Yossy Arefi's Simple Sesame Cake

Gluten-Free Simple Sesame Cake

I've been baking my way through Yossy Arefi's Snacking Cakes, a cookbook which came out last year. It's an excellent book, the kind that should just take up residence on your kitchen counter because it'll get used so much. The cakes are modest, one-bowl, one-pan affairs, but they're drop-dead delicious. Buckwheat Banana Cake. Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake. Buttermilk Spice Cake. Seeded Zucchini Cake. Minty Chocolate Malt Cake. You'll want to make every single one.

To qualify as a snacking cake, I believe it must be easy to make, with ingredients you mostly already have in your pantry, and requiring only one bowl. Maybe two. You want the making of the cake to soothe you as much as the eating of the cake. Nothing to mess up. No fussy preparation. Just the best kind of mindless baking where you're guaranteed something delicious in an hour or two.

I love this book's extremely narrow focus paired with its impressive breadth of offerings. There's a cake for every mood, every season, every occasion. (I was going to say short of a wedding, but the truth is I would happily eat one of these as a wedding cake, especially if it was a chic City Hall wedding or a crazy Vegas one. Case in point: Grapefruit White Chocolate Cake? Strawberry-Glazed Passion Fruit Cake? Sticky Whiskey Date Cake? I mean.)

Seeing as very few of us have "occasions" to bake for at the moment, I would like to underline the fact that I believe that it is very, very important to have cakes like this in your house at all times right now. They are for breakfast, they are for tea, they stand in for breakfast or as a special dessert—when dessert is usually fruit—they are good eaten standing up and they are good eaten sitting down. The Germans have a word for the food you eat when you're stressed and that word is Nervenfutter (nerve chow) (it's pronounced NAIR-fenn-foot-er). Snacking cakes are the quintessence of Nervenfutter.

Simple Sesame Cake

Now to this particular cake, the Simple Sesame Cake. It's made with tahini and two kinds of sesame seeds (which I had in my pantry anyway; if you only have regular sesame, not black, just do the cake with those). I substituted 1/4 cup oat flour and 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for the all-purpose flour (in fact, have done so in every recipe from this book that I've tried) and the results were velvety and perfect. Max can't stop marveling over the crumb. There's the faintest hint of bitterness from the tahini, and it's so lovely against the almost creamy crumb punctuated with all those tiny little sesame seeds.

If you're a cake pan butterer, then you can strew some of the sesame seeds onto the sides of the pan to truly encrust the entire cake in sesame, but I am an avowed non-butterer of pans, so I just scattered them thickly on top. I love the effect of the black and white sesame together and the gorgeous little crunch from the raw sugar on top. Up until now, the children have competed with us for pieces of each snacking cake I've made. For whatever reason, this one is a little too grown-up for them (it's like a grown-up peanut butter flavor), so we get to eat all of it ourselves.

All hail the snacking cake!

Gluten-Free Sesame Snacking Cake

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Yossy Arefi's Simple Sesame Cake
Adapted from Snacking Cakes
Makes
one 9-inch loaf cake
To make this cake gluten-free, replace the all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup oat flour and 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend.
Print this recipe!

6 tablespoons (50 grams) sesame seeds (white, black or mixed), divided
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) well-stirred tahini
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) neutral vegetable oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon raw sugar, optional

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper, letting the sides hang over to create a sling.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and the egg until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. Add the milk, tahini, oil, vanilla and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add the flour(s), 3 tablespoons of the sesame seeds, the baking powder and baking soda. Whisk until well combined.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, tap the pan gently on the counter to release any air bubbles, and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds on top of the cake and, if using, the raw sugar.

4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and golden, and a cake tester or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Use the parchment overhang to lift the cake out of the pan and let cool completely before slicing and serving.


Homemade Chocolate Treats for Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

In case you might still be looking for a last-minute treat to bake for your darlings, here's a little round-up of my favorite chocolate delights that are, for the most part, easy to whip up with what you've got in your pantry already (or that you could get on an emergency run to the store or gas station, if you live in Germany where stores are closed on Sunday).

I'm still undecided on what to make, though I'm leaning heavily towards these tahini brownies. Better get cracking!

French Chocolate Cake

Evelyn Sharpe's French Chocolate Cake - This is the best nearly flourless cake I know. Rich and intense, it's definitely for grown-ups.

Devil's Food Cupcakes

Karen DeMasco's Devil's Food Cupcakes - Gorgeous little cupcakes with a thin cap of chocolate icing and a cream middle. A lovely baking project and sure to please your littlest Valentines.

Malted Chocolate Cake

Jane Hornsby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake - This may be labeled birthday cake, but if you bake it in a heart-shaped pan instead, hey presto, you've got an easy, totally satisfying chocolate Valentine's cake. Don't skip the frosting!

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Barbara Fairchild's Chocolate-Toffee Cookies - Imagine a brownie-like cookie, but stuffed with bits of crunchy toffee and walnuts. I know.

