Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream on pink cake plate with a slice on a white plate

Today’s Musings:
I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask this witness of profound affections to teach me what she knows about Love. 

I spent time within her bosom just shy of a year ago, wan and unsteady, remnants of a lover’s row the night before, a state I would come to know too well.  In the Botanical Gardens, I strolled among her exotic foliage, hand-in-hand with a man who would soon enough misuse my love, although I didn’t know it then.  The day felt brittle, as if the sky was made of the thinnest glass.  Although I paid visits to her often in the past, I didn’t divulge to him that this Park and I were well acquainted – and she did not betray my secret.  With all our shared encounters, she was indifferent towards me that day.  She knew this was not Love and, thus, unworthy of her attention.

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask this sanctuary of romance to teach me what she knows about Love. 

I first met her in 1989, as young hearts blossomed among her rose garden; He, Mr. Oxblood, and I, Miss Prussian Blue.  Two shy paramours meandering along her starlit paths. Without words, we spoke of our implicit love through scented floral filigree, as he cascaded pink-petaled missives down upon my head and together we tossed waves of scented bliss into the fountain.  He tucked a few of these sweet remembrances within his pocket.  I was happy then.  It was perfect – and she smiled and anointed us.

Did she realize then that this love would endure almost a decade?  Did she see that each would forever keep the other’s heart within them – even now?

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask if she was aware, four years later, that he, brimming with love, recalled for me, reluctant and unsure, our countless nights spent drifting through her splendor:

“Why can’t you allow today to be like holding hands in Balboa Park? Park of Spanish Porticos and you, content.  We were like the courting frogs in the lily pond by the balustrade next to the Botanical Gardens.”

Content.  That’s all I’ve ever asked from Love.

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and plead with her to share her views on Love.  I want her to explain why, on that Friday in July, 2010, she released his hand and let him slip from her embrace onto the asphalt below.

The newspaper headline read, “Man dies after jump from Balboa Park Bridge.”  Stark words to me who required a novel’s worth of explanations. I always knew, contrary to his friends’ assurances, as only lovers know, this would be his fate, and yet I still have things I yearn to say, of love and encouragement – and atonement for my missteps, if only time were mutable.

No silent grave to visit, I want to wander this “Park of Spanish Porticos,” alone, and listen for her answer to my question – Is True Love eternal?  I wrote to him, after I heard the news, just days after my own mother’s death.

“My Darling Mr. Oxblood,

The email arrived today, like a heavy book-kick to an already wounded dog.  Nikolaje said you died Friday night – underneath the Balboa Park Bridge.  He said you either fell or jumped.  My heart, or rather your heart that still resides within me, knows it’s the latter.  Two deaths in two days.

Did you visit the rose garden first?  It’s probably beautiful right now.  Did you stick your nose deep within the huge, heady, heirlooms?  Did you pull handfuls of petals from the bushes, scattering them about yourself, on the pathway, in the fountain?  Did you tuck one in your breast pocket as you did that first night?  Did they find it when they found you?  Did you think about it first or did you decide in the moment? Could I have stopped you?

I was never strong enough for you.  I could never nudge you – show you how beautiful you and your world truly were.  I was too much in reality – and you were forever in your romantic dreamland.  Did you know how much I loved you?  I wished a woman existed who could take care of you the way I never could (I wished I could have been that woman!).

It wasn’t easy for you here.  I wish there was some other way.  I do, however, understand. As you move on, you take a piece of my heart with you.

With My Love,
Miss Prussian Blue”

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask her to remind me that I already know all that she could ever teach me about Love. 

Today’s Recipe:
These flavors are similar to those found in Persian Love Cakes, but this recipe was my own creation.  I wanted to highlight rose to accompany the musings above and raspberry-rose as well as cardamom-rose are two of my favorite combinations.  For the cake, I used this walnut cake recipe, substituting pistachios for the walnuts. I covered the cake in marshmallow fondant before decorating with oxblood and Prussian blue flowers.

