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Arsip Tag: cake
Why did I make this cake? Was it a birthday, a dinner party, or a pot-luck brunch? Was I testing recipes for a new cookbook or auditioning one that I fell for at a bookstore? Did I see this recipe online and found it irresistible? Was it a Friday treat to relieve the pressure of a long week? For someone who might never run out of “excuses” to make cake in this lifetime, you’d think I’d come up with something more exciting than the truth, which is that I could only find a big tub of ricotta at the store when I made ziti last time, and forced myself to find a clever way to use it up. Alas, I rather enjoy a challenge and so it’s cake o’clock again; rejoice!
But, if I’m being honest, I really wanted a cannoli, I mean, the good kind, the kind that’s in a hand-formed shell that’s been deep-fried to a crackly crisp and is filled only once you order it so the outer crunch remains intact. A proper cannoli, with orange and lemon peel and a whiff of Marsala, chopped pistachios and always, always, always with the miniature chocolate chips.
And so these things happily met up in a loaf pan. If you have my first cookbook, there’s a recipe for a ricotta cake which I created using a French yogurt cake for inspiration, the one that’s classically measured in yogurt cups. Swapping ricotta for yogurt, and olive oil for something more neutral, that one is finished with a concord grape sauce and it’s wonderful this time of year. This might be even better. In a tall pan, it bakes up high and with a cracked top with an excellent crisp to it. Inside, it’s tender and on the second day, even more lush, should it survive so long. It absolutely bursts with cannoli flavor, about as close as you’re going to get in a one-bowl pound cake. And, if you took my hint last time and also “accidentally” bought the big ricotta, you’re definitely going to have enough for two or three cakes, and absolutely no regrets will come of that.
One year ago: Better Chocolate Babka
Two years ago: Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl
Three years ago: Quick Chicken Noodle Soup
Four years ago: Apple Pie Cookies
Five years ago: Roasted Eggplant Soup
Six years ago: Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp
Seven years ago: Balsamic-Glazed Sweet-and-Sour Onions, Majestic and Moist Honey Cake and The Best Challah I Know How To Make
Eight years ago: Gazpacho Salad and Hello Dolly Bars
Nine years ago: Winter Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Wild Mushroom Paté and Obsessively Good Avocado and Cucumber Salad
1.5 Years Ago: Asparagus-Stuffed Eggs
2.5 Years Ago: Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast
3.5 Years Ago: Banana Bread Crepe Cake with Butterscotch
4.5 Years Ago: French Onion Soup
Cannoli Pound Cake
Butter or cooking spray to coat pan
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
Finely grated zest from 1 orange
Finely grated zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) sweet marsala wine or 2 tablespoons white wine (optional)
1 cup (250 grams) whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 or 2 pinches allspice
1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (170 grams) mini-chocolate chips or 6 ounces semisweet chocolate bar, chopped into tiny bits
1/2 cup (60 grams) pistachios, chopped small
Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Coat a standard (8 1/2-x-4 1/4″) loaf pan with butter or a nonstick spray.
Place sugar in a large bowl, and add zest. Use your fingertips to rub the zest into the sugar, scenting it througout. Whisk in olive oil, wine (if using), ricotta and eggs. Sprinkle baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice over wet ingredients, then whisk to combine. Gently stir in flour, then chocolate and pistachios until just combined.
Scrape into prepared loaf. Bake oven for 55 to 65 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out-batter free. Let cool on wire rack in pan for 15 minutes, then invert out onto rack to finish cooling. Cake is great the first day, and even more amazingly moist on the second and third, so feel free to plan ahead. Store at room temperature, covered with foil or plastic.
After coming to our senses about our dream of a Friendsgiving dinner party last month versus the reality of life with two kids, two full-time jobs, a small oven and a worrisomely low inventory of forks (seriously, where do they go?) we decided instead to have a Taco Dinner Party last weekend. Among our friends, in a tacos vs. turkey throwdown, tacos will always win. This might be why we get along so well.
The menu* is one of my favorites and it’s incredibly simple: A big brisket goes in the slow-cooker the night before and in the morning is transferred to the fridge where it can rest for the day so it can be easily de-fatted and gently rewarmed and shredded before dinner. [Recipe here.] A pot of black beans, which can also be handed off to the slow-cooker, is essential. [I use the Black Bean Ragout from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, but this soup with less liquid isn’t a bad place to start.] I make a giant batch of Lazy Taco Slaw and Pickled Red Onions [recipes outlined at the bottom of this post]. My friend Ang brought over tomatillo salsa from her deck garden [but this one is a great place to start]. I raided the Mexican bodega in my neighborhood for corn tortillas, extra hot sauce, pickled jalapenos and crema, although the grocery store varieties of each work just as well. We juice a lot of limes and make a pitcher or two my go-to 3:2:1 margarita (3 parts tequila, 2 parts lime juice and 1 part Cointreau) [but if you can get blood oranges where you are, do yourself a favor and make these]. And then we made a lot of queso, because I sometimes delight in making food snobs clutch their pearls.
