Cake is appreciated
All apologies for the limited photo evidence of this cherry and blueberry buckle. Considering it was deemed sufficiently cooled at the precise start of overtime play of the World Cup semifinal between Argentina and the Netherlands, it is an achievement that one was taken at all. Lesson learned yesterday — during stressful plays, cake is appreciated.
This is an easy cake to appreciate.
Since we're friends, I feel I can be honest. I wasn't sure about this buckle. All cards on the table, I had doubts. The batter seemed meagre. And then it felt dense; too solid to accept the fruit I attempted to press into its buttery thickness. It had to be scraped into the pan, and then its resistant clumps pushed into place.
That said, the topping was really nice. It felt like wet sand between my fingers, the kind perfect for castle building.
Baking, the cake smelled really nice, as well. I'd swapped out nutmeg for ginger and cardamom to go with the cinnamon, and the combination was intoxicatingly fragrant, weighty but without the nose-tickling warmth of wintry sweets.
I usually know I'm on to something good when one of the boys stops what he is doing to ask what's in the oven. In this case, both did.
I kept a suspicious eye on the cake's progress, and felt a nervous relief when it looked to rise exceptionally well. The top was browned and rubbled, shot through by valleys filled with deep purple juice.
When the cake was cut, it lived up to its name and folded under the knife as the blade slid through. Inside, those rivulets of juice led to puddled, cooked fruit, mottling the cake's crumb. It was damp and soft, and I worried if it is was overly much so, that the heat had done little to dispel the stickiness.
Since we're friends, I feel I can also admit when I was wrong. Because, was I ever.
The cake is damp. It is soft. It is held together by its crust, and once it's broken, all bets are off. It is not one to cut neatly. Yet, it is staggeringly sublime as is, eaten out of hand in unstable chunks, or with a spoon and a mound of crème fraîche or a lick of cream or custard. It is a buttery muffin-meets-cobbler-meets-coffeecake kind of thing. It is custardy where cake meets fruit, and crunchy where there is streusel, which is to say, a buckle for cheering. And I can't wait to try it with raspberries. Or nectarines. Or both.
Happy Friday eve.
CHERRY + BLUEBERRY BUCKLE
From Salt Water Farm via Bon Appétit, with changes. Rewritten in my words and with weight measures.
FOR THE TOPPING1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar1/4 cup (32 g) all-purpose flour1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon1/4 teaspoon kosher salt1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom1/8 teaspoon ground ginger1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, cold and diced
FOR THE CAKE1/4 cup (57 g) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan1 1/2 cups (191 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan2 teaspoons baking powder3/4 teaspoon kosher salt 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar1 egg, room temperature2 teaspoons vanilla extract or seeds scraped from a vanilla bean1/4 teaspoon almond extract1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream10 ounces (283 g) pitted cherries6 ounces (170 g) blueberries, fresh or defrosted
METHODStart with the topping. Whisk sugar, flour, and spices in a medium bowl. Tumble in the butter cubes and rub between your fingers until the mixture is evenly damp and coming together in clumps. Set aside.
For the cake, preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. Grease an 8-inch springform or removable bottom pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, then grease the parchment. Dust the pan with flour, and tap out the excess.
Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
In another medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, around 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat to combine, 2 minutes. Turn the speed down to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, stirring until mostly incorporated. Pour in the cream and stir until smooth. With a spatula, fold in the cherries and blueberries.The batter will be quite thick, and may not fold easily; as long as the fruit is somewhat stuck into the batter, all will be fine. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Place tin on a rimmed baking sheet, then sprinkle the topping over the batter in an even layer. Bake in the hot oven until the buckle is golden brown and a cake tester poked into the centre comes out clean, 75-90 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let the cool completely. Unmold and serve, as is, or dusted with icing sugar, and maybe a spoon or two of custard.
Note: I think this buckle would be ideal baked in individual portions, thus dispensing of any fuss of slicing. I've not tried that route, but wanted to have the notion on record.
Crazy excited - Storytelling Workshop October 2014
Hello, hello! It's been a while, I know. Believe me, I know. I've been lost in book land, and the route back was a long road.
I've not forgotten that we were to talk about storytelling, and this whole book business, and my own creative process. That is still happening, but in the meantime, David Lebovitz shared a brilliant post on the making of his latest book, My Paris Kitchen, and it is more than worth a read.
And, still on that subject, my dear friend Aran of Cannelle et Vanille has asked me to teach a workshop at her gorgeous studio in Seattle this fall. I've been working on the course content as I finish up the book, so that I can offer the closest possible depiction of this time as I can. I don't now if I've mentioned it, but I am writing and photographing the book, in my home, mostly on my own. It has been a huge learning experience. And I look forward to sharing those lessons with you.
The workshop will examine and explore the nature of storytelling through multiple media. It will be from a writer's perspective, but everything from recipe development to styling and photography will be covered, with my creative process as the jump off to discovering your own. I am crazy excited about the subject and, what's more, the opportunity to dig deep and talk about the (sometimes messy) ins and outs of what I do.
If you'd like to be there, it would be an honour; registration is open at Aran's shop.
An exceptional one
When I sat down to give one last read to this post on Molly Wizenberg's new book, Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, I did what one does when it's time to really focus. I checked Twitter.
At the top of the feed I found a friend's tweet announcing that Molly was on the radio, at that very moment, talking about Delancey, in an interview recorded at the wood-fired pizza restaurant of the same name (hers with her husband, Brandon Petit). So, I had Molly's voice as company for my edits, and current rewrite, while I snacked on a piece of shortbread made from a recipe found in the book.
It was a slightly strange situation. Like an Escher drawing, come to life, with cookies.
