Gratitude, Day 30: This Is The End, Now With Cranberry Cake

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I won’t lie: this month of blogging about gratitude has been a bit of a slog.

I have learned that combining gratitude, a food blog, and reflection on life is just one thing too many, so I am sticking to food as it relates to life.

It’s not that I am not grateful, and it was never that I couldn’t find something to write about.

Sometimes combining three elements is a little hectic. Next year, maybe it will just be 30 days of cookie recipes, or 30 days of sauces. Gratitude can stay in my journal or shared with those it involves.

Today, the final day of this month-long occasional forced march, I am grateful that I am done.

To celebrate, I made the first of what will certainly be multiple cranberry cakes.

You want this in your face. #Trust
You want this in your face. #Trust

Full disclosure: this could have done with a few more minutes in the oven, but rather than show you a slice that clearly indicates this, I thought I would snap what really matters – the craggy soft interior of a moist, delicious cake that was eaten with fingers before it was barely turned out on the board to take the picture.

This cake is sweet and studded with fresh cranberries that are completely unadulterated. No chopping, no sweetening, no cooking. Nothing.

So what happens is you take a bite and get this luscious, buttery, sweet vanilla cake, followed by a bright/tart burst of fresh cranberry.

So. Freaking. Good.

It’s a bit underdone because this is the first time I made it in a Bundt pan, and I was slightly pressed for time. It takes just 15 minutes to throw together but a solid 75 minutes in the oven.

The other unusual part of this recipe is that it has no leavening agent; eggs and sugar are beaten together until they double in volume and become a ribbony pale yellow.

I would love to claim this recipe as my very own, but it isn’t. I added a touch of orange zest, used my gluten-free flour mix, and didn’t measure the cranberries (just dumped a full bag of frozen cranberries in), but other than that, this recipe is perfection, as is.

Oh, and side note: you could add a ton of sugar and calories by making the pecan topping in the recipe, but that is completely unnecessary.

Today, this last day of November, what are you grateful for?

Gratitude, Day 12: Coconut Cake

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I have been craving cake for two weeks.

If I was not gluten-free, this would be easy enough.

Gluten-filled cake is like pizza or sex: even when it’s not the best, it’s still pretty good. A cake craving can be easily handled with a quick Suzy-Q from the 7-11 or something from the bakery at Giant. They even hand that shit out for free sometimes, so I could have technically just gotten a couple of samples and have been done with it.

Gluten-free cake, on the other hand, can be a total waste of money and the time it takes to go buy it. Some are gritty, some taste heavily of the bean flours with which they are made, and some forgo things like sugar and butter and try to be healthy.

I am too lazy to go try to acquire a cake that tastes terrible, and I just didn’t feel like baking a cake that feeds 14 for just little old me.

Today, I am grateful that I made a cake.

This cake.

Imma eat the shit out of this cake.
Imma eat the shit out of this cake.

It’s a little bulgy in the middle (like I will be after eating it ALL GONE) because the frosting is a marshmallow creation that isn’t always up to, well, holding up a cake.

No matter. It does the job as long as it needs to, which isn’t very long because I may be sending this out to those lucky folks who ordered food this week. #Surprise

I used the white cake recipe from the piecaken experiment last year, subbing coconut milk for regular milk, and I covered the whole damn thing with coconut.

It’s delicious.

What are you grateful for?

Gratitude, Day 8: Democracy Now, Or How Cake Brings People Together

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

Even though I voted early, I found this sticker a couple days ago and will be wearing it proudly today. #VOTE
Even though I voted early, I found this sticker a couple of days ago and will be wearing it proudly today. #VOTE

I have voted for president in three states in my lifetime: Maryland, Washington, and Georgia.

I vote in primaries.

I vote in mid-term elections.

I donate money on occasion to candidates.

Today, I am grateful that this shitshow of an election is over. #Gratitude

This blog is posting in the morning, so I don’t know how grateful I will be for the result of the election tomorrow, but if things proceed as they should, all campaigning and mudslinging and incivility will be over, at least until the next election.

(okay, that’s a bit naive, but allow me that indulgence for just this one moment)

Every presidential election since I can remember I have stayed up late, watching the election returns on TV. Even when I was a little kid we would huddle around the black and white TV, watching the percentages change. The first election I can actually remember is Jimmy Carter’s.

Ten days ago, in preparation for the ritual election returns watching, I baked an election cake. Election cakes date back to before the Revolutionary War when they were prepared for hundreds of people using nuts, dried fruit, wine, and whiskey.