And then, because everyone lies when they say they don’t need dessert, I made a Tres Leches Cake and it was decidedly mediocre. Not “went uneaten” mediocre, but absolutely not what I had in mind. I used what is probably the most popular recipe for it on the internet, and ended up with a hard too-sweet cake that didn’t absorb the liquid and left me Monday Morning Quarterbacking (look honey, I used a football reference!) over how to make it better. I reviewed 100 recipes online, I hunted through all of my cookbooks, and then I turned to one of my secret favorite sources for authentic cooking lessons — YouTube videos with fairly low production values, preferably not in English. After watching a few Mexican grandmothers make theirs from what seemed to be memory, a few themes emerged: all of them use a classic sponge cake (soft and light, with almost all of its texture and volume from whipped eggs), and almost none use the kind with butter in it; buttery cakes won’t absorb all that liquid as well. While 90 percent of them whip their egg whites and yolks separately and then fold them together, after seeing one or two make a go of it as almost a one-bowl cake, I did just this and will never go back. Finally, just about everyone seems to agree that because the cake is exceptionally sweet, as it should be, the whipped topping doesn’t need to be. From here, I made the tres leches cake that will be my forever go-to, which means it’s time for the next dinner party, right?
* More Dinner Party Menus: In this new section, I’m building out some of my tried-and-tested dinner party menus from the archives. Included so far: Taco Party, Winter Dinner Party, A Little Fancy (with vegetarian swaps below), a Hanukah Party, Mussels and Fries (my go-to for inviting people over for that very night), and our summer favorite, a Ribs Fest. Check it out! [Dinner Party Menus]
My Favorite Hosting Tips: I wrote a short piece for New York Magazine’s The Cut about my entertaining “rules,” which also includes a second Moules Frites menu, the one from my cookbook. Check it out! [Smitten Kitchen’s Dinner Party Menu on The Cut]
Even More Hosting Tips: I contributed a few tips to Cup of Jo’s guide over here. [Dinner Party Tips on Cup of Jo]
One year ago: Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix and Gingerbread Biscotti
Two years ago: Cigarettes Russes Cookies
Three years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Four years ago: Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies and Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs
Five years ago: Roasted Chestnut Cookies
Six years ago: Balsamic Braised Brussels with Pancetta, Cream Biscuits and Coffee Toffee
Seven years ago: Cabbage Apple and Walnut Salad and Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust
Eight years ago: Rugelach Pinwheels, Fennel Ice Cream and Ratatouille Tart
Nine years ago: Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Wild Mushroom Pirogis, Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake and Blondies, Infinitely Adaptable
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Picnic Pink Lemonade and Crispy Frizzled Artichokes
1.5 Years Ago: Nancy’s Chopped Salad and Coconut Brown Butter Cookies
2.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies
3.5 Years Ago: Asparagus and Almonds with Yogurt Dressing and Strawberries and Cream Biscuits
4.5 Years Ago: Fudge Popsicles
Tres Leches Cake [Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk’s Cake]
This easily the most popular cake in Mexico, a vanilla sponge cake soaked with a mixture of three “milks” (sweetened condensed, evaporated and heavy or light cream) and topped with whipped cream. While sponge cakes can be made with or without butter, the butter-free ones that might be less enjoyable to eat plain (see: spongy and butterless) are perfect here because they drink the milks and become, IMHO, the highest calling of a sponge cake. Although tres leches cakes are supposed to be very sweet — it is tradition! — I cannot resist dialing back the sugar in the cake just a little. My two other tweaks are optional; if you have a fresh vanilla bean around, it’s exceptional in here. And, when I’m making this cake for a grown-up dinner party, I love adding 1 to 2 tablespoons dark rum to the three mix mixture. Want to fiddle even more with tradition? Replace the cream with coconut milk or eggnog, for a holiday riff. Some people like to add a little cinnamon or nutmeg to the whipped topping, but I never do.
Butter and flour for cake pan
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (30 grams) cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 large eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped from pods or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 (12-ounce or 340 grams) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce or 400 grams) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy or light cream (half-and-half)
1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) rum (optional)
2 cups (475 ml) heavy cream (for whipped topping)
2 tablespoons (15 grams) powdered or granulated sugar (for whipped topping)
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9×13 baking pan, or coat it with a nonstick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch (together, these make “cake flour” without you having to buy it), salt and baking powder. If using a fresh vanilla bean, rub seeds into 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar to disperse them and help release the most flavor. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. With the machine still running, gradually add the sugar (vanilla bean-infused or plain) and beat on medium-high until stiff peaks form. If you haven’t used a vanilla bean, now add your vanilla extract and beat to combine.
Add yolks one at at time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add milk and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture, one-third at at time, folding in each addition gently by hand.
Pour batter in prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, or until a tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Let completely cool in pan on a rack.
In a large bowl, preferably one with a pouring spout, whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy or light cream. Add rum, if using. Use a wooden skewer to poke holes all over cake. Pour all but 1/2 cup milk mixture over cake and transfer to fridge, giving the cake several hours but ideally overnight to soak it up. (Save last bit of milk mixture for serving.)
Before serving, beat 2 cups heavy cream with 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Spread over top of cake.
Serve cake in squares, first pouring a little puddle of reserved three-milk mixture at the bottom of plate.
