April 29, 2013 § 2 Comments
There are things that everyone tells you about parenthood. You will never sleep again. You will fall deeply, unimaginably in love. You will miss the days when your baby was inside and always with you. Your life will change. You stubbornly protest that it’s easy to stick the child in the car-seat and dine out. Your life will change, they say again.
There are things that no one tells you about parenthood. You will do anything, ANYTHING, to hear your baby laugh. You will frequently lose all perspective, both for the good and for the bad. You will know every pore, follicle and fold of flesh of your child, more intimately than you know your own. Some days you will stand at the top of the stairs, holding the baby, watching the clock and waiting for someone else to come through the door and take him, just for 5 minutes even. Other days you will move and play as if one combined being again, anticipating each other’s moves, laughing at the same things. Those are the fun days.
Another thing everyone tells you: you will need help. You will need support. You run through the checklist many times in the last weeks of pregnancy: freezer full of dinners for the early months; changing table stocked with diapers, wipes, creams; multiple changes of baby clothes; overnight online shipping primed and ready. You feel pretty organized and confident. That wasn’t what they meant. What you really will need: a group of supportive, smart, non-judgmental ladies, ready to share their own ups and downs, swap advice, lend an ear. You will need a reason to leave the house good enough to change out of sweat pants, corral your wriggling, possibly screaming, bundle into carrier, car-seat, stroller, and make it somewhere within a 3 hour window. Sometimes the reason is good enough that you don’t even have to change out of sweat pants. As the months go by, making it out the house will become difficult for different reasons: naps, teeth, hunger strikes. You will still do it. You will amaze at the changes in other babies you’ve known almost as long as your own, and look forward to future rites of passage: birthday parties, playdates and more.
I am grateful for all the amazing, inspiring mamas in my life. This cake is for you all, with thanks.
Rhubarb Crumble Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
I made this cake for my moms’ group this week and was just going to share the link to Deb’s recipe, since her cakes are brilliantly reliable and generally un-improved-upon. But then I realized I had made enough changes that it was worth me setting out my own version as well as her one, which you can access in the link above. If you want to skip the step of making the rhubarb compote, Deb tosses rhubarb with sugar and lemon zest and puts this directly on top of the cake batter. I find, however, that cooking during nap times or however you make it work with infants, is easiest in discrete steps, so for me at least it’s better to make a compote one day, and then have that ready to integrate into another recipe a different day. Plus you can make too much of the compote and then spoon it over Greek yoghurt or waffles, oh yes.
1 cup dark brown sugar (you can use muscovado if you have it around)
2 tbsp. sherry (or any kind of wine, or you could use orange juice, or even just a splash of water)
This amount of compote should yield twice as much as you need for the cake below.
Trim the rhubarb and slice it into chunks, splitting the stalks in half lengthwise first unless they are very slender. Set about a quarter of the rhubarb chunks to one side. Combine the rest with the sugar and sherry/cooking liquid in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and set over medium low heat. Stir over the low heat until the rhubarb starts to release its juices and the sugar melts, then cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Leave to cook on a low simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and increase the heat to medium. Continue to cook, stirring the rhubarb frequently, for about 10 minutes, during which time the rhubarb chunks should soften and break down. Towards the end of this time, add the remaining rhubarb chunks and then cook for another 5 minutes. You should end up with a thick compote with chunks remaining. If there is still a lot of liquid, continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until the compote is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside and leave to cool. You can keep this in the fridge for about a week.
Rhubarb Crumble Cake
I adapted Deb’s recipe to make an 8×8 square cake. You can use her original measurements for a 9×13 if you are serving a big group (or want leftovers), and still use the compote above instead of the rhubarb tossed in sugar, just increasing the amount of compote you use.
60g/5tbsp butter, softened
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg
90g all purpose (plain) flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt
1/8 tsp ground ginger
50g sour cream
For the crumble topping
65g all purpose flour
25g light brown sugar (I used coconut sugar which I highly recommend here if you have it or want to try it in baking)
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp./30g unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Grease an 8×8 square tin and line the bottom and two sides with parchment paper with one continuous sheet, like a sling (which you will later use to remove the cake). Set aside.
Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest in a mixer. Add the egg and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all the batter.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and ginger (I like to use a whisk to combine dry ingredients; you can also sift them together if you prefer). With the mixer on slow, add a third of the flour mix, mixing until just combined, then half the sour cream, one more third of flour, the remaining sour cream and finishing with the remaining flour mix.
Spread the batter into the prepared tin. It is likely quite a thick batter so you’ll have to work a bit to get it to spread evenly. On top of this spread the rhubarb compote (about half of the full recipe above). Set aside briefly while you make the topping.
In the bowl you used to combine the flour, make the crumble. Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon and ginger, then mix in the melted butter. You can use your fingers to bring this into a lumpy crumble mix. Scatter this on top of the rhubarb as evenly as you can.
Put the tin into the oven and bake for about 45-55 minutes, until the top is well browned. I found it difficult to test the doneness of the cake with a skewer because of the rhubarb layer but you want the underlying cake to be set through so that a skewer comes out clean (if rhubarb comes out that’s fine so you might have to use judgement). Cut into 2×2 inch squares. The cake is good warm but also at room temperature. I found it best on the first day but you can wrap it tightly and keep for 2-3 days.
April 24, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Raising a little Californian, I feel the responsibility of making sure we understand the ins and outs of American culture. We make an effort to say chips and not crisps, garbage rather than rubbish, and so on, lest our little guy be teased for his antiquated vocabulary by a mean preschooler. And while I hope Henry will get to know the joys of a bacon bap in time, I want to make sure he gets the chance to enjoy all permutations of American breakfasting which is, after all, a pretty good tradition, extending through to the early afternoon whenever the excuse provides itself. In our (nearly 6!) years Stateside, we’ve taken on this tough job of embracing the delights of pancakes, French Toast, hashes and eggs all ways. We’ve even come close to understanding that marriage of sweet and savory that seems so particular to American breakfasts: fruit salad on the side of an omelette, bacon on the side of pancakes, maple syrup on the side and top and all around everything. I imagine that the citizenship test involves secretly recording your reaction when a waiter pours syrup on a sausage: delight; you’re in! horror; do not pass go. But it was only recently that we realized there was an entire genre of breakfast goodness on which we were missing out: waffles. It was our parental duty no less, to explore this new terrain.
Prior to a month or so ago, two things would have come to mind when I thought of waffles, neither of which were breakfast. One: Belgium, and the idea of waffles as a snack served from a cart by a man with a Poirot moustache, ideally dunked in a thick mug of hot chocolate on a brisk, dusky day (erm, transport me there right now please). Two: the fast food variety of potato waffles that we ate growing up as a staple dinner side (likely alongside Findus Crispy Pancakes), and the commercial jingle that sticks in my head to this day (“They’re Waffly Versatile”). You will understand why waffles hadn’t been high on my cooking list until recently…
The waffles that have been coming out of our kitchen in the last month are in no way children of the 80s. These are waffles made with multigrain flour blends, speckled with flax, and lightened with buttermilk. They’re topped with yoghurt, nut butters, and the first strawberries of the season. They’re healthy enough that I can imagine them being the centerpiece of a family brunch, once our little guy graduates from applesauce and puree of pear. They’re downright addictive. For a dairy-free, lower gluten waffle that tastes amazing, you can’t go wrong with Sara’s multigrain waffles. Seriously – they were our gateway drug. This weekend I went with a buttermilk centric recipe to use up what was left of the carton I picked up for the lemon loaf. I made up a flour blend with whole wheat, rye and cornmeal, partly because it was what I had lying around to use up, and partly because I was craving the extra crunch from the cornmeal. You can play around with the flour ratios and combinations depending on what you have available: the main thing is to make sure the batter is wet enough (some whole grain flours are more absorbent and will require a bit more liquid) and not to overmix. The toppings are up to you: I can’t resist the Greek yoghurt, strawberry and cocoa nib combo right now. Bacon plus maple syrup: your call.
Adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food
2 cups (500ml) buttermilk
8 tbsp/1 stick/115g butter
1 cup/100g whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup/50g rye flour
1/2 cup/70g cornmeal (I used medium grind)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp. sugar (I used coconut sugar)
Whisk the eggs into the buttermilk in a small bowl and set aside. Melt the butter and leave to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Pour the buttermilk and egg mix into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined (I like to use a whisk for this, to avoid overmixing). Pour in the melted butter and stir until well mixed. The batter should pour easily off a spoon – you may want to add more buttermilk if it’s particularly thick.
Preheat and grease your waffle iron. I like to set ours to somewhere between 3 and 4 for a good browning. Pour approximately 1/2 cup of mixture into the iron, close, and bake until the iron gives the green light and steam stops coming out of the sides. If you are cooking multiple waffles and want to serve them all at once, preheat your oven to 200F/100C and place the baked waffles on a sheet to keep warm. You can also cool the waffles on a baking rack and then freeze them, reheating under the broiler/grill at your whim.
April 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
Without wanting to sound like an over-scripted response to an interview question, my absolute biggest personal challenge is perfectionism. The character trait has become a cliché in that interview setting because we think it’s the clever answer to give, the admittance of a weakness that, in the work context at least, is actually a strength. Yet in work and in life, perfectionism is no kind of strength. It can be a crippling limitation, something that stops you from trying, from doing anything because you fear that the end result will not live up to expectations, your own and those perceived in others. It stops you from enjoying the journey, because you fixate on the end goal rather than the process and challenges along the way. It makes you judgmental, of yourself and of others. In other words, it sucks.
It’s not like I have suddenly and recently had that AHA! moment of realizing this personality trait. It’s my life’s work in many ways, finding that balance between fulfillment, effort and ease. But, boy, does motherhood bring these characteristics out kicking and screaming. With my gorgeous munchkin about to hit the 7 month mark, I’m starting to feel more pressure (from nowhere but myself I hasten to add) to figure out where the boundaries are between career and caretaker, to reclaim my body but to continue to nurse for another half year or so, to be able to go out late again but have energy for a giggling infant at 6am. And I’ve found myself shying away from decisions because of this pressure: if I can’t practice yoga 6 times a week for a couple of hours at a time, I will barely crack out a forward bend all week; if I can’t put down a few thousand words in one sitting, I won’t write at all, and so on. No more! If nothing else I’ve been keeping some cracking recipes away from you because I haven’t had the time or energy to write more than a few headwords about them. Yes, this is basically a very long-winded way of saying that I might be knocking out some shorter posts over the coming weeks, which means less naval-gazing from me and more food for you. Win-win all round then!
This lemon cake had all the signs of being perfect. I hunted out the recipe while considering the best use for a pile of meyer lemons I scored from a friend’s tree that was groaning with the gems. The promise was high: the recipe called for not only a considerable amount of lemon juice, both in the batter and then in a syrup that you pour over the cake while still warm from the oven, but also for a whole one-third-of-a-cup of lemon zest (for two loaves). No mincing about with a whisper of lemon in the background here, thankyouverymuch. And the author of the recipe was none other than Ina Garten, a brilliant self-parody of the ‘perfect’ life, tablescapes and florist friends and all, but who does know a darned good cake and, I suspect, how to throw a corker of a party.
