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Posts Tagged ‘Cake’

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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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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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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Tartine is arguably the most famous San Francisco bakery I never heard of prior to going to college, and I have heard many of the local institutions growing up due to the fact that Mom’s family is from the City.  Mama’s.  Mitchell’s Ice Cream.  Golden Gate Bakery.  It took me a friend who raved about it, and then the hordes of food bloggers documenting their every visit to finally visit this San Francisco institution.  Of course, now I regret all of that stalling.  Tartine has become the place for me to go to while in the Mission.  No questions asked.  Tartine has become my source and inspiration for many baking projects.

One of my closest friends has seen this obsession with Tartine manifest into rambles about Tartine every time I mention San Francisco and bakery in the same sentence, I might as well have a hard copy of the book instead of combing through these loose leaf copies I have of the cookbook.  Thanks again, Julia!

Because Julia is traveling abroad for the next two weeks, I decided to mark that event by making something from the Tartine cookbook that is also quirky in honor of getting the hard copy.  Yes, I always celebrate with food!

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Women seem to have a soft spot for chiffon cakes.  My aunt raves about them as the perfect cake.  Even my mother, the one who proclaims to not like sweets, gushes about those cakes.

In fact, every week, I am reminded of this since Mother’s friend’s daughter makes a seasonal fruit chiffon cake for their gatherings.  This reminder makes me a teensy bit sad (and jealous) since this daughter has the awesome job of working as a pastry chef at a Japanese bakery.  Haha, I want to have that kind of hands-on experience!

For weeks, Mother nudged me to try to make chiffon cakes, I didn’t budge because I am scared of things that deflate.  It’s like seeing your dream in its ethereal glory become a dense rock.  Honest!   It took all that time since I bookmarked this recipe till just yesterday when Mother made homemade soy milk.  Yup, at that point, I thought that it’s about time to make this Asian-inspired chiffon cake :)

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