For the last seven Christmas Eves, I have made the gingerbread cake Claudia Fleming made famous during her time at Gramercy Tavern. The first year, I was so excited about it that I made it twice, first, for the holiday and then so I could tell you all about it because I think we all know that a Deb-fitted torture chamber would be me making some awesome cooking discovery and not being able to run to the internet to tell you about it immediately.
But every year after that, it’s given me a hard time. At first, I shrugged it off — a chunk stayed behind in the pan, I pasted it back on and showered the cake with an extra blizard of sugar “snow.” Two chunks stayed behind, we teased it for its lopsidedness while eating it with no-less-diminished vigor. But it didn’t get better from there. I assumed it was my greasing technique; maybe this cake was no match for my beloved Baker’s Joy? I doubled-down on the buttering and the flouring and was rewarded with the cake equivalent of a gap-toothed 6 year-old. I did the same but gave it 20 minutes to set in the freezer; it mocked my efforts. I switched to the Crisco my mom swears by for pan release; the hungry hungry bundt still ate a third of the cake. I questioned the half-life of factory-applied nonstick coating, but it was hard to ignore that the same coating was mighty effective at releasing other cakes. Finally, I pulled in the big guns, this mix of shortening, oil, and flour many more talented bakers than myself swear by; the situation was so bad that year, I had to make this cake at the last minute instead.
This is where the story arc demands a resolution. Here is where I’m supposed to say “But here’s what finally worked!” This is America! We like happy endings. Alas, as I’ve run out of solutions, I’ve instead changed vessels. Down with bumps and notches; down with shapes that do not allow for the ultimate in cake-release security, a layer of parchment paper. Up with celebratory layer cakes! Poured thin, sandwiched with whipped mascarpone cream, stacked high and a little messy and crowed with the festive-est berry tiara, we still get to eat our favorite gingerbread cake on Christmas Eve and the only chunk of gingerbread that isn’t going to make it to the table this year is that plated wedge up front. We’ll blame the elf.
One year ago: Deep Dark Gingerbread Waffles and Fairytale of New York
Two years ago: Linzer Torte and Breakfast Slab Pie
Three years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Four years ago: Parsnip Latkes with Horseradish and Dill
Five years ago: Broiled Mussels and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies
Six years ago: Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce, Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes and How to Host Brunch (and Still Sleep In)
Seven years ago: Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake, Sausage-Stuffed Potato with a Green Salad, Seven-Layer Cookies, Grasshopper Brownies, Potato Pancakes, Even Better
Eight years ago: Austrian Raspberry Shortbread and Slice-and-Bake Cookie Palette
Nine years ago: Pecan Squares, Boozy Baked French Toast and Zucchini Latkes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Herbed Summer Pasta Bake
1.5 Years Ago: Frozen Coconut Limeade
2.5 Years Ago: Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream
3.5 Years Ago: Cold Rice Noodle with Peanut-Lime Chicken
4.5 Years Ago: Rich Homemade Ricottaand Linguine with Pea Pesto
Gingerbread Layer Cake with Whipped Mascarpone Cream and Sugared Cranberries
Adapted from Claudia Fleming (cake), Nancy Silverton (stabilized cream) and My Recipes (sugared cranberries)
This recipe makes three thin cake layers. As most of us have 2 cake pans, at best, you could also make it into two thicker cake layers, giving it a little more baking time. Or, you could do as I did, which is to hold the last bit of batter in a bowl until the first layer comes out and can be unmolded. It holds up just fine at room temperature for an hour. You’ll have up to 1 cup more whipped cream than you’ll need; you can make a little less or just keep the rest in a jar for another dessert. The cream stays stable due to the added mascarpone, although that was my preference and creme fraiche or sour cream are usually what’s recommended. (Read more about why here.) Finally, the sugared cranberries are something I auditioned at the last minute for the first time so I’m hardly an expert (but hope to be, in two or three bags); you’ll want to start them the night or day before. You’ll have way more than you’ll need; the rest make pretty gifts, festive treats or can be scattered on plates when serving.
1 cup (200 grams) plus 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup (100 grams) fresh cranberries
1 cup (235 ml) oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout
1 cup (235 ml) dark molasses (ideally, not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 cup (190 grams) packed dark brown sugar
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (150 grams) vegetable or another neutral oil
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of ground cardamom
2 cups (475 ml) heavy or whipping cream
6 tablespoons (45 grams) powdered sugar
1/2 cup (115 grams) mascarpone
Make sugared cranberries: Bring 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup water to a gentle simmer (not a full boil) on the stove, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add cranberries. Pour mixture into a bowl and let syrupy cranberries chill in fridge overnight, or at least 8 hours. The next morning, drain cranberries (you can reserve syrup for soda or sweetening cocktails). Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl and roll cranberries in it. Arrange them on a tray or plate and refrigerate for another 45 minutes to an hour, so that the sugar sets. (They’ll feel mostly dry to the touch.)
Make the cake layers: Heat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour, or use a nonstick spray to coat three 9-inch round cake pans (see note above re: if you have fewer) and line the bottom of each with a fitted round of parchment paper.
Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat; whisk in baking soda carefully — it will foam up. Cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugars and oil. Whisk in eggs, then whisk in cooled stout-molasses mixture. Place dry ingredients in a fine-mesh sieve or sifter and shake over bowl. Stir until just combined.
