marble chocolate crumble cake

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When we were about to board a plane for Dublin, my father asks me, How is your life? It was a deceptively easy question, the sort of query that requires only a perfunctory response. I could have said, Great! Busy! Rich! Frightening! Unsettling! Confusing! I could have delivered the simplest of monosyllabic responses, but instead I said, I don’t know. My pop likes his meat medium rare so instead of explaining myself, I fixate on a pool of blood eddying at the corner of his plate. I wanted to say that while leaving a place that resembled comfort, or at least delivered a terrific illusion of it, was the bravest decision I’ve ever made, I’ve no idea what’s next. I don’t know what it is that I want; I just know what I don’t want, and winnowing up the options seems like an impossible proposition. So I chicken out and I don’t say any of these things, I just say, I don’t know. Dissatisfied, my pop says, That’s a load of bullshit, right there. You always know. You’ve always known. You,, he says, pointing his fork at me, always know.

But nothing is ever one thing is it? We are never one thing, are we? Just as we think we know what we are, we elude ourselves. We form our own chrysalis and a new self takes shape, and all the things that we’ve loved before have lost its luster. Are we then only what we what pursue?

Last week two people I admire offer me extraordinary full-time opportunities. I get a green pass to hop the line and one lunch can clinch the proverbial deal, and instead of leaping at the thought of not having to hustle and finally, finally, I could have normal health benefits, I pause. I retreat. I tell my pop about my hesitation and he says, Aren’t you going to get a job at some point? To which I quietly reply, I don’t know.

Fuck if I know.

This is what I do know: I love baking cakes during the day. I love waking early and working on a novel already a year in the making. I love staying up late and working on marketing plans and taking meetings with people I respect and admire in hopes that I can help them find their way. I love the rhythm of all this but it feels like stasis. It feels as if I’m in a purgatory of sorts, and nothing yet has emerged.

A few weeks ago someone told me that I intimidated them because it seems as if I’ve got it all figured out, to which I respond, Define it. Age doesn’t neatly tidy up the world, it only gives you the time to make sense of it. Age gives you the gift of perspective and need and want. But there is no pattern that knits it all together.

Today I read a blog post where the author writes: So, what’s stopping you from doing your best work and not that crappy stuff that’s filling up so many hours of your day? And I think that I’m not doing “crap” and I’m not doing my “best,” I’m rather somewhere in the betweens.

Always in the betweens, it seems.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Rachel Allen’s magnificent Cake
For the crumble topping
125g {1 cup} plain flour, sifted
75g {1/2 cup} caster {or cane} sugar
75g {3oz or 3/4 stick} unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
75g {3 oz} dark or milk chocolate, in chips or roughly chopped into pieces

For the cake
225g {2 sticks} butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
225g {1 cup} caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g (1 1/2 cups} plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
50 ml {1/3 cup} milk
25g {1/4 cup} cocoa powder
icing sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS
For the crumble topping: Using your fingertips, rub together the flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl until it resembles thick breadcrumbs, then mix in the chocolate pieces. Set aside in the fridge while you make the sponge.

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4. Butter the sides and the base of a 23cm cake tin – if you’re using a springform tin, make sure the base is upside down so there’s no lip and the cake can slide off easily when cooked.

Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together in a small bowl for a few seconds or just until combined, then gradually add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in carefully, then add the milk and mix gently to combine. Tip half the cake mixture into another large bowl, then sift the cocoa powder into this bowl and fold it in.

Place the two different cake mixtures in the prepared tin by alternating heaped tablespoons of the vanilla batter with the chocolate one. Using a skewer or the handle of a spoon, gently draw swirls through the cake mixture to create the marble effect – try not to overmix or you won’t get that wonderful marbled effect.

Scatter the crumble mixture evenly over the top of the cake mixture and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges using a small, sharp knife and remove the sides of the tin. Place the cake (sitting on the base of the tin) on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Use a palette knife or metal fish slice to loosen the bottom of the cake from the base of the tin, then slide the palette knife or fish slice under the cake and carefully ease it onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

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a meditation on home and occupation

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Today, in my new home, an old friend asks me about my life. Where do I begin? I haven’t seen her since the summer because schedules, schedules, my relapse, my recovery, schedules. So I start by telling her it’s good, really good, better than it’s been in quite some time. I take Mary through a tour of my new home, and we joke about a miniature closet that nearly touches the ceiling, and how it’s too high for me to reach so naturally someone’s hidden a body. And as she settles in and hands me bags of gluten-free flour and xanthan gum, as soon as we settle into the business of baking a bundt cake, I tell my old friend that I’m present in my waking life, and I guess that’s all that matters.

