Tag Archives: jessica

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.

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Toaster vs. Toaster Oven

For many years my friend Jessica collected toasters. They were fun and often inexpensive to buy, plus toasters seemed to satisfy the curator in her since they were objects where form followed function. I grew up with a toaster, or rather a series of toasters. I even had a toaster when I was first married, but years ago I traded in my two slot chrome classic for a toaster oven.

toaster oven

The thing about toasters is you have to put them somewhere. Certain kitchen appliances can be cleverly stowed. I remember my sixteen-year-old mind being blown the first time my friend Marisa pushed a button in her Mom’s kitchen counter which triggered the mixer to majestically rise up from somewhere below. It was as if Judy Jetson and Marcella Hazan had designed a kitchen together where space age met Italian American. It was beyond cool.

For most of us we have to choose. Food processor up or down? Stand mixer tucked into a corner or sitting on a shelf in the pantry? The decision often follows this equation –

How often you use it + How much the dang thing weighs = Where it lives

My husband and I don’t drink coffee anymore so all our coffee paraphernalia is tucked away. We do not own a microwave (which I’ve been told is somewhat un-American of us but I really don’t feel the need) so that is not a contender for the limited amount of counter real estate. However our toaster oven is a major appliance in our daily lives so we gave it its very own counter.

Honey & toast

I love this toaster oven. In fact it is so great that in conjunction with a two burner hot plate I once made a lovely Easter dinner of asparagus, creamed potatoes, and a tiny glazed ham the year our kitchen was being remodeled. Toaster ovens take up more space than a regular two slot toaster but in my opinion the added functionality more than makes up for their larger size. I can reheat a bit of last night’s lasagna, toast a thin slice of bread as easily as a bagel half, or make my favorite late night snack of toasted bananas and cheese. Not having to worry about possibly electrocuting myself as I extract a burning bagel which wedged itself too tightly in the slot is a bonus. Think of a toaster oven as the Easy Bake Oven for grown-ups.

I was introduced to toasted bananas and cheese when I was living in Scotland. There were many things I loved about Edinburgh – getting mail twice a day, incredible scones, milk delivered in glass bottles to your doorstep, the smokey peat of single malt whiskey, haggis (yes I really do love it), hard cider on tap, plus the proliferation of tiny stores for various edibles. Without a car I almost never went shopping at a big chain supermarket, instead doing my shopping by foot. There was a fruit and veg store a few blocks away, several good bakeries, as well as a fish shop for swimmy things, plus a lovely Italian store on Leith Walk which had a delirious assortment of pastas as well as regular shipments of fresh ricotta and mozzarella. Two things that didn’t seem to exist back then were central heating and large fridges, at least not in any of the apartments/houses I lived in. The lack of central heating meant I drank gallons of tea plus found myself acquiring an extensive selection of jumpers (sweaters). Meals were planned on a daily basis to accommodate the limited amount of fridge space.

Cheesey bananas on toast

On nights when we’d go out to the pub we’d walk back home after last bell and if we were feeling peckish but didn’t have enough money to stop for fish and chips we’d go home and make ourselves something to eat. Between the teeny dorm size fridges and our limited income we often didn’t have much more to work with than part of a loaf of  bread, the end of a chunk of cheese, and some bananas. I just had no idea the three could be combined.

The first time my friends Alan and Sid offered me one of these late night sandwiches I was pretty sure it would be disgusting. Toast topped with banana slices and cheese melted on top? Ick and double ick, but I knew after my first bite I was wrong. It is good, in fact better than good. Put away your prejudices (if you have them) and try it. I truly can’t remember if we made these in an oven with a broiler or not, but they are perfectly suited to a toaster oven. In less than ten minutes you have a crunchy-melty-sweet-savory late night snack. Good before going to bed but you don’t have to save them for when the moon is out, they’re also yummy in the morning.

Bananas and cheese on toast

Toasted Bananas and Cheese doesn’t really need a recipe. You toast a piece or two of bread for each person, then top each piece of toast with slices of half a banana, and slivers of some sort of melty cheese – cheddar works a treat. Once you’ve piled everything together pop it into a toaster oven (on a small tray or piece of aluminum foil) and bake until the cheese starts to melt and drip down the sides. Take it out then wait a few seconds so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth when you gobble it up. I’m pretty sure you’ll want more. You may even decide to get a toaster oven just so you can make these.

Photos – Toast and Honey by Jim Scherer

All others by Cynthia Allen

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Vegan War Cake

I find it intriguing to see how people put a different spin on the same old thing. During the second world war my Grammy Caldwell often had to make due with limited amounts of sugar, butter, and eggs in order to do her part for the war effort. Today I often do without those ingredients because I know or am related to so many people with allergies or special dietary needs. Same recipe, different rationals.

This applesauce cake comes from my friend Jessica and is a great example of the “something old is often the same as something new” theory. Her daughter V. was allergic to eggs and nuts as a baby and toddler and Jessica found this recipe in an old Fanny Farmer cookbook out of necessity. Before bookstores had shelves of cookbooks devoted to allergy free cooking and blogs targeted at any and all dietary quirks she needed a safe, quick, kid-friendly recipe to bring to school events and birthday parties ( after all it’s not too fun to be invited to a friend’s birthday party only to be told you can’t eat the cake or ice cream). This is the recipe she often used, leaving out the nuts and cutting back on the ginger and cloves which don’t often sell well with the under four set. It became her recipe for all occasions.

