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).
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.