For hours we talk about flour {yes, this is a fascinating topic amongst people who love to bake, who love the alchemy, chemistry, and composition of food}, politics, books, us not feeling the weight of being in our late 30s, our cats, office life, and when I talk about the drawbacks of a consulting life {the hustle, the financial uncertainty}, Mary was the second person in two days who shook her head and said, To a degree, we all have financial uncertainty. You’re just more in touch with it. But think about the person with the corporate job who suddenly gets fired, or the family with unexpected medical bills that chips away at their savings, invoice by invoice, and I realize that we are all beholden to income in some way, shape or form, but at least I have more control over my day.

And while I loathe the hustle, networking and pitching that comes with a freelance life, I get to play architect. I get to invest in my side hustle. I get to write. I get to bake. I get to finally focus on working out as a means of being strong rather than another checkbox I need to tick.

And more importantly, I get to be present, really present, with my friends in this life. No longer do I rush through my days or try to find ways to pack all of my relationships in a small box, a box outfitted with an alarm that goes off in hourly increments. Perhaps this is why I’ve been evangelical about keeping my world small. No barnacles, no shameless social climbers, no listening as a means for waiting for your turn to speak.

No more theatrics. No more Felicia on a stage performing for a peanut-crunching crowd.

What’s made me happy is my home and the energy that occupies it. I was reading a book last night, and there was a scene where a woman described her relationship with her husband in terms of an occupation. She was a woman who was held captive, occupied, surrounded by the ache of a love that no longer lingered, and I thought about that word today. Occupation. A way we articulate a vocation. A gathering. Something militaristic. Something ominous. A woman confined. And as I kept thinking about this word, it dawned on me that I was coming to it from one vantage point. I didn’t see it as a means of positive containment, a way in which we can refuel in order to be released and shine light in front of our feet.

My home occupies me, but it gives me energy, light, and the feeling of so much possibility. As I think about the coming months, which is filled with travel and endless hustle, I keep coming back to my home and the sparse few that I invite into it, and at least I know that I will be occupied by light, and hopefully, god-willing, light begets light.

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chocolate orange buttermilk cake

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It occurs to me that I’m going to Dublin in three weeks with my pop. This is a trip I thought we’d never take, a week spent with my father seeing his home through his eyes. Although we’re staying in a hotel and I’ve drawn a list of places where we’ll eat, I know a great deal of our time will be spent walking alongside of him, seeing the shape of his face change as a result of memory. My pop and I are fussy people; we’ll likely winge and argue like we always do, but this is something I look forward to — how we take comfort in resorting to our familiar roles.

For as long as I could remember, I’ve always been partial to sweets. From vanilla bean ice cream to fudgy brownies and warm cookies that broke apart in my hands, I’m drawn to the alchemy of baked goods, and how a few simple ingredients can yield something that elicits a kind of bliss that warms us from the inside out. My pop wasn’t into sweets; he remained indifferent by my Tollhouse cookies and deli-made crumb cakes. However, he bought boxes of biscuits, shortbread cookies filled with jelly, remnants of his childhood. He didn’t know why he loved these cookies, he just did. Growing up in a small home in Dublin with seven brothers, biscuits were a stolen treat. A cookie folded into his hands for a job well done. My pop was the youngest, the most sensitive; he’d cleave to the fabric of his mother’s dresses. Even as an adult he exercises a sort of kindness that I sometimes wish would come naturally to me. He was raised with love while I grew up suspicious with one foot off the bed, ready to run. My dad had biscuits and I had chocolate.

Miniature cakes sealed in plastic and cookies slipped into parchment paper bags, I remember getting frosting on my fingers. I remember chocolate chips melting in my palm. We rebuild and reconstruct from memory, and while my childhood wasn’t the sort I’d want to revisit and my home wasn’t a place you’d want to board a plane to, my affection for sweets is worth preserving. This is the sort of cake I want to make for my pop before we take a trip back to his childhood. This is the torch that illuminated the darkness.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Son is Food, with modifications.
1 1/3 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup cane/raw sugar
2/3 cup good quality baking cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
Zest/juice of one medium orange
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tsp almond extract
3 tbsp safflower or grapeseed oil
3/4 cup hot water
Confectioner’s sugar, for sprinkling
Butter to grease the pan

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease a 9×2 inch round cake pan.

In a bowl sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar. Set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium speed. Add the buttermilk, almond extract, oil, orange juice, and zest until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined. Stream in the hot water and mix until completely combined. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The center will appear a little wobbly — don’t worry. The cake will come together as it cools.

Let cool on a rack for 20-30 minutes and turn out to dish + serve with powdered sugar.

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Worth noting: I snapped these photos in the evening, using a Lowel EGO Digital Imaging light, on a solid tip from Pinch of Yum.

chocolate coconut buttermilk loaf cake + the art of packing

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Right now I have to accept the fact that my apartment looks like it’s been hit by a typhoon. This is a real struggle for a Type-A neat freak, who has started sweeping around the towering bags of food ready to be moved downstairs. Yesterday it occurred to me that packing my things into boxes didn’t even make sense, even when I sent emails and purchased boxes out of habit, because when I’ve ever had to move to another floor? My moves have always involved trucks, buff bros and a quaking kitty. This go-around I’m packing my foodstuffs in bags, hauling my clothes down in hangers, and hiring someone to help me with the heavy lifting.

