Afternoon Tea

It’s fall, my favorite time of year. With the glorious blow-out of leaf colors it’s as if Mother Nature wants to give us one last hurrah before we enter the quiet time of late fall which then slides into winter.

Fall in the Pioneer Valley

I’ve loved waking up to misty mornings where you could barely see down the hill or cotton candy sunrises. Loved taking Oliver for walks as the leaves drifted down around us. Well okay, the ticks sucked, and there sure were a lot of them this year, but the leaves have been stupendous. I was even happy to watch the colors dampened down from bright reds and yellows to russets and burnt umbre.

Fall mornings

Fall walks

Fall colors starting to quiet down

The other night there was a frost advisory so I grabbed a flashlight and went out to pick the last of my mint. Bundled and tied, I hung it on a drawer pull to dry a save as a last vestige of summer. Then today it snowed. Seriously. October twenty–seventh. So when better to sip a cup of summer than during a weirdly early snowstorm.

Snow in October

Steeping a cup of home grown mint tea

Mint tea for an afternoon cuppa

Honey for my tea

I put on the kettle, brewed up some afternoon mint tea with a spoonful of honey, and settled down with two new cookbooks – blogger Molly Yeh’s first book Molly on the Range and the latest from Sofra Bakery & Cafe Soframiz written by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick. I’ll report back when the snow has melted and I’ve read them both cover to cover. The recipes in both books look so good it shouldn’t be too long before I’m heading to the kitchen to start making their food.

Molly on the Range and Soframiz

P.S. I got an email today from my name is yeh telling me I’d won one of her book release give-aways. I can’t wait!!!


Filed under In between

Easy Italian Plum Cake

Sometimes things don’t have to be complicated.

Like chores. With our youngest going to college locally this semester household chores somehow got into a boondoggle. Then came the chore wheel and the quagmire of who was supposed to do what evaporated as the house settled into a clean (or as clean as we get) routine. I got a chuckle when I realized that every time MOM (i.e. me) was on dump duty or bathroom cleaning I was WOW. I love the fact that being upside down makes me wow!

Chore wheel

Another thing that isn’t too complicated is getting our dog Oliver to come back into the house after chasing bunny rabbits. Just open the back door and yell, “Steak” and he comes dashing. It works because he is a very clever Jack Russell Terrier, who has a formidable understanding of the english language. So much so that we’ve gotten into the habit of spelling, rather than saying, certain words. A friend cautioned us against making him food-centric, but I’ve found it very helpful over the years, especially owning a breed of dog who thinks about whether or not he wants to obey. Plus it costs us nothing. I simply cut up the scraps leftover from any meat dinner we have and pop those morsels into a bag we store in the freezer. Oliver knows he’ll get a frozen tidbit if he comes running at the “S” word.

Oliver coming home for steak

This week I was tickled to come across the most un-complicated cake ever. One of those oh so simple recipes that I somehow missed when Marian Burros first published it in the NYT thirty plus years ago, but which thankfully circled around and around, ultimately finding me again through a news feed. If you have the ingredients on hand you can pop it into the oven in less than ten minutes. An hour later you have the perfect Friday afternoon plum tea cake. Which can then morph into Saturday morning breakfast before you head out to the Farmer’s Market. Or turn into a late night snack as you finish your homework.

Fresh out of the oven italian plum cake

While the recipe is clearly adaptable, which you can read about here, I was possessed to make the original version which features Italian plums. This was a tad complicated due to Mother Nature’s mercurial nature. Last spring, just as the blossoms had come out on many of the fruit trees we had a very hard frost. A bit of a weather tizzy. The result was zero cherries, zero peaches, and zero plums. This summer and fall I’ve been concerned for all the farmers in our happy valley who rely upon those crops for their income. I’ll also admit to being a bit cranky as I watched other food bloggers posting their scrumptious recipes featuring stone fruits that were not available in Massachusetts all over their blogs and social media feeds. But as I know from years of food styling, most foods are available if you’re willing to hunt them down, and pay for them. This proved true for Italian plums this September – the hunting part at least.