"applesauce cake"

Applesauce Cake

I first tasted the by then infamous applesauce cake after Jessica and her family moved to Massachusetts. She served it to our knitting group one night warm and fragrant, straight out of the oven. It was divine, not just roll-your-eyes divine, but sneak away from the group and sit in the kitchen scarfing the whole pan down in one sitting divine. It’s not that this cake is a looker–it’s a plain Jane of cakes, but it tastes fantastic.

More quick bread than cake it has become one of the signature dishes I bring to soccer games, potlucks, and church coffee hours. It works for many allergy issues (when you leave out the nuts) and has the added advantage of being really quick to make. This recipe is the reason my cupboards are rarely without a box of raisins, bag of walnuts, and a jar of applesauce.

Walnut Raisin Applesauce Cake

7/8 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 cup applesauce

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans or almonds), optional

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 3/4 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350º F and spray or grease an 8″ x 8″ pan.

Mix together all ingredients. Scrape into prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. If there is a nut allergy you can leave out the nuts and add an extra 1/4 cup of raisins instead.

"crumbs of applesauce cake"

What is left...

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Exam Pancakes

"textbooks"It is officially summer now. My kids attended the graduation ceremony at the Academy of Charlemont on Saturday so for our family it’s summertime! Graduation was the fun part–a party and celebration, saying goodbye to their text books and teachers for nearly three months while making plans with friends for get-togethers over the summer. In order to get to the celebratory part though they had to  make it through exam week.

I am so glad I’m not in school, not because of the things I don’t learn by not being in a classroom, but because not being in school means I don’t have to take exams. They’re a brutal yet necessary way for teachers to measure what you’ve learned. I helped both kids where I could with the studying part, which mostly centered around French vocab (I would say the word in english and they would tell me the French version). They were on their own for their other subjects because really what do I remember about chemistry, geometry or world history? My other contribution to their (hopeful) successes was to make them a hearty breakfast at the start of each exam day.

Isabelle already eats an amazing breakfast each morning having taken to heart the old adage, “It’s the most important meal of the day.” So it was three more days of omelets stuffed with veggies served with a piece of dry whole wheat toast for her. Russell was a little more challenging. Sometimes he’ll have what I would call a proper breakfast (some protein, fruit, and a bit of whole wheat something), while other days I’m lucky to get him to eat a single piece of toast with jam. So for exam week I made an old favorite family recipe which the kids have been eating since they were toddlers–Silver Dollar Pancakes.

"cottage cheese pancakes with bananas"

Silver Dollar pancakes with bananas

The genus of this recipe is from my friends in the Nicoll clan. A pamphlet that came with my potato masher included a recipe for “Dad’s Sunday Morning Pancakes”. This recipe was adapted from an old issue of Gourmet which every member of that family subscribed to until the magazine’s untimely demise. I’ve seen variations of this same recipe in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

"cottage cheese pancakes with strawberries"

Silver Dollar pancakes with strawberries

What I love about these particular pancakes is that they don’t make you feel like you’ve eaten an expanding brick after you push away from the table, which is my main complaint when I eat other pancakes (which also explains why I’m more of a waffle person than a pancake person, but more on that later). These pancakes are light and delicious with either maple syrup or fruit preserves and a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top. Fresh fruit works well with them too, more as a topping put on before serving as opposed to an ingredient cooked into the pancakes while they’re in the pan. These pancakes get an A+ at exam time is because they’re not only full of protein, calcium and fiber, but they’re so good nobody knows it.

Silver Dollar Pancakes (or Exam Pancakes)

1 cup cottage cheese (I use the no salt version)

4 large eggs

1/2 cup flour (I use either all whole wheat or 1/2 ww and 1/2 white flour)

2-3 Tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

pinch salt

I melt the butter in the pan or griddle I’ll be cooking the pancakes in so that I accomplish three tasks in one–melting the butter plus preheating and greasing the cooking vesicle. Then it’s just a matter of combining the ingredients. You can use a potato masher to squish everything together or throw it all in a food processor (I have a mini one which does an excellent job) and zap it till mostly smooth. The trick to getting really picky eaters not to ask, “Eeww, what is this?” is to make the cottage cheese curds so small they are rendered invisible to the naked eye. Once you’ve got your batter mixed simply spoon silver dollar size dollops onto the heated pan or griddle and cook on medium low heat until the pancake looks slightly dry at the edges. Note–these aren’t like traditional pancakes that have a lot of bubbles on the uncooked side prior to flipping, sometimes they have a few and sometimes then have none. Flip and cook for another few minutes until golden.

"cooking pancakes"

To serve top with maple syrup and cut up fruit or a few spoonfuls of fruit preserves and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

"cottage cheese pancakes with jam"

Silver Dollar pancakes with jam and powdered sugar

My friend Jim has assured me that it’s ok to lick your plate when you’ve eaten all your pancakes yet a small puddle of maple syrup remains. While I don’t normally think of Jim as my go-to guy when I have food related etiquette questions, I have to say I agree with him in this particular instance due to the astronomical price of real maple syrup. The exception of course is when my parents come for breakfast. Then I try to make enough pancakes to sop up all the syrup on everyone’s plate.

"no more pancakes"

No more pancakes...

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Favorite Tools #1

I have more kitchen stuff than any normal person has a need for. I tell myself that the vast horde of pots, pans, obscure devices, and hundreds of cookie cutters are necessary because of my food styling work, but the truth is I have a bit of a collecting problem. So when I read Jane Lear’s post on her favorite pot it got me to thinking about Continue reading

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