And although I was initially tempted with the idea of filling the space, simply for the fact that this apartment is nearly twice the size of my current home, I paused. The space is for living not for things. The space is meant to have people over for a proper dinner party. The space is meant for doing yoga and writing and having space to think.

This weekend has been something of a maelstrom, however, what’s been wonderful is the fact that I’ve thrown out and given away so much. I’ve only ordered the essentials for my home {2 new white bookcases — one for the kitchen and one for the office, a vacuum cleaner, and some marble tiles for my food photographs}, with plans to invest in a dining table once I score another consulting project.

Until then, this Type-A neat freak will deal with the mini typhoon and pare down to only the things I love, while feasting on some homemade pound cake, naturally.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup virgin coconut oil, room temperature
1½ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅔ cup buttermilk
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325°. Butter an 8×4” loaf pan; line with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang on long sides. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat oil, ¼ cup butter, and 1½ cups sugar until pale and fluffy, 5–7 minutes. If you’re using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, you can cut the mixing times in this recipe in half. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions; beat until mixture is very light and doubled in volume, 5–8 minutes. Add vanilla.

Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients (do not overmix; it will cause cake to buckle and split). Scrape batter into prepared pan and run a spatula through the center, creating a canal. Sprinkle with coconut and remaining 1 tbsp. sugar.

Bake cake, tenting with foil if coconut browns too much before cake is done (it should be very dark and toasted), until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 70–80 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cake cool in pan 20 minutes before turning out.

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mandarin, polenta + macadamia cake + the power of ten

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I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, the one great equalizer, because every moment forward is a reminder that we’ll never be able to reclaim the hours. While I’m nowhere near my twilight years, I’ve been pensive in a way that people become when they’ve allowed themselves some quiet in which to think, and I look back and sometimes lament about how much time I’ve lost. Minutes are slippery, and as your eyes close and open again, you wake to find a year has passed and what have you done? Have you invested in yourself? Living the best life you can possibly live? Did you create and feel, really allow the bandaids to be ripped off, one by one? Or did you slouch through your days, sleep through your waking life, only to find yourself a year older with the scars of thousands of emails sent and barbs traded to mark time passing.

For four years I felt like I was a mass-market version of myself. I was everywhere, did everything, saw everyone, and nights I’d come home, depleted. Falling asleep on my couch was a natural occurrence and online food delivery was a constant. I wasn’t present in my life, rather I was what I was going after. I was that next meeting, those two hours spent with someone who drained the life right out of my body.

A year ago I decided to get surgical. I said no so many times I lost count. I only spent time with ten core people in my life, really focused on nurturing relationships I’d lost during the four years I spent underwater. I read book after book after book. I took classes. I visited museums. I boarded planes to countries unknown. I scheduled my workouts with the same amount of importance and regularity as new business meetings, and when asked recently if I’d never return to an agency — even if the money was great and the work was easy — I said that I don’t want to waste time doing the things I don’t love. I no longer want to feel uncomfortably comfortable. Money is no longer a marker of a successful life, an open heart. The discomfort I crave is in the uncertainty of what’s next, but I have time, wonderful, beautiful time, to have the clarity to figure it out.

Because time is more valuable than a $5,000 status bag that will invariably gather dust in my closet. I now only see the people I truly love and respect, people who are going to add richness from my life rather than eek it away. And if anything threatens my private time, the space in which I need to refuel and rejuvenate, I retreat further. I cancel plans and reschedule, because I’ve learned that my time is my own to squander.

And in those moments of solitude, I draw outlines, and bake warm, delicious things.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Australian Women’s Weekly
4 small mandarins (400g), unpeeled
2 cups (280g) macadamias
250g butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup (170g) polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon icing sugar

DIRECTIONS
Cover whole mandarins in medium saucepan with cold water; bring to a boil. Drain then repeat process two more times. Cool mandarins to room temperature.

Preheat oven to moderately slow (170°C/325°F). Grease deep 22cm-round cake pan; line base with baking paper.

Blend or process nuts until mixture forms a coarse meal. Halve mandarins; discard seeds. Blend or process mandarins until pulpy.

Beat butter, extract and caster sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined between additions; transfer to large bowl. Stir in polenta, baking powder, nut meal and mandarin pulp.

Spread mixture into pan; bake about 1 hour. Stand cake 15 minutes; turn, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool. Serve cake dusted with sifted icing sugar.