Divide batter into prepared cake pans; you’ll have about (updated!) a scant (bit less than) 2 cups or 515 grams of batter in each. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. Cool in pan on rack for 5 minutes, then flip out onto cooling rack, carefully remove parchment paper (it’s sticky) and flip back right side-up, letting each layer cool completely. You can hasten this along outside (if it’s cold) or in the freezer.
Make whipped mascarpone cream: Beat heavy cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl with a whisk or electric beaters until soft peaks form. Beat in mascarpone, one spoonful at a time, just until it disappears into the cream.
Assemble cake: Place first cake layer on cake stand and level top with a serrated knife if it has domed. Spread with 1 cup whipped mascarpone. Repeat twice, then smooth sides. Decorate with sugared cranberries. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated until needed.
Here’s a thing I’ve been doing since the year began that’s made me very happy in the kitchen and it’s so simple, I completely expect you to roll your eyes at how un-revolutionary it is, but it goes like this: Find a recipe that sounds good to you and make it immediately. Don’t put it in the queue; don’t save it on that to-cook-one-day list, just dive in and dig in. So far, it’s been nothing but great; there was a giant egg bake, ugly cookies, green dinner pancakes, a giant cabbage casserole (recipe added!) we heaped on coarse mustard-slathered bread and a towering spaghetti frittata. And while all of these things have been delicious, what’s been the most fun about them is getting back to a kind of impulsivity that’s gotten pushed to the wayside in this hyper-scheduled so-called adult life. It’s also led to conversations I want more of in 2016, such as “well, if you’re around anyway, why don’t you stay for dinner and I’ll guinea pig a new recipe on you?”
Which is how it happened that I spied a photo on the Instagram account of Elisabeth Prueitt of Tartine Bakery — someone I’ve long admired for both her baking talent and her refreshingly honest talk about being a working parent — last weekend that may not have normally been the kind of thing that got me running to the kitchen (a gluten-free cake, candied citrus rings, plus didn’t I just recently make a citrus-infused ricotta cake?) but why think too hard about it? And, lo, I’m so glad we didn’t.
The recipe hails from the wonderful River Cafe Cookbook series, specifically the Classic Italian volume, and in its original format uses a mix of polenta and almond flour, whipped egg whites, butter, ricotta and lemon to make a thick cake that’s nothing like the dry cornmeal cakes you might have had in the past. In fact, it’s so tender and rich, you might almost mistake it for a ricotta cheesecake (Prueitt attributes this to the lower baking temperature). But what really caught my eye was Prueitt innovations; she uses a half-volume of the original for a thinner, delicate cake that she caramelizes orange slices into the reversed cake. The first time we made it with tangerine zest and juice instead of lemon, and sliced almonds as a topping. The second time, I had nabbed some blood oranges and made it with the zest, juice and candied rings, and nothing but almond flour. Both were probably the best-received dessert I’ve made that didn’t involve chocolate, peanut butter or salted caramel and so pretty, they might be the literal opposite of this gray frigid morning of snow flurries.
Almond, Ricotta, and Blood Orange Cake
Adapted from Elisabeth Prueitt’s adaptation of The River Cafe’s Torta di Ricotta e Polenta
The River Cafe original calls for both the cornmeal and almond flour listed here. I’ve made it this way and I’ve also made it with all almond flour (i.e. an extra 1/3 cup), and both were wonderful; the latter makes it Passover-friendly. I haven’t made it with all cornmeal (for nut allergies), but suspect it wouldn’t be disastrous. If bittersweet lightly candied orange slices are not your thing, and they are not many people’s thing, you can either skip the whole brown sugar puddle upside-down thing (this was Prueitt’s innovation, not in the original; I find her method of making an upside-down cake with no caramel step utterly brilliant) or do as we did in our first round, just cover the sugar with toasted thin almond slices. If you are going to use orange slices, make sure you slice them paper-thin with your sharpest knife. We used blood oranges, other oranges will work too; the original recipe calls for lemon zest and juice. If using measuring cups, be sure to pack your almond flour. The difference between scooped and leveled almond flour and packed almond flour is significant.
A few other rearrangements: always zest before juicing, to avoid bad moods. Zest should always go straight into sugar, for maximum flavor release against the grit. Always whip egg whites before egg yolks, so you don’t have to wash your beaters in the middle of prep.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
3 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar
2 blood oranges, or another orange of your choice
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (165 grams) ricotta
1/3 cup (45 grams) cornmeal
1 cup (135 grams) firm-packed almond flour or meal
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup apple, quince or apricot jam (optional, for glossy finish)
Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
Stir brown sugar and water together so they form a thick slurry. Pour into prepared cake pan and spread thin. Set aside.
Whip egg whites in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until they hold thick peaks. Set aside.
Place granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Finely zest both oranges over it.
Cut both oranges in half. Cut one of the halves into paper-thin slices and arrange slices over brown sugar base in cake pan. Juice other three halves (I had about 1/3 cup juice) and set juice aside.
Add butter to zest and granulated sugar in large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer (you can use same beaters you just did for egg whites) until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat to combine. Add juice and ricotta; mix until smooth. Sprinkle salt over batter, then add almond flour and cornmeal and mix until just combined. Gently fold in egg whites.
