I'm not a fancy cook. But you knew that already, right? Baked beans make my heart sing, a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce (made right) can turn a bad day good again, a simple salad is - mostly - all I need for dinner. But despite this near-constant refrain of loving rustic, homespun food, some people still think that because I cook a lot and because I know my way around a kitchen, I must be the kind of food snob who is only content in the finest of restaurants and could never be happy with a simple, homemade meal.
Nothing is further from the truth.
It's not that I turn my nose up at a nice restaurant, on the contrary - a night out at a place where you're fed well and entertained can be a very special night, indeed. It's just that, in my soul, I am a home cook. In every sense of the word. I like to putter around my kitchen after work, when the sun's gone down and it's dark outside. Inside, it's warm and light from the lamps over the dinner table, the stove, the sink. There are my dirty dishes, the scent of something cooking hangs in the air, I've got a rhythm going with my knife and my cutting board and the pot of boiling water, while the clean plates clatter into place on the table. It all makes sense to me. This is the way I get good, simple food on my plate, and that's the stuff that makes me happy.
Further away from the kitchen, my collection of cookbooks reflects the kind of cook I am. While a few of them are the kind of high-gloss beauties everyone likes to page through and ogle, almost all of my books are the kind you want to pull out and get dirty with spatters of sauce and oil. They feature food I actually want to cook. I don't have room in my bookshelves for cookbooks featuring food that is usually served in a restaurant. I'd never have the patience or the appetite for an architectural, three-page cooking adventure like the ones featured in those tomes. And it's not that I turn my nose up at folks who like to cook like that at home - no way. It's just not what I want for dinner.
My point in all of this? (Yes! I haven't entirely lost my train of thought) is to say that, despite all of that stuff I just spouted to you, sometimes, every once in a while, this hunger for simplicity goes a little too far. I've noticed that I've become mostly allergic to food titles that are longer than five or six words: my eyes glaze over and I lose interest immediately. (Mostly, I think that's self-preservation.) But once in a while, that allergy keeps me from finding a recipe that might have a long title and a few extra steps, but is so absolutely fantastic that I was a total fool for not noticing it earlier.
Case in point? This bundt cake. In the NY Times two years ago, Alex Witchel wrote about the man behind the Bundt pan, excerpting a recipe from Regan Daley's amazing book on sweet baking that has been in my kitchen for many years now. (Strangely enough, however, despite it having served me well as a bed-time read, the only thing I'd ever actually made from its pages had nothing to do with baking at all: the tea-steeped pears and prunes. And by the way, that recipe? Worth the price of the book. Swear to God.) Witchel's choice - boiled, mashed sweet potatoes folded into a spice cake batter that was moistened by buttermilk and studded with soft, boozy raisins - sure, sounded alright, but was a little too fussy for my taste, too much of a hassle. And that title! Sweet Potato Bundt Cake wasn't enough, huh, there had to be Rum-Plumped Raisins and a Spiked Sugar Glaze, too. Oh no, it was all too complicated for me.
(Ridiculous, I know.)
Will you trust me, then, if I tell you that this recipe is not only hardly complicated, but very much WORTH the small trouble you will go to to make it? That it's staggeringly delicious and tender and moist and most certainly a crowd-pleaser, even a raisin-hating crowd? Please say yes.
Don't be put off by the raisins in rum or the fancy glaze - they aren't half as hard to make as it looks. In fact, it all comes together rather easily. You soak a handful of golden raisins in rum (raisin-haters, I used to be one of you and I tell you honestly that these raisins are perfection here. I know you might think I'm nuts, and after all, who am I, the cilantro-hater, to try and convince you that your hatred here is misplaced, but really! They are the least offensive raisins I ever did cross. In fact, I found them entirely delightful), boil up some sweet potatoes and mash them, add the orange puree to a delicately spiced cake batter, pour the whole thing into a Bundt pan and bake it until the cake tower triumphantly out of its tin.
While it cools, you boil together cream, butter and brown sugar into a caramel of sorts that gets pumped up with the residual rum from the raisins. This creamy concoction is spooned over the cooling cake (the glaze is far too thick to sink into the holes you're supposed to stab into the cake, but it hardly matters) and drips appealing down the sides. Appealing is the operative word here - I haven't made something this pretty in ages.
You're supposed to let the cake cool entirely, but I was far too impatient, so my first slice was still warm. The crumb was soft and tender, the booziness of the rum tripping very faintly along my tongue, while an intermittent raisin here and there popped open in a welcome burst of juicy flavor. The glaze was quite difficult not to eat entirely by the spoonful. In fact, if you were serving this as a dessert to guests, I'd suggest making a double recipe of the sauce and passing it in a pitcher so the people at your dinner table can pour a glossy little puddle of caramel sauce over their slices.
I will graciously share this cake with Ben and my roommates, but then it's getting swaddled in an airtight cocoon of aluminum foil and plastic wrap and Ziploc freezer bags and going straight into the freezer. I've got to make sure this thing lasts. Who knows when I'll have the patience and foresight to make something like this again?
Sweet Potato Bundt Cake with Rum-Plumped Raisins and a Spiked Sugar Glaze
¾ cup golden raisins
1/3 cup dark rum, plus more if needed
3 cups flour, plus more for the pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for salting the water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
3 large sweet potatoes
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1 tablespoon reserved rum from cake recipe
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch fluted Bundt pan.
2. In a nonreactive bowl, soak raisins in the rum for at least 30 minutes. Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and spices.
3. Peel sweet potatoes, cut them into chunks, place in salted water, bring to a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with a knife. Drain and let dry for a few minutes, then mash coarsely. Measure 2 cups of sweet potatoes and reserve.
4. In a mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs to break them up, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vegetable oil and vanilla. Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid. Add ¤ cup of the rum to the batter. Add the sweet potatoes and mix until thoroughly combined.
5. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk (start and finish with the flour). Fold in raisins. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan and bake for 80 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and then invert onto a wire rack.
6. While the cake is cooling, make the glaze: Mix the sugar, butter and cream in a heavy saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Continue to boil until the mixture thickens somewhat, 3 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and add about 1 tablespoon of reserved rum (add fresh rum, if needed).
7. Set the cake and cooling rack over a baking sheet. With a toothpick, punch holes all over the cake. Pour 1/3 of the glaze over the cake. Wait 15 minutes, then pour the remaining glaze on top. You must glaze the cake while it's hot. Allow cake to cool completely.