Tourte de Brandade, or Salt Cod Tart

Seattle may spend eight months out of twelve under cloudy skies, but come summer, it puts on its sunscreen and pulls out all the stops. There are countless concerts and block parties and festivals here and there, including the seemingly never-ending SeaFair, with its deafening air shows, hydroplane races, and—because every port city needs a few—professional pirates. That said, however, the only local summer event that gets a dedicated slot on my calendar is—all apologies, dear reader—invitation-only. But if you drive around a certain part of western Washington on a certain Sunday and happen to spot a homemade sign featuring a cotton-ball-clad lamb, well, follow the arrow, and you’ll too find yourself at the Knight family lamb roast.

It was a good thing that Kate and I had recently relieved her family’s garden of some of its burden, because it would soon fill again with an onslaught of edibles, this time including a homegrown lamb on a spit, platters full of dolmas, four pans of baklava, three coolers of beer, two bottles of ouzo, and a few dozen assorted friends and family.

I arrived a little after one with an armload of my own, balancing a tourte de brandade and two plates of brownies*. It was still quiet—no one would arrive until after three—and walking in from the street felt like descending into another element, with the garden spilling out at my side, chickens clucking somewhere around the corner, and at the end of the driveway, the house tucked deep under the trees. The yard was in full bloom, with tomatoes of every shape and size, lettuces, Romano beans, herbs, potatoes, corn, and carrots, not to mention a gnarly swath of raspberry bushes, beds of dahlias and daisies, and pear, plum, and apple trees. And between a trellis of beans and the garage, the lamb, aptly dubbed “Briquette,” spun quietly over the coals in time to twangy country music playing from a nearby radio.

With the smell of so much meat in the air, it wouldn’t be quiet for long. Guests trickled in, bearing swim suits and bowls full of food, and while Briquette bronzed, they worked up an appetite in the lake, splashing around on surfboards and in sailboats. Meanwhile, I whet my own with a few sips of ouzo—and began planting the seeds for a slow but steady movement toward the groaning buffet tables.
There, under the shade by the side of the house, bowls of pasta salad jostled with pickled vegetables, which butted up against roasted beets with fresh herbs, noodles, heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, hummus, olives, Vietnamese pancakes filled with ground meat and bean sprouts, baskets full of litchis, pies, plum puddings, compotes, and cookies. And then, of course, there was the lamb, rich and earthy and ringed with fat from seven months of grazing on lush local grass.

We dispersed ourselves around the yard, sitting on the ground or leaning here and there, balancing paper plates on our knees and fending off the chickens, who’d been, much to their delight, liberated from the hen house to root in the loose dirt of the garden. And there was more ouzo, and soon that happy stupor that follows anticipation. There’s a strange, delicious limbo zone one enters after this kind of feasting, when the mind and the senses are both quieted and sharpened, slow but nimble.

Down by the water, Kate slid the sailboat out for one more go before nightfall, and before anyone could wake to the end of summer, I snuck away with my dirty plates, my skin still warm from the sun.

*Recipe forthcoming.
[And special thanks to Robert Hass for the cribbed title of this post, which comes from one of my favorite poems, "Meditation at Lagunitas."]

Tourte de Brandade, or Salt Cod TartAdapted from Saveur

When I announced that I’d be bringing a Provençal salt cod tart, Kate responded with resounding approval—that’s my girl!—even though she’d never tasted brandade, or a mousse of salt cod, olive oil, garlic, and cream. True, it may sound a bit odd—off-putting, even—but once tasted, you won’t think twice. Brandade is rich, garlicky stuff, creamy and savory, the flavor of the cod having been tempered and soothed by salting and drying. The mousse is spread atop a layer of slow-simmered tomato sauce inside a puff-pastry shell, and when baked, it puffs lightly and turns a gorgeous shade of gold. Best served when still warm, it is also perfectly delectable at room temperature—terrific picnic, or lamb roast, fare.

1 ½ Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus ¾ cup, warm
1 small yellow onion, peeled and minced
3 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
Leaves of 2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
A pinch of sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ lb boneless, skinless dried salt cod, soaked overnight in abundant water, drained, rinsed, and cubed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 ½ Tbs heavy cream
3 Tbs crème fraîche
1 large egg
1 sheet puff pastry, such as Dufour

Heat 1 ½ Tbs olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook until soft. Add half the garlic and the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the sauce until it is as thick as a paste, about 40-45 minutes. Discard the bay leaf, and set the sauce aside.