NOTE: Native to Australia, buttery, rich macadamia nuts have a high fat content and should be kept, covered, in the refrigerator to prevent them becoming rancid. You can blend or process the same weight of other roasted nuts, such as pecans, almonds or walnuts, if you prefer, to use in place of the macadamias. Similarly, you can substitute the same weight of other citrus fruit — grapefruits, blood oranges, tangelos, etc — for the mandarins.

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gluten-free coconut blueberry pistachio banana loaf

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You have to know that nothing makes me feel better than a hot loaf being unearthed from an oven. While I’ve learned to be patient over the years, it’s so hard not to dive in, fork-first, once a banana bread hits the rack. This weekend, I decided to turn up the volume and futz with a classic recipe, namely, swap out all-purpose flour and sugar for natural sweeteners. The result? A delicious, moist loaf that delivers on flavor and texture. While I’m not blind to the fact that removing all the sugar alters the flavor of the bread (it is indeed less saccharine sweet), I’m learning to appreciate the nuanced flavors of that the fruit and nuts imbue on the loaf.

INGREDIENTS: (makes two loaves)
3 cups gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup)
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup agave
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/2 cup pistachios, ground
3/4 tablespoons pure almond extract
1 cup ripe mashed banana (about 2 large)
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup rice milk
Nonstick coconut oil cooking spray

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat two 9×5 inch loaf pans with cooking spray; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt until combined. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, syrup, agave and coconut oil on medium-low speed until combined. On low speed, slowly beat in the flour mixture. Add the almond extract, banana, coconut, rice milk, ground pistachios and beat just to combine. Fold in the blueberries.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, 65-75 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove loaves from pans and let cool completely. Bread can be kept at room temperature, wrapped well in plastic, for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 3 months. But honestly, are you going to do this? Shove a delicious loaf in the freezer and abandon it so cruelly? Hardly. You’re going to end up cutting small slices in the middle of the night, and eat this, standing up, in the kitchen, in the DARK.

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the three-day odyssean journey (with failures along the way): chocolate babka

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Note to self: read a recipe twice and then a third time. You have to know that I spent two hours last night making the PERFECT Danish pastry dough. I was ecstatic, triumphant. There might have even been a Breakfast Club-inspired fist pump. Yet, something gnawed at me when I went to bed last night, but I ignored it and fell into a blissful slumber.

Until 5AM this morning, when I woke with a start and realized that I had misread “freeze” for “fridge,” and my babka dough had started to rise in the fridge overnight. Normally, for other kinds of dough (e.g. brioche, cinnamon bun dough, etc) this would have been a good thing, but not for babka. At 5:08AM this morning, I re-read the recipe, raced to the fridge, and witnessed one dough rising. Believe me when I say that I nearly CRIED. When you nail pastry dough, it’s absolutely cruel to know that your babka could be ruined because you’re the moron who couldn’t follow directions.

But I digress.

Luckily, one batch of dough failed to rise, so I immediately stored it in the freezer, praying that it can be salvaged tomorrow, as I know that my attempt to bake babka today, 12 hours early from a bad proof, will be a hell only Dante could have conceived. I’m anticipating a failure of cataclysmic proportions, but I plan to bake both loaves and reveal the results in subsequent posts. I also plan to start over in a few days as I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

Since I tend to bake dough better in the evening, I couldn’t get great pics of the process, so I snapped some key interior photos from the cookbook, which was my crucial guide in understanding how things should look. I’ve never tried this technique before, and while it looks daunting, it’s actually not all the difficult. I took it really slow (you know, before I misread a critical step in the process), and the dough came out to perfection. If you have any questions about the Danish dough process, please let me know. Of note, I didn’t need a “tapered rolling pin” (I don’t have one), so I just used my standard and was gentle.

Learn from my mistake: read the recipe thoroughly, twice, and a third time, before starting any dough. One word can completely ruin all your hard work. I thought about not writing about this, but I came to the conclusion that sharing failures, especially in the kitchen, is paramount to becoming a better baker. You don’t become truly good at what you do if you never fail. Samuel Beckett was right, Fail again. Fail better.

RESULTS: WHOA. This babka is DAMN TASTY. A few thoughts, however. While the pastry is definitely light, aerated and “croissant-like,” it’s missing the crunch and of classic babka. I can see how the additional proof day + freezing benefit the dough. Personally, I would have dialed down the chocolate to four ounces instead of six, as I found it overwhelmed the almond cream. Overall, this is pretty damn good for a botched dough. I’ll let you know how the other dough makes out tomorrow.

