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Archive for the ‘Cake’ Category

These days, I bake to get out of my head.  It’s easy to get so far into your head when you’re studying that I think a good way to unwind is to do something with your hands.  Anything that is tangible and quiet to get away from the noise in your head is a welcomed pause in the chaos of modern living.

I had a choice between a Chez Panisse fruit crisp or a Melissa Clark cobbler.  Both equally sounded like a fabulous place for a set of over-ripe nectarines to rest in peace.  I ended choosing the Melissa Clark one because it was different and it had browned butter.  End of story.

This was probably the most appropriate study break ever.  Thirty minutes tops to create a mess and wipe up, and back to studying I go.  Most of the time study breaks stretch out to an hour or an hour and half because of the number of steps involved.  Shh :P

This is probably the first cobbler I really enjoyed in recent memory.  It has so many nice textural components from the crunchy bits of sliced almonds to the chewy bits of the barely-formed buttery cake.  Then, there is the custardy middle, and the subtle tang of buttermilk.  Oh, and it’s fast to put together.  That’s always a plus.  What’s there not to like? :)

Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler/ Cake

Printable Recipe

Adapted from the Melissa Clark Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler/ Cake (via New York Times)

3 cups of nectarines or peaches, sliced in 1 inch thick pieces

3 ounces granulated sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 ounces flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 c buttermilk

1/4 c sliced almonds

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

1.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the fruit slices, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a simmer, then take the pan off the heat.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until it smells very nutty, turns golden, and flecks of dark brown appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the brown butter into an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the batter on top of the brown butter, use a spatula to even out the batter but be careful not to mix it into the butter. Scatter the nectarine slices and juice on top of the batter without stirring. Sprinkle with the almonds, nutmeg and Demerara sugar. Bake until golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm.

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Whenever I am at the cusp of taking on greater (and exciting) responsibility, I tend to briefly fall back to all things that are small, cute and colorful.  Perhaps, it’s my own little ritual of sorts to delve into the memories that define myself.  I am not entirely sure.  As much as I am wholly ready to embrace the challenges ahead of me, I still find parts of me drifting in carefree nostalgia of yesteryear.  Perhaps my friends don’t share that kind of odd nostalgia for all things colorful and sweet, and instead, they look for things bigger, better, and brighter.   However, I think there is a small part of us that wistfully pines for cotton candy, sour belts, and rainbow sprinkles.

We may not all pine for those things specifically after all, some of us believe sprinkles taste like chalk.  Me?  I think sprinkles are the stuff of colorful magic–they may not taste good, but they have this powerful draw of whim and fancy.  I still think that sprinkles are the fairy dust of childhood, and that is an equally powerful sensory experience!

I am thinking about this more lately since most of my high school friends have finally left my hometown.  It’s sort of like the end of an era that was filled with the collector’s obsession with charm bracelets and giggly mini-high school reunions.  I am cognizant of all of this since I can’t conveniently dispose of my extra pint of homemade ice cream or overload of cake and cookies at a friend’s place five minutes away.  Oh, the troubles of being a compulsive baker…

This weekend was kind of a project to sum up all things magical about growing up.  At least, I thought that is what a funfetti cake personified.

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As a child, I mused that people were ashamed to let the bananas turn black.  That’s why I rationalized banana bread was so gosh-darn-awful because people buried bananas with sugar and spices.  If the banana bread itself wasn’t overly sweet, it is often dry and dense.  It didn’t help that mother told me it was a last resort to squeeze another week of life for the poor banana before it hit the trash.  Most variations of banana bread tasted that way, which is why I turned my nose on banana bread for a long time.

However, I have a lot to be thankful for the banana.  When I started working, the occasional banana was the perfect mid-morning snack to keep me alert and functioning through lunch.  Sometimes, when the crazy really got going during busy season, it helped me stay focused before dinner.   In a way, I wanted to do bananas justice even when they turned black.  That is why after busy season, I decided to test another banana bread recipe to see if I can bring peace to the banana’s final resting spot.

Here, with Chang’s recipe, the banana flavor is front and center.  Gone are the bothersome spices and excess sugar that mask the banana’s flavor.    Instead, there is a lovely flavorful and moist loaf studded with walnuts.  Chang credits the tender crumb to Payard’s technique with genoise cakes, where you beat the eggs and oil together.  I think she is just thoughtful and intelligent in the way she brings out the best qualities of banana bread through her recipe, as she is with all of her recipes in Flour.

