February 28, 2010

Adventures with Almond Flour, Pt. 1

Mission: Convert Almond Meal/Flour to Tasty Almond Cake
Status: Accomplished

A toothsome but measly slice of lemon almond cake from Recess inspired me to bake my own almond cake. For some reason it was somewhat difficult to find a recipe that neither included marzipan nor involved the use of an outrageous number of eggs...I saw some recipes that called for EIGHT eggs. I need those eggs for tomorrow night's dinner, thank you very much.

Finally I found a nice almond cake recipe on Serious Eats, made a few minor adjustments (butter instead of olive oil, a bit of extra almond meal, and yogurt in place of orange juice) -- and viola! A nice, moist and springy slice of almond cake is now sitting on a plate by my side, but fast on its way to disappearing into the depths of my digestive tract. Too graphic? My apologies.

This cake is refreshingly simple to make. If you're looking for a recipe that uses almond meal (but not your whole supply), this recipe uses a rational 1/2 cup amount and calls for a respectable number of eggs (3). Recipe follows.

Almond Butter Cake
adapted from Gina DePalma's recipe
1 cup flour
3/4 cup almond meal/flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 extra-large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter + 1 tbsp canola oil or olive oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (you can use nonfat)
*For the glaze, just whisk 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk/buttermilk/soy milk together. Add orange or lemon zest if desired.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 8x8 square baking pan.

Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and oil, extracts, and yogurt and whisk until smooth. Whisk or fold in the dry ingredients until the batter is thick and smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or up to 45 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool slightly and drizzle the glaze over the top before serving. The glaze will be pretty much invisible, but it really helps make this cake extra special.

February 22, 2010

Ile Flottante

"The soup was clear and hot, the lamb cooked in a sauce that was both delicious and exotic, all of it accomplished and fine in a way that would have been admired in any restaurant in any city she had ever been to, and Mrs. Larsen served it with a simplicity and finesse that surprised and pleased her. She had thought she wasn't hungry, but she ate everything, including a dessert made of light meringues floating in glistening, silky custard."
--A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick

Alas, no floating island has passed through these lips before, but it sounds, like all things custard-y, positively fantastic. Ina Garten's recipe looks inviting, minus the caramel sauce. The creme anglaise (english cream) is basically sugar, egg yolks, and hot milk, though Ina gets fancy with the Cognac. Another potential use for egg yolks! That definitely warrants an exclamation point in my book.

Tangent time: I have a friend whose pet peeve is people's overuse of exclamation points. She has a point. (Good thing she has a high tolerance for cheesy jokes, though.) She also happens to be a great writer, just about the best one I know. This is no coincidence. When I correspond with her, I try to watch my use of !, and I've noticed that it makes me a more thoughtful writer. When writing personal e-mails, it's nice to actually think about what words best express your emotion -- to rely on the strength of your words and trust your writing voice, rather than resorting to symbols all the time. Exclamation points are the easy way out - and I think that's why so many people use them so often. When you use them (and see them) time after time, people are inclined to think that you don't stand behind your words as strongly as you say. And you always want people to believe you mean everything you write...don't you? There's a great Seinfeld clip about the way people can disagree about the use of this controversial symbol, too. Check it out.

February 17, 2010

Tea and Little Bee

"Tea is the taste of my land: it is bitter and warm, strong, and sharp with memory. It tastes of longing. It tastes of the distance between where you are and where you come from. Also it vanishes--the taste of it vanishes from your tongue while your lips are still hot from the cup. It disappears, like plantations stretching up into the mist. I have heard that your country drinks more tea than any other. How sad that must make you--like children who long for absent mothers. I am sorry."
--Little Bee, Chris Cleave 
An interesting take on tea, for whenever someone tells me he or she is settling down with a cup of piping hot tea, I can think of no greater pleasure -- and I sheepishly find myself feeling jealous if I cannot have some, too. For it sounds like such a luxury, doesn't it? To steep a pot of tea for oneself, at one's leisure. This, I think, is a freedom and privilege. But Little Bee reminds me that not everyone thinks the same. Sometimes our most pleasurable activities or foods can be corrupted, or embittered, if you will.

After the first sentence (Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl...), I was hooked, but then my interest waned. And then, miraculously, it rose again -- in the end, I did not expect to like this book as much as I did. Funny when that happens. The author is a British journalist; his colleague, Charlie Brooker, is one of my favorite columnists. The Guardian is fortunate to have them both.

February 11, 2010


Alice Waters, I wholeheartedly agree with what you say in the following excerpt...particularly the part about roasts being ostentatious (like the life of the party), sautes being exciting but short-lived (like the cool kids), and stews being sensible and comforting (like the ones you want to marry).