While the tomato sauce cooks, bring a medium pot of water to a boil; remove it from the heat, and add the cod. Cover the pot, and let it rest for 7 minutes. Drain the cod into a colander or sieve; then transfer it to a food processor. Add the remaining garlic, and process to combine. With the motor still running, gradually add ¾ cup warm olive oil through the feed tube in the processor lid; then add the cream. Adjust the seasonings with salt. Transfer the mousse to a bowl, and stir in the crème fraîche and the egg. Set it aside.

Put a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll the puff pastry out on a floured surface to a large, 1/16”-thick round. Fit the pastry into a removable bottom tart pan (the original recipe calls for an 11” pan, but I used a 9” with no problems), and trim the edges. Prick the pastry all over with a fork; cover it with plastic wrap; and chill it for 30 minutes.
Remove the tart shell from the fridge, and spread the tomato sauce in a thin but thorough layer over the bottom (you may have some sauce left over); then cover it with the salt cod mixture. Bake the tart on the pizza stone until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Serve warm.

oached Halibut with Sweet Garlic, Parsley, and Lemon

Alright, people. I know what you’re thinking. Man, Molly’s sure been sucking down the butter these days. How about those fritters? Did Orangette get sponsored by a cardiologist or something? By all appearances, it’s been a regular fat fest at my place lately, with lipids on parade and Dessert Day everyday. But at the risk of silencing the ole Brown Butter Marching Band, I just want you to know—lest you should worry—that I have also been eating other things. In fact, just like Mom taught me, I can’t have dessert until I finish my dinner. My palate and I are very well trained.
And lucky for us, it’s May. The farmers’ markets are returning like so many migrating birds, staking out territory all over town. There are early baby greens and little pots of herbs to take home for planting. There are bundles of asparagus, piles of artichokes, and heads of cauliflower the size of softballs, curled into neat green bonnets of leaves. And then there is the sign of spring in Seattle—right up there, in my opinion, with Copper River salmon, cherry blossoms, and entire days of sunlight: the full-scale arrival of fresh Alaskan halibut. Even the janky grocery store in front of my apartment gets in on the excitement, unfurling a garish plastic sign that screams, “Alaskan Halibut is Here!” I mean to tell you, I love May.
To me, May means a welcome invitation to stop fussing with my food. For as much as I love winter’s languid braises and slow bakes, by the time spring rolls around, it’s a relief to sit down to a steamed artichoke, period, with maybe a pot of melted butter or homemade mayonnaise. Give me a spring salad, a fresh egg softly boiled, or a heel of coarse bread with butter, salt, and radishes. Or, in the case of this week, put me in front of the stove with a pan of water, garlic, and parsley, and hand me a piece of halibut.

Until a few nights ago, I never would have imagined myself stumping for poached fish, a concept that, for me at least, conjures up visions of pale, pasty, sickly-looking protein, sucked dry—perhaps vampire-style—of all color and nutrients. But this method, from Italy by way of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, has convinced me otherwise. It begins with a skillet of water seasoned with salt, crushed whole garlic cloves, and branches of Italian parsley, and it ends with a plump, snowy-fleshed piece of halibut, silky and fragrant. Along the way, the water is transformed into a salty, herbal broth—like seawater, but better—which infuses the fish and coaxes out its clean, sweet flavor. The garlic softens and mellows, ceding its sharp bite for round edges, winding itself gently around the fish and following it to the plate. Finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a slip of olive oil, this is no cafeteria-style fish. It’s more like spring in piscine form—and a very good prelude to dessert.

Poached Halibut with Sweet Garlic, Parsley, and Lemon
Adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Weeknight Kitchen newsletter

The key to this preparation is Freshness, with a capital F. This dish is built to showcase the clean, delicate flavor of fresh fish and nothing less. Ask your local fishmonger—or even the fish guy at the grocery store, if that’s your best option—when he gets his deliveries, and save this recipe for those days. If you are in Seattle, get yourself—quickly!—over to Wild Salmon Seafood Market, where the fishmongers know their business and get halibut, fresh off the boats, once or twice a day. Likewise, make sure that you use a good, fresh head of garlic: there should be no green shoots poking from the top, and each clove should feel smooth, solid, and not the least bit spongy. And be sure to use an olive oil that, as Rossetto Kasper says, you would want to eat from a spoon. From there, it’s hard to go wrong.

