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
  • Print

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
  • Print

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.

Tropical Tres Leches Cake

A pan of Tropical Tres Leches Cake with fresh fruit

 

To be alive at all is to have scars.
– John Steinbeck

How beautiful you are
He said
A tapestry of scars
– Atticus

I couldn’t help staring at him, transfixed. His perfect Dutch face – high cheekbones, full lips, mutable blue-grey eyes, alabaster skin – dissected diagonally, from his left eyebrow, across his nose, to the right of his chin – by a jagged, pink scar.

He. Was. Beautiful.

I blushed when those eyes caught me looking.

Thirty years later and scars still fascinate me. Rather than flaws, I see them as character, turning unremarkable symmetry into something unique, exquisite. In addition to their visual interest, each scar carries a story – nature’s version of a tattoo – without any say from the owner in the final artwork. This particular scar, this story, was the result of smashing through a windshield.

I find the invisible scars just a beautiful – the ones carried on the inside. We hide them from the world, afraid we’ll appear disfigured, imperfect, damaged. However, they’re what make us truly remarkable. A smooth cabochon is lovely, but a faceted stone, with its 1000 cuts, is much more precious and shines with fire. There’s no need to hide your scars from me – they’re what I like best. I won’t love you in spite of them; I’ll love you because of them. Scars, both the visible and unseen, tell the world we have lived…and survived.

– written July 2019

As is often my style, what I’ve written above has absolutely nothing to do with the recipe below, except that they were both birthed by me.


Tropical Tres Leches Cake

  • Servings: 12-16 servings
  • Print

Ingredients

    Tres Leches Milk
  • 10 oz. dulce de leche or 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (see note below)
  • 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Cake
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Topping
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup coconut, toasted
  • Assorted chopped tropical fruit (strawberries, mangoes, kiwi, or berries)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together dulce de leche, evaporated milk, heavy whipping cream and vanilla. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325⁰ F. Grease and flour a 9”x13” pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. Whip eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until frothy. With the mixer on medium, gradually add the sugar until incorporated, then beat on medium high until the mixture is pale yellow, thick and glossy, 8-10 minutes.
  3. While the mixture is beating, heat the milk and butter in a small pan over low heat until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. When the eggs are ready, reduce the mixer to slow and add the milk. The milk can be fairly warm, but not hot to the touch.
  4. Add the flour mixture in three parts with the mixer on medium speed and beat just until combined. Scrape down the sides as needed.
  5. Pour the mixture into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. The cake is done when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon handle or chopstick, poke holes in the cake surface, spacing them about ½” apart (a skewer is too small). Pour the tres leches liquid slowly over the cake and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to overnight (the longer the better).
  6. A few hours before serving, whip together the cream, corn syrup, and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread the topping over the cake, garnish with fruit and coconut.
  7.  

    Note: If you can’t find dulce de leche, you can make your own by slowly reducing sweetened condensed milk in the microwave. Pour the milk in a microwave safe bowl and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on medium power for 3-5 minute intervals until milk begins to darken, uncovering and stirring between intervals. Once milk begins to color (about 10 minutes total), reduce power to low and continue heating and stirring until thickened and light brown. This process can take 30 minutes or longer.

    Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.


Blood Orange and Honey Upside-Down Cake

 A Blood Orange and Honey Upside-Down Cake dotted with orange slices
He loosely grips the steering wheel with one hand, the other nestles along my left thigh. The dappled sunlight warms our scalps, unimpeded by a convertible roof tucked away in the trunk. My hair is kept restrained by a scarf. I catch his eye and grin, content and ready for another adventure…

The Southern California weather’s been ideal, bright sunny days with cool breezes, and I long for the return of road trips with my guy, shelved during this self-isolation and COVID shaming. Reminding myself that the best part of the adventure is often the journey, I suggest a road trip where the final destination becomes secondary, where we needn’t leave the safety of our convertible. The first weekend, we head northeast to two mountain destinations offering up patches of slushy snow and the fresh, cool air we so desperately crave. Our picnic by the lake, his doing, is a bonus. We’re hooked. The next weekend, it’s two hours south to Julian, a town known for its freshly baked apple pies. Not only do we pick up a still-warm apple crumble pie, we also pull off at a dusty roadside fruit stand for blood oranges, avocados, and honey. Next weekend, it’s our longest adventure yet, up the coast to an enclave famous for aebleskivers and Danish kitsch.

This cake is a celebration of our roadside stop last weekend where we stocked up on local honey and blood oranges. These farm-fresh ingredients made their way into this refreshing citrusy dessert that looks quite the showstopper when the cake is inverted onto the serving platter.


Blood Orange and Honey Upside-Down Cake

  • Servings: 8-10 servings
  • Print

A refreshing citrus cake that looks quite a showstopper when turned out is sure to be a favorite of anyone who appreciates a bit of marmalade.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice (either blood orange or regular)
  • 1 to 2 unpeeled blood oranges (depending on size), very thinly sliced crosswise (discard ends). I used a mandolin.
  • ¾ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon grated orange peel (either blood orange or regular)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • Lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. In a 10-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, stir honey and orange juice until boiling. Cook without stirring until mixture is foamy, slightly thickened, and reaches 230°, 2 to 4 minutes. Place in freezer until cooled, about 10 minutes. Slightly overlap orange slices in concentric circles over syrup.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in orange peel.
  3. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir half the flour mixture into butter mixture just until incorporated. Stir in milk, then remaining flour mixture. Do not over mix.  Carefully spoon batter over orange slices in pan and spread evenly.
  4. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Lay a flat plate over pan and carefully invert cake onto plate. Lift pan off, being careful with hot syrup. Allow to cool completely and cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream, if desired. This cake is best eaten the same day it is made.

I’d love to claim this recipe as one of my own, but it actually comes from Sunset Magazine. My only alteration was substituting blood oranges for standard oranges.

Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

Rows of Apple Spice Muffins

“How often do you blog?” he asks.

“I try to post twice a week,” she unthinkingly replies, “Every Monday and Wednesday.”

Her answer was honest…albeit, incorrect. She USED to post twice a week, yet she hasn’t done so in a year. In December, Mardi Gras for most dessert bloggers, her fingers didn’t type a word. In 2019, her unique views didn’t surpass the previous year’s count, a first.

It’s not only about the statistics.

She compares her dull flat-lays to the avante-garde images in her head – a bowl of soup precariously teetering on a see-saw (quirky and unexpected), a slowly melting chocolate truffle on a tongue (sexy, gothic and moody) – and is chagrinned. Her intros are stilted and forced – telling, rather than showing. Her words only seem to flow when in the midst of upheaval – not a sustainable situation. Unsatisfied with her results, she wonders if she’s stuck in a pattern that doesn’t suit her anymore.

But who is she without her blog, her constant companion for the past 11 years? She considers her options and decides, before killing it off completely, to seek CPR – her first remedy – a writing course to revive words that have flat lined.


Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
  • Print

Moist cupcakes with the unexpected flavors of cardamom and 5-spice garnished with walnuts and rich cream cheese frosting, if desired.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ¼ teaspoon clove
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 ” pieces
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • Cream cheese frosting (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350⁰ F. Line cupcake tins with papers.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda, spices, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, sugar, egg, oil, ginger and water. Add molasses mixture to flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Fold in apples.
  3. Pour batter into tins, sprinkle with chopped walnuts (if using) and bake until toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely and decorate with cream cheese frosting.