Scoop batter in large dollops over prepared cake pan base. Gently spread batter flat, trying not to disturb orange slices underneath. Bake in heated oven for 35 to 40 minutes [updated to warn that this took longer for many people, but remains accurate for my oven– better to check early than late], or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and then (my preference) for 5 more minutes. The final cake is so moist, almost damp, I found the extra baking time beneficial.
Cool cake in pan on rack for 5 minutes, and then run a knife around the side and invert onto a cake plate. If any orange slices don’t come out easily, just gently arrange them on the top of the cake. If desired, heat jam until loose and brush over cake top for a glossier finish. Let cool and cut into slices. This would be delicious served with an extra dollop of ricotta, creme fraiche or barely sweetened whipped cream. The cake keeps at room temperature, but we prefer it from the fridge.
For one week every spring the local Catholic church, an otherwise unassuming dot on the landscape of my suburb, turned their property into magical kingdom of lights, music, cotton candy and so many rides it was impossible to remember that all other weeks of the year it was just an empty field next to a parking lot. I was obsessed with this carnival… from afar. My parents, citing such horrifically dull things as having their children live long, healthy lives, questionable safety practices and clearly a focused interest in ruining everything, refused to let my sister and me go, even though my best friend, who went to school there and ostensibly had parents also invested in keeping her safe, got to go every night. Worst weeks, ever. This story should end here but as we drove to my parents house last month and I saw the carnival all set up again, I realized two things: 1. I wasn’t remembering it with rose-colored glasses, it’s actually, objectively amazing. 2. This miiiight be the source of my ongoing obsessing with carnivals.
I can’t help it. I haven’t met a balloon race, ali baba, bumper car, ferris wheel, haunted house, carousel, mini-zipper, graviton or hurricane I didn’t like. Give me all the strung lights, popcorn in red and white boxes and musical reels that haven’t changed in 50 years. I delight in the vague creepiness of clowns and it’s basically no surprise that only one days into summer, we’ve already taken the “kids” (sure, okay) to Jenkinson’s and Coney Island.
There are parents that sew their kids’ clothes, carry them in an Ergo until kindergarten and take them to Disney World at least twice before they even reach 2nd grade, but if you don’t mind, please don’t tell my kids that such people are options, at, like, the Parent Store. I, in turn, will not tell yours that while I am decidedly none of the above types I insist upon making all our birthday cakes from scratch. It’s not completely selfless though; clearly I love baking them, challenging myself to get maximum excitement from minimal amounts of efforts (i.e. one-bowl cakes, regular ingredients, no special pan sizes, no fondant and ftlog stay away from Pinterest, Deb, or you’re going to be elbows deep in food dye at 2am again) and I love coming up with new flavors for them, especially fun as our family birthdays fall in June, July, August and September, prime time for fresh ingredients.
For my son, there was a chocolate banana monkey cake (1st birthday), a s’more cake (2nd birthday, in the cookbook), a roasted apple spice sheet cake (3rd) and then, on the precipice of my peach-loving son’s fourth birthday I told him all peaches and cream cake with brown sugar and the faintest trace of nutmeg we were going to make and he said, with the soundtrack of a needle scratching off a record, “No. Tchocola. Tchocola with tchocola.” I immediately realized that my husband and his “if it’s not chocolate, why does it even need to exist” mindset had infiltrated and correctly assessed that my free range in birthday cake baking was lost forever so I did the only rational thing: I had another baby. And she also loves peaches. And she has not yet been tampered with by our family’s chocolate-or-bust lobby. And last weekend, she turned one and I finally got to make that cake.
I’m sorry chocolate, you know I love you, but this cake is wonderful. Brown sugar, vanilla, a lot of peaches, sour cream and then the frosting, it’s the really easy kind that’s just butter and sugar that’s always despicably sweet, but I added sour cream to it instead of the usual milk and it was unbelievable, sweet but fluffier and nuanced. Like, I just remembered that I have a cup of frosting left in the fridge and wish I hadn’t.
I could say a lot of weepy, sappy things to say about babies and birthdays, but all I could really think about over the last week is how crazy it is that she almost wasn’t here. That there was this point, we’ll call it July 2014, when she wasn’t and we were bummed and then there’s this other point, we’ll call it July 2015, when we announced her arrival, and it wasn’t, like, divine intervention. Having help brings a whole extra layer of intentionality to it and also the awareness of how easily it could have gone another way, making us feel extra lucky to have this boing-boing-haired wild thing in our lives.
Thank you: For such a warm welcome to this new design, years in the planning, fretting, revising and then some. I have read every one of your comments and concerns (and please, feel free to leave more on the post at any time) and will be addressing them individually and letting the design/developer team know as the day goes on — do not feel ignored. I simply didn’t want to keep you from bigger things — CAAAKE! — while I did. There are many kinks that we are still working out but within a few days, most will be a thing of the past. It’s so fun to share this with you. I hope it makes the site easier for everyone to use, while (hopefully) keeping the clear/clean/easy-to-navigate/frill-free thing I’ve always liked.