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
8 branches Italian parsley
1 tsp salt
2 (~6-oz.) halibut fillets, skin removed, or another firm, white-fleshed fish such as cod, tilapia, or catfish
Additional Italian parsley branches, for garnish
2-4 juicy lemon wedges, for garnish
Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Place the garlic, Italian parsley, and salt in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan. Add water to a depth of about 2 inches. Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 5 minutes. It should smell very fragrant.

Meanwhile, measure the thickness of the halibut fillets. They will cook for 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

When the poaching liquid is ready, slip the fillets gently into the pan. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes per inch, adjusting the heat so that the liquid just trembles: it should only bubble a little, and very gently. To test the fish for doneness, make a small slit with a paring knife in the thickest part of the fillet: all but the very center of each piece should be opaque.

When each fillet is ready, use a slotted spatula to transfer it to a serving plate. Garnish the plates with sprigs of Italian parsley and lemon wedges. Serve immediately, allowing each eater to season their fish at the table with olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly squeezed lemon.

Bouchons au Thon

My French host mother was tall, trim, and proper, with a sing-song voice and a name that skipped and chimed and rang off the tongue. She moved through the house as though on pointe—softly but decisively—and she wore silver bracelets that clicked delicately against each other when she lifted her hand to secure the barrettes in her long brown hair. She was also very Catholic, with four children, ages 9 to 17; a Labrador puppy; and a husband who’d gone—or rather, all but moved—to Canada to find work. It was complicated and exhausting. She did an admirable job, and she often fell asleep in the bathtub after dinner. But most importantly, dear reader, my host mother was the French equivalent of a Tupperware saleswoman. She tested, cooked in, and sold Flexipan and Silpat products, those fantastic (and fantastically expensive) silicone baking pans, molds, and sheets. I was lucky enough to live under her roof—and within close proximity to her kitchen—for six months. You can well imagine the glory that might have been, had I not taken down the crucifix she’d hung on my bedroom wall.

I arrived that fall, barely twenty-one, deep in my smoky-black eye makeup phase—an era that hasn’t yet ended, actually—and with the short, spiky hair I wore throughout college. I was also a pseudo vegetarian, which threw more than a few grains of sand into the gears of her well-oiled kitchen routine. But she sensed that I was only slightly heretical and very eager to please—still my greatest weakness, I’ll freely admit—and so she took me on, gently correcting my French, delivering clean sheets to my door with admirable regularity, and teaching me how to eat. I arrived a somewhat calculating eater, well-schooled in nutrition and suspecting that butterfat was the devil’s work, and I left smuggling aged chèvres and mimolette in my suitcase.

Each weeknight at eight I’d climb the stairs to the second-floor kitchen and join my squealing pre-teen host brothers (Ta gueule! Casse-toi! (Shut up! Get the hell out of here!)) and catty teenage host sisters (Ta jupe est moche, tu sais? (Your skirt is ugly, you know?)) at the table. We’d begin with a simple grated carrot or beet salad, or half a grapefruit. The boys might argue over the warm steamed leeks with vinaigrette, each wanting the sweet white part closest to the root. Then, depending on the season, we’d move on to a gruyère soufflé; pasta with a sauce of tuna, chopped tomatoes, and sautéed onions; or tartiflette, a wintery baked casserole of potatoes, lardons (absent from my half of the dish, merci), and rich Reblochon cheese from Savoie. It was at that table that I first ate sauerkraut and learned of the nightly cheese plate, stinky and irresistible, with hunks of baguette from the boulangerie next door. And of course there was always dessert: homemade applesauce, a grandmother-style apple or pear cake, or in January, a galette des rois.

At least one night each week we’d have a “Flexipan dinner,” a meal centered on a recipe that my host mother was testing in her silicone molds. Her individual tartlets of caramelized endive with goat cheese were staggeringly good, as was the almost-flourless chocolate cake, which quickly became a staple. But my favorite were the squatty, ugly, and completely delicious bouchons au thon (literally, tuna corks), a mixture of canned tuna, tomato paste, crème fraîche, gruyère, and eggs, baked in muffin molds.

With a texture somewhere between the filling of a quiche and freshly-made country paté, the bouchons tamed the flat, fishy pungency of canned tuna with the smooth richness of dairy and the sweetness of tomato. I gave thanks daily for all that Flexipan brought to my life, but mainly for bouchons au thon.