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INGREDIENTS FOR DAY ONE: Recipe adapted from Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, with slight modifications. If you’re a baker, I implore you to get this cookbook. I got it on a lark based on other cookbooks I’ve purchased, and there are so many terrific recipes in this book for the nascent to advanced baker.
I. For the Danish Pastry: you will only be using 1/2 of the dough for this recipe.
For the détrempe
.75 ounce (1 packed tbsp plus 1½ packed tsp) compressed yeast or 2¾ tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp granulated sugar
⅔ cup whole milk
1 large egg plus 4 large egg yolks
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean or use 1 tsp of vanilla extract
2⅔ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
¾ tsp fine sea salt
4 tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into tbsps, well softened

For the beurrage
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into tablespoons
2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions for the Danish dough: Day One
Make the dough at least 2 days before using. To make the détrempe, finely crumble the yeast into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer. Add the sugar and let stand until the yeast gives off some moisture, about 3 minutes. Whisk well to dissolve. Stir in the milk. (If using dry yeast, sprinkle the yeast over ⅓ cup warm, 105° to 115°F, milk in a small bowl. Let stand until the yeast softens, about 5 minutes. Whisk well to dissolve. Pour into the mixer bowl, then add the sugar. Add the remaining ⅓ cup cold milk.)

Add the egg, yolks, and vanilla seeds and whisk to combine. Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed, and add 2 cups of the flour and the salt to the bowl. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft, sticky dough that almost cleans the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix, as the dough will be worked and absorb more flour during the rolling and folding processes. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface, knead a few times to smooth the surface, and shape into a ball. The ball should hold its shape, but it will widen slightly upon standing.

Dust a half-sheet pan with flour. Place the dough on the flour and cut an X about 1 inch deep in the top of the ball to mark it into quadrants. Sprinkle with flour on top and refrigerate.

Immediately make the beurrage. Clean the mixer bowl and paddle attachment. Add the butter to the bowl and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the butter is almost smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and continue beating until the mixture is smooth, cool, and malleable, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and press any remaining lumps of butter out with the heel of your hand, and shape the butter into a 4-inch square. Place the beurrage on the half-sheet pan with the détrempe and refrigerate together for about 15 minutes. The détrempe and the beurrage should be the same consistency and temperature after this slight chilling.

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Flour the work surface again. Place the dough on the work surface with the ends of the X at approximately 2, 4, 7, and 10 o’clock positions. You will notice four quadrants of dough between the crosses of the X at the north, south, east, and west positions. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Using the heel of your hand, flatten and stretch each quadrant out about 2½ inches to make a cloverleaf shape with an area in the center that is thicker than the “leaves”. Use a tapered rolling pin to roll each “cloverleaf” into a flap about 6 inches long and 5 inches wide, leaving a raised square in the center. Using the side of the rolling pin, press the sides of the raised area to demark the square.

Check out the photos above, as they’ll give you a very detailed view as to how the dough should look and be formed throughout the process. These visuals will take you through the 24 hour freezer proof.

Place the butter square in the center of the cloverleaf. Gently stretch and pull the north-facing flap of dough down to cover the top and the sides of the butter square, brushing away any excess flour. (This dough is very extendable and stretches easily; be careful not to tear it.) Now stretch and pull the south-facing flap of dough up to cover the top and sides of the butter square. Turn the dough so the open ends of the square face north and south. Repeat folding and stretching the north- and south-facing flaps of dough (originally the east and west flaps) to completely cover the butter square, making a butter-filled packet of dough about 6 inches square.

Dust the work surface with flour. Turn the dough over so the four folded flaps face down, with the open seam facing you. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Using a large, heavy rolling pin held at a slight angle, lightly pound the top of the dough to widen it slightly and help distribute the butter inside the dough. Roll the dough into a 17 by 9-inch rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds, like a business letter, brushing away excess flour. This is called a single turn. Roll the rectangle lightly to barely compress the layers. Transfer to a half-sheet pan and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Dust the work surface with flour. Place the dough on the work surface with the long open seam of dough facing you. Dust the dough with flour. Roll out the dough into a 17 by 9-inch rectangle. Fold the right side of the dough over 2 inches to the left. Fold the left side of the dough over to meet the right side. Fold the dough in half vertically from left to right. This is a double turn (also known as a book turn). Roll the rectangle lightly to barely compress the layers. Return to the half-sheet pan and refrigerate for another 20 minutes.

Repeat rolling and folding the dough into a final single turn. With the long seam facing you, cut the dough in half vertically. Wrap each piece of dough tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap again. Freeze for at least 24 hours or up to 4 days. The night before using the dough, transfer the frozen dough to the refrigerator and let thaw overnight, about 8 hours. Once the dough defrosts it will begin to rise, so be sure to roll it out immediately or it could develop a yeasty taste.

INGREDIENTS: At least 24 hours later
For the streusel
⅔ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp superfine sugar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the almond cream
4 tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp superfine sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp almond paste, finely chopped
⅓ cup (1¼ ounces) sliced almonds, toasted and finely chopped
½ tsp dark rum (I opted not to use this)
½ tbsp pure vanilla extract

For the babka filling
1 tbsp superfine sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Unbleached all-purpose flour, for rolling out the dough
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 large egg, well beaten with a hand blender
2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted, for decorating
Softened unsalted butter, for the pan
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
To make the streusel, combine the flour, sugars, and cinnamon in a bowl. Gradually stir in the butter and mix, squeeze, and break up the mixture with your hands until it resembles coarse crumbs.