Italian plums

Making Italian plum cake

Use as many plums as you can fit in the pan

My local Big Y had a small display of Italian plums when I popped in earlier this week so I grabbed a bag and headed home. Turns out one bag was not nearly enough though because I needed to test and retest this recipe. Not because it was hard to make or had failed in any way, but rather because it was so dang good! Incredibly simple and delicious. So I went back to the store yesterday, and after a brief moment of panic when the plums weren’t where they’d been the day before, I found them and bought six more bags.

Marrian Burros super simple plum cake

As I forced myself to stop eating this cake straight out of the pan I recalled owning a set of delightful fall fruit plates my Mom had gotten me years ago. Remembering where they were, and subsequently being able to find them, gave me the excuse to enjoy another slice.

I really must stop…

Limoge fall plum plate

Please may I have one more slice of plum cake

Easy Italian Plum Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2/3 – 3/4 cup plus 2-3 Tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract, optional

12 – 14 Italian plums, washed and halved with pits removed

1 small lemon, optional

Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter a 10″ springform pan (or you can use 8″ or 9″ if that is what you have). You can either line the base with parchment first (extending the sides outside of the pan) or you can simply make sure to put a jelly roll pan beneath in case some of the butter drips out.

Cream the butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy. If your butter isn’t really, really soft you will not get light and fluffy – just aim for thoroughly incorporating. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. After beating in the eggs your mixture might be a bit soup-y which is perfectly okay. If you want you can add an extract. Then pour in flour, baking powder, and salt. mixing until all is combined, at this point the batter is quite thick (as you can see in the photo). Spread the batter into your springform pan. It will be quite thin. Add the plums, cut side down, but don’t press. I like as many plums as I can possibly fit. If you’d like squirt the juice from half a lemon over the plums then sprinkle with the extra 2-3 Tablespoons of sugar. It’s good with or without.

Bake the cake for one hour. Remove and cool for a few minutes. Carefully run a thin sharp knife around the edge to loosen the cake then open the spring latch. If your cake is on parchment you can slide it onto a cooling rack. If not allow to cool sufficiently to be able to move it onto a flat plate.

Want to see what other bloggers have done with this cake or how they’ve extended the story? Check out this half-dozen

Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

Merrill Stubbs at Food52

PJ Hamel at King Arthur Flour

Molly Wizenberg at Orangette

Erin Boyle at Reading My Tea Leaves

Lynne Rosetto Kasper at The Splendid Table

Some plum-y notes:

1.  I have now made this cake many, many time. It seems odd, but if you half the recipe it needs almost as much time as a full recipe to bake – 50-55 minutes. 2. Having made it with vanilla extract and almond extract I find I like it best with the later. 3. The original recipe called for 1 cup sugar. Later this was reduced to 3/4 cup. I am fine with 2/3 cup. You need to go by your personal taste. 4. It is purported to freeze will, which I cannot say as we gobble it up to fast to get one in (and then out of) the freezer.



Filed under 50 Recipes

Baking Up Some Happy Mail

It’s blueberry season and all I want to do is bake a pie. But I can’t.

Bowl of summer blueberries

Not because it’s too hot to bake, I just don’t want to heat it up to 350º (or 375º or 400º) since a stupid mouse wiggled its way into my stove, couldn’t wiggle back out, and died! I have taken the stove as apart as I am capable of, but cannot find the darn carcass. Since a service call would probably cost more than the stove is worth I’m trying to figure out what my options are. Trust me when I say roasted mouse is not an enjoyable aroma.

So instead of baking up some of summer’s bounty I’ve been making a load of non-baked happy mail. It requires a glue gun, but no oven. The genius behind these mailable treats is Sandra Denneler over at sheknows, and so far this summer I’ve made a whole bunch of popsicle postcards, ice-cream sandwich postcards and one fabulous watermelon mailing package. Basically I’d say just follow the links to Sandra’s instructions and you should be fine. My tweaks to her “recipes” are below.