A cake for many, many voters.
A cake for many, many voters.

Bakeries across the country are reviving the election cake tradition using the hashtag #MakeAmericaCakeAgain. When three people tagged me on an election cake post, I figured I would give it a shot.

Trouble is, I am no fan of yeast as it can be problematic in gluten-free baking, and traditional election cakes use yeast for their raising agent. Election cakes use yeast to create a live sponge, into which fruit, nuts, and additional flour are added.

In all other aspects, though, this shit is just a boozy fruitcake, which I happen to have on lock.

I made this cake ten days ago because it just gets better (and boozier) with age. It’s also very, very forgiving, so if you don’t have the particular dried fruits on hand you can make do with what you have. Just keep the total amount the same and you should be just fine.

Suzannah’s Modern-Day Election Cake

Ingredients

1 cup golden raisins (or regular)

1 cup currants

2 cups of any combination of the following: dried cherries, blueberries, cranberries, chopped apricots

Zest of one orange

Zest of one lemon

1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped

1 cup rum, bourbon, or brandy

1 cup sugar

10 tablespoons butter

1 cup apple cider

Teaspoon of each of the following: clove, ginger, cinnamon, allspice

1 1/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour (regular works here, too)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped

Brandy for basting (I used Laird’s Applejack because it’s what I had)

Method

THE NIGHT BEFORE: Combine dried fruits, citrus zest, chopped ginger, and booze in a glass container. Mix thoroughly and place overnight in the ‘fridge. This can be in the ‘fridge for two (or more) days, so if you get distracted, no problem.

It’s also delicious straight off the spoon, but that can be dangerous.

When you are ready to bake, place dried fruit, sugar, apple cider, and spices in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then turn heat down and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add to cooled fruit mixture and mix thoroughly. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well to incorporate each egg. Add chopped pecans.

Grease three disposable loaf pans (you are going to want to share these. Maybe). Divide batter evenly between the tins and bake for one hour. Test for doneness by inserting a paring knife. The knife should come out completely clean. If crumbs are sticking to the knife, bake for another five minutes and test again.

When the election (cake) is (finally) finished (over), remove from oven and baste liberally (yuk, yuk) with brandy. Cool completely in tin before turning out.

You are welcome at this point to try your cake. It will be spicy and fruity and nutty and delicious.

But this cake gets even better with age.

Wrap it tightly in plastic, store on the counter, and baste with brandy every couple days. In two weeks you will be eating a little slice of heaven, like we will be eating on election night.

I have heard that this cake last for a month or more. I may make it again on Thanksgiving and take it to Christmas to see how it goes. The booze and the sugar act as preservatives.

What are you grateful for today?

The Antidote: Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

(no caption needed, is there?)
(no caption needed, is there?)

You deserve to treat yourself to something sweet.

#TreatYoSelf

Maybe it’s a Wednesday and things are a little crappy. Like maybe your teenager is having a meltdown and so are you because she is leaving for France for a year and hormones.

Or maybe it’s about to be 114 degrees and this might be the last time the oven gets used for the next week. #GlobalWarmingYall

Or maybe the circus that is the Republican National Convention makes you feel like grabbing a little sugar high. Or Rocky Mountain High because, seriously, #WhatTheFuck?

Whatever your issue. Whatever is happening.

Make THIS.

This surely is not legal in some states. There is a pound of butter in the frosting, and more sugar than you probably have in your kitchen right now in the whole cake. It takes a couple hours to make, what with the three layers (which I had to make in two pans and then one because I only have two pans, but that’s what being flexible is all about) and the filling and crumb coat  (which I will always do from now on) and the cooling and then the final frosting.

In the words of my very lucky neighbor: “This is legit.”

#YoureWelcome

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Note: Mad love to Baker By Nature from whom this recipe was adapted. I made changes to the flours, the levening agents, and added some coffee, but other than that, it’s genius all on its own. 

Ingredients

Cake:

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2  3/4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1  1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1  1/2 cups full-fat sour cream
1/3 cup whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups hot, strong brewed coffee (essential for deep chocolate flavor)

Salted caramel chocolate frosting:
2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks, 16 ounces), completely soft
4 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk, half-n-half, or heavy cream (it seriously does not matter which)
2 tablespoons salted caramel sauce (I bought a jar of Smucker’s salted caramel sauce, but you could DIY)
Assembly:
1 and 1/4 cups salted caramel sauce (please see post for more on this)
Flaky sea salt

Method

Preheat oven to 350°(F).