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream


Ingredients

    Pistachio Cardamom Cake
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs beaten, room temp
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted well-chopped Pistachios
  • Fresh raspberries
  • Fondant (optional)
  • Rose Buttercream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 – 2 teaspoon rose water (to taste)
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • food coloring (optional)

Directions

  1. MAKE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 ⁰ F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix together the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs. Stir wet ingredients into dry until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in pistachios.
  2. Pour batter evenly into pans. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a few moist crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake (do not overbake). Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
  3. MAKE BUTTERCREAM: In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy and smooth. On medium speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Add salt. Once powdered sugar and salt are fully incorporated, add rose water, milk, and food coloring, if using.
  4. Fill cake with rose buttercream and a layer of raspberries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired, and decorate.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcake

Today’s Musings:  TRUST YOUR GUT

I tell him I don’t like talking on the phone
He says he won’t ask me out via text
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him I prefer coffee or a cocktail for a first date
He asks me out for dinner
I relent
He’s not listening.

I tell him casual is good for me
He says, “It will be casual but upper scale.” He’s a “sucker for fine dining.”
I relent
He’s not listening.

What troubles me more – my easy acquiescence or his utter disregard for my desires?  I soothe my concerns.  “Am I making too big a deal about this?” “He wants to treat me well; what’s wrong with that?”  TRUST YOUR GUT – the gift my last relationship gave me. 

I text him this morning.  Let’s start with a cocktail and go from there – please and thank you.  For once in my life, I’m setting boundaries.  He declines, speaking volumes. 

I’m thanking my gut for its sage advice with these little treats below. 

Today’s Recipe:  REWARD YOUR GUT


Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12 generous cupcakes
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Sticky toffee bombs. If making 12, the batter will rise beautifully over the side of the tin. If you need to make a few more cupcakes, reduce the batter in each muffin tin slightly.


Ingredients

    Toffee Sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, spiced rum, or brandy
  • Cupcakes
  • 7 oz. ( 1 ¼ cups) coarsely chopped dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ⅓ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • Slightly sweetened whipped cream

Directions

  1. For Toffee Sauce: Whisk sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Add cream and bring to boil. Boil, whisking constantly, until toffee thickly coats the back of a spoon, 10-14 minutes. Whisk in rum. Set aside.
  2. For Cakes: Combine dates and water in a medium saucepan. Boil until dates are soft, about 2 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Line 12 muffin cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter to blend – the mixture will be grainy. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the date mixture, beating to blend. Divide batter among muffin cups (about ¼ cup each).
  4. Bake cupcakes until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cook cakes completely on a rack. Using a cupcake corer, make a core in each cupcake and fill with 3-4 Tablespoons of toffee sauce. You may need to wait for some of the sauce to absorb before adding more sauce. Replace cupcake core.
  5. Cover cupcakes with piped whipped cream and a drizzle of additional toffee sauce. [Note: for best results, the cupcakes should be served at room temperature, yet the whipped cream needs to be kept cold. You can keep the cupcakes on the counter and add the whipped cream and drizzle just before serving. Your gut will thank you.

** Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes

S’mores Cupcakes

My dear friend, Chris, is often encouraging me to include more “me” in my food photos – a video of me, all smiles, whisking up a cake, photos of me removing freshly-baked cookies from my professional-grade Thermador in my immaculate kitchen, me proudly holding my latest tart creation in my vintage apron.  If that’s what Chris imagines when he envisions me in the kitchen, who am I to correct him?  The reality is decidedly less glamourous.  On most days, you’ll find me barefoot, my unkempt hair pulled back in some odd top-knot, braless, sans makeup, and wearing last night’s pj’s.  When I’m in bake mode, I’m all in, girly glamour be damned. 

So, when the stars align and I manage to bake something divine AND get dolled up on the same day (in this case, Halloween), I feel I owe it to Chris to share a bit of both my worlds. Thank you, my friend, for always encouraging me.


S’mores Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Graham cracker crust and sinfully dark chocolate cake, topped with a pillowy swirl of toasted, sticky marshmallow meringue make for a decadent dessert – no campfire needed. This recipe makes a lot of frosting, so don’t skimp on your swirl.


Ingredients

    Crust
  • 2 cups Graham crackers crumbs
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Marshmallow Meringue Frosting
  • 6 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions


1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line 24 cupcake tins with liners. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and salt together until it resembles wet sand. Place a rounded tablespoon of crust mixture at the bottom on each liner and press firmly with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup. Bake for about 5 minutes until lightly golden.
2. Whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee granules and salt. Combine oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Add water to oil mixture. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake 18- 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes and to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Place egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan filled with 1-2” of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add the vanilla. Whisk on high speed for 5-6 minutes until stiff and glossy.
4. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. Using a kitchen torch, toast meringue frosting.