To make the almond cream, beat the butter and sugar together in a small bowl with a handheld electric mixer until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Beat in the yolk. Add the almond paste and beat well until the mixture is smooth (the almond paste will take some time to break down), about 1 minute. Add the almonds, rum, and vanilla and mix until combined.

Generously butter a 9 by 5-inch metal loaf pan. Sprinkle about half of the streusel inside the pan and tilt to coat the pan. Tap the excess streusel back into the bowl of remaining streusel. Set the pan and the bowl of streusel aside.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together; set aside. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the Danish dough (remember, you will only need HALF for this recipe) into a 14 by 8-inch rectangle. Spread the dough with the almond cream, leaving a 1-inch border at the bottom. Sprinkle the cream with the drained raisins, then the chopped chocolate and cinnamon sugar. Starting at the top, roll down the dough. Brush the empty border of dough with the beaten egg, and pinch the long seam closed. Roll the dough underneath your hands to stretch to 18 inches. Fold the dough in half into a curve, with the front length 3 inches longer than the back length. Using the side of your hand, dent the dough at its bend (figure 1). Fold the longer length of dough over the back length twice to make two humps (figure 2). Twist the dough to create a third hump, and tuck the two open ends under the loaf (figure 3). You should have a loaf about 9 inches long with three humps.

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Transfer to the prepared pan, being sure that the open ends are well secured under the loaf. Brush the top with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the reserved streusel. Don’t worry if some of the streusel falls into the corners of the pan. Place the babka, in the loaf pan, on a half-sheet pan.

Choose a warm place in the kitchen for proofing. Slip the babka on the pan into a tall “kitchensized” plastic bag. Place a tall glass of very hot water near the loaf pan. Wave the opening of the bag to trap air and inflate it like a balloon to create “head room,” being sure that the plastic does not touch the delicate dough. Twist the bag closed. Let stand until the dough has risen about 1 inch over the top of the pan, about 1½ hours.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F.

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Remove the glass from the bag, then the loaf pan on the half-sheet pan. Bake until the babka is deep golden brown, the dough in the crevices looks fully baked, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the babka reads at least 195°F, 45 to 50 minutes. If the loaf threatens to burn, cover the top loosely with aluminum foil. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully unmold the babka from the loaf pan onto the rack, and let cool completely. I ran a knife around the pan and turned it out gently onto a rack and it still broke in places, which may also be a result of my botched dough. Drizzle the melted chocolate from a silicone spatula over the top of the babka, and let cool until set. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the top. When serving, slice the babka with a serrated knife.

Photo Credits: Cookbook interiors from Sarabeth’s Cookbook. The remaining photos are mine.

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lime + poppy seed syrup cake

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donotreblog

IMG_4807IMG123I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark. ― Raymond Carver

When you grow older you start to see death in ways that wasn’t revealed to you in childhood. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies, wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay, and it’s partially true. In youth, death is rarely personal, rather it’s obtuse, relegated to that pet we loved or that elderly grandparent whose passing caused a reverberation, a whisper that it was indeed time. Regardless of how much we hurt. Death doesn’t ghost your home; you don’t wake up to it and tumble into bed with it — it’s at a remove, it’s something that happens not now, not now.

Yet something shifts, and the change catches you by surprise. You’ve grown older and you haven’t realized it. Where did all those years go? Why did every moment seem so endless when you were young, and then suddenly clocks wind faster with the passing of each day. Now, death occupies the space in which you breathe, reminding you that it was always here. I’ll never leave you.

I read an article where the author talks about death as being the “great equalizer,” which is to say that we return to the place from which we think we’ve come, and the things that we carry in the journey back don’t accompany us, instead they remain and age while we whittle into the earth. In the past decade I’ve witnesses people I know ravaged with sickness, taken too soon, and just this week a writer I used to know casually — this giant light of life — took his own life. It put my heart on pause because there will come a day when the clocks cease ticking and the heartbeat slouches to a quiet.

There will be a day when I will no longer be here, and the thought of my finiteness frightens me more than you can imagine. Nights used to be terrifying as I’d wake in a panic and pace my apartment just to feel my feet against the hardwood. I used to say: I’m still here, I’m still here. I’m still here. I’d stand and I’d breathe my quickening heart down to an easy rhythm before I’d go back to sleep. Before I train myself not to think about the specter that alludes all us…death.