Double Chocolate Cookies

Bret Thompson's Double Chocolate Cookies - These excellent cookies call for a whopping 1 1/4 pounds of chocolate.

Intensely Chocolate Sablés

Deb Perelman's Intensely Chocolate Sablés - Easy to whip up with what are probably staples in your pantry. I recommend adding a drop of peppermint extract to the dough to make Thin Mint facsimiles.

Belgian Brownies

Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian Brownies - These tender, almost creamy little cakelets come from the way-back depths of the blog, but have definitely held up over time.

Cocoa Brownies

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies - This is basically the only brownie recipe we ever use, because it's easy and classic and reliable and never fails to satisfy everyone.

Bittersweet Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

Ashley Rodriguez's Bittersweet Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting - The brownies are good on their own, but the silky swaths of peanut butter frosting on top take these into total romance territory.


Erin Jeanne McDowell's Gluten-Free Apple Butter Loaf Cake

Gluten-Free Apple Butter Loaf Cake

I know that there is nothing more tedious than reading about other people's special diets, but I'm going to be posting about gluten-free baking more frequently here and I would like to explain the shift. I'll try to keep things brief, but obviously, if you have questions about any of it, please feel free to ask away below.

I recently stopped eating gluten for good. It was a long time coming. Several years ago, after the fog of my second pregnancy lifted, I noticed lots of persistent and painful digestive symptoms. On my doctor's advice, I tried eliminating various foods out of my diet. The most noticeable difference happened when I stopped eating gluten, but, I mean, I love gluten. I LOVE IT. I love eating it and baking with it, bread and pies and pasta and toast and cakes and cookies and and and...I really just didn't want it to be true. Plus, some pesky and particularly worrying symptoms remained regardless of what I ate or didn't eat.

I ended up having a colonoscopy, during which a pretty large precancerous polyp was discovered and removed. It was a scary experience. The handsome gastroenterologist, who'd been a little scornful about why I was showing up for a colonoscopy at the age of 40, turned white as a sheet after the procedure and told me that my GP, who had insisted on the colonoscopy despite my young age, had saved my life. Uh, yay? Around the same time, I was diagnosed with stress-related gastritis. During the endoscopy for that, I was tested for celiac disease, which turned out to be negative, thankfully.

I took a course of antibiotics for the gastritis and tried to reduce my stress (ha ha haaaa) and things slowly calmed down. Still, even when all the scary stuff was out of the way, I still dealt regularly with pain and bloating and other unpleasant things. I tried the FODMAP diet for a while, which sort of helped. I tried replacing all regular bread with sourdough, which also sort of helped. But eventually, I cut gluten out entirely, and it has made a world of difference. In fact, it made me realize for just how long I'd been dealing with digestive pain, anxiety and distress. It long predates having children, that's for sure.

So that's that. I don't have celiac, but I do have gluten intolerance. I've stopped eating gluten, but luckily, I don't have to worry too much about cross-contamination. For example, when we have pasta for dinner, I make regular pasta for my family and gluten-free pasta for me, but when I have to test the pasta, I know that half a wheat noodle isn't going to hurt me. But I recently ate a piece of regular birthday cake at Bruno's birthday (how bad could it be to have just one piece?) and I was in so much pain and discomfort the next day that I really regretted it (damn, it was a good piece of cake, though).

Going gluten-free without celiac disease isn't a terrible hardship. Good-quality gluten-free pasta and bread isn't that hard to find anymore (and I'm lucky enough to live sort of close to the most amazing gluten-free sourdough bakery called Aera) and I have loved the challenge of discovering the huge variety of Asian noodles that are naturally gluten-free, as well as cooking more with rice and other gluten-free grains. But gluten-free baking really is a whole other ball of wax.

As I wrote on Instagram the other day, after a lifetime of home baking, it's been humbling, to say the least, to dip my toes into the waters of gluten-free baking. So much trial and error. So many failed experiments. What I have realized is that my only goal, really, is to learn to make gluten-free things that are delicious in their own right and that people will want to eat even if they aren't gluten-intolerant.

Gluten-Free Apple Butter Sweet Bread

Which means that now I can finally get to the thing I really wanted to tell you about! This cake!

The recipe originally comes from the self-titled baking fairy godmother herself, Erin Jeanne McDowell, and isn't gluten-free to start with, but I fiddled with the ingredients a little bit (after an ill-fated experiment with a different applesauce cake that was so sandy as to be rather repulsive) and ended up with a cake so tender and lovely that we couldn't stop eating it. It was my tea break cake and Hugo's breakfast cake for nearly a week! It's the kind of cake that you want living on your counter permanently, with a velvety crumb, a wonderfully chewy-crunchy top and a whole lot of cozy flavor.