One year ago: Chocolate Chunk Granola Bars, Oven Ribs, Even Better and Green Beans with Almond Pesto
Two years ago: Cherry Almond Dutch Baby, Blue and Red Berry Ricotta Galette and Sticky Sesame Chicken Wings
Three years ago: Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw, Peach and Pecan Sandy Crumble and Slow and Low Dry-Rub Oven Chicken
Four years ago: Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken, Triple Berry Summer Buttermilk Bundt, Chopped Salad with Feta Lime and Mint, Flag Cake and Blackberry Gin Fizz
Five years ago: Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes, Skirt Steak and Bloody Mary Tomato Salad
Six years ago: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, Improved, Zucchini and Ricotta Galette, Sour Cherry Pie with Almond Crumble and Porch Swing
Seven years ago: Horseradish Potato Salad, Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes, Mediterranean Pepper Salads and Cherry Brown Butter Bars
Eight years ago: Sweet Cherry Pie, Project Wedding Cake
Nine years ago: Lemon Risotto, Strawberry Chiffon Shortcake, Everyday Yellow Dal, Classic Madeleines and Roseanne Cash’s Potato Salad
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Gingerbread Layer Cake, Feta Tapenade Tarte Soleil, Fudgy Bourbon Balls and My Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup
1.5 Years Ago: Fairytale of New York Roasted Grape and Olive Crostini, Popcorn Party Mix, Parmesan Broth with Kale and White Beans and Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango
2.5 Years Ago: Gingerbread Snacking Cake, Rum Campari Punch, Carrot Soup with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas and Ethereally Smooth Hummus
3.5 Years Ago: Fromage Forte
4.5 Years Ago: Cinnamon Brown Sugar Breakfast Puffs and Scallion Meatballs with Soy Ginger Glaze
The recipe, as shown, make a small family-sized cake, 7 inches in diameter. For a larger cake that could easily serve 16, double everything and roll the discs to 10 inches in diameter.
For the darkest, most authentically Oreo/packaged chocolate wafer-ish color, you’ll want to swap half the cocoa with black cocoa powder, also sold as onyx cocoa powder. It’s available here, or in any baking supply shop.
- 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (20 grams) Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup (20 grams) black cocoa powder (see Note; just use more Dutched cocoa powder if you don’t have it)
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine if using a food processor
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons (50 grams) smooth peanut butter
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A couple pinches salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups heavy (355 ml) or whipping cream, cold
- Chocolate sprinkles, shavings, crunchy pearls or chopped chocolate-peanut butter candies
Peanut Butter Whipped Cream
Make wafers with an electric mixer: Beat butter and sugar together until combined. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add baking powder, salt and cocoa and beat until combined. Add flour and mix just until it disapepars.
Both methods: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll first between 2 pieces of parchment paper until very, very thin and just over 7 inches across. Slide onto board (parchment paper and all) and place in freezer for 10 minutes, until firm. Once firm, peel back top piece of parchment paper (it should now come off cleanly, with a gently pulling back) and use a stencil or bowl with a 7-inch rim to trim it into a neater circle. Slide cookie round and lower piece of parchment paper onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes and let cool completely on paper, which you can slice onto a cooling rack so that you can use the tray again. Repeat with remaining 5 pieces of dough.
It sounds like a lot of work but the best thing is to get into a pattern where one piece is being rolled while another is freezing while the third one bakes and fourth one is cooling so you’re never working with more than one piece at a time. By the time one piece bakes, the next is ready to leave the freezer.
While cookies cool, make peanut butter whipped cream: In a large bowl, beat peanut butter, vanilla, salt and sugar until smooth. Beating the whole time, slowly add heavy cream, a small splash at a time, until peanut butter-cream mixture is loose enough that you can add the rest of the cream without breaking it into clumps. Whip cream, watching it carefully as it’s very easy to overbeat with an electric mixer, until soft peaks form.
Place first cookie on a cake stand. If it’s sliding around, as cookies do, put a dab of whipped cream down first. Once it softens the cookie, it will make it stick. Thickly frost first cookie all the way to the edges with about 1/2 cup peanut butter cream. Repeat with remaining cookies, decoratively swirling the top cookie. Garnish with sprinkles or candy.
Place cake in the fridge overnight or ideally closer to 24 hours so that the cookies soften into cake layers. A knife dipped in warm water will make clean cuts.
From time to time when someone learns that I’m married to a Russian, they’ll ask me if I can come up with a recipe for a Russian dish they’ve had, which is hilarious because I have never been to Russia, have probably only picked up 20 words (by generous estimation) in the 13 years we’ve been together and of the maybe five Russian dishes I’ve made, I’ve simply done them my mother in-law’s way. It’s almost like people might know that I have a tendency to get really obsessive when I decide I want to crack the code of a recipe and they’re hoping I’ll apply it to a long-lost loved dish they want to make a regular part of their lives again? Nah, that would be ridiculous.
Enter: medovik. Or maybe smetannik. Guys, if you’re ever looking for a sign that a recipe is going to be a doozy to unpack, definitely aim for a dish that nobody even agrees on the name of.*
Technically speaking, this hunt began in 2013 when I received two requests for Russian honey cake — something I’d never even heard of — within a month. I expected it to be a fairly simple process: 1. Try an authentic one from a Russian bakery and see if I even liked it, which I doubted I would because I’m just not that into honey. 2. If I did, try to recreate it using published recipes as guidance. But things got immediately, screechingly off track.