I thought about death as a plane I boarded shook over the Pacific Ocean. I closed my eyes and told myself not to panic, that this great flying machine won’t hurtle into the water. I’ll be fine. I thought about death when I called my pop last night and asked him if he’d like to take a trip with me to Dublin, his home, so that I may see it through his eyes. You alright? he asked. Because you sound funny. Perhaps he detected the urgency in my voice when I said, We should do this now because you never know. We could die next year. To which he responded, Or tomorrow. You’re not comforting me, I thought, and as if reading my mind he said, It’s good to want to live your life, really live it. But don’t cram all these plans like the clock’s running out. That’s no way to live, he laughed, get it? My dad doesn’t fear death like I do, and part of me longs for that calm, that peace.

It occurs to me, as I type this, that I’m asking my pop to take me back to the place where he was born and raised, and the irony of that doesn’t escape me.

Honestly, there’s no seamless segue to a lime poppy seed cake, other than to say that I took a trip, one of many, that reminds me of how great and beautiful this world is. And if I can travel more and steal bits from the places I visit, I will go into the dark not with possessions, but with the knowledge that I lived this life.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly (I picked up this magazine in Melbourne, and I can’t wait to bake my way through it!)
For the cake
¼ cup (40g) poppy seeds
½ cup (125ml) milk
250g butter (2 sticks), softened
1 tbsp finely grated lime zest
1¼ cups (275g) caster sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2¼ cups (335g) self-raising flour*
¾ cup (110g) plain flour
1 cup (240g) sour cream

For the lime syrup
½ cup (125ml) lime juice
1 cup (250ml) water
1 cup (220g) caster sugar

*If you don’t have self-raising flour, simply add 3 tsp of baking powder + 1 tsp kosher salt to the same amount of measured all purpose flour. Essentially, you’re adding this to 3 cups of all purpose flour.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to moderate (180°C/160°C or 350°F). Grease base and sides of deep 23cm-square cake pan. I used an 8inch round cake pan and I was totally fine.

Combine poppy seeds and milk in small bowl; soak 10 minutes.

Beat butter, rind and sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined between additions; transfer mixture to large bowl. Stir in sifted flours, sour cream and poppy seed mixture, in two batches.

Spread mixture into pan; bake about 1 hour. I always check my baked goods fifteen minutes before time. My cake was done in 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine ingredients for lime syrup in small saucepan. Stir over heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves. Simmer, uncovered, without stirring, 5 minutes.

Stand cake 5 minutes, turn onto wire rack over tray. Pour hot lime syrup over hot cake.

NOTE: Before grating the lime, make sure it is at room temperature and roll it, pressing down hard with your hand, on the kitchen bench. This will help extract as much juice as possible from the fruit.You can substitute the same weight of other citrus fruit — lemons mandarins, blood oranges, oranges, etc — for the limes if you wish.

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sir francis crumb cakes + geeking out on baking supplies

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There was a time when I was the sort of woman who forced herself to fall in love with shopping, when in fact there’s nothing I loathe more than standing in a crowded dressing room trying on clothes that will inevitably disappear into the bowels of my closet. For a time, I hoarded expensive finery — clothing, handbags and shoes — while I wore the same ten outfits in rotation. It wasn’t until the past two years that I realized that I don’t care much for fashion, but I can spend hours in a bookstore or lose myself amongst the metal and appliances in a restaurant supply shop. So I’m back to wearing the same comfortable uniform while I steadfastly (and strategically) acquire kitchen accoutrements.

Since I’ve a small space in which to work, I have to focus on buying only what I’ll need and use. My stand mixer, food processor, Vitamix, and coffee maker take up a considerable amount of counter space amongst the fat jars of grains and dried fruit and nuts, and I use these appliances, which have been acquired over the past decade, frequently. All my other kitchenware is densely packed into cabinets and cupboards, and I’m acutely aware of the fact that I will likely die from an avalanche of muffin tins and baking sheets. My cat will poke and prod through the metal rubble.

As a bakery is my preferred landscape, my collection of tools and equipment reflects this: various springform cans, 8- and 9-inch cake pans, loaf pans, cookie sheets (in various sizes), dome tins, pie dishes, tart pans (in varying sizes). We haven’t even gotten to the graters, molds, spatulas (offset and silicone), and piping bags (admittedly, I am horrible at pipping and tend to never use my bags and nozzles). I tend to buy the tools for the sweets you often find me making and sharing on this space: cookies, pies, breads, cakes, tarts, and a fancy pastry here and there. Rustic baking, the informal and messy kind, brings me a kind of joy you can’t imagine, and often I take stock of my tools, much like my collection of books, regarding both with equal and measured affection. While a pair of shoes doesn’t evoke a memory for me, a pie made in celebration of a friend’s new business or important sale, or a book read in front of the ocean, will create moments I continuously find myself returning to.

