Recently in Quickbreads and Everyday Cakes
Friday, September 18, 2009

nectarine golden cake

nectrarine cake

Given the choice, I would pick a simple, everyday cake without frosting, over the fancy, tiered, frosted creation. I know that sounds practically sacrilegious – to prefer cake without frosting. But I just do. Most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong – a well-made frosting is a thing of beauty. But I really have to be in the mood for it. Whereas a regular every-day cake is something I could have, well, every day. It requires no fancy occasion, no long waiting between crumb-layer of frosting and its second one. You simply mix, bake, cool and eat. This four step process appeals to me because it gets me that much faster to cake consumption – which is the goal here. Such cakes are a salve to my busy days, a slice of comfort on my plate.

nectrarine cake

This is a great, every-day cake. The kind you can make on a whim, when you have an unexpected guest, or when you are absolutely keen on having home-made dessert, but are feeling slightly lazy in the baking department. Except, the cake is sort of more impressive than the sum of its parts (my favorite trick!) as it’s got this fancy fruit thing going on – dressed up with generous chunks of nectarines, or, depending on your preference and farmers market offerings – peaches. Of course, you could get all Rosh Hashana crazy creative, and put some apples in it instead. Which makes me think – this could be really good drizzled with honey. Right?

And here’s what happens. These glorious chunks are too heavy for the batter when you place the slices on top of it, and so while the cake is baking, the slices sink deeper and deeper into the batter. Sounds sexy, right? The fruit just can’t help itself, the pull is far too much.

nectrarine cakenectrarine cake

When you take your cake out, it’s like a vanishing act, you wonder, what could have possibly happened to that fruit you so carefully arranged? But you patiently let the cake cool before you serve yourself a generous slice (that’s before your guests arrive, because let’s face it, you cannot possibly be patient around a cake like this). It’s at precisely this point that you discover that this amazing fruit went into hiding – and you see its beautiful slices inside. It really is a stunner of a piece, you will note to yourself.

nectrarine cake

Of course, what kind of a person would I be if I didn’t do a quick confessional here. The first version of this cake was a fail. An EPIC FAIL. Despite being picture-perfect and smelling oh-so-seductively, it tasted like a box of baking soda. Imagine licking some baking soda off a spoon – disgusting, right? Well, it was.

nectrarine cake

How did this come to pass? How did such a lovely, easy, moist cake come to be inedible? Well, simple – instead of baking powder, I had put in baking soda (truly a d’oh moment in Sassy Radish kitchen) – and a generous amount as such. I should have caught on while measuring out my ingredients – who uses two whole teaspoons of baking soda on one little cake? Quite mad at myself for being so unattentive, I made this cake the very next day, this time being careful to use the proper ingredients – and the results were truly noteworthy. The cake proved to be everything I imagined it would be. It was the reason I eschewed frosting in favor of something like this.

nectrarine cake

And you see, if you read the directions carefully and put baking powder instead of a baking soda, your first bite, that moist, light, laced with vanilla and almond will not taste even remotely like toothpaste and you will not even think of this thing called frosting. Not even for a moment. You might think of me and of baking soda – and hopefully it’ll make you smile.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

bourbon banana bread with maple sugar

boozy maple sugar banana bread

Ok, so I felt kind of bad on Thursday throwing a salad your way as we were about get served with some serious rain, and by we, I mean those of us in New York and whoever else is dealing with less than June-like weather. A few of you wrote comments about bad weather elsewhere and my sunny thoughts go out to you. For the last few days I felt like I threw something totally ill-timed your way. Suggesting something you clearly cannot enjoy right away, it really isn’t fair, now is it?

Since we’re on the subject of not fair, what also isn’t fair is that for my birthday, which was nearly two months ago, I bought a stunning dress. A dress that made me look past the ridiculous price tag as it whispered sweet nothings into my ear. Oh it was something all right – pretty in an effortless sort of way, which is, as you know, the best kind out there. It was white with beautiful light and dark blue stripes. And I couldn’t wait to wear it. But some sad family news spoiled my party mood so I canceled it, and then, coupled with my grandmother’s passing and now the stress fractures from running, the dress’ outing has been delayed indefinitely (much like my posting of certain recipes!) and now the dress hangs wistfully in my closet awaiting the day when I wear something other than running shoes on my feet. Because you know, party dresses and running shoes are so hot right now.

the culpritsoooh the batter

So, I am posting something I should have posted over a month ago, but as things go around here, I’m very easily distracted. I see a shiny new recipe and whoosh – there goes my attention. Which means, that I hide these recipes from you much longer than I need to. And so I’m sorry, I’m trying to change my ways and do better. And I’m trying to turn our unfair rainy situation around for our own benefit.

I bet there’s not a reader out there who’s not made banana bread. In fact, it’s one of those things that people start out baking. It’s so ubiquitous and sits in every cook’s repertoire, like a little black dress. These quick breads are easy, you need two bowls to mix it and in minutes you have batter. What makes this perfect right about now is that it’s the perfect thing to bake when the weather is not cooperating. In fact, I think it’s the perfect rainy day thing to bake.

