Monday, September 16, 2019

Blackberry Cardamom Cake (Gluten free! Or not!)

Oh, hello, my loves! I am writing you from the crying pit of vipers otherwise known as September. Did your children go to college and leave you? I'm sorry! They suck. And even the ones at home still are probably off all day at high school, like assholes. Sigh. I am now the person who leans over, all melty and wobbly and weird, to speak to people at the store with babies in their shopping carts. "Ooh, lucky!" I like to say, because I can't remember how much it sucked to be scouting out a ripe cantaloupe while someone in a single zippery piece of clothing started to make the prewailing warning sounds of naptime misery.

I made Ben play one last, gloomy game of Booby-Trap with me before he left.
I will admit, under duress, that the second year of Ben going has been easier than the first. Even though he was home all summer and all any of us could do was drape ourselves over him in loving,  smothering relief. Birdy spent the first few days after his departure lying angrily on the floor and announcing, "Benny went back to college like a stupid fuckhole. Jesus FUCK." #theappledoesntfallfaretc

Back in the summer, we were laughing!
Anyhoo, I wrote some things since last we met! A piece about leaving for college here. Lots of recipes here. A little something about kids and chores here (scroll down for the more actionable piece of the article). Something totally weird here.

I also read some things. Lots of things. Some so incredible I may read them again: this and this and this and this, for example. And this.

And I did some baking. Onto the recipe portion of this brief missive.

I should mention that the berries will sink to the bottom. At least mine did!
Blackberry Cardamom Cake
For the past seven or so years, I’ve worked a weekly shift at our local survival center, serving lunch to hungry folks. Mostly I do this because I get a kick out of my own helpfulness, as well as out of the sustaining friendships I’ve been treated to there, and the many men who call me sweetheart and darling in what has become, in this, my 51st year, the last bastion of flirtation in my life. (I am lonely a lot during the week, and I am never lonely there.) Plus, Ben, whose college is nearby, works the dinner shift after I work the lunch shift, and during our 5-minute Thursday car transfer we gossip about everybody we saw. And also I like getting free food, which I do from the fresh foods distribution, where they give away lots of gorgeous produce from local farms and markets, everything only slightly dinged and dented—nothing you wouldn’t still call sweetheart or darling. We refer to it as “used food,” at my house, and admiringly so. “Ooh, are these used peaches from the survival center?” Birdy will ask. “They’re so good!”

So, with a half pint of used blackberries that were just a little past their bowl-of-berries-and-cream prime, I made this cake. Weirdly, I first thought that I was recreating a macaron we’d had in Paris years ago. Blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom! I remembered, incorrectly. In fact, the macaron has been raspberry lychee, and rose, which, wow, was maybe the best thing I have ever tasted. Nonetheless, blackberries, vanilla, and cardamom baked simply into this cake you will recognize from it being the same cake as the plum cake, is a marvelous thing. We are strictly gluten-free around here these days, so that’s what I’m offering—and the texture is, I unhumbly submit, absolute tender, buttery perfection. But feel free to swap in white flour. Or, better yet, 2/3 cup white flour and 1/3 cup spelt flour, like my old glutinous self would have.

1 stick butter (I use salted), softened
¾ cup sugar (plus 1 tablespoon)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup gluten-free white flour (with xanthan gum in it—or add 1/2 teaspoon)
1/3 cup almond flour or meal (with or without skins)
1/3 cup gluten-free wholegrain flour (I make my own blend from equal parts brown rice, teff, sorghum, and oat flour, thanks to this book) OR more regular gf flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fresh, fragrant ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 heaping cup (a half-pint container) of blackberries
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Heat the oven to 350.

Use an electric mixer (if you have one) to cream together the butter and sugar—or do this all by hand, which is fine. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, and add the vanilla too. Beat in the flours, which you’ve either sifted or whisked together with the baking powder, cardamom, and salt, and mix until the batter is well combined.

Now scrape the very stiff batter into your pan: I use an 8-inch spring form pan (and don’t grease it), but you could butter and flour a regular cake pan and use that, need be. Use a rubber spatula to even it out.

Dot the top of the cake with the blackberries, pressing them in slightly. Now sprinkle the cake with a tablespoon of sugar and pop it in the oven to bake until it looks nice and brown and doesn’t jiggle anywhere when you, uh, jiggle it—this seems to take about 35 minutes in my oven, but check it at 30.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or plain. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Gluten-Free Yay It's Wednesday Cake! Donut Cake

What? All of your favorite things rolled into one? I know! Festivity, gluten-free-ness, and donut cake, in honor of Wednesday. (For more on the "Yay, It's Wednesday Cake" Cake tradition, please visit this or this.)

How are you, my darlings? We all have teenagers and kids leaving and not leaving, and life is a whirlwind of missing things, if you know what I mean. Ben's absence has been hard for our family. It's gotten much, much better, for sure: he's happy, for one, which we're thrilled about, and Birdy is a delightful person to live with. But boy do we miss that Ben all the time. It's the end of the longest chapter of my life, during which I was a mother with two kids at home. As a friend's daughter once said, after she was weaned, "You used to make milk for me! Now your body just makes poop and pee for nobody." Sigh.