You'll need apple butter, which I make every fall after we go apple picking, using this brilliant recipe. This year I made the apple butter in the Instant Pot, which made things go so much quicker, so I very much recommend that little shortcut. You'll also need an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. I use one from Schär, because it's what I can get at my local grocery store here. Two things I've learned from kind commenters and some reading is that adding a little bit of oat flour to a gluten-free cake or cookie can help provide a better, less gritty crumb and that it's essential to let gluten-free cake batter (and other baking mixtures, I assume) sit a bit to hydrate the flours properly. I reduced the amount of sugar from the original and I think it's the perfect amount of sweet.

Below you'll find the recipe as I made it (the original is here). I hope you like it as much as we did. Next time, I'll try folding in a handful of walnuts and the time after that, a handful of fresh cranberries. (If you stick to the original recipe, I still think you can leave out the brown sugar entirely.)

And if you have any tips or tricks or favorite gluten-free recipes or sites or books to recommend, have at it in the comments! I'd be so grateful.

Gluten-Free Apple Butter Loaf Cake
Makes one 9-inch loaf cake
Print the recipe!

1 cup/130 grams all-purpose gluten-free flour blend
½ cup/60 grams oat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup/120 milliliters vegetable oil
½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup/180 milliliters apple butter
¼ cup/60 milliliters plain yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, or to taste

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 Celsius) and line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, oat flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt to combine. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the oil and sugar until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time and whisk well after each addition to incorporate. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

3. Add the flour mixture and stir just to combine. Add the apple butter and yogurt and mix well to incorporate. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Set aside to rest for 8-10 minutes.

4. Sprinkle the surface of the loaf generously with turbinado sugar. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then, using the parchment paper as a sling, pull the cake out onto a rack to cool completely before slicing and serving. The cake, loosely wrapped with plastic wrap, will last at room temperature for five days.


Odette Williams' Plain Vanilla Cake

Odette Williams' Vanilla Cake

Bruno's fourth birthday was this past weekend. For months, he's been planning on whom to invite, painstakingly listing the names of his little buddies from KiTa on his adorable little fingers. Of course, ultimately, no one could come, but our sunny boy bore that with his signature good humor, which we have been leaning on so much recently that I feel almost badly about it. So we focused on the cake instead. After all, Hugo has never been particularly interested in birthday parties, much preferring to spend time thinking about which cake to request. Bruno, by contrast, couldn't have cared less about the cake, and only after much prodding by his brother and me, grudgingly gave in and said his cake it should be a yellow cake with, very important, pink and purple frosting.

Hugo was much chagrined, having hoped that his preference for a chocolate cake would be shared by his brother. But I was excited, because a couple years ago, I made the discovery of the best vanilla cake ever and I'm always thrilled to have an excuse to make it and I've been meaning to tell you all about it for, well, years. It comes from Odette Williams's book Simple Cake and is, in my mind, the very best plain yellow cake I've ever had. It's got buttermilk for a bit of tang, and quite a bit of vanilla (which is why, in the book, Odette calls it Very Vanilla Cake), and the batter, which comes together quickly with a mixer, has a gorgeous silky texture. But mostly, it's just a delight to make, as easy as easy can be.

I've made it as frosted cupcakes, as a simple round cake dusted with confectioners' sugar, baked in a tube pan and served plain, and split and filled and frosted, and it has been a slam dunk every single time. It's my forever yellow cake. I mean, I love the recipe so much that I have it taped with washi tape to the side of my fridge, an honor bestowed on only two other recipes! (One is Elise's buckwheat pancake recipe, the only pancake recipe I ever make, shall I tell you about it sometime? And the other is Diana Henry's mustard-panko baked chicken.)

Odette Williams' Plain Vanilla Cake

This time, I baked the cake batter in an 8-inch round pan that I had lined with parchment paper. I knew I was going to cloak the whole thing with swaths of whippy frosting ultimately, so I didn't really care what the sides looked like, and the parchment-as-sling really is just so easy. But obviously, if you want neater sides, you should cut the parchment to fit the bottom as well as make a collar and also possibly use a spring form rather than a regular cake pan.

Once the cake was fully cooled, I split it in half and spread about 3/4 of a jar of storebought lemon curd on one half. You could, of course, also make your own lemon curd! But I was grateful to have the shortcut. I placed the other half back on top of the cake. Then I made frosting out of whipped cream and ricotta, only because my husband didn't buy enough whipping cream and I had ricotta that had to be used up anyway. (It was 200 ml of heavy cream and a little less than 200g of ricotta whipped together with enough confectioners' sugar to make it sweet, but not too sweet.) I really don't like buttercream very much and making a meringue frosting was just not going to happen this time (though I think it'd be perfect here, honestly!), so the whipped cream frosting was where I ended up.

Odette Williams' Plain Vanilla Birthday Cake

I divided the cream frosting in half and tinted each batch pink and purple, then did a bit of swirly cake spackling. I will never win any beauty awards for my cake decorations, and ultimately, generously speaking, the cake looked more a cloudy sunset than anything else, but it tasted wonderful—the combination of tender cake, sweet-sour filling and whipped cream frosting worked absolutely perfectly—and everyone loved it and Bruno, our darling boy who is the cuddliest, loveliest, funniest little bunny, was happy. What more could I ask for?