Cool Summer Happy Mail

Popsicle postcard happy mail

Popsicle Postcards

1 or more pool noodles (I got mine at the dollar store and big lots)

Large popsicle sticks

Decorative Card Stock

Piece of plain paper for each “popsicle”

I found this was the one piece of Happy Mail that the USPS had trouble with. It ended up arriving in a protective plastic bag to some of the folks I sent it to. So what I started doing was putting it inside a popsicle package, much like you’d find in a box of popsicles (I was thinking inside the box for that bit of genius). It meant that I was better off with a slightly shorter popsicle which could be achieved by placing the sticks in further or making your cut at 5″ instead of 6″ on your pool noodle. That allowed me to use a regular sheet of plain paper, taping the back seam, pinking the edges, and adding a few tabs of tape or glue stick to close each end. The added bonus to enclosing the popsicle in a paper wrapper is that you can write a slightly longer note to the recipient since you won’t need to save space for an address or stamps. 

Happy mail popsicle in mailing wrapper

Too hot glue gun can accidentally eat popsicle happy mail

My friend Olivia suggested trying a really sturdy glue (gorilla glue perhaps?) instead of the hot glue gun so you wouldn’t melt the foam of the pool noodle. I had a few instances where there was not good contact between the card stock and shaped foam noodle so that is a suggestion I’ll consider when I make these again.

Ice Cream Sandwich happy mail

Ice-Cream Sandwich Postcards

Dark brown foam “paper”

1″ white upholstery foam

White ink pen

Denneler suggests you paint the foam white. Since I was able to find white foam I skipped this step. I also had a lot of trouble slicing the foam evenly (and my corners never looked good – they always had that nibbled-on appearance). Shawn finally handed me a box knife with a very long blade which allowed me to “saw” mostly straight edges. All the white ink pens I found were opaque, which meant I had to write and then re-write the whole postcard message and address since it felt too light to my eye.

Watermelon happy mail package


Watermelon Package

1 – 8″ smoothfoam 1/2 ball

Light green acrylic paint

Dark green acrylic paint

Mod Podge


Watermelon image (see original instructions for pdf to print out)

Glue Stick or spray glue

Clear packing tape

To get the mottled green watermelon skin you need to apply the dark and light paint together. I started with a thin coat of dark green, let it dry then did another coat of dark green and squirted on lines of light green which I smooshed in a wiggly zig-zag pattern. The mod podge really gives it the look of an actual watermelon and helps protect the acrylic paints too.

Both Shawn and Russell were convinced the watermelon package would be smashed or the lid would pop off so I put very few items in the package and after gluing the “lid” on I added 4″ strips of clear tape with cuts every 1/2 inch on the lid side to allow the tape flat to lie flat without ridges.

Watermelon mailing package with lid glued and taped on

The one I sent arrived in perfect condition (way to go USPS)!

If you happen to find yourself somewhere that it’s too hot to turn on your oven (or if you have a mouse-y problem like mine) try these recipes from the archives:

Watermelon “Cake”
Crêpes with Blueberries
Zebra Cake
Herbal Ice Tea or Plain No-Sun Ice Tea
Grilled Pizza

Blueberry crepes


Filed under In between

Twisting Together – Blueberry Corn Muffins

It started with a dry wall screw in my tire.

The cause of my low tire pressure warning light

Actually let me back up. This recipe really started with me getting in my car the other day to go grocery shopping then seeing a light on the dashboard I hadn’t seen before. Some weird symbol I had to flip through my owner’s manual to figure out – which turned out to mean low tire pressure. And even though my car is computer enough to tell me that salient fact, it isn’t clever enough to tell me which tire. So I drove to the grocery store via our favorite garage – Fisher’s. They were able to figure out which tire it was, and my mechanic Jeff was able to take care of it right away, but he needed 20-30 minutes.

low tire pressure light

So I trotted across the street to Jerry’s Place, another South Deerfield institution and ordered a grilled blueberry muffin. They split a blueberry muffin in half, slather it with butter, grill it till it’s crispy golden, then top off with more butter and pop it on a plate. You can watch the butter melt into the hot muffin and know, just know, that it will be delicious. Which it was. However as I sat there nibbling bites of my muffin I thought of how I could ramp up this concept. Add a little more tooth to it.

Blueberry corn muffins for breakfast

Which is when Davis Bates came to mind. Bates is a brilliant storyteller who the kids and I would often go to see at various events, most often libraries, where he was performing. We bought his cassette tape to listen to on car rides (and what trip isn’t a car ride when you live in Whately?) and we listened and listened and listened to that tape so much and so often we finally wore it out. His stories are wonderful; and Russell, Isabelle and I could, and probably still can, speak his monologues right along with him. So what I recalled as I sat there munching on my blueberry muffin was Davis & Gramp Bates eating corn muffins up in Maine.