This is the kind of good child who will never go to college! Yay, Birdy! La la la la. Don't talk to me about it.
But I do still get to cook for Birdy, thank god. Like this cake! Which she was delighted to come home to last week, partly because of the festive sign, and partly because it is so, so good: moist and a little gritty and just the right amount sweet and nutmeggy. A perfect cake, and an especially perfect gluten-free cake.

Meanwhile, I've written for Family Circle here, and for Real Simple this month--a weird little essay in addition to my usual etiquette column over there. (I think it's only in the actual magazine, not on the online.) Plus, you can follow me on instagram here! Where it's ALL MENDING ALL THE TIME.

Gluten-Free Donut Cake
This is the best cake I make, and it's a debased riff on the justly famous Busy-Day Cake of cookbook author and local-food pioneer Edna Lewis, which I originally wrote about here. A note on the flour: I recommend half almond meal and half gluten-free all-purpose flour (the kind with, as I like to say, Xanax* in it.) Not only that, but in the one cup of almond meal I use half of the pale floury kind of almond meal and half of the kind that is skin-on and a bit rougher. And not only that BUT I secretly use half regular gf flour and half of this weird whole-grain blend from (the wonderful) Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: equal parts, by weight, of oat flour, sorghum flour, teff flour, and brown rice flour. You're welcome. You know what else you can do? Use all of whatever your favorite gf flour is! Seriously. It will be totally good and fine. 

* Xanthan gum

1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups gluten-free flour (see headnote)
2 tablespoons cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ideally freshly grated
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour (I use almond flour for this) a 9-inch springform pan, and set it aside.

Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, and add the vanilla. You may want to periodically scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour(s), cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with flour. Make sure each addition is incorporated before adding next, but don't over-beat it at the end. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake until the top is puffed and golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes (Honestly, I just push the top gently with my fingertip and make sure it seems inclined to spring back). Serve warm or at room temperature, ideally with lightly sweetened fruit (I added about a tablespoon of sugar to a pint of sliced strawberries and two sliced nectarines) and whipped cream. And don't be dismayed if the cake sinks significantly upon cooling: it might, and that's fine.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Double-Green Pear Smoothie

My loves! You know what the word smoothie means. I know you do. It means that my normal beer-and-cheese diet, the one that's typically seasoned with ginormous crunchy handfuls of good salty bff tortilla chips, is on an eensy little hiatus. A winter little hiatus where I try to live like a person who is not teetering on an addicty tightrope that stretches between the seven a.m. HUZZAH! of caffeine and the five o'clock sharp HUZZAH! of alcohol. A few weeks where I say things like, "Is it just me, or are these yeast walnuts actually the most delicious thing you ever tasted?" (It's just me!) 

To be fair, Michael was trying to share his Shake Shackstravaganza with Ben, but it showed up in my feed. Because NOBODY WANTS ME TO BE LIVING MY CLEAN LIFE.
"What should I label this dressing?" Michael asks, and I have to say, "Cashew Caesar." (With nutritional yeast!) Three different kinds of nuts are soaking in my refrigerator at all times, like tragic drowned things. I am staining our blender with the turmeric I'm adding to my crazy good lattes. You know. Like this.

Mmmm! Yellow foam! Like something from a poisoned beach!
Anyhoo, longtime readers might be saying, "Why February?" And thank you for asking! It's because our Ben was home through January, and I couldn't bear to be abstemious in the presence of someone so devoted to the culinary hedonism of our family. (He's on some sort of al-fredo cleanse.) Hence now. Sigh. Here I am: clean, Benless, and trudging in the slush. But loving the spring light! And feeling annoyingly great, tbh. Plus, you can't complain about pretend problems you invented for yourself. Or can you? For more clean recipes, Google "Ben and Birdy" with "clean." I should make a category in the recipe index, but I have about as much energy as the kind of person who thinks a leaf of kale might make a fun snack.

In other news, I read this book, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, and it was breathtakingly good. I stayed up all hours with my headlamp, crying. I also read, and loved, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. 

And this book! I have a piece in it! So fun! Except I made myself cry, reading it out loud in Boston on Monday. Because I am apparently the kind of person who is moved to tears by my own writing. Which, then, made me laugh. While I was crying. Because #kalesnack.

Okay, okay, the smoothie! I have suddenly taken to walnuts--their milky, savory richness--even though everyone else here hates them, and also they seem to burn these weird troubling craters onto my tongue, which might be some kind of sign that I'm choosing to ignore. You could totally use almonds or cashews instead! But I do love the walnuts here with the warmth of the vanilla and the bright, fragrant pearness of the pear. Also? The greens are optional. You can just stuff them in your mouth while the smoothie is blending, get them all nice and choked down before you even sit down with what would otherwise be a simply lovely fruity drink. In which case this is a Single-Green Pear Smoothie.

Double-Green Pear Smoothie
Makes 1 serving

Blend on high until very smooth and all the date nubbins and but chunks and leaves have fully disappeared:

1 little handful of raw walnuts (2 tablespoons?), ideally soaked in water overnight, especially if your blender isn’t super-powerful (or other, less punishing nuts if you prefer)
1 cored and cut-up pear
1 large handful of baby spinach or torn kale
A couple of ice cubes
1 cup of cold water
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 pitted date
a pinch of salt

Drink right away!

Have a wonderful weekend, my darlings.