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.
These last two weeks, my lovely neighbor has been providing me with a bevy of tangerines from her bountiful tree. I’ve been content to peel and devour most of them “as is,” the exception being their inclusion in this luscious roasted lamb shoulder. A slow braise results in a meltingly tender roast and bright, Mediterranean flavors ensure it’s mouthwateringly tasty. The flavor profile came from this 2013 Bon Apetit recipe, but frankly, I fell in love with the flavor pairing of orange (or in this case tangerine) peel and tomatoes during my culinary school stint…and my cooking method is much simpler, too.
This dish is definitely making a reappearance at my next gathering (Easter, perhaps?) – The brightly colored stuffing makes for a lovely presentation – plus a long braise ensures minimal fuss time for me.
A stuffing of bright Mediterranean flavors and a tomato-y red wine sauce make this meltingly tender roast extra special.
1 3-lb. boneless lamb shoulder
3 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
2 Tablespoons minced fresh sage, plus 8-10 leaves for sauce
1 ½ Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, plus additional for garnish
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tangerines, unpeeled and thinly sliced, seeds removed
½ bottle pinot noir
28 oz. can tomato puree
Cut lamb horizontally without cutting all the way through so you can open it like a book. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine garlic, olives, minced sage, rosemary and salt. With lamb open, spread 2/3 of olive mixture on left side of lamb. Cover olive mixture with thinly sliced tangerines (you should have 4-6 slices left over) and cover tangerines with remaining 1/3 of olive mixture. Starting from the left side, roll up lamb, tucking in stuffing as needed. Secure roast well with kitchen twine tied at 1” intervals.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Meanwhile, over a high heat, heat 2 Tablespoons oil until smoking in an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. Add lamb and brown well on all sides, a few minutes per side. Set lamb aside. Reduce heat to medium and deglaze pot by adding pinot noir to pan and scraping up any browned bits. Add tomato puree and heat until bubbling. Add remaining 4-6 tangerine slices and sage leaves. Return lamb to pot, ensuring liquid reaches halfway up side of roast, cover and place in oven. Roast 3 hours, turning roast over halfway through cooking time.
Transfer lamb to cutting board and let rest for 20 minutes. With lid off, return pot to stovetop. Remove any accumulated fat from cooking liquid, if needed. Boil vigorously until sauce is thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Strain sauce through a sieve, pressing on solids. Season sauce with salt. To serve, slice roast crosswise, serve with sauce over polenta (optional) and sprinkled with remaining rosemary.
If baking is Love made edible, then these Viennese whirls are my billet-doux to St. Valentine, himself – layers of homemade raspberry-rose jam and vanilla buttercream sandwiched between delicate melt-in-your-mouth Viennese cookies. Will you be mine, Valentine?
7 oz. confectioner’s sugar, sifted plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add rose water. Transfer to a small container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.
Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment. Using a 2” round cutter as a guide, draw 8 circles on each sheet of paper, spaced well apart. Turn the paper over so the pencil marks are underneath.
Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour and cornstarch and beat until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle. Pipe 24 swirled rounds (not rosettes), inside the circles on the baking sheets. Refrigerate cookies for 15 minutes before baking (this will help cookies retain their shape).
Bake in the center of the oven for 13—15 minutes, until pale golden-brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make Buttercream: Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle.
Assemble: Spoon a layer of jam onto the flat side of 12 of the cookies and place jam-side up on a cooling rack. Pipe an equal thickness of buttercream over the jam and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Share the love.
When someone learns I’m a chef and food blogger, one of the first questions is usually, “What is your specialty?” I’m never quite sure how to respond – Everything edible?
If I’m honest, I should respond that I’m really, really skilled at whipping up a batch of cookies somewhere around midnight because, well, it amounts to the almost nightly use of my oven. One bowl, a handful of ingredients, a sheet pan and, viola, late night sweet treats – to the detriment of my waistline.
Take, for example, these Lemon Verbena Shortbread cookies, last night’s recent addition to my “Cookies at Midnight” series.
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.