And as luck would have it, that spring, when my host mother went to visit her husband in Canada, she left me and my youngest host sister alone with a freezer blessedly full of bouchons. Seizing the opportunity, I invited my brand-new French boyfriend over for a dinner of the little tuna corks, roasted vegetables, carefully selected cheeses, crispy-crusted baguettes, and oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. It was a pure, starry-eyed triumph all around, right through to the next morning, and frankly, I credit the bouchons. I also credit them with earning me, upon my host mother’s return, my first and only “Molly, ce n’est pas un hôtel!” (Molly, this is not a hotel!) speech. I was almost as horrified as she was; apparently I was more heretical than even I’d known.

And it was only the beginning, in so many ways.
When I flew back to the States one painful month later, I tucked the recipe for bouchons au thon in with the contraband cheese.

Bouchons au Thon
Adapted from Demarle, Inc., and my host mother

These bouchons—a crustless tuna quiche of sorts, I suppose—are delicious warm or at room temperature, with a green salad and a good baguette.

180 grams canned tuna in water (preferably chunk light), drained
3 Tbs tomato paste
5 Tbs crème fraîche
3 large eggs
1 cup finely grated gruyère cheese
2 Tbs finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
¼ cup minced onion

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and spray 8 wells of a muffin tin with cooking spray (unless, of course, you have a silicone muffin mold, in which case no greasing is necessary). [I've also baked the batter in a single 7-inch silicone cake mold, which essentially negates the name "bouchon" but makes for a nice variation.]

In a medium bowl, break up the tuna with a fork, smashing it to a rough paste. Add the tomato paste, crème fraîche, eggs, gruyère, a good pinch of salt, Italian parsley, and onion, and mix well. The batter should be relatively smooth.

Spoon the batter evenly into 8 wells of the muffin tin, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until set and golden around the edges. [If you choose to use a 7-inch mold as mentioned above, the baking time will be longer; bake until the batter looks set and does not jiggle.]

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

I’m writing this from Oklahoma City, from my old bedroom in my mother’s house, where I used to, as a teenager, write gushy poems about 18-year-old boys with sideburns. I had a real thing for 18-year-old boys with sideburns. I don’t anymore.

I now have a thing for whiskey-soaked dark chocolate Bundt cakes. They hold their liquor better. Among other things.

I can’t talk for long today, because we arrived in Oklahoma around ten o’clock last night and then stayed up too late talking, so I’m tired. I still can’t believe that we even got here, given how snowed-under Seattle is right now. The day before we left, we watched people snowboard down the hill on 65th Street in Ballard. On the way to the airport, we passed a guy on cross-country skis, making his way slowly, cheerfully, up the road. It was all pretty dreamy, really, so long as you didn’t have anywhere important to be. Like the airport, for example, or your mother’s house in Oklahoma. The fact that our flight even left SeaTac yesterday was, we decided, our Christmas miracle. So I think I should keep this short today, and get back to appreciating that miracle by crawling under the covers in my old bed.

But before I do that, I wanted to make sure that you had this Bundt cake recipe. If you haven’t yet had your Christmas miracle, well, ta daaa! Here it is.

I am not, under ordinary circumstances, a great fan of alcoholic desserts. Many of them seem to involve Amaretto, and I just don’t like it. This admission makes me sound sort of boring and unfun, I know, as though I sit around on Saturday nights and read the Oxford English Dictionary with a magnifying glass, but I say it so that you will understand how special this particular alcoholic dessert is. I am a great, great fan of this Bundt cake, or boozy cake, as I like to call it. You have to pronounce that as one word: not boozy cake, but boozycake. Just so you know.

The recipe comes from the New York Times, from an article by Melissa Clark that ran about three weeks ago. It’s a riff on an old Maida Heatter recipe, a rich, dark chocolate cake punched up with not only a quarter-cup of instant espresso, but an entire cup, a cup, ONE CUP, of whiskey. It has a soft, moist, tightly woven crumb, and it makes the kitchen smell very sophisticated, like winter and warmth and the dinner parties my parents used to throw when I was little, after they put me to bed. It smells very chocolatey and very boozy. Because it is very boozy. The night I made it, I cut a slice while it was still a bit warm, and eating it, standing over the kitchen counter, I actually felt a little woozy. And no, I did not intend to make that rhyme. Although once I saw it happening, I didn’t exactly stop it, either.

If you can, try to make this cake a day before you want to serve it, to allow the flavors to mellow and meld. On the first day, the flavor of the alcohol threatens to drown out the chocolate, but after a little overnight rest, they reach a sort of compromise, complementing each other instead of competing, the deep darkness of the chocolate rising to meet the heady afterburn of the whiskey. If you, like us, haven’t trimmed your tree yet, this would be just the kind of thing for that, for eating with one hand while you hang ornaments with the other. To add to the festive feeling, you could even turn on that old Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album, the one that came out in 1984 and that my family continues to trot out every single December. If you eat enough boozy cake, the synthesizers might actually sound kind of nice. Imagine that! What a cake.

