Hello from the other side! I realize we haven’t been back here for a few weeks, and I’m sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I’ve been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you’d print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important –you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit “send.” My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that’s what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
And then I proceeded to take the longest nap I’ve taken in six months. I don’t generally allow myself to take naps, but I made a pretty big exception and woke up feeling squarely on the other side of it all. We went out to dinner and had good wine and bowls of pasta at our favorite celebration spot. I felt teary and tired and gripped onto Sam’s arm for most of the meal, still in disbelief that I wouldn’t be waking up each morning working on book recipes. In a sense I feel like I just told you guys about the cookbook. In another sense, it feels like I’ve been working on the manuscript forever. I’m so pleased and proud of the way it has turned out, and can’t wait to share it with you.
It will be a little while though: Now that the publisher has it in their hands, it takes almost a year to make the book come to life. Right now, we’re looking at a December 2013 publish date, so this next year will be filled with lots of edits, a photo shoot, design meetings, revisions and the like. I think it’ll be a busy year but for now, I’m glad to step away into the land of eggnog, Christmas trees, strings of lights and afternoon naps.
If you’ve followed the blog for some time, you know that Sam is the web designer I hired for Marge and, after dating long-distance for a year, he is the reason I eventually moved up to Seattle from the Bay Area. Our story will be in the book as will the story of beginning and growing a small business. It looks like it will include anywhere from 60-70 whole-grain breakfast recipes, and I’ve been snapping photos of our house, neighborhood, farmers markets, and ingredients I use in the kitchen and many of those will be in the book as well. The cool thing is that the photos will actually be a collaboration in the sense that there will be many by me, but plenty of photos of the food itself will be done by an incredible local photographer (I’m not certain I’m yet allowed to say who she is, but I will as soon as I get the thumbs-up).
On Sunday we were debating what to make for breakfast and Sam asked if I’d cook something from the book. We’d both gotten used to having the recipes around all the time that he was starting to miss them as I’d been focusing much more on writing rather than recipe testing. That moment made me smile — the book’s become a part of our lives quickly, and so many of the recipes are new morning favorites. We lounged around debating which one it would be: whole-grain gingerbread, salmon crème fraîche tart, gingered grits with golden raisins, or maybe just some good leftover bread with my honeyed tangerine marmalade. So many decisions. So many recipes we’ve both come to love.
For now though, it feels good to have a little space from the book, to dip into my files of holiday recipes that I’ve been looking forward to making. This eggnog loaf actually wasn’t even on my radar until this week when my friend and fellow Kitchn writer, Emma Christensen, developed it. The second I saw her photos I knew I wanted to make it and thought I’d try doing so using whole-grain flours and natural sugar. The result? A lightly-spiced holiday loaf cake with a subtly sweet, boozy glaze that is already nominated as a must-make-again-soon this holiday season. I rarely tell you that you absolutely must make something on the blog. I figure you all decide what looks good to you, try a few recipes every now and again, and move on with your lives. But if I were to rate the recipes here from 1-10, this is a 10. It’s simple to put together with ingredients you likely already have at home (with the exception of eggnog, perhaps) and makes a wonderful afternoon snacking cake, morning sweet or after-dinner dessert with a little espresso.
The trouble I have with loaf cakes is that they often come off as heavy and dense but because this version is made with a mixture of spelt flour and whole-wheat pastry flour, it has a delightfully light, springy crumb and doesn’t feel at all overly-indulgent. If you’ve baked much from the blog, you know I have a thing for spelt flour. Remember the Rhubarb Custard Bars in the spring or the more recent Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits? I often turn to spelt flour in the kitchen because, while it’s whole-grain in composition, it behaves much like an all-purpose white flour: it has a mild flavor and produces baked goods with a tender, soft texture. Here, it helps form a loaf that’s everything a holiday cake should be: fragrant and begging to be shared.
Happy weekend to you. I’m so looking forward to lots of baking in the month ahead. Also, the lovely Melissa from The Faux Martha won the granola giveaway from the last post. Thank you all so much for commenting — I loved hearing what you were thankful for, and loved sending a box of Marge out to a blog reader. Let’s do that again soon, shall we?
The only natural cane sugar I had in the house was a coarse turbinado sugar, so I used that here and it turned out delicious. I will say that the butter and sugar don’t whip up quite as light and fluffy as they would with a finer-grain sugar and that’s why my version isn’t as tall and stately as Emma’s loaf. But I’m not so sure it’s a short coming, really. For the glaze, Emma suggests any dark booze you have: rum, bourbon or brandy. I opted for rum and folded a little into the batter itself. Last, full-fat eggnog is the best choice for this recipe as the lower-fat varieties won’t become nearly as frothy.
Adapted from: Emma Christensen’s recipe for The Kitchn
Heat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×5 loaf pan with parchment so that the extra hangs over the sides. Spray the parchment and loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the eggnog at high speed until it becomes frothy and airy, about 8 minutes. Don’t expect it to actually firm up like whipped cream as it has other ingredients (namely eggs) preventing that. Keep the frothy eggnog in the refrigerator until ready to use.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the two flours, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
Wash the bowl to your standing mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Beat the butter at medium speed until it become creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the sugar until the mixture is is smooth and well-incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla and the rum. Scrape down the sides as needed.
Add the flour mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer, and mix on low until the ingredients just come together into a dough. Be careful not to overmix.
Using a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the whipped eggnog into the batter. Then fold the remaining eggnog into the batter. It will feel pretty loose at first, but don’t worry: just keep gently folding and stirring, and eventually it will form a nice, pourable batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then lift the loaf out by the parchment paper and transfer it to a cooling rack. Remove the parchment.
When the loaf has cooled but is still warm to the touch, whisk together the glaze and spoon over the top of the loaf. Allow the loaf to sit until the icing is set and dry. Slice and serve. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to three days.
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.