“I liked going for walks with my grandfather. Sometimes we’d get up early in the morning, before my parents were awake, and we’d walk down to Gilbert Brother’s Wharf and have some muffins. Corn muffins or bran muffins. Gramp would have a cup of coffee. Then we’d come back and have breakfast.”

I thought to myself, what if you took a corn muffin, added some blueberries, which have just come into season here in Massachusetts, to the batter, then split and grilled it like they do at Jerry’s Place? Heaven, it would have to be like heaven. So I added cornmeal and blueberries to my shopping list and this is the result. All because of a screw in my tire.

Mix the blueberries into the dry mix

Gently fold dry and wet muffin ingredients together

Blueberry corn muffins ready to bake

Blueberry Corn Muffins

3/4 cup flour (white or whole wheat)

1 1/4 cup cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs

1/2 cup yogurt

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2-5 Tablespoons honey

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries plus a handful more for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line your muffin tins with paper liners or grease (liberally).

Mix the dry ingredients together, then gently toss in the blueberries (if you are using fresh). In a separate bowl mix the eggs, yogurt, milk, oil, melted butter and honey together. I like my cornbread less sweet, since I usually drizzle it with honey right before eating, which is why I’ve given a broad range of sweetness in the honey amount. Once the blueberries have a light coating of flour/cornmeal fold the wet ingredients in with the dry. You’ll have to be gentle in order to not smoosh the blueberries.

If you’re using frozen blueberries you will want to mix dry, then wet ingredients and gently combine the two. Last off sprinkle in the frozen blueberries and fold to combine. There will be blue streaks, it can’t be helped. Still the same delicious taste.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tins and top (if you’d like) with a few more blueberries. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into a muffin comes out dry.

These muffins are great to eat straight out of the oven, or you can wait a bit, then split and grill them in butter or margarine. Maybe even drizzle on some honey.

All gone


Filed under 50 Recipes

Keeping Things Cool

My sister is a very wise person. She is kind and funny and thoughtful and tries hard to live her life in a way which honors and celebrates all of those things. A few summers ago she taught me about this person who lives inside of me. Her name is Judy Judger. Judy is not kind, in fact I’d say she’s the queen of snark. Judy pops out especially when I am in someone else’s kitchen or home and she whispers things to me like, “Can you believe these people don’t have any books in their house? That’s just creepy, a house with no books.” Or she’ll snicker, “Oh my gosh, look at this kitchen they don’t even have a _______. How are you supposed to make meals without a ______?” Yeah, Judy is a bee-otch with a capital B.

Ever since Heather made me aware of Judy Judger I’ve kept a close eye on her. She is not to be trusted. That said, sometimes the things Judy says are frankly the bald, honest truth. And I find myself wanting to listen, wanting to voice her comments out loud. Bad Judy. Bad, bad Judy.

Since I’ve been paid to cook since I was 13 and I fell in love with cooking long before that,  it is safe to say I’ve been in a lot of kitchens, more than most people. Everyone sets them up differently and has a different definition of what is essential. There actually are a few items which it’s hard to do without. A knife, a large pot, a sauté pan. I could go on, and while it would perhaps be interesting to see what my list of essentials are, especially with two kids who will soon graduate from college and be setting up their own apartments, today’s post is not about the full list rather focusing on one of the items on said list. Below there are a few links to some food writers listing what they consider essential and I invite you to take a look.

Cooling almond clementine cake

Anyhoo, this past weekend I was out of town and I thought I’d make my niece and nephews an Easter surprise, which would then be waiting for them in the freezer the next time they visited the apartment I stayed in. I brought all the ingredients, including a cake pan and parchment paper. What I didn’t think to pack, since I figured everyone had one, was a cooling rack. Queue Judy. “What the heck! How does a kitchen not have a cooling rack?” she snipped in my ear as I rummaged through every cupboard sure there had to be one somewhere. Apparently to some folks a wire cooling rack is not an essential item.