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I truly love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Plain Vanilla Cake
Makes one 8-inch/20-cm round cake
Print the recipe!

1⁄2 cup (120ml) buttermilk
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or the scraped seeds of 1 vanilla bean)
3⁄4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 1⁄2 cups (195g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons mild-flavored vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease an 8-inch/20-cm round pan with butter and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together. Set aside. If using the vanilla seeds, use your fingers to work the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar in a small bowl. Remove any bits of pod that may have come off with the seeds. Set aside.

2. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and mix with a fork.

3. Using an electric mixer with beaters or a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 30 seconds on medium speed and then gradually add the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue beating on medium speed for another 4 minutes or until light in color and fluffy. If using the vanilla extract, add to the bowl and beat until combined.

4. With the mixer still on medium speed, gradually add the eggs. On low speed, add the flour mixture and then the oil and milk; mix until just combined. Don’t overbeat. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 40-50 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, and the cake bounces back when lightly pressed, remove the cake from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the cake to gently release. Invert the cake, peel off the pieces of parchment paper and cool on a wire rack.


Towpath's Olive Oil Cake

DSC_1482

One of the most underrated cookbooks of the past couple of years is, in my opinion, Aleksandra Crapanzano's The London Cookbook. a wide-ranging collection of recipes from London's best restaurants, pubs, cafés and holes-in-the-wall. I got a copy from my editor (the writer and I share a publisher) and over the past several months have slowly fallen in love with it. (It was published in the fall of 2016, when I had my hands full with my own book launch!)

The premise isn't, at first glance, my kind of thing at all. I'm really pretty uninterested in restaurant recipes. Restaurants have completely different goals, budgets and team numbers than a home cook. While I can appreciate that some home cooks would like to know how a three-star restaurant makes a 15-step duck confit, my sense is that most of us couldn't care less. If we can afford to go to that kind of restaurant, we enjoy that kind of cooking there. If we can't afford it, it remains a thing like a fancy sports car or a luxury vacation - something to view from afar. Or is it just me?

But Aleksandra gets that attitude and while there are of course several multi-step recipes in the book that kind of make my eyes glaze over, there are a surprising number of truly doable, simple gems in every chapter. In the introduction, it turns out, Aleksandra specifically mentions the fact that she wanted to only include recipes that were "easily made at home." If a chef wasn't able to adapt a recipe realistically for a home cook, it wasn't included. If you know restaurant cookbooks, that's pretty remarkable. Even more remarkable is that Aleksandra, clearly a first-rate home cook and the kind of cookbook writer we should all strive to be, managed to hone the recipes to make them truly accurate (and isn't that what we're all looking for in recipes?!). What you end up with is a book full of gorgeous, vibrant, interesting recipes from all kinds of amazing places in London that are also totally doable and approachable for home cooks. It's a slam dunk.

DSC_1531

The very first recipe that I tried was this olive oil cake from a café in London called Towpath. (I've never been myself, but I've heard about it from all sorts of discerning food people over the past several years.) And it was...perfect. The recipe was precise and correct (even without metric measurements) and the cake was out-of-this-world delicious, especially considering how simple it is. Everyone from Joanie, my baking North Star, to my father, who'd usually rather eat a plate of kimchi than a piece of cake, was ravished by it. By a simple, orange-scented olive oil cake, you guys!

I think the reason it was such a home run, beyond the fact that it was such a pleasure to follow such a well-written recipe, was a combination of the cake's flavor and its texture. The flavor was sort of delicate and floral, but also satisfyingly creamy and comforting, like a really good yellow cake. The crumb was fine and moist, but not greasy or oily in the least. Sturdy, too, the kind of thing you could almost eat out of hand, but without being dry or tough. It was marvelous. (The only weird thing? No salt in the recipe. The recipe came to Towpath via a Tuscan olive estate, which explains the lack of salt - most Italian dessert recipes (most European ones, actually) eschew salt. Out of habit, I added a pinch. You can go either way.)

When I made this, in mid-February, we still had a few chocolate Santas lying around the house and one of them was a fancy dark chocolate one, so on a whim, I chopped it up and added it to the cake. I think it was a mistake, or rather, an unnecessary fiddling and one I wouldn't recommend. This cake deserves to be left alone, served up proudly in its stark simplicity. No chocolate or whipped cream needed.

The recipe's in my forever files; the book's on my kitchen counter.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from The London Cookbook
Makes one 9-inch round cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1 to 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Juice of 1 orange
Pinch of salt, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Butter the sides of a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

2. In a small bowl, stir the flour and baking powder together.

3. Place the sugar and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until thick and pale yellow, about 3 to 5 minutes.

4. Add the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice and beat for another minute or two. Turn off the machine and fold in the flour mixture by hand.

