I’ve been thinking about things that have nothing to do with my recipe again; about whether alcohol lowers nascent inhibitions – or merely lowers our overall standards. Umm…nevermind.
As I said, nothing to do with this quintessential crumb cake or the reason for baking it. I’m four weeks into my new job and, one thing I’ve discovered is that these people relish feeding each other as much as I do. I’ve found my food tribe. In one short month, I’ve had home-fried catfish, freshly made salsa, street tacos, Vietnamese coffee (twice), Porto’s pastries, and some warm and fluffy add-your-own-frosting cinnamon rolls from a local bakery. My pounds, which I was hoping would melt right off once I began working again, are staying firmly planted around my middle.
This crumb cake was my first contribution to the food-is-love fest at my new office. It has the ideal 50/50 ratio of crumb to cake that every crumb cake should have – and the cake portion is so light, rather than eat the crumb topping and throw away the cake – it begs you to eat the whole thing…and perhaps even go for another slice. No health–redeeming qualities – this is pure morning indulgence.
Make crumb topping: Mix both sugars, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir to blend. Add flour and toss until moist clumps form. Set aside.
Make Cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9” spring-form pan. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until well combined. Add yogurt, lemon zest and vanilla and beat just until blended. Add flour mixture in 2 additions, beating just until incorporated.
Transfer ½ of cake batter to prepared baking pan and spread evenly. Squeeze small handfuls of topping together to form small clumps. Drop ⅓ of topping clumps in a ring over cake batter (topping will migrate towards the middle while baking). Cover topping with remaining cake batter, smooth as evenly as possible. Cover with remaining topping clumps.
Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and topping is deep golden brown and slightly crisp, about 45 minutes. Cool cake and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
She unlocks her front door, kicks and stretches her way out of her work clothes and bra, throws on yoga pants and a tank and stumbles barefoot into the kitchen.
A bad day, she knows, requires a balm – one made from the holy trinity of butter, sugar and flour…something quick, that doesn’t require a cookbook, that’s single-girl serving sized. Something to soothe.
She’s perfected just that sort of recipe. She calls it her personal pound cake – It’s 1/8th of a standard recipe, just enough for one person; enough to palliate without overdosing. One bowl and five ingredients comprise the basic cake; the perfect canvas for improvisation. From there, she can add berries, almonds or lemon zest. She can soak it in rose syrup or blanket it with cream cheese frosting. She can use it as a base for scoops of chocolate ice-cream or warm peach compote – personalizing it to target whatever ails her.
Tonight, and more nights than she’d like to admit, this is her medicine. Others mix up a drink, she whisks up one of these.
This recipe requires a 3”x5” mini loaf pan. I use the disposable aluminum ones available at most grocery stores for quick clean up. A kitchen scale makes quick work of measuring ingredients. The trick with this recipe is to personalize it with your favorite add-ins.
2 oz. (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 oz. sugar
1 large egg
2 oz. flour
add-ins of your choice
Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Whisk together butter and sugar (If your butter isn’t softened and you’re impatient, soften it in the microwave, keeping a close eye on it so it doesn’t melt).
Whisk in egg and salt. (I add a pinch of flour at this point to help avoid separation that can happen when adding egg to butter).
Stir in flour. Add your flavors of choice and spoon into loaf pan (no pan greasing or flouring required).
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from pan, slice and indulge.
Honeyed-Walnut Variation: In a small pan over medium-high heat, combine 4 Tablespoons of chopped walnuts and 2 Tablespoons honey. Cook until nuts are toasted and honey is thick and bubbly. Cool and add to batter. Candied Orange Variation: At the time you add the egg , add 1 Tablespoon Orange Flower Water. After stirring in the flour, stir in 2 Tablespoons chopped candied orange peel.
Introverted, homebody me launched a book club last month. Can you believe it? Rather uncharacteristic, but I’d been considering joining one for a while and couldn’t find any existing one that I liked. With a burst of initiative, I thought, “What the hell,” and decided to create the kind of book club I’d want to join. And, with that, “Literature and Libations” was born. We already have 60 members.
An unexpected side benefit of my book club is that on a grey and chilly day like today, I’m justified in brewing a cup of tea, cutting a big slice of this cardamom rose cake, and curling up with a book for the day, assuring myself that rather than being lazy, I’m industriously handling “club business.”
Now, if I can just find a way to justify my afternoon naps. This month, we’re reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
My local coffee house serves a delicately flavored, slightly sweet cardamom-rose latte that I adore. I’ve captured its exotic flavor in this simple cake, inspired by this recipe.