"Nothing creates a sense of well-being like a barely simmering braise or stew cooking quietly on the stove or in the oven. The warm aromas wafting in the air are deeply comforting. Dinner is cooking. A simple and economical cut of meat is slowly altering in moist heat, gradually reaching a state of falling-off-the-bone tenderness, surrounded by a rich and tasty sauce. I love the ease and economy of cooking this way, which involves neither the ostentation of an expensive roast nor the flash-in-the-pan excitement of a last-minute saute. Once assembled, a stew or braise cooks in a single pot, largely unwatched. It can be made ahead and reheated the next day, without a worry, and it will be even tastier."
--Alice Waters, "Slow Cooking"

February 4, 2010

Winging it

At first, seeing that there was no regular white sugar left in the house, I was going to make blondies. Then, feeling a slight aversion to the prospect of melting butter, I dismissed the idea in favor of my trusty old snickerdoodle recipe. That's when something in me decided to experiment and bake something new. So I decided to reduce the amount of oil and replace it with a healthy smattering of Ghiradelli chocolate discs.

Then, I decided to sprinkle in a bit of nutmeg.
Then, upon filling up a cookie sheet and seeing that I still had dough left, I decided to abandon the cookie plan and press all of the dough into an 8x8 square pan to make cookie bars.
Then, I didn't know how long to bake them because they were no longer cookies.
Then, I burned my tongue when taste-testing a corner, before deciding to lower the temperature and let it bake another 10 minutes.
Then, after it cooled, I felt the dense texture I wanted beneath my slicing knife, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then, this marriage of chocolate chip cookie and snickerdoodle made my taste buds do a Snoopy dance, so then I knew it was worth all the then's because this was what I had been looking for: Something I'd never made before, familiar yet new - like somebody you feel like you've known forever, but only just met.

These bars taste like they have oats in them, but they don't; they're magical in that way. They taste like a combination of granola bar, chocolate chip cookie, and snickerdoodle. If you like the aforementioned food items, you can't really go wrong with this recipe.

Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodle Bars
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. light brown sugar
1 egg
scant 1/2 c.vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup high-quality chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
dash of salt
Extra brown sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400° F. Mix all the ingredients together until it forms a cookie dough consistency. (No need to separate the wet and dry ingredients - is this recipe great, or what?!) Dough may be slightly oily. Press dough evenly into an ungreased 8x8 square baking pan and sprinkle some brown sugar on top. Bake 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 350° and bake another 10-15 minutes until set.
Serving suggestion: Spread nutella or peanut butter on top while the bars, and serve while still slightly warm, not piping hot.

February 2, 2010

red velvet cravings

"I used to get out of bed and lie on the karri floorboards and feel the rumble in my skull. There was a soothing monotony in the sound. It sang in every joist of the house, in my very bones, and during winter storms it began to sound more like artillery than mere water. I thought of the Blitz and my mother's stories of all-night bombing raids, how she came up out of the ground with her parents to find entire streets gone. Some winter mornings I turned on the radio at breakfast half expecting to hear the news that whole slabs of the district had been lost to the sea--fences, roads, forest, and pasture--all chewed off like so much cake."
-- Tim Winton, "Loonie and Me"
Mmm, cake. Destruction. Destruction of cupcake...which is what happened on Sunday. Two Little Red Hens did not disappoint.

It's funny how tiny hints of one's nationality can appear in one's work. This writer is Australian, hence the karri floorboards. Dictionary says karri is a tall Australian eucalyptus with hard red wood. Hmm, red wood, red velvet, "chewed off like so much cake". Coincidence? I think not! I'd venture to guess that Tim Winton was subconsciously craving some red velvet cake at the time he was writing this. And who could blame him? Writing is arduous work.

February 1, 2010

An Artist of the Real World

"I looked at An Artist of the Floating World and thought, This is quite satisfactory in terms of exploring this theme about the wasted life in terms of career, but what about in your personal life? When you're young, you think everything is to do with your career. Eventually you realize that your career is only a part of it. And I was feeling that. I wanted to write the whole thing again. How do you waste your life careerwise, and how do you waste your life in the personal arena?"
--Kazuo Ishiguro, Paris Review interview

"I started to see parallels between memory and dream, the way you manipulate both according to your emotional needs at the time. The language of dreams would also allow me to write a story that people would read as a metaphorical tale as opposed to a comment on a particular society. Over some months I built up a folder full of notes, and eventually I felt ready to write a novel."
--Ishiguro, on the thought process behind The Unconsoled

I still remember the last line of that oh-so-frustrating novel: "The croissants looked particularly promising." It's nice to see the thought process that goes into a novel, from first inkling to completion. Anyone can build a folder of notes, but when do you feel ready to write a novel?