I've known Molly long enough that our emails go back to when I had a completely different job, and there's one in which she introduces one Mr. Brandon, back when he was still a student and waiter in NYC. What follows isn't meant to be an unbiased review. It is difficult to remove bias when speaking about a friend, and honestly, I don't want to.
Molly's site introduced me to food blogs. Orangette was mentioned somewhere else, and I clicked the link; it took me to a warm chickpea salad. I didn't really know what a food blog was, or that they would become a thing, but I still knew what I was reading was good.
(In searching for that particular piece just now, I fell back into step with Keaton, Jimmy's buttered brunches, and Rebecca's all-red straw collection. I lost an hour in the process, and ate a handful of salted pistachios, an apple, and two small squares of chocolate. That is the pull of Molly's writing. It makes you want to read more. It also makes you very hungry.)
But really, you don't need me to tell you how good Molly's stories are. First at Orangette, then in her column in Bon Appetit, then elsewhere (including the Washington Post and her Spilled Milk podcast), then with her début book, A Handmade Life, Molly established herself not only as a talent, but as an exceptional one. Though superlatives are often ascribed willy-nilly, she is a benchmark of contemporary food writing, in the truest, realest sense of the word.
Sixteen Candles turned 30 two days ago. One anniversary tribute argued it as John Hughes's best work, not just for Jake Ryan and that dining table, but for how it showed difficulty to be more inclusive than exclusive; nobody is really spared from personal doubt, not even the popular kids.
(And there goes half an hour watching Sixteen Candles clips.)
In a culture that often manufactures glossed perfection, or uses hard times as a praise-courting kind of martyrdom, the story of Delancey is told in a frank plainness that saves it from being overly sentimental, while still keeping an acute sense of the all-too-real turmoil it accounts.
Some of the stories are familiar, having been hinted at on Orangette, but here there's the full look at how things went. Delancey picks up where A Homemade Life left off, with Brandon and Molly still settling into their new marriage, the decision to open a restaurant in Seattle, then chronicles its subsequent construction and early days.
The book isn't about the restaurant. Not really. The restaurant is of course what pushes the story along, but at the heart of it is what it takes to actively build the life you want; the commitment, the swallowing fear, the joy, and the toll. It is about building that life with someone, the support and faith that takes, and the uncomfortable realization that there can be distance and discord within the strongest of partnerships. It is about growing up, about claiming responsibility for our choices, and ownership of the people we become.
Delancey shows how one of the best can get even better. Molly's sharp-witted, playful voice still rings with authenticity, yet has matured. It reads as honest, at points painfully so, with a deep-set vulnerability. Parts are awkward, complicated, and messy. Molly isn't always the hero. She shows her own bad-guy moments, and admits when she wished she could have acted differently than she did. She is self-aware, and hopeful.
Delancey is like how we talk to friends about life, after opening a second bottle of wine.
Molly, you introduced us to French toast fried in oil, bouchons de thon, and Corentine's way with carrots. You showed us the potential of this medium, proved to an industry the value of new voices, and you are an essential part of this community. You have shared these years, shared Delancey, Essex, your friends, the dogs, your family, your mother, Burg, Brandon, and now sweet June.
Thank you for writing, M. Thanks for all of it.
MOLLY'S SHORTBREAD WITH ROSEMARY + CANDIED GINGER
Just like in A Homemade Life, Delancey has recipes to end chapters; while linked to the restaurant in many ways, they are not restaurant recipes per se. Instead they are those which represent a certain point in time (Vietnamese rice noodle salad, sautéed dates with sea salt, one heck of a cocktail called The Benjamin Wayne Smith) or, in the case of this shortbread, a roasted pork shoulder, and a trick with red wine vinaigrette, they're ones that came into their life because of the restaurant.
I won't excerpt the Molly's headnote, as the story behind this recipe is another reason to grab the book. But the cookies are inspired by ones served by the late Christina Choi at her restaurant, Nettletown.
The shortbread comes together in a flash, straightforward as shortbreads go, with the expected triumvirate of butter, sugar, and flour, then rosemary and candied ginger are invited to hang out. The combination is fiercely aromatic on the cutting board, but when baked, it unwinds. So, the lolling richness of the shortbread gets broadened by the thrumming warmth the ginger, and made slightly-more-savoury with the herb's resiny sharpness. I want to try them with a few, stingy drops of almond extract, and made slightly larger to serve as base for macerated strawberries.
I did add a gilding roll of the dough in sugar before baking; the step added just enough texture to emphasize the edge of each cookie. I liked that.
Barely tweaked from Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage (Simon & Schuster, 2014), by Molly Wizenberg. The recipe is mostly in Molly's words.
INGREDIENTS1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar2 sticks (226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature2 cups (280 g) unbleached all-purpose flour1/2 teaspoon fine-grained sea salt1 tablespoon (about 4 g) finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves1/3 cup (60 g) chopped candied gingerSugar, for rolling, see note
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter. Beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and rosemary. Add to the mixer bowl, and beat on low speed until the flour is absorbed and the dough begins to form large clumps that pull away from the sides of the bowl. Add the candied ginger, and mix briefly to incorporate. Divide the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and shape it into roughly 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap, and refrigerate the dough logs for a few hours or overnight, until good and firm.
When your'e ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sprinkle sugar over work surface or in a wide, shallow dish large enough to accommodate the dough logs. Remove the logs from the refrigerator and while they're still very cold, roll them in the sugar to coat. Slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Arrange the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are pale golden, rotating and switching the pans midway through. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
These cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a week, if not longer. They can also be frozen.
Yield: about 60 cookies
Note from Tara: This recipe used up the last of my candied ginger, but there was a lot of sugar left in the container. So, I sifted it for any larger clumps, then used that spiced sugar when rolling the cookies, making for an extra ginger kick. Lacking that, sanding sugar would be pretty, and granulated would work just fine.