Grease three 9-inch cakepans (or spray with cooking spray) and line bottom with rounds of parchment paper. Grease the rounds and set pans aside. As noted above, I had to bake two layers then bake the third due to lack of a third cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (I used the whisk attachment), or in a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, combine both sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt; mix on low until dry ingredients are thoroughly combined (or just whisk well to combine, breaking up large clumps).

In a separate bowl combine the eggs, egg yolks, sour cream, milk, oil, and vanilla extract; mix until completely combined.

Pour wet mixture into the dry ingredients and beat on low until just incorporated. Pour in hot coffee and continue mixing until completely combined (about one minute).

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.

Baking times:

  • 30 minutes for regular oven
  • 25 for convection (I used convection; more even heat for baking)

Test with a wooden toothpick. Insert toothpick into the center of the cake. It should come out clean or with just a few crumbs attached.

Cool cakes for 10 minutes in the pan before removing from pans and transferring to a cooling rack. Cool cakes completely before frosting.

For the chocolate frosting:
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or again using a hand mixer), cream the softened butter until completely smooth.

Turn the mixer off and sift the powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Use a spatula to gently stir in the chocolate/sugar mixture before turning the mixer back on or you will have a fine layer of chocolate/sugar dust coating all of the surfaces of your kitchen. #LearnFromExperience

Turn the mixer on the lowest speed and mix until the chocolate/sugar has been absorbed by the butter.

Increase mixer speed to medium; add in vanilla extract, salt, whatever dairy you are using, and salted caramel. Beat for three minutes. If your frosting appears a little too thin, add a little more confectioners’ sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinner, add more dairy, one tablespoon at a time.

Assembly:
If your cake does not have a lovely flat surface, you can use a serrated knife to trim whatever is sticking up, OR you can make the top the bottom. Place one layer on a large plate or cake stand. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top, then add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of caramel and spread over the layer. Top with another cake layer, and thinly spread it with a layer of frosting, then adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of caramel. Place final cake layer on top.

At this point, if your cake is listing due to the slippery nature of caramel, inserting dowels into the cake can help.

If you are using a crumb coat, do that now.

Chill cake in the ‘fridge for one hour, then remove to finish the frosting. Sprinkle with best-quality sea salt.

Keeps in the ‘fridge for five days. It won’t last that long, but that’s the theory anyway.

 

 

Persimmon Polenta Cake With Rosemary And Lemon

Seriously, the sun-swept fields of Italy on a plate.
Seriously, the sun-swept fields of Italy on a plate.

Today, unexpectedly, a new(ish) friend told me about something traumatic happening in her family.

I was giving her a ride home, and when she strapped herself into the passenger seat of the Cube she began to talk, surprising herself, even, at what she was revealing. She apologized for laying it all out in the open.

I told her it was the Cube that had that effect, that the boxy walls and ripple pattern on the ceiling often caused The Teenager to open up. Some of our best conversations have happened in the Cube.

In fact, some of my best conversations, period, have happened in cars. It’s where it took me 30 minutes to ask for my first bra. Where I fell in love with the man I thought I was supposed to marry, and then again where I realized there was no way we could be together. And then a car brought Dane and I together when he rescued me from the body shop where my new-to-me-car was deemed dangerous to drive. He swooped me up in his tow truck, just another type of vehicle, and laughed, outraged, when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

And then a car took him. But I digress.

What struck me about my friend sharing her traumatic event (which is not mine to tell, so suffice it to say it is beyond what most of us will have to deal with in our lives) is twofold.

First, that she trusted me enough to share it. But then again I guess cars do that. You are trapped, even by your seat belt, and it’s like you have no choice.

And second, what a burden secrets are to the keeper.

We all of us walk around with secrets, large and small. Secrets we keep from others. Secrets we keep from ourselves.

So potent and powerful, this secret keeping.

My friend’s timing was, as usual, impeccable. In sharing her secret and seeming visibly relieved and unburdened, she reminded me of two things.

One: You never know what burdens other people are walking around with.

It’s easy to make so many of our daily experiences about ourselves – the unkind word, the slow driver, the glare from a stranger – but often they have nothing to do with us. We are, in truth, the center of our own universe, but the universe does not actually revolve around us.

(Get it? Revolve around us? Solar system humor).

We can cultivate a fine sense of outrage about the many things that happen to us, even when so many of them are actually happening to others on the periphery of our little world with some spilling over on us. Then we get fired up and let that interaction shape our world when, turns out…it was never about us.

Two: The time has come for me to unburden myself of my own secrets. 

