July 19, 2012

On Friends, Marriage, and Warm Nights

Last I was here I was reminiscing about gazpacho soup and forging my way toward an homage to my sister. Now, as I knew it would, the weather has turned, and it is cold and foggy, with no thoughts of cold soup to return to. We are heading into a true San Francisco summer. I left the house this morning in a plaid wool coat and I thought, even, about pulling on my old leather gloves. The resistance that one feels in these momentsbut it's July, my mind cries out to itselfis tempered only by the shivers and visible breaths that one sees in the early morning light. By noon or so, the fog may burn off and if we're lucky we will have a couple hours of sunshineif we're lucky. 

I've been gone for a couple of weeks and during part of it I was at the wedding of an old college friend. It was lovely. Gathered together in an old farmhouse in the Berkshires were my oldest friends and Iwe spent long nights on blankets outside, playing the guitar, telling stories, laughing as I haven't laughed in years. My friends said that it seemed to them that I was backback from a long slumber, the depressive kind in which, without even knowing it, one marches through life in a sort of haze, forgetting how to laugh in that doubled-over sort of way, forgetting how to savor life's enjoyments: jokes, meals, the sort of banter and sweet teasing that one does, and perhaps can only do, with ones very closest of friends. I miss them so much already. If we could all have moved right into that farmhouse, I think we would have. But we boarded planes and got into cars and went to bus stations at the end of it, and we parted ways with happy minds and clenched throats, saying to ourselves and one another, until the next time.

So now, as I return to my normal life and as I return to this little blog, I want to dedicate this cake, that one up there in the photograph, to that lovely group of women (and of course to that very special friend-in-law too, who manages to ride the waves of girl talk with grace and humor and pitch-perfect sarcasm). Each of you is as dear to me as my own blood family, and I hope you know it. I wish we could be eating this cake together, on that back porch, between belly laughs and inappropriate jokes.

The cake is a good one. It's majestic and regal, but also simple and unfussycan you tell by now that that's my favorite combination of things in a dessert? It calls out with the essence of summer, which, though far off by now in our San Francisco chill, is still with me in my heart. It's the kind of thing you want to eat out of doors, with a large, boisterous group, with some sips of a lemonade in between, or a glass of chilled champagne; it wants you to be happy, this cakejust try to make it, just try to gulp down spoonfuls of whipped cream and mountainous blackberries, and just try, when you do, to tell this thing that you are sad. The cake mocks you. The cake stares you down and says: be cheerful, damn it, it's summertime. 

I hope you all enjoy it too. I hope that, wherever you are, and in whatever throws of life and circumstance, in whatever season, that you can find some bit of summertime in your soul. Lap it up. Like all good things, it's fleeting but beautiful.

AND, a most heartfelt congratulations to Amanda and Gerythe loveliest of couples, to whom I wish an infinite and boundless array of happy moments, laughter, and love. You are both so beautiful and your love and support for one another gives hope to us all. May your marriage be full of warm summer nights and cake to make you smile.

Orange Yogurt Cake with Blackberries and Cream
(Serves a boisterous group of the greatest of friends)

This cake is adapted from many sources. I first found the inspiration for it here (a good place to find inspiration, by the way), in the form of a link to this cake. This was the first seed of the idea—something light and airy with berries and cream sandwiched between. I happened to have three 1/2 pints of blackberries in my fridge (let’s call this inspiration number 2). I then went on a quest for the right sort of cake that would serve as the layers, into which I would arrange those blackberries and dollop thick cream. I checked with Julia, and I googled around a bit, and ended back at Orangette, reading with glee and relief this amazingly easy recipe for a French Yogurt Cake with Lemon (inspiration number 3). This I adapted by replacing the lemon with orange (the fourth, and mostly final, inspiration). You can discover the rest of what took place below. Happy baking, friends.

For the cake:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/2 cup canola oil
Pinch of salt

Orange syrup for between layers:
Juice of one medium to large orange (sorry, I didn't measure)
1/8 cup powdered sugar

For the filling and icing:
1 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 pints blackberries washed and thoroughly dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs until thoroughly mixed. Add the flour, baking powder, orange zest, and a pinch of salt, and stir to combine. Add the oil and stir until the batter comes together and is smooth and silky.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the original recipe calls for 30-35 minutes, but I found my cake took closer to 55 minutes; I would begin testing it at 40 and watch it closely from there).

Cool the cake in the pan for 20-30 minutes and then turn out onto a baking rack and allow it to cool completely. 

Once the cake has cooled, you may prepare the layers: First, trim the top of the cake so that each layer will lay flat. What was once the top, will become the bottom of the cake. Next, with a large serrated knife, make several score marks all around the edge halfway up the cake, to mark where you will need to cut it in half (this acts as your guide). With your knife, and following your marks, cut the cake in half into two even layers. Set each layer on waxed paper with the cut side facing up. 

In a small bowl, mix together the orange juice and powdered sugar to form a thin syrup. Place the bottom layer on the plate or serving dish that you wish to serve the cake on. 

Brush the orange syrup onto the cut side of each layer, or spoon over. Just moisten the cake slightly with this, you don't want to soak it (you will have leftover syrup).

In a medium bowl, whip the cream with the sugar until you have a stiff whipped cream. 

Onto the bottom layer, spread a layer of the whipped cream, staying within an inch of the outer rim of the cake all around. Arrange a layer of blackberries on top of the cream (they should be close together, but not touching). Dollop heavy cream on top of the blackberries. 

Place the other cake layer on top of this (cut side down) and press it gently to secure it. Add a generous amount of whipped cream to the center of the cake and spread it over the surface, again keeping the cream within 1/2 to 1 inch from the outer edge of the cake. Mound some blackberries on top of the whipped cream, in the center of the cake, and garnish with orange zest. 

Consume immediately. Any leftovers will need to be refrigeratedand the cake even gets better the second day.

Me and the girls, yucking it up.

The beautiful bride. Sadly I don't have any photos of the bride and groom
together, but he was dashing, I assure you.