5. Scrape into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack completely before serving.


Jennifer Steinhauer's Field Day Poundcake

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It's taken me about a year to want to bake again. After finishing work on Classic German Baking, I didn't want to even be in the same room as a piece of cake for a very long time. I don't know if it's stress baking (thanks, Trump!) or trying to find an ounce of external productivity in a life that is otherwise totally ruled by a sweet little butterball named Bruno, but I am very grateful to be finding pleasure in baking again, because it's about the only thing I seem capable of doing right now.

Last weekend I made Joanie's birthday cake for her picnic (the Kranzkuchen from CGB). We are feverishly planning Hugo's fifth birthday cake production next week (he gets to take one to daycare and there will be another one for his party and they will of course both be chocolate - but different! - because that is what he loves). I made these scones a few days ago and these cookies are on the docket for later today. I've been baking my way through this book and can't wait to tell you more about it. And last night, after the boys were in bed and with Max away on business, after reading James Comey's statement in advance of his Senate testimony and gnashing my teeth down to nubs, I made the Field Day Poundcake from the New York Times, which is every bit as majestic as Jennifer Steinhauer makes it out to be and a very good distraction from the outside world.

(What I don't understand is why the Times calls it Poundcake, as opposed to Pound Cake. Maybe one of you knows?)

It's gloriously simple, of course, just butter and eggs and sugar and flour, with a good splash of vanilla for flavor, some salt and a tiny bit of cream. Nevertheless, I made a few little tweaks that I'd like to pass on to you. First of all, per Jennifer's recommendation, I added a bit more salt than called for, about 1 1/4 teaspoons. I reduced the sugar by 1/2 cup and it was still plenty sweet. In fact, next time, I might even go down to 2 1/4 cups. This reduction didn't mess with the texture of the cake at all. I didn't use cake flour, just regular flour, and I didn't fold the flour in by hand, as she recommends, because my folding spatula was dirty and I was tired. I just switched the machine on low and beat it in gently. Same with the cream. One more thing, since Jennifer doesn't get specific about mixing times: at the start, make sure you beat the butter and sugar together until they're really light and fluffy, which takes about 5 minutes with a stand mixer. Then make sure that you beat each egg in for a minute. All this beating makes for a wondrous pile of cake batter, and, after baking, a gorgeous, even, velvety crumb. (This is just one of the great baking tips I got out of Shauna Sever's Real Sweet, mentioned above.)

I seem to have misplaced my Bundt cake pan so I used a tube cake pan, which I filled to the brim, but I still had a little leftover batter. So I poured that into muffin cups. (These, of course, bake for far less time than the full cake, just keep an eye on them and do the skewer test after about 25 minutes.) The cake was very tender when it first came out of the oven, but after cooling overnight it firmed up nicely. I plan on serving it this afternoon with sugared strawberries, while we watch the Senate hearing.

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The world may be smoldering, but we will have cake.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Jennifer Steinhauer's Field Day Poundcake
Makes one Bundt cake or two loaf cakes

453 grams (2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the pans
600 grams (3 cups) granulated sugar (I only used 2 1/2 cups)
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
453 grams (3 cups) cake flour (I used all-purpose)
¼ cup heavy cream

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter and flour one 12-cup Bundt pan or two 8.5-inch-by-4.5-inch loaf pans, and set aside.

2. Using a stand mixer, cream together the remaining butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and salt.

3. Gently beat in the flour. Add the cream and stir just until thoroughly combined.

4. Pour the batter into the pan or pans and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack to cool completely.


How to Make Ciambellone

Ciambellone
Listen to this: My editor at Bazaar took me out to lunch before the holidays and congratulated me for eating the bread out of the bread basket that was placed on the table while we waited for our meal. (The chewy, delicious bread, I might add, though I would have eaten it even if it hadn't been good, because I am a human and it was lunchtime and I was hungry.)

She.

Congratulated.

Me.

She ate the bread, too, mind. It's just that she's the only person she knows - besides me now, I guess - who still actually eats bread. And pasta. And springs for two courses on a business lunch. Sigh.

You all know I like a good New Year's resolution as much as the next person. I'm all about fresh starts and good intentions, I really am. Why, just the other day I ordered a ginger-apple-carrot juice with breakfast myself! But when congratulations are offered on eating a piece of bread, for the love of Pete, I feel like this whole cleanse/no-carb/juice/detox mania has officially reached crazy-making levels. (Exhibit A: Elevating Adaptogenic Latte. What?) And while I'm at it: can we once and for all get rid of the term "clean eating"? It makes my head hurt.

So, in light of all of this, I've decided to post a second recipe for cake in one week. I feel like it's my civic duty or something.

Without further ado: Ciambellone! (chahm-bell-ohn-eh) Also known as the only cake my mother knows how to make. (More or less.)

Ciambellone is a sunny, simple tube cake made with yogurt and lemon peel. It's tender and fragrant, has a good, sensible crumb, lasts for a few days on the kitchen counter, is not-too-sweet, easy to make, and very nice for breakfast (with a glass of green juice or without). It's also good at teatime and as a snack for little children. In other words, it's a perfect everyday cake.