So I improvised by clearing off the wire shelf rack holding cookbooks to place the cooling cake there till it was cool. In retrospect I could have balanced chopsticks or wooden skewers across two books to make an impromptu cooling rack. Or taken one shelf out of the oven before heating it up to bake the cake and used that. What the experience drove home was that for me a cooling rack is one of those essential, must have items. So I’m adding it to my list of favorite tools.

Assortment of wire cooling racks

Some thoughts on Essential Kitchen Equipment

Marion Cunningham‘s kitchen had a heavy-duty mixer and 2 (not one) waffle irons

Jamie Oliver claims his  “Right Kit”  will make you 10% better at cooking

Sally Schneider talks about improvised kitchen tools you can find or create while traveling

Cal Peternell’s essential tools for a first kitchen

Mark Bittman wrote for the NYT his list down and dirty basics for a no-frills kitchen

I could go on, and probably will at some point about what, in my opinion, the basic kitchen essentials are. I’m interested to hear what you my readers view as essential tools. Please let me know in the comment section.

Wire cooling racks


Filed under Favorite Tools

Clementine Cake …. Again

Sometimes you can’t stop thinking about someone, which might be labeled as passionate, obsessive, or in the worst case scenario, as stalker-ish behavior. If that’s how we think of person fixating on another person, what do we call someone who can’t stop thinking about a recipe? More specifically a cake. Obsessive, compulsive, maybe even a little dessert crazy? Whatever you call it, let’s admit it isn’t completely normal. Which pretty much describes me for the last few weeks, making the Clementine Almond Cake again, and again, and again.

If you read about the Clementine Almond cake last month and had your fill then you may want to stop reading now. Or pop over and enjoy some other food blogs like Molly Yeh or Sara & Hugh Forte or Beth Kirby. Of course if you want to follow me down the rabbit hole come along…

One of the things I wondered about with this recipe is the almond flour. I started with Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour, which while yielding delicious results, was rather pricy (in my opinion) at $13/pound. In the weeks I’ve been testing and retesting this recipe Stop N Shop has the almond meal/flour on sale for $10/pound. Trader Joe’s has a version of almond flour with the skin still on which goes for around $6/pound. The skin off version is more delicate in both taste and looks, but the question remains if it is worth nearly twice the price?

Clementine Almond Cake with and without skin in the almond flour

According to two out of my three taste-testers (Dan our plumber, Bill our neighbor and Shawn) they liked the taste of the TJ skin still on version. It does give the cake a charming freckled look. My take is if I were making this for a tea party I’d go for skinless and if I was making this for a casual weekend snack I think the skin on version is fine.

The second thing I’ve been playing around with is the citrus. Both inside and on top.

Let’s talk about the cake batter first. The recipe my friend Jessica gave me called for clementines, so I made it with clementines, and it was pretty fantastic. My parents then sent Shawn and I a huge box of honeybell oranges so I tried a version with those. Equally good, but the taste was definitely not as sweet, and to my mind not quite as moist (though this could never be called a dry cake). A couple of weeks ago I was at A. Russo & Sons and picked up a handful of tangerines and they too they had their own unique taste. If I were to pick one citrus I’d go with clementines. Second choice would be a mix of clementine, honeybell, and tangerine.

This past week at my knitting group this cake was served and Hilary brought up question of what you do when clementines are out of season. The question got me thinking – Cherry Almond Cake? Pear Almond Cake? You wouldn’t boil those fruit for two hours, but I can imagine pears being cooked into a sauce that would be close to the consistency of the boiled clementines. If any of you adventurous cooks try one of these variations (or another) let me know.

Kumquats ready to candy

To decorate the top of the finished cake (which is completely optional) I’ve candied everything from kumquats to oranges. I love how the tartness of a kumquat still manages to come though, even after boiling in sugar water. I also like how the little grape-sized citrus hold their shape. With larger citrus I found myself just using the candied peel. I know the NYT article showed a mountain of candied clementines on top of the cake, but it’s both ridiculous (who the heck can cut through three inches of candied clementines without making it look like a chainsaw massacre) and more germane it’s the wrong proportion of cake to glaze to decorative topping. Of course if you can’t be bothered to candy anything no worries since the cake is still yummy with just the chocolate glaze.

The last thing I discovered through repeated bakings is that you should “flour” the pan with almond meal to keep if from sticking. I’ve added this suggestion to the original blog post because it wasn’t something I considered the first time around.