The baking didn’t get off to the best start, or so I thought. I dutifully removed the butter and eggs from the fridge to come to room temperature when I first got out of bed, planning to knock out the cake during Henry’s morning nap. But I had forgotten to pick up buttermilk and the butter and eggs remained on the kitchen counter for the rest of the day, while other minor tasks like, you know, trying to convince your son to get the avocado IN THE MOUTH HONEY, were completed to varying degrees of success. Child fast asleep in bed, finally, my heart sank when I saw the ingredients neglected and imploring me to dust off the mixer, when really my energy levels were just about enough to mix up a Negroni and stare into the mid distance until the clock reached a time that was reasonable for a grown adult to go to bed. But, you know, What Would Ina Garten Do? and all that (actually Ina would be already on her second Negroni), and since the butter was about fit to become intelligent enough to bake the cake itself, I sucked up whatever minor reserves I had and got to creaming the butter and sugar together. And that’s where the magic actually happened. We all know that our butter should be soft, at room temperature, or whatever instruction we think that a half hour on the countertop constitutes, but it has to be one of the most under-appreciated steps in baking. I know that now, having seen the very-much-room-temperature butter and eggs and sugar transform into a pillowy light batter, rising into soft mounds reminiscent of beaten egg whites. And since I was not in any way working with mise en place, the batter got a touch of extra beating while I frantically grated lemon zest into a bowl.
The end result: a loaf cake that was feathery light, pungent in lemon flavor and aroma, with a gratifying fragility to the crumb. Was it perfect? Well: I would like to go back and prick the cake all over with a skewer before pouring over the lemon syrup, so that it penetrated every corner and crevice of the cake. I’d like not to have had to leave the cake to cool overnight covered with a towel, since there was no chance it would be wrappable before I turned into a pumpkin. I left off the suggested icing since I tend to prefer an un-iced loaf cake but am now curious as to what that extra layer of sweet and tang atop the cake would have produced. But, sitting munching a slice under tree shade in our local park, with Henry rolling around on a blanket and trying to eat grass, it was more than enough and perfect just as it was.
Lemon Loaf Cake
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties!
The original recipe yielded two loaves. I halved it and made just one, but know that you can easily double this and potentially freeze a second loaf.
115g (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups/225g sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/6 cup grated lemon zest (3 to 4 large lemons, or 5-6 smaller meyer lemons if available to you)
1 1/2 cups/165g flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 plus 1/8 cup (90ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
3oz/90ml buttermilk, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the icing (optional):
1 cup/200g confectioners’ (icing) sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Butter and flour a loaf pan (ideally about 8.5 x 4.5 inches). Line the bottom with parchment paper.
Cream the butter and 1 cup/200g granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well between each addition. Then add the lemon zest.
Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In another (small) bowl, combine 1/8 cup/30ml lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, a cake tester comes out clean.
Combine 1/4 cup/50g granulated sugar with 1/4 cup/60ml lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cake is done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set the cake on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan. Prick the cake all over with a very fine skewer then spoon the lemon syrup over so it penetrates through the cake. Allow to cool completely.
For the icing, if using, combine the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth (you may need to add more juice or sugar to get the right consistency). Pour over the top of the cake and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.
March 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The cupcake has a lot to answer for. The ubiquitous pastel frosted creation, invariably displayed in towers of chintz and whimsy, reclaimed baking to the feminine sphere in a poof of mid 90s Carrie-inspired brunches. When Nigella graced the cover of her most famous book with a single cupcake, we extrapolated that all one had to do to gain “goddess” status at home was to bake such treats. Since then (thankfully) the cupcake craze has been swallowed (or daintily nibbled at the least) by macaroons, donuts, and, in a final rebellion, the fashion for savory-meets-sweet, leading to eggs hidden inside muffins, cheddar-flecked scones, and bacon-topped everything. Take that, buttercream!
Moving away from the overly simplistic division of ladylike cupcakes vs manly muffins, because of course nothing is ever, or has ever been, that straightforward, there must have been a time when cake was not just about celebration or indulgence, but about getting through the day. Nutrient-packed flapjacks come to mind, as does the heavy, iron-rich parkin variations from the northern English counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire. And I recently came across what I unknowingly would have called a date, apple and coconut loaf, but learned that the correct denomination is a Lumberjack Cake. I had never heard of such a thing, but research suggests that it hails from Canada, where the sticky, dense creation was just the thing for keeping burly men doing their tree-chopping thang all day long. I like to think of it as a retrospective alternative to the cupcake obsession, since “lumberjack” brings to mind the other side of the 90s – plaid flannel shirts and Twin Peaks and grunge. The good stuff in other words.