(Other perfect everyday cakes: Catherine Newman's Donut Cake, Deborah Madison's Poppyseed Cake and Alice Medrich's Kamut Pound Cake, all of which I adore passionately and do not make nearly enough. I blame that thing I'm working on. On my to-make-soon list, though, is Molly's whole-wheat riff on an Edna Lewis cake, which looks right up my alley. Consider it my New Year's resolution!)

I suspect you will be relieved to know that ciambellone does not require confectioners' sugar on top or an icing of any kind or new-fangled additions to the batter. It is simplicity itself, wholesomeness incarnate. But most of all, it's just a happy-making little thing. Which makes it just right for gray, old January. Or any other month out of the year.

Three cheers for cake!

POSTSCRIPT: In the most thrilling news ever (to me, obvs), precisely 9 years, 5 months and 1 week after I started this blog, I can finally offer you a printable recipe! I apologize deeply for it having taken  so long. Now, when you get to the bottom of the recipe, you'll see a little Print this recipe link. Click on that and you'll get the recipe in PDF form. Which means that when you print, all you'll get is the recipe itself. No post, no pictures and no pesky comments. Hooray! This feature is - for now - only available on recipes starting from today.

Ciambellone
Makes one 9-inch tube cake
Note: The original recipe calls for 1/2 packet of Pane degli Angeli, which is Italian vanilla-flavored baking powder. If you have access to that, use it - it's lovely - and leave out the vanilla extract and baking powder below. If you don't have access to Pane degli Angeli, follow the recipe below.

3/4 cup minus 1 tablespoon (150 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
3.5 ounces/7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (125 grams) plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
1 2/3 cup (200 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

1. Heat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Butter a tube pan.

2. Place the sugar, eggs, melted butter, yogurt, vanilla extract, and grated lemon peel in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Then slowly beat in the flour. Finally, beat in the baking powder. Scrape the batter immediately into the prepared cake pan, even the top and bake for 30 minutes, until a rich golden-brown.

3. Let the cake cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn the pan upside-down and unmold the cake. Let cool completely before serving. Loosely covered with plastic wrap, the cake will keep at room temperature for 3 days.

Print this recipe


Alice Medrich's Buckwheat Squash Loaf with Cranberries

Buckwheat squash slice

Good morning, everyone! Ooh, this week is starting off well. The sun is shining, I'm about to turn a pound of butter and an equal amount of raisins into Stollen for the book, and I have a cake discovery for you, a wondrous, light, delicious cake discovery. I am so, so excited for you!

Friday evening was the first time in ages that I'd some time to myself in the kitchen. Hugo was asleep, Max was out with a friend, and I was finally - finally!!! - all on my own with nothing to do. I roasted a squash, I boiled broccoli rabe, I cooked fish for dinner. It was quiet, it was heaven. And when the squash was roasted and beaten to a purée, I set to making this cake. This wonderful, tender darling of a cake that I plan to make again today and then again mid-week, since that seems to be about the pace that we are consuming it at. (It is marvelous for breakfast.)

Alice Medrich's Buckwheat Squash Loaf

I first spotted the recipe on Megan's blog in early November. She got the recipe from Alice Medrich's newest book, Flavor Flours, a baking book that happens to be gluten-free but is really more focused on the tastes and textures that different flours bring to the table. The original recipe is made with buckwheat and rice flour, regular sugar, pumpkin purée and raisins (or currants). But when Megan made it, she swapped in dark brown sugar for the regular sugar, added chocolate chips instead of raisins and topped the loaf with pumpkin seeds. And when I saw the recipe, I knew instantly I'd fold in frozen cranberries instead of raisins or chocolate, use butternut squash purée instead of pumpkin, and leave off the pumpkin seeds, but keep Megan's brilliant muscovado sugar swap.

Without further ado, I'd like to present to you the newly-christened Buckwheat Squash Loaf with Cranberries.

(NB: No matter what it's called, I LOVE IT SO MUCH I CAN'T WRITE THIS POST FAST ENOUGH.)

Buckwheat squash loaf

If you are a fan of buckwheat flour - and you know who you are - then I practically guarantee that you'll love this cake. Its strange and stony flavor is one of my very favorites. I used a medium-grind buckwheat flour that I had in the pantry, which resulted in a cake that crunched ever-so-subtly in my mouth. But the cake crumb is so velvety and fine that it practically quivers. It's quite something. I pulled the cake out of the oven right before bedtime and let it cool in the pan overnight. Early Saturday morning, the first fat slices I cut for myself were just on the right side of damp. The dark brown sugar brings moisture and depth to the cake and those sour, brilliantly pink pockets of cranberry against the velvety, spicy crumb were exactly right.

I know these kinds of superlatives can be so annoying, but I just scrolled through all my posts from 2014 and must tell you that it is my favorite cake of the year. I love this cake. I love it so much. I hope you do too!