For easy release use almond flour to coat the greased pan

The cooling process is a tiny bit fussy in this cake in a Goldilocks kind of way. You can’t take it out of the pan the minute you pull it from the oven (too hot) or it will fall apart, yet you shouldn’t let it cool completely in the pan (too cold) since it will want to stick if you leave it too long. I’ve found that letting it cool in the pan 20 – 30 minutes on a wire rack, then carefully using a thin knife to loosen the edges seems to work best (just right). I also sit the pan on its side on top of some kitchen towels or a wooden cutting board, and with my knife pull gently up from the bottom of the cake before letting it fall back. I repeat this process, scooting around the entire circumference of the pan inch by inch. By the time I’ve gone all the way around the cake I can be pretty sure nothing is going to stick. Then I use the two wire rack method to unmold the cake. The two rack method has you gently unmolding the cake onto one wire rack (so it is now resting on its top) then placing the second wire rack on the bottom of the cake and flipping it over so everything is now right side up, then gently taking away the first wire rack.

Ease the cake away from the bottom and sides of the pan with a thin knife

Honestly this is probably waaaay more information than you needed, especially since most of you are just going to eat this cake with your eyes. Still it seemed worthwhile to share the knowledge acquired after baking five well actually seven okay I’ll be honest, eight of these cakes. Perhaps I should apply for a job as a recipe tester at Cooks Illustrated where they love to test, test, and test again.

Clementine Almond Cake with Candied Kumquats

While this cake is so delicious I find myself wanting to share sometimes all you need is a little something. This amount makes a six-inch cake.

Clementine Almond Cake (the small version)

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

shy 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup almond flour/meal

3/4 cup clementine purée (click here for how-to)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a six-inch cake pan with vegetable shortening then line the bottom with parchment paper, greasing that too. Sprinkle in some almond flour/meal, tilting the pan to make sure it is evenly distributed and goes up the sides.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together for a minute, then add the rest of the ingredients and whisk a bit more so everything is nicely combined. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for one hour, or a bit more. You want the cake to be “quiet” when you listen to it.

Let cake cool in the pan, on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen and stuck bits. Then tilt the pan on it’s side and again using the thin knife pull gently on the bottom of the cake to make sure it is released. Since this cake is small you can either turn it out onto your outstretched hand then right it onto a cooling rack or you can use the two cooling rack method described above. Cool completely then frost with chocolate glaze and candied citrus if desired.

Chocolate Glaze (for a small cake)

2 ounces chopped dark chocolate

Generous 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons organic corn syrup or agave

Candied Citrus (click here for how-to), optional

In a small saucepan over low heat start melting the butter then add the chopped chocolate and corn syrup. Stir gently until melted and let cool for a few minutes.

When cool enough to still be runny, but not so warm it will run all over the place pour onto the center of the cake. It should spread out just to the edges if you are careful. Or you can go wild and pour however you want. If you want to add the candied citrus let the chocolate glaze set up for a few moments then add.


Filed under 50 Recipes

Hit or Miss Valentine

Consistency is not my middle name, at least not when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I make cards, often I don’t. Occasionally I’ll bake up dozens of sugar cookie hearts and elaborately decorate them à la Martha Stewart with enough red food dye to make your teeth pink for days. Then the following year(s) I find I can’t be bothered to dig out my heart-shaped cookie cutters, let alone root around in the basement for my box of food dyes. I feel like I’m the poster child for a hit or miss Valentine gal.

Anatomical knitted heart by Hilary Zaloom

My friends are not like me. They actually plan ahead for Valentine’s Day. Hilary’s Vday imagination seems to know no bounds and each year sees her creating something more fantastic than the year before from an anatomically correct knitted heart to  sculpted love token molded from the red wax covering babybel cheeses. Diane’s family celebrates with a meal of red & pink foods. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends goes to an annual Valentine card making party where dozens of people drink hot chocolate and eat fun food while chatting and crafting Vday cards like maniacs. Perhaps I need to wrangle myself an invitation to that soirée. Even Julia Child and her husband Paul sent out Valentine cards instead of Christmas greetings, well they did that because they couldn’t get it together in December, but still.