First, I fell in love. Why did nobody tell me it was as stunning as a dobos torte? I have a soft spot for cakes with a gazillion skinny layers. Oh, and the flavor — I had no idea. It tastes like an extraordinarily good honey graham cracker (i.e. like nothing we can buy in a box) that’s at once caramel and penuche and biscoff or stroopwafel layered with a sweetened cream or custard or cream cheese, yet the version I was eating, as per the ingredients on the label, contained exactly zero of these things. I was riveted.
And then I fell in… something, because the recipes I found made no sense at all. They were for cookies! This was unquestionably a cake with plush layers. I ceased all medovik/smetannik studies until this madness stopped.
Last month, three years later, I began anew. I went into a tornado of research — my Russian cookbooks, recipe websites in English and Russian via Google Translate, more Russian cookbooks through Google Book Search, having my mother-in-law call her friends that bake, YouTube videos in English and Russian — the likes I haven’t done since 2012’s Lasagna Bolognese in 2012, a dish I referred to “my culinary Mount Everest,” a mountain that has never since looked so tiny. The more I read, the more confused I became.**
I finally, weeks later, had to make all the noise stop. I closed all the books and all of the browser windows and started typing a recipe that blended the most appealing middle ground or elements of everything I’d read. I accepted that there were parts that didn’t make sense to me but I would do them anyway. I expected very little, but the cookie discs — yes, cookies, but a tiny bit bendy so maybe 10 percent on its way to cake already — smelled like a kiss of buttery honey caramel as they exited the oven and I felt like we might be at the brink of honey cake greatness at last.
After expending so much mental energy on the layers, I decided the simplest filling option — sweetened sour cream — was the most sane place to start. Honey would be the logical thing to sweeten it with, but after seeing a few recipes that worked in sweetened condensed milk, only one of the most delicious substances on this earth, I sweetened mine instead with it. The filling/frosting takes approximately one minute to make and I was pretty excited by now because this was happening, I was finally doing this. And then this happened:
And I was all because I couldn’t believe I’d gotten so close just to trash the whole thing. I shoved it into the back of the fridge, stormed out of the kitchen and didn’t return until the next day, and then I took deep breaths. I re-iced the cake with the spillover. I scooped and spackled. I covered the cake with the prescribed crumbs but until the moment that we sliced into the cake, I was still convinced it was a flop, that there would be no filling left, just a merged megastack of cake inside with no nuance, no joy, no point, no…
… sound. This cake has a way of silencing a room.
** So, is it called medovik (honey cake) or smetannik (sour cream cake), Deb? I asked many many people and here is a small sampling of the responses I got:
Team Smetannik: “Smetannik is what you made — it is a honey cake with sour cream layers…” “Smetanik is any cake with sour cream based frosting. Smetannik has honey in the recipe too, but only a little.” “Smetanik is a cake with sour cream used both in frosting and batter.” “smetannik, but you are missing the walnuts.. We make it with walnuts on each layer.”
“Medovnik, which I I think is also called Medoviy Tort — is basically the same thing, except, and this is where you get LOTS of debate, has honey in the sour cream frosting.” “Medovik is a honey cake which is usually assumed to have a sour cream frosting (though not always). I’d call it a Medovik.” “did you use multiple cups of honey in the recipe? Then it’s a medovik… also you seem to be missing walnuts”
Both teams were kind, however. “… if you were to use the terms interchangeably, the Russian culinary police won’t come after you, partly because there is no consensus.” “It’s definitely confusing, but call it what you want, I’d eat your version and ask for seconds.” (Aw.)
** Just a rough overview of some of my questions:
– Why did most contain 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 cup of sugar? How was this a honey cake?
– Why do some use 2 tablespoons of butter and others use 12?
– Half the recipes called for us to make a caramel and then, when it is still bubbling on the stove, whisk eggs into it — you do not need to be a food scientist to know this is how to make scrambled eggs. The other half have you make the caramel with the eggs already in it! How can that work?
– A lot of recipes have you mix baking soda and vinegar — basically activating it and rendering it almost inert, right? we did this once for red velvet cake and it confused me then too — and then mix in into the bubbling caramel, surely killing off any rising powers left in it. What was the point of all of this?
– Why does the dough roll out better when warm? Isn’t this stressful? What if your kid needs something and then the dough cools and you can’t roll it, does one just throw everything away?
– Do these really bake into cookies or something softer?
– And the filling — some people use sweetened sour cream, others add whipped cream and/or sweetened condensed milk or a full pastry cream/custard and I even saw one with a cooked flour frosting. Which was correct? Which was better? This is not America’s Test Kitchen. If I can not reasonably nail down a recipe in 2 to 3 rounds, I’m out.
One year ago: My Old-School Baked Ziti
Two years ago: Better Chicken Pot Pies
Three years ago: Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl
Four years ago: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Five years ago: Apple Pie Cookies
Six years ago: Mushroom Lasagna
Seven years ago: Quiche Lorraine
Eight years ago: Best Challah (Egg Bread), Mom’s Apple Cake and Beef, Leek and Barley Soup
Nine years ago: Peanut Butter Brownies and Arroz Con Pollo
Ten! years ago: Lemony Persnick
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Caramelized Brown Sugar Oranges With Yogurt and Potato Pizza, Even Better
1.5 Years Ago: Why You Should Always Toast Your Nuts and Obsessively Good Avocado-Cucumber Salad
2.5 Years Ago: Asparagus-Stuffed Eggs
3.5 Years Ago: Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast
4.5 Years Ago: Over-The-Top Mushroom Quiche
To add more flavors to the cake, feel free to rub lemon or orange zest right into the sugar for maximum flavor dispersal/release. Rosewater is also a popular addition to pistachio cakes.
