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.
This recipe requires a bundt pan and results in a tender version of the well-known classic.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ambiguity. His clever, well-crafted emails arrive in her mailbox daily, sounding a bit flirty, yet remaining maddeningly ambiguous. Until she sees him again — wrapped in a young, blowsy blonde, replete with pert, up-turned nose and sparkly cell phone case.
Now she knows. Ambiguous no more.
Ambiguity. She’s discussing red velvet cake with a coworker. Or, more precisely, red velvet cake doughnuts. She’s never understood the passion for the insipid flavor of red velvet anything. “Close your eyes,” she says, “and what do you really taste? It’s not chocolate; the cocoa powder is too minimal. It’s perhaps uniquely tart – but is that necessarily a good thing? What flavor makes it so adored?” Her coworker thinks it contains raspberries – no, the luxurious red comes from food coloring these days or beets, non-Dutched cocoa in the past. Not a berry to be found.
‘But couldn’t you,” he asked, “remake it in your style? With chocolate and raspberries and cream cheese frosting?”
Yes, she could. It wouldn’t be red velvet cake anymore, but something different, richer, more flavorful, and utterly her.
Whether this a truly a red velvet cake depends on what defines red velvet for you. This one contains rich, dark, moist chocolate cake with a hint of raspberry and lashings of cream cheese frosting and is anything but ambiguous with flavor.
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon instant coffee
½ teaspoon salt
1.2 oz. package freeze-dried raspberries, crushed to a powder (I buy mine at Trader Joe’s)
2 cups cold water
2/3 cup canola oil
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons red food coloring
4 oz. package frozen raspberries
½ cup sugar
Cream Cheese Frosting
16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment and dust with flour.
Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee, and salt. Stir in the dried raspberries (reserving a bit for decoration, if desired).
Combine together water, oil, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients (the mixture will be very wet).
Working quickly, divide batter between pans and bake for 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, invert onto cooling racks and cool completely.
Meanwhile, make raspberry jam. Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and set.
To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy.
Sandwich cake with plenty of cream cheese frosting and raspberry jam. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting. Chill until ready to serve.
Exotic cardamom and sweet rose come together in this wonderfully textured almond cake baked in a cast iron skillet.
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.
Rich Walnut Cake with tart Morello cherries pair well in the layer cake for a special occasion.
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.