Valentine's Day card of Julia and Paul Child

This year I found the cake – a glorious cake – with which all Valentine’s Days (and many other days of the year) should be celebrated. It’s path to my oven came by way of Jessica last week on knitting night that she had found in the New York Times, which purports to be an old Sephardic recipe John Willougby got from Ruth Levy who had the cake made for her by a woman named Dawn Datso. Got that?

Sephardic Jews –> Dawn –> Ruth –> John –> NYT –> Jessica –>Me –> You

There that makes things clearer now doesn’t it?

 Anyway I had been looking for something to make for my church’s Love & Chocolate fundraiser (we desperately need to put an elevator into the building) last Friday and this seemed like just the recipe to try. Someone else was setting up a chocolate fountain at the event, and I’d been asked to bring in a few goodies to sell during intermission. Baskets of chocolate ganache filled raspberries – check. Heart shaped GF brownies – check. Marshmallow peep goo formed into more hearts – check. My final donations were couple of Clementine Cakes.

Me being me I did not bother to check out Mr. Willoughby’s recipe on the NYT website before heading off to cook. Rather I went boldly into the kitchen using the instructions Jessica rattled off as we were knitting which I managed to scribbled down onto the bottom of one of my patterns. It is after all, ridiculously simple. Simple that is until you read the thread of comments and realize how much could go wrong.

It seems that much of this cakes success (or lack thereof) lies in the juiciness of your clementines. It makes sense, especially if you’ve ever peeled a clementine and popped a wedge into your mouth expecting the juice to burst all over your tongue, only to realize you have a piece of orange-colored cardboard in your mouth that you then have to spit out since it is inedible. If you have tasted one of those icky kind of clementines then of course you can understand that a cake made with them would be awful. No matter how finely ground your almond flour or what shade of blue or green the shells of your free-range eggs are. If you want to make a clementine or tangerine or honeybell cake then make sure your citrus is delicious and juicy to start with. I am giving you instructions to taste test first. Fortunately my clementines were delish.

Mandarine oranges

The snafu for me came in my thinking I could bake these off in mini bundt pans. That didn’t work out for me, though it did afford Shawn and I the opportunity to definitively determine how yummy the cake was as we snorfled down the broken bits. Let’s call it quality control rather than failure. A couple of the NYT readers reported they were able to make this in a bundt pan, so perhaps I was too eager to unmold them. Or my bundt design was too complicated. Maybe you have to grease and almond flour a bundt pan first. Who knows? From now on I am sticking to straight sided pans.

Failed clementine almond bundt cakes

Assuming that you’re probably not going to read through all the comments on the NYT website either here are the reader’s digest version of what I think is important to know:

  • Taste test your citrus before boiling it up
  • Use a regular cake pan (not the suggested spring-form pan)
  • Line your cake pan with a circle of parchment paper
  • Organic is a good idea since you’ll be eating the rind
  • Scrub the citrus first since there is probably a wax coating on it
  • Make a double recipe – this cake disappears fast

I used David Lebovitz’s recipe for candying the citrus. You can of course skip that step. It’s up to you. It’s pretty much decoration. For the Love and Chocolate cakes I candied thin slices of kumquat which were adorable.

Clementine prep for Clementine Cake

One of the things I quite like about the cake is that it is naturally gluten free. These days more and more of my friends are giving it up so I love having a recipe (or three) that will work for them. I did overhear someone at L&C reach for the cake only to pull their hand back and say to their companion, “Ewww, I’m not going to get that – it’s gluten free.” Their loss. If you leave off the chocolate glaze it is also a dairy free cake. Supposedly the clementine cake gets better with age, though I haven’t had one around long enough to know what it’s shelf life is.

Clementine Almond cake with Chocolate Glaze and Candied Citrus Peel

Valentine’s Day Clementine Cake

This recipe is a double batch so if you don’t want to eat it all or give some of it away reduce by half.

10 juicy clementines or 4 nicely sized honeybells

12 large eggs

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

4 cups almond flour or almond meal

Give the citrus a gentle scrub then place in a non-reactive saucepan filled with water and boil for two hours. Every so often check and see if you need to add more water. Swirl the citrus into different positions with a spoon or chopstick. They don’t need to be babysat, but neither can they be completely ignored. Sort of like a 9-year-old.