I made the loaf for the event that is the Superbowl (yep, that’s how slow my blogging is right now), partly because I had most of the ingredients in the cupboards and partly because I knew that I’d be unable to partake in the majority of the butter-laden treats that would likely grace our table and that I had better do something about that. It turned out that the guys and gals alike were smitten enough that the cake pretty much disappeared ahead of the chocolate frosted creations and I found myself making another one before the week was out to satisfy my own cravings. That’s good enough for me to think you need to know about it too. I adapted a recipe from the uber-tasteful Frances restaurant in our neighborhood, swapping out butter for coconut oil, grating the apple for a finer texture and baking it as a loaf rather than in the round, which gave more chewy edges to nibble. I think I also used whole wheat flour but it’s honestly too long ago for my mom-brain to be sure: I think you could play around with flours without ill effect though if you’re so inclined as it’s a pretty moist loaf. And although the name gives service to the nourishing qualities of the cake, it downplays the ingredients themselves, and the real magic takes place in the interplay between the dates, apples and coconut. The apple and coconut tag-team on texture, while the dates and apples provide the kind of moisture that makes this a week-long cake, if you can muster such self-restraint. Or, you know, go and climb a tree, scrape a knee and call it lunch. No frosting required.
Adapted from Frances, published in 7×7 magazine
1 cup (250ml) water
1 cup dates (about 8 dates), pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cup (137g) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (125g) coconut oil, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (50g) coconut flakes
1 apple, grated
Combine the water and dates in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Whisk in the baking soda and leave to cool to room temperature (while they are cooling you can prepare the tin, grate the apple and weigh out the other ingredients if you like).
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf tin and line the base with parchment paper.
Mix and sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set to one side.
Using a stand mixer or electric whisk, beat together the coconut oil and sugar until combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat again to combine. Slowly add the date/water mixture in stages, and once integrated add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they are blended and taking care not to over-beat at this point. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the coconut and the grated apple.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Check to see if the cake is done by inserting a wooden skewer in the middle. If it comes out clean or with just an odd crumb the cake is done; if not, continue to bake for 10 minute increments. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling to room temperature.
February 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
Let’s get right to the point with this one. Three base ingredients, about 5 minutes of active prep, and four beautiful words: raw banana ice cream. Maybe I’m late to this party, since a quick web search after I first came across a version of this recipe yields a lot of variations on the theme, but I don’t want to risk you being left out of the fun too. We’re taking ingredients that would commonly come up in crazy post-marathon-refueling shakes and making them into a fudgy, satisfying, and, yes, ok, healthy, dessert. Is it ice cream as you would know it? Well, no, but if you think of it as a sweet of its own kind, free from constricting comparisons, you are going to become an addict. Seriously.
How it works: you slice whatever number of bananas are lying on your countertop, ideally at the point of attracting flies, so ripe are they. You arrange the slices on a parchment-paper-topped baking sheet and slide it into the freezer for an hour. If, like me, you accidentally freeze the bananas for 2 hours, you leave them out for 10 minutes or so to soften slightly before proceeding to the next stage.
You take your frozen (but not over-frozen) banana pieces and tip them into the bowl of your food processor, or blender. You add almond butter and a bit of honey: some base proportions are given below. You pulse until the banana begins to break up, and then blitz until the mixture runs in smooth, cold, nutty ribbons.
You tip the whole mixture into a container to finish freezing (minus the several mouthfuls that you, as cook, are morally bound to taste at this point). When ready, you top with walnuts, cocoa nibs, chocolate shavings, or nothing at all. You do not feel guilty. You may feel slightly smug.
Raw Banana Ice Cream
3 ripe bananas
2 heaping tbsp. almond butter
1/2-1 tbsp. honey
If you have more bananas to hand, by all means double this recipe. You can play around with proportions too – I found the very ripe bananas sweet enough that little honey was required; you may prefer a sweeter mix. You could substitute other nut butters, like peanut, of course, but then we might not be able to be friends any more.