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake
Adapted from The New York Times

I used St. George whiskey for this recipe, but next time, I think I would use bourbon. Whatever you choose, be sure to use something that you like to drink on its own; its flavor is the real centerpiece here.

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
¼ cup instant espresso powder
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup bourbon, rye, or other whiskey, plus more for sprinkling
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a 10-cup-capacity Bundt pan (or two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans).

In a heatproof bowl set over – but not touching – a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate until just smooth, stirring occasionally. Let cool.

Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Stir until the powders dissolve. Add the whiskey and salt. Let cool.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar, and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

With the mixer on low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with the whiskey mixture. It may seem like there is too much liquid, but don’t worry; it’s okay. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes for a Bundt pan. (Loaf pans will take less time; start checking them after 55 minutes.)

Transfer the cake, still in its pan, to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey. (I did this by pouring a little bit into a teaspoon, and then shaking the teaspoon over the cake. I’m guessing that I used 3 teaspoons’ worth in all.) Cool completely before serving, garnished with confectioners’ sugar, if you like.

Note: This cake tastes even better on the second day, when the intensity of the alcohol mellows a little bit.

Sweet Potato Pound Cake

I would like to sit down here today and write as though everything were normal, as though I were actually capable of forming complete sentences. But the truth is, I am an absolute maniac. Tomorrow is the official release date for my book, a day that I never really trusted would come, and I feel alternately so ecstatic and so freaked out that I can’t decide whether I need to run around the block a few dozen times or lie down for a nap. In the meantime, I will eat some sweet potato pound cake. As you can see, that’s been my fallback position for a few days now.

Many of you have written already(!) to say that you have the book in your hands, and that you’ve started to read and cook from it, and I want to thank you for that. Thank you. I wouldn’t have written the thing at all if it weren’t for you, and I mean it. I hope that, if you can, you will come out and let me shake your hand and thank you in person. I’ll be looking for you.

To those of you in the Seattle area: I will be at University Book Store tomorrow night - Tuesday, March 3 - at 7:00 pm. I’m baking some coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache for the occasion, and as an added bonus, I will probably be blushing uncontrollably through the entire evening. It’s a show you don’t want to miss. (4326 University Way NE)

To those in the Portland area: I will be at Powell’s this Friday, March 6, at 7:30 pm. I can’t guarantee any macaroons, but I will no doubt still be blushing. (1005 W. Burnside)
I think that’s all for now. I anticipate that I won’t be able to post much for the next couple of weeks, but I will stop by to remind you of where I’ll be, and when, and at what time, and whatnot.

And when I get back, I’ll have a new Delancey update for you. Last week, the wood-burning oven arrived - that’s the first step in building the kitchen - and it’s beautiful. It weighs 3,600 pounds. Its arrival heralded two days of sweat, heavy lifting, and cement-mixing for Brandon, and for me, a few rolls of film and an early morning in my pajamas, helping to move it into position in the soon-to-be kitchen with the help of a plastic protractor, masking tape, and a cart that vaguely resembled a handtruck on steroids. Needless to say, I have some photographs for you. Although none of them feature my pajamas, so don’t get your hopes up.

Until then, be well, bake yourself some sweet potato pound cake, and thank you, always, for being here.

Sweet Potato Pound Cake
Adapted from Southern Cakes, by Nancie McDermott

I was introduced to this cake by my friend Shari, who co-curates the inspiring site this joy+ride. (That’s me in the current issue, #12. Thank you, sweet Shari.) She not only gave me the cookbook that contains this recipe, but she also posted an enticing photo of it on Flickr the other day. She has never led me astray in anything, so I took the hint. I immediately flipped on the oven and pulled some butter out of the fridge, and I suggest that you do the same.

This cake is perfect for late winter: moist, fragrant, warmly spiced, with a flavor a little bit like – and I mean this in a very good way – a spice doughnut. Or maybe an applesauce doughnut. In short, I am going to be making it for a long, long time. You can roast, peel, and mash the sweet potatoes ahead of time, and from there, the cake comes together fairly quickly and easily. The recipe comes with an optional buttermilk glaze, which I used and liked very much, but you could go either way. The glaze is mainly for added flavor and moisture: in my experience, it isn’t one of those types that sits prettily atop the cake, but rather soaks in like a syrup. The overall effect was dangerous. I think I ate about five slices on Saturday. Consider that a warning.