After the citrus has been boiled scoop them out into a bowl and let them cool down enough that you won’t burn your hands when you slice them in half. You want to remove any seeds (which my clementines had few of, but the honeybells were chock full of). Do not be tempted to do this on a flat surface as you will loose some of the juices when you slice. Then pop all the seeded halves and juice into a food processor and run until you have a purée. Measure it out – you’ll want between 1  1/4 and 1  1/2 cups of purée for each cake, and since this recipe makes 2 cakes you should have 2  1/2 – 3 cups of orange goop purée.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line the bottom of two 9″ cake pans or four 6″ cake pans. I’d also strongly suggest you dust the greased pan with some almond flour, which will help the batter to not stick to the pan when you’re ready to unmold it.

Beat the dozen eggs with the sugar for 2-3 minutes. Add the salt, baking powder, half (2 cups) the almond flour and half (1  1/4 – 1  1/2 cups) orange purée and beat to incorporate. Add the rest of the almond flour and orange purée and beat till no lumps remain.

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for one hour. Yes, I said one hour, or until the cake stops snap, crackle, and popping when you listen to it. I was sure there would be a time difference between the small pans and the larger ones but there does not seem to be. You can also try the toothpick test, but this is such an audible cake I found listening was a good way to judge doneness. I let the cakes rest for a few minutes than ran a thin knife around the edge of the pan and let the cakes cool some more.

The color is a rich golden yellow/brown. Some NYT readers complained it was too dark, which was not my experience. My cakes all dipped a bit in the center as they cooled, which I found okay since that meant there was a place for more chocolate glaze. After the cake has cooled 15-20 minutes I removed it from the pans and then let it cool completely. If you want you can eat it as is. A lovely, simple orange almond cake. Great with coffee, something only an idiot (or person allergic to almonds) would say no to.

Cooling almond clementine cake

Or you can notch things up with chocolate glaze. This is definitely enough to glaze two 6″ cake tops. I haven’t tried it for glazing two 9″ cake tops. If you want it going over the sides like in the NYT or you want it extra thick you’ll need to increase the amount of chocolate and butter.

Chocolate haystack of chopped dark chocolate

Chocolate Glaze

6 ounces chopped chocolate

9 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon)*

2 teaspoons corn syrup or agave nectar

In a small saucepan start melting the butter over low heat then dump in the chocolate and corn syrup. Stir until melted then cool. You’re supposed to get the temperature down to 90ºF, but my thermometer doesn’t go that low so I just waited till it wasn’t too liquid, but seemed to still be pourable.

Then I poured it over the cake, using a spoon to get it right up to the edge. Let sit a bit for the glaze to firm up. If you want to decorate with candied orange zest I did it while the glaze was semi liquid.

*Hilary texted me that she made this the other night for her dairy free husband and substituted coconut oil for the butter. You only need 1/2 to 2/3 the amount of coconut oil depending upon taste.

Candied Orange Slices

A handful of kumquats or 1-2 tangerines

2/3 cup sugar

Wash and slice the citrus into very thin slices, removing any seeds. Boil in water for 10-15 minutes. Mr. Liebovitz strongly suggests a non-reactive pan for this process, and who am I to argue? Drain the citrus slices, then put them back into the pan with 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup sugar. Simmer 10-30 minutes depending upon the thickness of your slices.

Drain citrus from syrup and let cool on a parchment paper lined tray. I saved the citrus infused simple syrup since it should be amazing stirred into an adult beverage or drizzled over a cake.

I found the kumquats, being so tiny, held together quite well and took less time to cook. The tangerines were vibrant in color and taste, but a bit raggedy so I ended up just using slivers of their rind to decorate my cakes. Of course not wanting to waste anything I slurped down the candied flesh which was delicious.

Slices of chocolate glazed orange almond cake

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day!

Vintage chocolate mold

Photo Credits:

Knitted Heart by Hilary Zaloom

Julia & Paul Child from the Julia Child papers at the Schlesinger Library

 All others by Cynthia Allen

P.S. I am so in love with this cake that I’ve been obsessively making it for several weeks. If you want to read more about my further adventures with Clementine Almond Cake click here.


Filed under 50 Recipes