Some are quite dark and have been a part of me for my entire life. Others are small, hidden creatures that just need a little light.

Shadow work, they call it. It sounds dark and hard and scary, and it is those things. It means confronting potentially the most painful things about myself, but it also means rolling them around in my hands and then letting them go. Letting them be.

Heady stuff for a Tuesday, and not quite what I expected to come out of a simple ride home.

As we were getting ready to part, my friend said in passing and in reference to my recent (welcome) onslaught of paid work that had seen me badly neglecting my unpaid work – this site, recipe development, food writing, and photography – “Yes, but you make CAKE.”

And that is exactly true.

Cake is a comfort to me, in the making, the sharing, and the eating. I love pretty much everything about cake; it may even have surpassed my love of chocolate candy, which is saying something.

There is nothing new in a polenta cake, but this one has a few special touches. I developed this the way the very best recipes are developed: by listening to the ingredients themselves in the season in which they are intended to be eaten. I bought a few fuyu persimmons at Asia Food (my favorite Asian market off York Road) and started thinking about how I might like to eat them. Raw was of course always an option, but I wanted more. A quick search led me to a recipe for blood orange upside down cake. Some tweaks to highlight the ingredients, fine-tune measurements (and get rid of some sugar), and make it gluten-free, and this is what you have. Mad props to the process in the original recipe; the inspirational recipe was lovely, and I can’t claim this as my own.

#GiveCreditWhereItsDue

I immediately shared it with another friend and made sure The Teenager had a hunk after school, but I won’t lie: I ate most of it.

This cake is for everyone out there doing the shadow work, and for my sweet friend whose world has been flipped on its head. This cake is for you.

Persimmons in cast iron - rustic as hell.
Persimmons in cast iron – rustic as hell.

A few notes before you begin:

  • Read through completely before beginning, and utilize the principles of mise en place. It will make the process much more enjoyable (in life as well as baking, if we’re being honest)
  • Dry goods are measured in grams. Otherwise, you have imprecise measurements like “six tablespoons.” But don’t worry; I have included those as well.
  • Persimmons should be ripe but not mushy. This makes them easier to peel and slice. And mandolins make slicing easier but are not 100% necessary.
  • I used grits, not “polenta.” When we lived in the south, I went searching for polenta in the grocery store one day, and the clerk looked over his glasses, down his nose, and drawled, “Y’all mean grits, raht?” If you want to save some cash, use grits. Polenta is a little finer, and it is, after all, in the title of this, but I like the slight toothiness of grits. A little crunch.

Persimmon Polenta Cake With Rosemary And Lemon

Ingredients

75 grams of sugar, plus 150 grams of sugar (6 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup)

3 tablespoons water

8 tablespoons butter (one stick), softened

3 Fuyu persimmons, ripe but firm, peeled and sliced 1/8″ thick

110 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour (regular AP works fine here, too. 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons)

45 grams polenta (or grits, y’all. 1/4 cup)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary (about 1 sprig)

zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs, separated

6 tablespoons milk

Method

Prep all ingredients first. Peel and slice persimmons, zest the lemon, finely chop the rosemary, separate eggs. The sugar is used in two separate steps, so divide it as noted.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a 10″ cast iron or ovenproof skillet, dissolve 75 grams of sugar in water and heat until the mixture becomes slightly amber in color (about five minutes). Don’t stir during this process, but feel free to give the skillet a little shake. Don’t walk away, as the change happens quickly. Once it is amber, remove from heat and stir in two tablespoons of butter until dissolve.

Arrange the peeled, sliced persimmons in a spiral pattern and then set aside while you make the cake.

Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl: flour, polenta, salt, baking powder, chopped rosemary and lemon zest.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, remaining sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Mix in one egg yolk at a time. Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients, starting with dry. Mix until just combined, then add milk, then dry, then milk, then dry.

In a medium bowl with absolutely clean and dry beaters, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. They will be shiny and hold a stiff peak.

In three additions, fold the egg whites gently into the batter. The batter will be thicker than a regular cake batter.

Pour over your persimmons in the skillet, then spread evenly with a spatula.  Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. This is a large range because ovens vary so much. Start peeking in at around 30 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean, and the top is a lovely brown (just past golden).

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, then loosen around edges with a sharp knife. Place a platter or plate on top of the skillet, then carefully invert. If any persimmons have move or look wonky, replace them, then cool completely before serving.

For me, this serves four. But that’s because I ate it for breakfast, a snack around three, and then again after dinner. And I let my kid have some.

For most other people, this serves 8-10.