As many of you know, Linnea and I currently live at my mom’s house. It’s a long story that involves my mom going back to graduate school, the family dogs, her eventually moving home, and me losing my job. It’s very temporary and while I never envisioned being thirty and living at home–really, it’s wonderful. I’ve gotten to spend so much time with my mom: sitting at the counter watching her cook; obeying her nonsensical driveway parking rules; talking about books, celebrities, Obama’s charm. But Linnea and I have set a date that January 1 we’ll be moving out. It’s time. I can’t wait to live right in the city, where you can get a piece of pizza after 9 p.m. (you can’t get anything after 9 p.m. in Marin) and walk out your door in the morning to grab a cup of coffee and hop on the bus. I miss the constant buzz of a city, the way the sun glints off the buildings, and the proximity of your neighbors. That being said, Linnea, my mom and I all had a lovely (albeit quiet) suburban Halloween. We baked, we drank, we ordered a pizza, we drank some more, we carved pumpkins, and we handed out mini candy bars to the –drumroll, please– one trick-or-treater who dropped by.
I had big plans for my pumpkin this year. I was going to carve a cupcake on the front, and it was going to be epic. Well suffice it to say, my vision fell flat (pumpkin below is mine, the two below that are my mom’s and Linnea’s).
Blame it on failing high school geometry or that second glass of wine, but it really ended up looking like a pumpkin with the entire front carved out. Oh well. At least one thing turned out just as planned: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s English Gingerbread Cake.
While I usually do a festive soup or a hearty pasta on Halloween, we were all pretty wiped. So we ordered pizza. And then my mom and I set out to make this lovely cake.
For those of you who may not know Rose’s blog, Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum, she’s a cake goddess. She’s the real deal. Her first cake book, The Cake Bible, was quite the sensation although I must admit I do not own it…I merely ogle it at bookstores. But her second cake book just came out, Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, and it’s downright lovely. While at first glance some of the recipes may seem tedious (and let’s be honest, some are), in reality Rose describes each step so clearly that the recipes are more narrative than many of us may be used to. She has a clear style of laying out exactly what needs doing, gives you conversions in each recipe for volume and weight, has organized the book logically into types of cake (butter and oil cakes, sponge cakes, cheese cakes etc.) and has beautiful photographs throughout to inspire and guide you. So while there are easily ten cakes I want to make right off the bat, the Gingerbread seemed perfect for a cool autumn evening. It’s a moist, spicy cake with a hint of citrus–according to Rose, a true English classic.
So while I miss having my own place to decorate and while this time of year makes me strangely wish I had my own little munchkins, we had a pretty great evening….I hope that you did, too. Oh, and I got a new camera! I had to refrain from posting 50 pictures of this cake–I’ve been taking photos of everything, and many of them. But hopefully in the coming weeks, the pictures around here will begin to improve. Happy Sunday.
From: Rose’s Heavenly Cakes
For Cake Batter
For Lemon Butter Syrup:
Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325. In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the butter, golden syrup, sugar, and marmalade over medium-low heat until melted. Set aside uncovered until just barely warm, about 10 minutes. Whisk in eggs and milk.
To make the batter, in a large bowl, whisk the two flours, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter mixture, stirring with a large silicone spatula until smooth (consistency of thick soup). Using the spatula, scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake cake for 50-60 min., or until wire cake tester comes out clean from the center and cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. While cake cools, begin syrup.
For syrup: In a small pan, stir together the sugar, lemon juice, and butter. Heat over medium-low, stirring until the butter’s melted and the sugar dissolves. Brush half the syrup over the top of the cake. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been coated lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Brush the bottom with the remaining syrup. To prevent splitting, invert the cake onto a serving plate so the top is up. For extra moistness, cover the cake with plastic wrap while still hot and allow it to cool (I did this–don’t be scared, it works!). Wrap airtight for 24 hours before serving (I did not do this).
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.