It’s been a long weekend. Not long like ‘yay, it’s a holiday’ long. More like ‘hours piling onto hours piling onto more hours’ long. I’m pretty firm about this remaining a food blog, so I won’t bore you with the details of what’s been going on in my life. But let’s just say I’m cooking more for one now than for two. Moving has a way of highlighting problems rather than solving them. So after twelve years of comfort, stability, laughs, road trips, cups of coffee, holidays, birthdays together, apartments spanning the country–I’ll be spending a bit more time alone. I’ve actually written this paragraph many times trying to just come out and say it. So there it is. And I’ve had enough sleepless nights, tears, and a rather lousy appetite because of it. So hell. Today it was time to bake a cake.
This cake actually took two tries. I accidentally mixed in two sticks of butter the first time around instead of one as the recipe instructed. I don’t recommend that. It gets pretty messy. So instead of jumping right into Round #2, I decided to take a break and go to yoga. The class itself was overcrowded, overpriced, and a little overrated. But it turned my day upside down and gave me a little perspective. At the end of class, the instructor started talking about being thankful for our blessings, seen and unseen. Unseen blessings. It’s a nice notion when you’re feeling a little sorry for yourself, isn’t it? We all probably count our obvious blessings; for me those are family, good health, friends, and relative financial stability. But what about your unseen blessings?
I like thinking about that notion–thinking that there are blessings out there waiting to be had. More laughter and more cups of coffee. More unspoken understandings and inside jokes. More love. So this weekend, I made a point to keep busy and had the chance to catch up with some very old friends over scorpion bowls (ouch), tea, walks around the block, and tearful phone calls (no, this wasn’t all at once although that would be quite a sight). I haven’t seen some of these friends in ten years. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I want to bake each one of them a cake to say I’m so sorry we lost touch. But the great thing about old friends is there’s no need. They’re still there to listen and smile and give big, long hugs. So thank you, guys. You know who you are. Now get over here and have a slice of cake.
Round #2 shaped up beautifully. This cake is so incredibly moist due to the buttermilk and the “secret” ingredient: butternut squash. The crumb is unbelievably delicate and the flavor is warm and buttery with subtle hints of vanilla, nutmeg, and ginger. For at least a brief few moments while you’re eating this cake, all is right with the world. Really.
And while we’re speaking of blessings, thank you all so much for stopping by, for commenting occasionally, and for your inquisitive and entertaining emails. I need that. I never realized how much direction and sense of purpose this blog would give me. I never anticipated the friendships I’d make with other bloggers. So while I no longer have someone directly across the table to share this with, I know I’ve got some amazing old friends. And I’ve got you. I feel blessed for that alone.
This cake can be made a day or two in advance. After the icing has set, wrap the cake in plastic and refrigerate. Let come to room temperature before serving.
From: Fine Cooking Magazine
For the Cake:
For the Icing:
For the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 F. Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan; tap out excess flour. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the oil and beat until combined, about 15 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well on low speed. Add the vinegar and vanilla and mix again until just combined. Then add half of the flour and the baking soda, salt, ginger, and nutmeg, mixing on low speed until just combined. Add half of the buttermilk and mix until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk.
Stir the squash into the batter with a wooden spoon or spatula. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and smooth top with spatula. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the icing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, buttermilk, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt until smooth. Add more buttermilk, a few drops at a time, as needed, until the icing is pourable but still quite thick. Pour back and forth in thick ribbons over the cooled cake. Sprinkle the ginger on top. Let the icing set at room temperature, about 45 minutes, before serving.
Cool the cake on wire rack for 30 minutes; then carefully invert cake onto rack and remove pan. When the cake’s completely cool, transfer it to a serving plate.
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.