To make the cake without a food processor, you’re going to want to start with 140 grams pistachio meal or flour (vs. shelled pistachios) and softened butter and can proceed as with a traditional cake.
Now, here is the terrible warning I must give you: My oven is acting up, not holding temperatures properly and yes I have complained endlessly to my landlord and we are maybe waiting on a new panel, I don’t even know, I don’t want to talk about it. I have two (!) brand-new oven thermometers in there and watch them like a hawk when I bake so I can adjust the temperature as needed but I want you to take the baking time listed (about 70 minutes) with a grain of salt and promise to check it at 60 minutes but also know that there’s a small chance it might take up to 80 minutes. As people report back with their baking times, I’ll narrow the range.
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (140 grams) roasted, shelled, and unsalted pistachios
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 10 tablespoons (5 ounces or 145 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- Slightly heaped 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (115 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) roasted, shelled, and unsalted pistachios
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Lemon-Pistachio Glaze (optional)
With a food processor: In the work bowl of your food processor, grind pistachios, sugar and salt together until as powdery as you can get them without it turning to paste. Cut butter into small chunks and blend with pistachio mixture. It’s going to be lumpy at first, and then balled for a minute, but keep running the machine until the mixture loosens up into a frosting-like consistency, i.e. smooth and shiny. Add eggs, one at time, blending briefly between each, scraping down sides as needed. Add milk, blend to combine. Add extracts and baking powder and blend to fully combine, scraping down workbowl. Add flour and pulse just until it disappears.
Without a food processor: You’re going to want to start with 140 grams pistachio meal or flour and softened butter and can proceed as with a traditional cake. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in milk, then extracts until smooth. Beat in salt and baking powder until fully combined, scraping down bowl well. Add flour and mix just until it disappears.
To bake: Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread top smooth. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes (see note up top by way of explanation/apology). Mine took 70, but it’s safest to check sooner. Look for a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake to come out clean and then, do a second check near the top. I find with loaf cakes that the undercooked batter likes to hover right below the top crust. It often takes 10 minutes extra (built into this baking time already) just for that to set for me.
Let cake cool in pan on rack for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around cake and transfer to cooling rack. Let cool completely.
To make glaze (optional): Bring pistachios, sugar, zest, and juice to a simmer in a small saucepan; simmer for 2 to 3 minutes then pour over cooled cake.
To serve: Cut into slices. Cake is great on the first day but even better on the second, as the ingredients settle. Keep at room temperature for several days, wrapped in foil, or longer in freezer.
If you don’t have an ovenproof skillet, a deep (ideally 3-inch sides) 9-inch cake pan or regular depth 10-inch cake pan should work as well. Coat the sides with butter or nonstick spray. Cook the topping in a frying pan and pour it into the prepared cake pan before adding the batter. Baking times will vary a bit; the 9-inch is likely to take longer, a 10-inch, possibly shorter.
- 1 pound (450 grams) rhubarb, trimmed
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- Finely grated zest from half a lemon
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces or 55 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
- Two pinches of salt
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 2/3 cup (125 grams) light or dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
Make topping: In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, trim your rhubarb to lengths that will fit across the bottom in one direction, i.e. some short and some taller. Remove rhubarb and cut each stalk lengthwise into thin (about 1/4-inch thick) ribbons. If your rhubarb is already quite thin, you might just want to halve each piece lengthwise.
Sprinkle sugar into skillet and add lemon zest; use your fingers to mix the zest into the sugar; the grit of the sugar will help release the most flavor from it. Add butter and salt and heat skillet over medium until butter has melted, stirring frequently. Add rhubarb and cook, turning gently, for 3 to 4 minutes, until it has softened slightly and released some of its liquid. Remove from heat and set skillet aside.
Make cake: In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined, then vanilla. Sprinkle mixture with baking powder, salt, and all the spices and beat well to thoroughly mix them in. Add buttermilk; mixture will have a curdly texture but don’t worry, it’s all going to even out. Scrape down bowl and add flour; beat only until it disappears.
Check your rhubarb base to make sure all the pieces are in the order you’d like them to be; nudge around any that are not, then dollop cake batter over rhubarb mixture in small spoonfuls and smooth top as best as you can. As the rhubarb mixture will be very wet, this will seem almost impossible. I actually gave up and just put it in the oven, where the cake spread into one even layer on its own. (Thank you, cake.)
Bake cake: For about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted deep into the cake (but not the topping underneath) comes out batter-free. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen. Place a larger plate upside down over the skillet and use two potholdered hands to flip cake out onto it. If any rhubarb is stuck in the pan or slides down the side, just return it to the top of the cake cake.
Serve: Warm or at room temperature. Cake keeps for a couple days at room temperature and up to a week in the fridge, or so I hear.