For the cake:
3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp. salt
½ cup milk (low-fat is okay)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes

For the buttermilk glaze (optional):
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup sugar
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch or flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. (If your pan is nonstick, you can get away with just some cooking spray; no need to flour.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk well. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sweet potatoes, and mix until the batter is combined. (The batter may look terrible at this point: curdled, weird, terrible. Don’t worry.) With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Beat to just incorporate. Then add half of the milk mixture, and continue to beat on low until well blended. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, and beat on low until the batter is thick and smooth.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the cake, and then carefully invert it onto the rack.

Meanwhile, make the glaze, if using. In a medium saucepan, combine the buttermilk, sugar, butter, cornstarch, and baking soda. Place it over medium heat, and bring it just to a gentle boil. Immediately remove it from the heat, stir well, and set it aside to cool to room temperature. Add the vanilla, and stir well.

Set the wire rack - with the cake atop it - over a rimmed sheet pan. Spoon the glaze through a fine-mesh sieve over the warm cake. (I recommend using a sieve because my batch of glaze had some little gelatinous bits of clumped cornstarch in it.)

Cool completely before serving.

Sour Cream-Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache Glaze

Like so many others who love the warmth of the stove, I once thought that I wanted to be a chef. One of my half-brothers had gone to cooking school, so it seemed only natural. Never mind the fact that said half-brother does the least amount of cooking of anyone in our family; chefdom was clearly in my blood. To test my reasoning, I took an internship one summer at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, the city’s oldest, most well-known vegetarian restaurant and the birthplace of several celebrated cookbooks. I knew next to nothing about restaurant kitchens, much less that I would be told to “fire” this or that, slice onions as “thin as an angel’s eyelash,” or distinguish among three different types of Champagne vinegar. Suffice it to say that though I was only there two days a week for a month or two, I learned more than I’d ever expected—namely, that a commercial kitchen wasn’t for me. I found that I missed the very thing that had drawn me to the stove in the first place: the human element of cooking and eating, the direct link between preparing food and sharing it, face to face, with people I care about. It didn’t feel right to plate a dish and watch it disappear into the faceless unknown with a waiter whose name I couldn’t remember. Forget this back-of-the-house business; I wanted my house, where the dining room and the kitchen were one.

That said, however, I did come away from Greens with one promising discovery: a mysterious thing called pastry arts. My favorite task at Greens had been plating desserts, from individual ginger crunch cakes with seasonal fruit to homemade ice creams, and I began to wonder if life as a pastry chef wouldn’t suit me pretty well. It somehow seemed gentler, more touchy-feely, and, well, sweeter—that is, until I realized that it would entail a bit more hardcore complexity than I’d bargained for. My dessert aesthetic was rustic comfort, not chocolate spray guns and sugar sculptures. Though spun-sugar cages are very pretty, I’d probably have to be locked up in one before I’d enjoy making them. What’s more, there was the specter of repetition: I worried that making the same items over and over, day in and day out, would destroy any sense of adventure or enjoyment I had. So with no small amount of disappointment, I left my chef plans, pastry and otherwise, for someone with more bravery and stamina, and instead here I am, writing my way around the kitchen.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when last week I found myself going downright pastry-artsy on banana cakes. Talk about repetition: I baked three of the things—each a slight variation on the other—within the span of four days. The frenzy was sparked by a dinner party Friday night, to which I’d brought an impromptu, seemingly simple creation: a single-layer banana cake with a chocolate ganache glaze. Though delicious, it was dense and a bit rubbery, more bread than cake. I was outraged. I had gorgeous photos of the thing,

but it was an inferior specimen; I wasn't happy to share it with anyone, much less with you, discerning reader.

So I put aside my usual evening plans—watching old episodes of Sex and the City and sobbing whenever something perfect happens; you see, my nights generally are not too saucy—and instead I baked banana cakes until I got one right. I’m no pastry chef, but I tweaked and tasted, from all-purpose to cake flour, buttermilk to sour cream, baking powder to soda, recipe to recipe. At one point, I even contemplated getting a chocolate spray gun for further ammunition. And when, with much rejoicing, I finally found the ultimate cake, I quite nearly made a spun-sugar cage to crown my humble masterpiece. I almost reconsidered cooking school. But instead, I decided to cut to the chase and just hurry up and start sharing.