Buckwheat Squash Loaf with Cranberries
Makes one 9-inch loaf
Adapted from Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours

8 tablespoons (1 stick/115g) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (190g) muscovado (dark brown) sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (120g) white rice flour
1/3 cup (40g) buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (170g) squash puree
1/2 cup (55g) fresh cranberries

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper.

2. Combine the butter, sugar, and eggs in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, use a handheld mixer and beat for 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the rice and buckwheat flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pumpkin puree and beat on low speed until smooth. Fold in the cranberries.

4. Bake the loaf for 45 -50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan for 30 minutes before using the parchment as a sling to unmold the cake and let cool completely on a rack. The cake keeps for several days on the counter, wrapped loosely in parchment or plastic wrap.


Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake

Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake

On Friday afternoon, Hugo and I were hanging out at home when talk turned, as it so often has lately, to cake. "CAAAAYKE, mama, ja?" So I said something responsible and mom-like, like, "well, it's dinnertime soon, so there's no cake today. But tomorrow is Saturday! So we can make a cake tomorrow." To which Hugo responded, "Ja! But no baby cake, mama. BIG CAAAAYKE."

(NEVER GROW UP, HUGO, PLEASE AND I PROMISE I WILL MAKE YOU BIG CAAAAAYKES FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.)

Luckily for us, we were invited to a friend's surprise birthday party the next day and I'd volunteered to make the birthday cake anyway. Ever since receiving Jane Hornby's cookbook, I'd been itching to make her malted chocolate birthday cake. Finally, I had the chance.

The cake itself was nice and simple to put together; actually, it just the thing to do with a child whose skillset just about encompasses whisking. And the cake baked up perfectly, moist and fragrant. As Hornby promises, it's not too rich but still pleasingly chocolatey. The malt flavor is very subtle, giving the cake and the icing only the faintest toasty flavor. If you didn't know what to taste for, you might not even taste it. But for malt-lovers among us, it's a lovely hint of a thing to taste and gives the whole cake a slight lift out of the dark depths of chocolatiness.

Jane Hornby What to Bake and How to Bake It

But the real reason this cake was a total home run and up on this blog now for posterity is the icing. The gorgeous, silky, dark and lovely icing that I literally licked off every single part of the whisk and then the spatula and then the bowl. (For your information, I do not normally lick anything related to baking, ever. I don't know why, I just don't. It sort of grosses me out. BUT NOT THIS TIME OH NO SIRREE BOB.)

First of all, what I loved about it is that it's not a buttercream. Too buttery, too rich, too slick and oily in my mouth, buttercream is just not my thing. (I recently discovered the beauty of Swiss buttercream, when I wrote a piece in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar Germany about fancy cakes, but unless I'm making the kind of cake that's supposed to look better than it tastes, I steer clear of buttercream.) This icing is more of a butter-enriched ganache, but lightened with milk, so it's spreadable and swishable and doesn't land in your belly like a 10-pound bag of bricks.

Plus, it's cinch to make - you make a milk, malt and cocoa paste, then beat in soft butter and confectioners' sugar before beating in melted chocolate. The icing is silky-smooth and a little runny as long as it's still hot, but as it cools, it gets firmer and swoopier. It's lovely.

Also, delicious.

I can see it swirled onto cupcakes and smoothed onto vanilla cake, even possibly used as a sandwich cookie filler. You can play a little with the proportions (less sugar, vanilla or peppermint flavoring instead of malt, more cocoa solids in your chocolate or less) or leave it just as is. I used less sugar than the original and a higher percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate and got a slightly grown-up icing that all the adults at the party swooned over. (Hugo ate his piece happily enough, but was totally distracted by the discovery of blue M&M's on his piece. He ate them with much the same expression on his face as a roomful of scientists witnessing the Mars landing.) At first I thought that the yield of the icing was too much for the panful of cake, but I piled it all on anyway, and I'm glad I did.

***

In other news, I'm so honored to be giving an hourlong talk at the Apple Store in Berlin this Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. I'm going to be talking about how I started my blog and what it was like when I was blogging anonymously at the beginning, how I found my voice and then an audience, how the blog grew over the years, and how I've stayed inspired. There will also be an audience Q&A. Click here to register (filter for "events" and you'll see mine). Hope to see you there!

Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake
Adapted from What to Bake and How to Bake It
Makes one 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33cm) cake
Note: The recipe below reflects a few changes I made to the original recipe. I reduced the sugar in both the cake and the icing slightly and I upped the percentage of cocoa solids for the chocolate in the icing a little bit too. If I were making this for a children's birthday party, I'd use the original amounts of sugar (300 grams in the cake and 250 grams in the icing) as well as a milkier chocolate (50% instead of 60%). You will notice I did not include the conversions to imperial; I just don't have the time at the moment. My apologies. A kitchen scale will set you back between $10 and $30, or else the internet can help you out with the conversions.