1 cup almond flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon (scant) salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
½ cup mild olive oil
2 Tablespoons rose water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, browned and slightly cooled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. lightly grease a 10” cast iron skillet and dust with sugar, knocking out excess. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together until very thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Combine olive oil and rose water and slowly drizzle into the egg mixture, continuing to whisk as you go. Once combined, reduce speed to low and drizzle in the browned butter. Once combined, gently fold in the dry ingredients, taking care not to deflate the batter. Pour batter into the cast iron skillet.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Let the cake cool. Serve slices slightly warm or room temperature.
With a natural design esthetic that falls along the line of Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, it’s challenging to content myself with royal icing roses and buttercream doll cakes. I realize, however, as an utter decorating novice, I’m obliged to acquire the basic skills first. I’ll discover my particular decorating style once I’ve mastered gum paste pigs and delicate string work. Today, I’m struggling to learn a technique called “brush embroidery,” although the final product reminds me of porcelain rather than embroidery. I’ve learned much on my initial flawed attempt.
With my first cakes, I’ve been practicing rolled fondant. While I appreciate the smooth finish fondant delivers, I’m not an admirer of the lackluster, tooth-achingly sweet flavor. When served a slice of fondant-covered cake, I typically peel off the fondant before eating the naked cake. As a counterbalance to fondant’s sweetness, I came up with this minimally sweet walnut cake and tart Morello cherry filling; no fondant peeling needed.
Use your favorite vanilla buttercream recipe with this cake
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
⅓ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
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 chopped walnuts
1 jar Morello cherries in light syrup (available at Trader Joe’s), drained and dried on paper towel.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in walnuts.
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. Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
Fill cake with buttercream and a layer of Morello cherries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired.
I’m no longer a fondant virgin – I believe Mary Berry would say in her polite British way, “it’s a bit informal”
If she had requested 100 mini-tartlets, my answer would have been yes. But she didn’t. She wanted cupcakes, 100 of them – and a small personal cake for the birthday girl – all covered with piped ombré rosettes. Piped? Ombré? Rosettes? Another lucrative catering gig missed – my lacking skill-set convincing me to pass it up. This isn’t a case of false modesty – I bake tasty shit. I’m confident I could give her a mouthwatering dessert to remember, but…cake decorating? That’s its own animal – and one that I’m not familiar with. I’ve probably piped buttercream on 10 cakes my entire life and never-have-I-ever worked with fondant. Sure, I’d attempt it for a friend, but not for a paying customer – no way, José. I image being one of those horror stories on Cake Wrecks – “This first photo is the cute cake we found on Pinterest…and this scary mess is what the so-called professional caterer gave us!”
Ugh! So, after declining the catering job, I decided to school myself on how to prettify my tasty cakes and cupcake. It’s gonna take many hours of practice, practice, practice. The cake above is my first crack at fondant – not catering pro worthy, but a valiant first try.
My first lesson learned: Fondant does NOT cover a multitude of sins. Make sure your cake and buttercream are thoroughly smoothed and leveled – it will make a decided difference.
I’ve heard store-bought fondant is almost flavorless. With a bag of marshmallows and box of powdered sugar, it’s so simple (and better tasting) to make your own, although a bit sweet.
8 ounces marshmallows (4 cups not packed, or half of a 16-ounce bag)
2 Tablespoons water
1 pound powdered sugar (4 cups), sifted, plus extra for dusting
Food coloring or flavored extracts, optional
Place marshmallows and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute until the marshmallows are puffy. Stir the marshmallows with a rubber spatula until they are melted and smooth. If some un-melted marshmallow pieces remain, return to the microwave for 30 seconds, continuing to heat and stir until the marshmallows are entirely smooth and free of lumps.
Transfer melted marshmallows to the bowl of an electric mixer. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, a little at a time adding more as the powdered sugar is incorporated. Continue on medium until sugar is fully incorporated and the fondant is smooth.
Scrape the fondant onto a work surface dusted with additional powdered sugar. Dust your hands with powdered sugar and knead the fondant until it loses its stickiness. Once the fondant is a smooth ball, wrap it in cling wrap and set it aside at room temperature until you are ready to use it.
If you want to add coloring or flavoring to your fondant, flatten it into a round disc, add your desired amount of coloring or flavoring to the center of the disc, and fold the disc over on itself so that the color or flavor is enclosed in the center of the fondant ball. Knead the ball until the fondant is a uniform color. To use, roll fondant into a large enough disk to cover the entire cake and transfer to cake, cutting away any overlap and gently smoothing fondant over top and sides of cake.