Sour Cream-Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache GlazeAdapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking

This cake is remarkably moist and banana-y, but unlike banana breads, it has a light, fine crumb. Dusted with powdered sugar, it might well be the ultimate in comfort food, but the dark chocolate ganache lends a bit of sophistication.

For the cake:2 cups sifted cake flour
¾ cup plus 2 Tbs sugar (I used fine-grained unrefined cane sugar, which worked fine)
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 large ripe bananas (about 225 grams, peeled)
½ cup sour cream (not low- or non-fat)
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
10 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the ganache:¾ cup heavy cream
8 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate (I used El Rey 58%), finely chopped
1 Tbs rum

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with cooking spray, line the base with a round of parchment paper, and spray the parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a food processor, purée the banana and sour cream until completely smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla, and process briefly to combine. The puréed mixture will be light yellow and quite loose.

Add the softened butter and about ½ of the puréed mixture to the dry ingredients in the bowl. Beat to combine on low speed; then increase the speed and beat for about 90 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and add the rest of the purée, beating to combine well. The batter will be light tan in color and should be smooth and creamy.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and dry. Remove the cake from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and then remove the other rim of the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, and carefully remove the base of the pan and the parchment paper. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When it is cool, begin the ganache. Put the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a near boil in small saucepan. When it is steaming well, remove it from the heat, and pour it over the chocolate in the bowl. Stir or whisk until most of the chocolate is melted; then cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir or whisk gently until the mixture is completely smooth. Stir in the rum. Let the ganache stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the cooled cake and its wire rack onto a rimmed baking sheet, and slowly pour the ganache over the cake, using an icing spatula or long, flat knife to spread and smooth it across the top and down the sides. [Scrape excess ganache off of the baking sheet for reusing, if you like. You will likely only need to use about 1/3 of the ganache for one cake; the rest will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or frozen for up to 3 months. Soften or melt before using.] Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for at least a half hour before serving.

Red-Grape-and-Almond Butter Cakes

When it comes to Seattle’s infamously rainy weather, I’m usually pretty nonchalant. Sure, it may be gray for roughly eight months of the year, but the clouds make a nice, fleecy blanket, insulating us from the frigid winter air that haunts our sunnier brethren at similar latitudes. And anyway, what Seattle calls “rain” is actually more of a mist—just a spittle of sorts, really, and hardly worth the price of an umbrella.

But today, dear reader, marks the twenty-fifth consecutive day of rain in our very Emerald City, and, says National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Schneider, “There are no dry days in the foreseeable future.” Yesterday, when a ray of sunlight briefly lit upon my desk, it took every ounce of my strength to keep from ripping off my clothes and curling up in the bright, warm spot next to the keyboard—a very, very abnormal response from a normally sun-phobic redhead. Clearly, I could use a good mood-enhancer, and short of a full day of sunlight, a cake—or eight—will do.
The holidays may have been a two-week parade of excess, but no amount of food fatigue can keep me from dessert. Anyway, for all its caloric riches, Christmas offers little in the cake department, a deficiency that has not been lost on my sweet tooth. No holiday cookie, candy, tart, pudding, or pie can replicate the gustatory experience of a good piece of cake—moist but crumbly, dense but spongy, simple but profoundly satisfying. And to boot, cake is uniquely well-suited to sopping up nearly anything: tea, coffee, port, or, if it strikes your fancy and your city, precipitation. I feel only justified, then, in availing myself of a stash of sugar, butter, and almonds and remedying the situation with a few dainty grape-freckled almond cakes.

Coarse-crumbed, delicate, and tender to the tooth, these cakes make up in richness what they lack in size. Subtly sweet but unabashedly buttery, they emerge from the oven like little lumps of gold, palm-sized and promising. With crisp edges and a moist, melting center, they take kindly to a good dunking in something wet, warm, and soothing, and even, maybe, to a deluge.

Red-Grape-and-Almond Butter Cakes
Inspired by Gourmet, October 2003

These cakes are a homey riff on the French financier, a small butter- and almond-rich cake baked in a rectangular mold. Gourmet’s version of this recipe called for baking these cakes in and eating them from 4 small, shallow gratin dishes, but I wanted something even smaller, something able to be eaten out of hand or nestled into the lip of a saucer, next to a teacup. I suppose I could have gone traditional and used financier molds, but because I don’t have any, I reached for the muffin tin. The method here yields 8 round cakes, perfect for an afternoon snack or light dessert, dunked in tea, coffee, or plain steamed milk, or maybe with a glass of ruby or vintage port. For variety, try using different seasonal fruits: wedges of ripe plum or apricot, for example, will be on my list for next summer.