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Initially, I was put off by Sarabeth’s Sir Francis Crumb Cakes because they required a whole new set of tools I never conceived of buying — entremet rings, which is a fancy way of saying ring molds. I thought to myself that the recipe was a bit froufrou because I could simply use muffin tins or ramekins, but then it occurred to me that these rings opened up a whole new world of presentation. Domed muffins, biscuits, scones — within the confines of stainless steel, my goods would bake evenly and present themselves in their Sunday best. Rustic with a top hat, if you will.

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Instead of waiting a month to get the rings off Amazon, or spending a PILE of money at the fancy shops, I tend to buy my equipment from restaurant supply stores. My favorite is Manhattan Restaurant Supply, a fairly no-frills shop, but I can always find exactly what I need. At supply stores I get the good stuff, a knowledgeable staff, and prices that can’t be beat. These rings were $4.95 each, where everyone in town hocks them at $7 a pop.

So that was my Black Friday. Buying ring molds and making individual coffee cakes that had me waking in the middle of the night to scarf.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
For the crumb topping
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 + 1 tbsp superfine sugar (I used organic cane, and it was fine)
6 tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cake
Softened unsalted butter for the pans
1 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp whole milk
10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature
2/3 cup superfine sugar (I used organic cane, and it was fine)
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Special equipment: eight 3×1 1/2 inch metal entremet rings, which gives the cakes their grandiose shape, but I imagine you can easily bake these in a muffin tin and reduce the cooking time.

DIRECTIONS
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Lightly butter the insides of eight 3×1 1/2 inch metal entremet rings, and place the rings on the pan.

To make the crumbs, stir together the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a medium bowl until moistened. Compress the mixture in your hands, and then crumble it until it resembles the texture of coarse bread crumbs. Dip the buttered rings into the crumbs and lightly coat the insides, shaking off excess crumbs. Return the rings to the pan. Press the remaining crumb mixture with your hands until about half the crumbs are larger, about the size of peas. Set the mixture aside.

To make the cakes, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Mix the heavy cream and milk together in a glass measuring cup.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until smooth, about one minute. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light in color and texture, about three minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Gradually beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low. In thirds, starting with the flour and alternating with two equal additions of the cream mixture, add the flour mixture, mixing the batter after each addition until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Using a 2 1/2 inch diameter ice-cream scoop, transfer equal amounts of the batter into the rings. Place equal amounts of the crumb mixture over the batter in the rings. Using your fingers, tap the crumbs to help them adhere.

Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 20-25 minutes (my cakes took 31 minutes, so I’d just be vigilant about checking). Cool the cakes in the rings in a pan for 10 minutes. Using a kitchen towel to protect your hands from the heat, remove the rings from the cakes. Serve warm or transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. They cakes can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to two days.

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recipe makeover: chocolate chip pumpkin loaf

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What an odd thing it is to travel back in time. All you need to do is insert a few words in a search toolbar and, voila!, a slew of posts from five years past greet you like old friends. Only your friends are blurred around the edges, harsh, your eyes squint as if you’re walking into the sun.

I’ve been baking this chocolate chip pumpkin loaf since 2007, and believe me when I say that the photos I’ve taken of this loaf, and its many incarnations, made me wince. The cringe-worthy close-ups {every novice food photographer starts with a close-up, because the need to get the detail in a chip or a piece of cake is critical. And the novice tires of this perspective and pulls back, in time, in need of the larger picture.} and errors in recipe writing put me to thinking that yesterday’s post is pretty apropos of this moment.

The past serves as a piece of information, context. The future is merely conjecture, and what we have, most definitively, is the present. Right now I like my food photography minimal, without ornamentation and styling. Right now, I like my loaves a little more virtuous so I can eat more of them, and allow for the taste of the pumpkin to come through.

In this latest incarnation, I’ve replaced 1 1/2 cup of white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I’ve nixed 3/4 cup of sugar from the original recipe, and have mixed in almond extract for a note that cuts through the density and added in white chocolate chips for color and texture.

The result? A loaf that truly sings. Earlier versions were a bit too sweet and oily for my taste, while this loaf is full of flavor. Try it out + let me know how you score!

INGREDIENTS: Makes 3 loaves
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup safflower or grapeseed oil
4 eggs, room temperature
1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups white flour
1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsps salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 standard 8½ x 4½ inch loaf pans

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, beat the oil and sugars until combined. Beat in the eggs, puree, water and almond extract. You want to mix all of the ingredients until completely combined.

In a medium bowl, sift the flours, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda + salt. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones until the flour mixture has been completely absorbed. The batter may look a little lumpy, don’t worry, and don’t overmix. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter equally between the three pans, and smooth out the batter with an offset spatula. Bake the loaves for one hour, rotating the pans midway through the baking process. The loaves will be done when the a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.

Rest the loaves in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Then turn out the loaves to the rack and cool completely. The pumpkin loaves are good for up to a week in an airtight bag/container, and can be frozen for up to a month.

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