For the cake
140 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
350 grams all-purpose flour
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
275 grams light brown sugar
300 ml milk
150 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspon vanilla extract

For the icing
200 grams dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa
120 ml milk
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
140 grams soft butter
200 grams confectioners' sugar
A handful of M&Ms, optional

1. Heat the oven to 180°C (350 F). Line a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) cake pan with a piece of parchment paper. Melt the butter in a pan and set aside to cool slightly.

2. Mix the flour, cocoa, malted milk powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the sugar and break up any lumps with your fingers. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Whisk the milk, oil and vanilla into the melted butter and pour this mixture into the well.

3. Using the whisk, mix the wet and dry ingredients together slowly. Once combined, give the batter a good beating until smooth and evenly blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, until the cake has risen, is firm and slightly shrunken from the sides. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

5. For the icing, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place it over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. Let the chocolate melt, stirring once or twice until smooth. Alternatively, microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring each time. Leave to cool a little.

6. Heat the milk in a small saucepan or the microwave until steaming hot. Sift the cocoa and malted milk powder into a large bowl, then slowly stir in the hot milk to make a smooth paste. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

7. Now add the butter to the paste, sift in the confectioners' sugar, and beat together with an electric mixer until very creamy. Follow with the melted, cool chocolate, and beat to make a silky, soft icing.

8. Decorate the cake with the M&Ms, if using. The cake can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept in a cool place, well wrapped or, if frosted, loosely covered on its board.


How to Make Crostata

How to Make Crostata

Hello from the rolling Montefeltro hills! The verdict so far is that things are blissfully as they always are here: lazy, sunny, delicious, mosquito-filled.

We have not done much since getting here. Which is sort of the whole point, of course. There have been a few dinners with friends, an excursion to the beach or two, and there has been beer with lunch and dinner almost every day so far (we are nothing if not livin'-on-the-edgers).

Also, there has been a lot of crostata. Crostata is the very first thing I ever learned to bake. For a long while, it was the only thing I ever baked. It is, to explain, a jam-filled tart of sorts, except the dough is sort of cakey as well as crusty. It is eaten for breakfast and for dessert. It can be filled with any jam you like, though we are partial to sour ones like plum or sour cherry. A grade-schooler can master it and it requires nothing besides a countertop and a baking pan. I make one every couple of days since that's about how long they last.

In the grand tradition of Italian desserts, crostata is a little dry and almost aggressively simple. I would urge you to resist attempts to fancy it up.

I suppose it will be the first thing I teach Hugo how to bake one day. He is showing more and more interest in what I get up to in the kitchen these days. I plop him on the counter next to me and he watches as I knead pizza dough or helps measure oats when it's time for oatmeal. For now, though, he's content just eating crostata. And I'm happy to still be the one tasked with making it.

How to Make Crostata

A few notes on the recipe:

1. I've given you both metric and US measurements, but I haven't tested it with the US ones yet.

2. If you have access to Italian "00" flour, you can use that instead of all-purpose. If you don't, no sweat.

3. The baking powder here in Italy is conveniently flavored with vanilla. If you happen to have access to Pane Degli Angeli baking powder, you need half a packet. If not, use 3/4 teaspoon (8 grams) of regular baking powder and then add either a spoonful of vanilla sugar or of vanilla paste/extract.

4. The eggs here are smaller than in the US, so I've noted "medium" eggs. If you can't find those, you can use large but you may need to use a bit more flour as you go.

5. The butter must be very soft to be able to be quickly incorporated by hand into the dough. Let it sit out overnight before making the crostata.

6. My favorite jams in crostata are sour ones. Sour cherry, plum and apricot are all great choices. But you should feel free to choose whatever jam you like. You can even divide the crostata in half and fill it two different jams for variety. As for other fillings, there is such a thing as Nutella crostata, just FYI.

Crostata
Makes one 9-inch tart

200 grams / 1.5 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
50 grams / scant 1/4 cup sugar
8 grams / 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract if not using Pane Degli Angeli baking powder
2 medium eggs, room temperature
50 grams / 3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
About 1/2 jar sour cherry or plum jam

1. Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F. Dump the flour onto your work space and make a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt, sugar and baking powder into the well, making sure to sift out any lumps in the latter. Add the grated lemon peel and vanilla flavoring, if using. 

2. Crack the two eggs into the well and, using your finger, stir them gently to break up and start incorporating into the dry ingredients. Then add the very soft butter and continue to stir until a rough dough starts to come together. Knead gently until it is smooth and uniform. Try not to overwork or add too much additional flour, but don't overthink things either; this is not pie crust.

3. Pull off a quarter of the dough and set aside. Pat the remaining dough evenly into a 9-inch pan and make sure to push the edges of the dough about 1/2 an inch up the sides of the pan to create a crust.

4. Spoon the jam into the crust and spread out evenly. Pinch off small pieces of the remaining ball of dough and roll them out into strips of varying length that you lay on top of the jam to create a lattice top.

5. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tart is browned and the jam is bubbling. Let cool on a rack for an hour before turning out of the pan. Keeps for several days at room temperature.