Slice the bananas into rounds of about 1/3rd inch thickness. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the banana coins on the sheet. Freeze for approximately one hour.
Add the frozen banana to the bowl of a food processor, or a blender. Add almond butter, and honey. Blend until smooth.
The mixture can be eaten immediately. If you prefer a firmer consistency, freeze for another couple of hours. The ice cream will keep in the freezer for a week or two (if you can leave it that long).
February 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Do you remember when you stopped calling the place you grew up “home”? Have you, even? I know more than one thirty-something for whom home still means a specific house, with a bedroom always at the ready, or a certain memory-soaked town. When you move to another country, the word becomes even more laden and confused. For a long time after landing Stateside, especially among other ex-pats, it was a common shorthand to ask if you were going “home” for Christmas, or for the summer, and I bet none of us gave the usage a second thought. I also wager that almost all of us, after two mad weeks of rushing around the mother country cramming in visits with friends and family, said something along the lines of: “I’m actually really looking forward to going home”. This time home is not where you spent your formative years, or the passport you hold, but the place you hang your hat at the end of the day, the bed you crave after days of living out of suitcases, in spare rooms, and hotels. We travel to see the place we live with fresh eyes, to realize that home may have become closer to the everyday than we had imagined.
I was pretty young when I first got interested in not being at home. It started out with some self-taught French around the age of 9 or so (and boy was I pissed when I went to high school and was assigned German instead), developed through adventures on Autobahns during school exchanges, and consolidated through a continued love of language learning, until I went to university 300 miles away from home (sounds like nothing, especially to the vast distances of America, but at the time it was just as far as being on the other side of the Atlantic). Living in Spain for a year convinced me that I was destined to go yet further afield, and my Christmas present at the age of 22 was a huge suitcase, ready for wherever I was going to go next when I graduated from my degree, so sure were we all that I would be going somewhere. At the time I was plotting time in Sydney, a city as far in distance if not in culture from home as I could conjure. As it happens, I fell in love, and the suitcase was mostly put to use moving to and from a succession of increasingly domestic dwellings, but that’s a different story. (As an aside: the case did get loaned to a friend travelling to Sri Lanka for a year, so I like to think it fulfilled some of its more exciting destiny).
In retrospect I don’t think I was ever consumed quite so much by an intrinsic wanderlust, or a desire for any kind of nomadic existence, as much as I was searching for some other form of home, and one where I actually felt at home. In this quest I readily took on whatever form of identity was called for by the setting. I borrowed my German pen-pal’s oh-so-Europe-in-the-early-90s sweatshirts and slow-danced to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love”. I dyed my hair bleach blonde in Barcelona and cultivated a penchant for boys with mullets (preferably Italian it turned out), and verrrrrry late nights. I settled back in Cambridge to finish up my degree and spent spare hours plotting a metaphysical novel and getting high on queer theory. And these days I inhabit the Mission district of San Francisco, ride a fixed-gear bike, listen to vinyl, tote around a yoga mat, and will walk two (ok, honestly, 5) extra blocks for the right coffee.
When we decided to put down some proper roots here in San Francisco last year, and went apartment shopping, we had a pretty clear idea of what was most important to us: location. We wanted to be in the city, not on the fringes, and we were prepared to sacrifice a reasonable number of things to make that work for our budget. So we have neighbors underneath who first of all had children who woke us up early at a time we’d now consider a lie-in, and now are twenty-somethings who wake us up at, lord forbid, the ungodly hour of midnight with their loud bedtime chatter (and more, but let’s not go there). And we don’t have a garden, or even a yard. What we have instead: an amazing park a mere block from our front door, a collection of some of the best food in the country on our doorstep, but most of all a vibrant community all of whom seem to be incredibly proud to call this part of the city home, as are we.
