January 31, 2016

Last flight out of Seattle

Anybody else have a shitty week last week? Are you in need of an enormous distraction, a xanax, a martini the size of your head?

Great. Let’s look at a photo of maple sticky buns together.

That’s a little better. 

But maybe we need to really get in there.

January 24, 2016

Bring me back

Here is a simple stunner of a cake. A blood-orange and Meyer-lemon-from-my-tree cake. A glistening, inverted, candied-orange-and-cornmeal to rescue you from the doldrums of winter (or work, or your laundry, or any manner of things you might like to avoid today) cake. 

I’ve been missing you and missing this space, and I’m hoping to make time for both this year. But I won’t make any promises, because I’m convinced that it will curse me, binding me to a blogless, readerless (cakeless) fate forevermore. Remember these recipe resolutions, for example?! No, you wouldn't. It was a year ago. [Horrified cat emoji, here.] 

So I won’t promise. But I will try.

For one thing, this cake is doing its part to bring me back. It has been floating around in my mind for five years or more. I first encountered something like it at Piccino Coffee Bar, a tiny alcove of a cafe in the once-rough (now rapidly gentrifying) Dogpatch. I worked a block away when I met this sunshiney cake: cornmeal-flecked, lacquered with a translucent, drip-down-the-sides glaze, and gluten free. Perfect 3 pm fare. 

Perfect “I can’t look at my computer for another second. Why did I think a desk job was a good idea?” fare.

The cake was there for me. I offer it to you today, as a gentle reprieve or a siren of rescue. (You decide.)

If you’re on the East Coast, I believe you may need a little sunshine, because the MTA has shut down in New York, there are multiple inches of snow on your curbs, and you’re likely apartment-bound. I used to dream of days like this as a New York City kid, doomed as I was to a childhood without snow days. Maybe you’re skipping in time, making circles ‘round your postage-stamp-sized apartment, or binge-watching Jane the Virgin (highly recommend), or tucking into a hypnotic urban tale like Open City (highly recommend, too). Or, maybe you’re stir crazy and could use a little baking and eating time.

Whatever the case, let this citrus beauty be your sunlight guide.

Blood Orange Polenta Cake
Adapted from Pink Patisserie, who adapted it from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

This is a moist cornmeal cake with barely any flour (6 tablespoons). I bet it could be easily adapted to become totally gluten free. The orange blossom water, though a scant offering in comparison to the other ingredients, perfumes the whole cake and makes it otherworldly. I love orange blossom water. I can still see the dusty glass jar of it that my Lebanese aunt kept in a low cupboard in her compact kitchen. It makes magic with whatever it meets. Try this brand. It's Lebanese.

Semi-Candied Citrus
2 blood oranges (or navel)
1 Meyer lemon (or regular)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
14 tablespoons butter (just under two sticks), softened
1 cup granulated sugar
Zest from 1 orange and 1 lemon
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
2 1/2 cups almond meal, gently packed
3/4 cups medium cornmeal

Slice the 2 blood oranges and the 1 Meyer lemon about 1/8–1/4 inch thick. In a large pot, combine 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water, and heat over medium until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the citrus slices and allow mixture to simmer for about 15 minutes. The citrus will soften and become malleable.

Remove the slices from the sugar syrup and set aside on a plate or a sheet of parchment. Reserve the sugar syrup to brush the cake with after its baked.

While the citrus is simmering, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and prepare the cake batter.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs and incorporate completely. Add the citrus zest and the orange blossom water and combine. Now, add the almond meal, cornmeal, and remaining dry ingredients and combine just until the ingredients are incorporated. Don't over-mix.

Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment. Arrange the citrus slices decoratively on the bottom of the pan, overlapping them slightly, and going just barely up the sides. 

Spoon the batter (it will be thick) into the cake pan, directly on top of the citrus slices. Smooth with the back of the spoon or a spatula to distribute evenly. Bake on a baking sheet for 50–60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Allow the cake to rest in the pan for 10 minutes. Then, place a plate or cake stand onto the surface of the cake, and gently but confidently turn it over. Remove the pan first, then peel away the parchment. Brush some of the remaining sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to cool completely before serving.