Banana bread fills your house with a smell that can only be described as heavenly. I could eat the whole loaf in one sitting, but we’re not going to get into that here. That’s between me and some elastic waist pants. What I want to tell you though is how I managed to make something kind of everyday and pedestrian, albeit comforting, into something rather sophisticated and dare I say, sexy?

mixing the dry ingredientsdelicately mixing

I’ve written about adding bourbon to my banana bread before, so that’s nothing new. And I’ve done the cranberry bit, so that’s old too. But I raised it up a notch this time around using maple sugar in place of regular white sugar, and that my friends, flipped my banana bread-baking world upside down. Because the hints of caramel and that earthy aftertaste you have with maple syrup shows up in this banana bread. I can’t quite sum up what maple sugar does to the banana bread, but trust me – it is good. So good, in fact, that I can’t quite put it into words. I can say this much, while it won’t bring back the sunshine and it won’t make everything better, it might make you appreciate staying in and baking, filling your house with a comforting smell. And afterward, you can sit back on your couch, a cup of tea at your side, a slice of banana bread on your plate while rain pours outside. And you know something crazy – you might not even mind it that much.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

raspberry buttermilk cake

raspberry buttermilk cake

As much as I enjoy making extravagant three-tiered cakes, despite the fact that they’ve given me some of the most stressful moments of my life, you can’t just up and make a layer cake at the drop of a hat. There’s frosting involved and a crumb coat and the whole general waiting time. With layer cakes, you must plan in advance and particularly if your schedule is as busy as mine is, you’ll have to carefully plan ahead when you will bake the cake, when you will make the frosting, and so on, so that you can run errands in between and not sit in your apartment waiting for the next step. I learned that with my first layer cake – call it a lesson learned.

raspberry buttermilk cakeraspberry buttermilk cake
raspberry buttermilk cakeraspberry buttermilk cake

So even though I don’t have an option of always having cake on hand (this is for my own good as much as being busy at work) I’m also one of those people who enjoys to have something homebaked at the drop of a hat especially when friends drop by unexpectedly. Or on occasions when you’re making a book club dinner during weeknight for a group of young ladies with discriminating palates.

raspberry buttermilk cake

So when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, naturally. And if life prohibits you from spending your mornings and afternoons fussing over a layer cake complete with piped frosting, there are some simple quick cakes that are well within your reach and can be made in under an hour using a maximum of two bowls. Edna Lewis referred to these cakes as “busy-day cakes”, and while the name suggests just messily throwing ingredients together, there is nothing harried about these cakes at all. In fact, for me, they evoke a kind of Southern tranquility and calm. The kind where you sit in a rocking chair sipping lemonade and eating cake. Easy to make yes, but you’d never think these were sort of thrown together. They’re lovely and delicate and kind of decadent in their own way.

raspberry buttermilk cake

I made this cake for the book club ladies and this is another one that will have to be made again and again. For picnics, and hostess gifts, for potluck suppers, for random last-moment get-togethers. And have I told you how much I love baking with buttermilk? It makes cakes lighter and more delicate. And since I am a fan of adding some tart to my sweet, berries make a great addition. Here I used raspberries, but blueberries or strawberries would have been equally lovely.

raspberry buttermilk cake

Lastly, one of the most winning traits of such cakes, for me personally, is that they’re not overly sweet, and can be eaten either as dessert or as coffee cake the next morning. Their simplicity is the kind of honest, low-maintenance appeal that I love about busy night meals, when you still take the time to cook a proper supper, but manage to strike a balance between homemade and practical. As all of us with office jobs know, cooking on a weeknight can appear to be an insurmountable challenge. And the lovely thing is that – it doesn’t have to be. Here’s proof!

raspberry buttermilk cake

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Monday, February 23, 2009

olive oil almond cake

almond olive oil cake - glazed, cooling

Consider this an open apology letter to Gina DePalma, pastry-chef extraordinaire at Babbo. Gina, I should never have second-guessed you on anything, especially the brown butter glaze you instructed for this cake. In the future, I will follow all your recipes to the minutest detail and never ever doubt your wisdom and experience.

You might be thinking, what is she talking about? After all, there is glaze on that cake in the picture. And yes, glaze surely is on this divine almond olive oil cake, but it almost didn’t make it there. You see, I’ve an aversion to sugar glazes or things that are overly sweet. And my favorite cakes, such as this one, or the ginger pear one I made a few months back, are moderately sweet, a bit restrained in their sugar content. Plus, I find sugar glaze kind of disgusting to touch, I know – I’m an odd duck. And in case you were wondering, I really really cannot get on board with sticky buns. Homemade or otherwise – they simply gross me out.

almond olive oil cake ready to bakealmond olive oil cake - baked and cooling

And so while I was making this cake, I had absolutely no intention of making the glaze. I decided upon it so firmly that I even said it to myself out loud while I was mixing the cake batter – sometimes I talk to myself while I cook, or rather, talk myself through the recipe. Does anyone else do that? Or did I just confess to being the ultimate kitchen weirdo?