Apple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

When your sister says, “Dad was the best dad ever,” it makes you question your memory.  You wonder if you’ve incorrectly rewritten your story to match the narrative you want to tell.  You wonder if you’re falsely playing victim for attention.  So, you try to remember the forgotten good times, special times with your dad, when he loved you, supported you, and truly saw you as his child.  You recall a handful of times, age 13 or 14, when he took you to explore the local tide pools and then…nothing.  You cannot remember another instance, although you rack your brains for more.  So, you pull the dusty photo album from the closet shelf,  you turn the pages of your life, one year after the next, birthdays, Christmas, visiting grandparents, attempting to find other special times with him and then you realize there are only two photos of you with your dad.  Two photos, taken long ago, when you were a few months old, before you could even remember and then…nothing.  Not another photo, for the whole of your life.

Me, at 9 months and one of only two photos with dad.

I’m sometimes asked where I came up with the name Two-Bit Tart.  I can thank Dad for that.  When I was a teenager and young adult primping for a night out, he would sometimes comment, “You look like a two-bit tart!” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the antiquated term, it means “cheap hooker” – a slur.  Thanks dad.  Years later, I defiantly chose that name for this blog to say, “I remember how you treated me, but the emotional abuse I suffered did not – will not – break me.”


Apple Polenta Upside-Down Cake

  • Servings: 8 Servings
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I serve this cake often for autumn entertaining. Best served slightly warm, this rustic cake needs nothing more than a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup plus ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 medium (1 ½ lbs.) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into eights
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup polenta (yellow cornmeal)
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • Lightly-sweetened freshly-whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 9-inch- cake pan; line pan with parchment and butter parchment. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup sugar and cook until sugar dissolves and mixture turns deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add apple and gently shake skillet to distribute caramel evenly. Cover and cook until apples release their juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook until apples are tender and caramel thickens and coats apples, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer apples and caramel syrup to prepared cake pan, spreading evenly.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Place polenta in large bowl; pour boiling water over and stir to blend. Add remaining butter and 3/4 cup sugar to polenta mixture. Using electric mixer, beat until well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk in 2 additions each. Gently pour batter over apples in pan.
  3. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes. Run small knife between cake and pan sides to loosen cake. Carefully invert cake onto microwavable platter and peel off parchment. Cool 15 minutes. (To rewarm in microwave, heat on medium about 2 minutes.). Serve with freshly-whipped cream or ice cream.

Slightly adapted from Epicurious.

Julie’s Pound Cake

Pound Cake on a cake plate

I am unmoored, adrift on an alien sea without a recognizable land mass in sight. I’m anxious, a bit panicked even, scanning the horizon for a hint of familiarity, only to be met with unending waves of strangeness. I’m utterly lost and unsure how to be Julie during these times.

Until recently, the reality of the daily consequences of this pandemic somehow didn’t leave its mark upon me. Sure, my life was inconvenienced, but never changed beyond recognition. Last week, however, something shifted and I’ve been going through the unease that everyone else faced months ago. It’s disconcerting to be in this untethered mode while the rest of the world has moved past these initial discomforts and are now humming along nicely within this state of the “new normal.”

Nothing feels normal.

The only time my footing becomes sure is within the confines of my kitchen, when all else fades away and my mind becomes firmly focused on baking, like this tender pound cake just waiting for some fresh summer berries and a dollop of whipped cream.


Julie’s Pound Cake

  • Servings: 10-12 servings
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This recipe requires a bundt pan and results in a tender version of the well-known classic.


Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325⁰ F. Butter and flour bundt pan. Stir together flour, salt, cream of tartar and cardamom. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter on high speed until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Reduce speed to low and gradually add sugar. Return speed to high and continue beating for about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, blending completely between each addition. It is helpful to add a tablespoon of the flour with each egg to stop the batter from curdling. Beat in yogurt and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and slowly add dry ingredients, beating just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake cake, rotating halfway through, until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, about 70 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

*Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine.