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.

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
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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.

Raspberry Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

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.

Her Red Velvet – ambiguous no more.


Raspberry Red Velvet Cake

  • Servings: One 8-inch Cake
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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.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 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
  • Raspberry Jam
  • 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

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment and dust with flour.
  2. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee, and salt. Stir in the dried raspberries (reserving a bit for decoration, if desired).
  3. Combine together water, oil, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients (the mixture will be very wet).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Sandwich cake with plenty of cream cheese frosting and raspberry jam. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting. Chill until ready to serve.

Cardamom-Rose Scented Almond Cake

Exotic cardamom and sweet rose come together in this wonderfully textured almond cake baked in a cast iron skillet.

Cardamom Rose Cake
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.


Cardamom-Rose Scented Almond Cake

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. lightly grease a 10” cast iron skillet and dust with sugar, knocking out excess. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Set aside.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Cardamom Rose Almond Cake