Right around the corner from our apartment, a cornerstone of the neighborhood, and expensively convenient, is Bi-Rite market. I love everything about it: the carefully curated produce that genuinely changes with the season – absolutely no temptation of strawberries in December; the fact that information on the provenance of the meat and fish comes readily from anyone you ask; the better than I can make at home pre-prepared food, for crazy busy evenings; and of course the justifiably famous ice-cream, especially the vegan coconut chocolate which has saved my dessert life in these non-dairy days. Last year Bi-Rite produced a lovely tome which is half cookbook, half manifesto for the style of shopping, cooking and communing over food that underpins the store. It’s probably most helpful for people who don’t do two thirds of their weekly shopping at Bi-Rite itself, but it also contains some recipe gems.
This citrus olive oil cake might seriously be one of my favourite cakes of the last year or so. The method is like nothing I’ve seen before – you start out by simmering whole oranges and lemons in simple syrup until they are soft and yielding, and then blitz them to a paste in the food processor before adding to the batter. So you get the full intensity of the whole citrus fruits, tempered by the sugar bath, along with the textural interest of the small chunks left in the paste. As if this wasn’t enough, the batter contains almond flour, or blitzed up almonds for more textural intrigue, and then olive oil as the primary fat, keeping the fruit notes high and the crumb dense and moist. When I open my little café slash bookshop slash haberdashery one day (daydream alert!), this cake will be on the opening menu for sure. Who knows where that might be, or what hairstyle I might have adopted at that point: it’s not really that important. Home is not location; it’s a state of mind, a way of being. And, yes, it’s where the cake is.
Citrus Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking and Creating Community Through Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough
Yield: 12 servings
3 1/2 cups sugar (2 cups = about 440 g for the simple syrup, and 1.5 cups = about 330g for the batter) with more to hand in case needed
2 cups (500ml) water
2 medium oranges
1 medium lemon
1 2/3rd cup (6oz/170g) sliced almonds, toasted (or almond flour is fine if you have it to hand)
1 cup (4 1/2 oz/120g) all purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
2/3rd cup (165ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
Combine 2 cups (440g) sugar along with 2 cups (500ml) water in a medium pan. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat to dissolve the sugar, and then add the oranges and lemons, whole. Make sure the liquid covers at least 2/3rds of the fruit – if needed you can add equal parts water and sugar directly to the pan to raise the level. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer. Cook, turning the fruit occasionally, until it is very soft and easily pierced by a skewer, about 45 minutes. Transfer the fruit to a plate or bowl until cool enough to handle. You can save the citrus simple syrup that is the by-product of this process to use in cocktails or to flavor sparkling water.
While the fruit is cooking, pulse the toasted almonds in a food processor until finely ground (or skip this step and just use almond flour. I prefer grinding my own for a slightly chunkier and less even texture). Transfer to a large bowl and whisk in the flour and baking powder.
Preheat the oven to 350*F/175*C. Oil a 9 inch (23 cm) springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Cut the cooled fruit into quarters and remove and discard any seeds or large pieces of membrane. Put the fruit in the food processor (if you used this for the almonds, don’t worry about washing it first). Pulse until the fruit is pureed and fairly smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to achieve this.
Whisk the eggs and salt using a stand mixer, or handheld electric whisk. Beat on medium-high speed until lightened in color and foamy, about 2 min. With the whisk running, gradually add the remaining 1.5 cups sugar and continue to beat until thick and creamy white, 3-4 minutes longer. Reduce the speed to medium and, with the whisk running, drizzle in the olive oil gradually.
Add the pureed fruit and mix until just blended, about another 30 seconds. Remove the bowl from the stand and gently fold in about a third of the flour mixture. When incorporated, add the rest of the flour mixture and fold just until smooth – be careful not to overmix.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven until the cake is dark golden brown and springs back after a light touch, about 1 hour and 10 minutes (resist testing the cake with a toothpick or skewer as it will cause the cake to sink in the middle). Let the cake cool in the pan for 25 mins, the run a knife around the perimeter. Turn out onto a rack to cool completely, removing the parchment from the base of the cake if it sticks.
The flavors of the cake develop over a day of resting and it keeps well for about 5 days at room temperature.