Don’t believe me?  I ate 1/4 of the loaf before I remembered I needed to take a picture :3

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Nutella Pound Cake

I never remember the month of November.  Other than the blips of Thanksgiving and my dear friend Julia’s birthday, I fail to recognize it as a legitimate month because it is so packed with exams and papers.  It feels more like a week than a month.

When I saw my calendar for the month of November, I decided I want to splurge.  I know those two items are totally related, but I am irrational when I am stressed out after all, first round of midterms have flowed right into the next round of midterms.

Some people go for the hot pink pedicure, but I go for the whole jar of Nutella.  Both are illogical, but who can see those cute toes when it is rainy out?  We all can better appreciate Nutella regardless of the weather whether that be by the spoonful or in this Nutella pound cake.

That brings me to this pound cake.  For those of you who get dreams thinking about Nutella, this is the cake especially for you.  Did I mention that a whole jar of dreams goes in?  Yup, that is definitely the stuff dreams should be made of.  None of these nightmares about revenue recognition criteria–just the dense, luscious goodness of a chocolate hazelnut spread :)

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Brown does not picture well.  It generally does not cause a run of a thousand cravings that secretly plot conquest and domination.  (Unless it is shiny and luscious, but chocolate belongs in its own category.)  No, brown is more background than inspiration–a certain plainness that leaves us pausing and struggling to muster enthusiasm.

Understandably, I was baffled by my own attraction to this pecan cornmeal butter cake.  It is certainly brown.  Pecans, especially ones that have been roasted are a caramelized brown.   Beurre noisette (also known as browned butter), which infuses the entire cake, is also deeply amber brown.

Perhaps, I am attracted to my own cake opposite–something that is unstructured and not fussy.  Sure, the show-stopping cakes are fabulous to rave about, but when it comes down to it, I want something that is unspectacular and brings me back down to earth.  There was something carefree about this cake that I liked–something about the plain nutty hue of the cake base and the syrupy macerated berries that cascaded down the soft dollop of freshly whipped cream.

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If one of my friends reminds me of a raspberry buttermilk cake, this friend reminds me forever of my introduction to the fabulousness-in-a-jar called Nutella.

During my early college days, I spent a great deal of time escaping the miles of cornfields and pumpkin patches that surrounded me and my small college town.  Although I initially loved the romanticism of the Henry David Thoreau-like isolation in Central New York, I began to miss the noise and connection I felt in California to its people and its food culture.

Amidst the fun of plotting weekly brownie raids with my Vermont roommate, she could not fathom my obsession with the California avocado (which I promptly embraced when I made my first trip home  during Thanksgiving) or my habit of drifting through small European grocers and giant Asian supermarkets.  I was alone in my obsessions, and I was reminded of this every time I got a care package.

Of course, then, I had my childhood friend who kept me company during late night cram sessions.  While I taunted her that I finished all of my classes for the day before she woke up, she taunted me with tales about a certain chocolate hazelnut spread slathered between crepes and fruits.  After much insisting, I got my own jar of Nutella, and since that watershed moment, Nutella and I have never parted.

Thus, this cake is a reminder of my first spoonfuls of Nutella.  Psh, don’t give me that look–I know it, and you know it that this is the only way to properly to enjoy Nutella when it is 3 a.m. and you still have the error analysis to compute for the caffeine content in your green tea samples ;)

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Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

The most meticulous person is not always the neatest person, or at least, I am the most meticulous un-neat person ever.  However, don’t look at my office desk for evidence because it is an exhibit of how a calm accountant’s cubicle should look like, and no, my neatly printed handwritten to-do lists are definitely not incriminating.  Look to my personal desk, which is stacked high of food memoirs, unanswered letters, and crinkled receipts.  Yes, that is my mind in physical form–one whopping mess.

In addition to the aforementioned randomness that calls my desk home, there is the list of August birthdays sat with a pleading urgency on top of the sheets and sheets of yellow.  I am not bad, and I have not forgotten.  I am stumped because I have this horrible habit of trying to one-up myself while attempting to dream up thoughtful presents.      

Perhaps, the difficulty here lies in the fact that I try to pick gifts that remind me of themselves.  Lately, I have been thinking about a past conversation with one friend with an August birthday about how good the raspberry coffee cake at one of the American breakfast joints was, and as soon as I saw this cake appear on one of the food potluck sites, I thought, This is it! 

Of course, since my mind wraps around all things food, she reminds me (maybe, unfortunately so) of a raspberry buttermilk cake.  A Gourmet one, I might add because she’s awesome like that, or so, the foodie in me tries to rationalize!

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