almond olive oil cake

But then, looking upon the baked cake that sat so peacefully and plainly on my kitchen counter, I felt like it just needed something. A little accessory to make it pretty and festive, like lip gloss, or a pretty purse – my cake needed something. And I read through the recipe again and my eyes drew to Ms. DePalma’s name, I thought to myself, “You idiot, the woman works at Babbo. Don’t you think she knows best? Don’t you think she would have omitted the glaze were it not absolutely divine?” And with that thought, I ignored my own prejudices and made the brown butter glaze.

almond olive oil cake

First of all, let me repeat. Brown. Butter. Glaze. As in, why did I question anything with brown butter in it? Why? Clearly, I have much to learn. And secondly, my goodness! This cake! The flavors of olive oil and almonds! The glaze! The subtle hint of citrus on my palate! This was superbly moist, delicate, comforting. And it’s got to be the easiest thing I have ever baked. It requires no electric appliances at all, and you need only two bowls and a whisk. Mix your dry ingredients into your wet ingredients, fold the batter gently, and bake. When the cake cools, glaze it and let it sit. Easy does it. And with the glaze the cake shines; the flavors just dance. Which is exactly what you’ll want to do around your kitchen after you have a slice of this.

Continue reading olive oil almond cake.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

dark chocolate cherry muffins

dark chocolate cherry muffins

Sigh. I’ve been delaying writing about these muffins because it’s almost unfair to write about them without having these at your side with a tall, cold glass of milk – it kind of makes me wistful and hungry. Do I have your attention yet?

dark chocolate cherry muffinsdark chocolate cherry muffins
dark chocolate cherry muffinsdark chocolate cherry muffins

I don’t know how you like your chocolate, (and yes, I’m assuming that you actually like chocolate, because the alternative would just be crazy,) but I like mine dark, rich, with just a touch of bitter (and yes, we are still talking about chocolate). Well, if you are looking for a muffin to make that’s more like a cake and less like a muffin that packs an intense chocolate flavor with a surprising bite of cherries – this is for you. Because – and don’t say I didn’t warn you – this is one serious chocolate muffin.

dark chocolate cherry muffinsdark chocolate cherry muffins

And while this is a recipe that takes minutes to pull together, we ran into some technical difficulties when my friend and I discovered that our brown sugar turned into brown sugar rock and her husband had to come to the rescue and hammer the block into pieces then proceeding to pulverize it in the food processor. We are nothing if not dedicated.

dark chocolate cherry muffins

The dried cherries, I think, work better than fresh ones because they offer a slightly more concentrated tartness, but if you want to go the fresh route, those should work well also.

dark chocolate cherry muffins

And while the batter was baking in the oven, we decorated my friends’ Christmas tree, which smelled so amazing, I want one now. The reward for our hard work (because bedazzling a tree with ornaments is serious manual labor) was these muffins and I treated myself to a glass of milk. If only all hard work had such decadent pay-off.

dark chocolate cherry muffins

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

dark gingerbread pear cake

Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake

I don’t know what it is about gingerbread, but it’s the perfect cake for December and the holiday season. It has jubilation written all over it–just try and remain grumpy when you catch a whiff of gingerbread in the air! As the temperatures drop to freezing and below, the sharp ginger spice and the sweet, earthy pear undertones speak to me. Gingerbread smells of Christmas, and even though I am of the Hannukah persuasion, I bake gingerbread with abandon every holiday season, filling my apartment with warmth and a desire to curl up on my couch watching Sleepless in Seattle reruns on television, while eating cake with mugs of hot tea. Often I dream of Christmas trees and their smell. I so long for one.

cake mise

Pears and ginger strike me as dessert soul mates. And since we’re left with (not great) apples and citrus to pass he winter months, pears are particularly satisfying this time of year. I always have them on hand around this time to snack on, to pair with cheese, or to tuck into this cozy, homey, fragrant gingerbread.

make sure the pear is ripe, but not too ripe Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake
Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake

When I spied this recipe in Gourmet magazine a few months ago, I immediately clipped it and waited for just the right (cold) moment to bake this cake. And so on Sunday when it was cold, rainy, and downright miserable outside, I set out to bake some gingerbread, and was amazed not only at just how quickly the whole thing came together, but also how good it tasted. Fresh ginger is key here, and while it’s a bit of a pain to peel and grate, it makes all the difference in the taste! I like to take large knobs of ginger, peel them, and pulverize them in my small food processor. I keep the jar of grated ginger on hand for whenever the mood strikes me – it tends to sit well for a week or so. This makes using ginger a total cinch.

Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake

Yo might have noticed: this is not the prettiest of cakes, but where it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for with flavor and taste. I had this with a cup of strong black tea (Assam is my choice) and would recommend that over a cup of coffee. I also extended the baking time for about 7 minutes as my cake pan was 8 inches and not 9. I had to make do with what I had at home and it worked out just fine.

Try as I may, the holiday season makes me want to go all out and get a tree (shh, I know it’s not part of Hanukkah!) and decorate and leave out milk and cookies for Santa. Dare anyone judge me?

Continue reading dark gingerbread pear cake.