¾ cup whole blanched almonds
½ cup granulated sugar
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
A handful of seedless red or black grapes, halved

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a rack to the middle position. Butter or spray 8 wells of a 12-well ½-cup muffin tin.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse half of the almonds with 1 Tbs of the sugar until very finely ground and powdery. Transfer the ground almonds to a small bowl, and repeat with the remaining almonds and 1 more Tbs of the sugar.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and remaining 6 Tbs sugar with an electric mixer set to high speed. When the butter and sugar mixture is fluffy and pale yellow, beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in the ground almonds, flour, and salt, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter evenly among the 8 prepared muffin wells. Press the halved grapes lightly into the batter, distributing them evenly among the 8 cakes. Slide the pan into the oven, and bake the cakes until they are firm and pale golden with slightly darker edges, about 15-20 minutes. If the cakes appear to be browning too quickly at the edges, tent the pan lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Cool the cakes for 10 minutes in the pan; then remove them to a rack to continue cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Raspberry-Blueberry Pound Cake

When I left Seattle this morning, the city was still tucked snugly under a heavy blanket of clouds. It’s been this way for a week or two now, with autumn beginning its slow, sad tease, sending in an advance guard of low gray clouds every morning and sneaking the daylight away earlier and earlier every evening. Six-thirty this morning found me at the chilly bus stop with my wet hair and full suitcase, New York-bound and knowing too well that when I return, the Pacific Northwest summer may have already had its last gasp. The season will subtly shift its mandate from plum clafoutis to purple cabbage, from outdoor lamb roasts to oven-roasted chicken, and from test-kitchen beer floats to tea.

It’s not so bad, really. I’m a soups-and-stews girl at heart, anyway, and cool weather is as good an excuse as any to spend more time at the stove. But before I relinquish my halter tops, flip flops, and the oscillating fan, you can be sure I’ll stash a bit of summer in the freezer, in the form of a raspberry-blueberry pound cake.

This recipe has been my mother’s summertime standby for nearly twenty years, since it first appeared in Bon Appétit in July 1986. When the season calls, she opens the recipe card-catalog she keeps in a drawer in the kitchen, pulls out the index card reading “Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake,” and takes it, reference librarian-style, to the closet that houses her food magazines from the ‘80s to mid-‘90s. Today, the pages of that old Bon Appétit are yellowed around the edges and suffering a sort of low-grade rigor mortis, but the cake is no worse for the wear. Simple and sophisticated, its tight, buttery crumb is scented with kirsch and shot through with soft summer berries.

Served alongside a melty scoop of ice cream or dolloped with whipped cream, it makes a perfect barbeque dessert from July 4th to Labor Day. And even more importantly, it freezes beautifully, so after you’ve slipped out of your summer whites, you’ll find it goes remarkably well with a wool blanket and a pot of hot tea.

But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that too soon. After all, I’ll only be gone for ten days.

Raspberry-Blueberry Pound Cake
Bon Appétit, July 1986

This cake can be prepared a day or two ahead of serving; just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it at room temperature. If you choose to freeze it for future occasions, wrap it in plastic wrap and then seal it in large freezer bag.
It’s an awfully easy way to get a last gasp of summer at any time of year.

5 large eggs
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ¼ cup (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature, plus a bit more for the pan
2 Tbs kirsch
2 cups plus 8 Tbs cake flour, plus a bit more for the pan
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blueberries

Generously butter a 9-cup Bundt pan, and dust it with flour, shaking out the excess.

In the bowl of a food processor, blend together the eggs and the sugar until smooth and thick, about 1 minute, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the butter and kirsch, and blend until the mixture is fluffy, about 1 minute, stopping once to scrape down the bowl. Add 2 cups plus 6 Tbs flour, baking powder, and salt, and pulse twice or so to just combine. Do not overmix.

In a large bowl, toss the raspberries and blueberries with the remaining 2 Tbs flour. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter into the berries. Transfer this finished batter to the prepared Bundt pan, spreading it evenly across the top. Place the Bundt pan on the center rack in a cold oven, and turn the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake until a toothpick or knife inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 25 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes; then invert it onto a rack to cool completely. Serve at room temperature, with tea, ice cream, or whipped cream, as the weather dictates.

Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon, and Plums

We left our window open last night, and when I woke up today, there was rain on the sill! I am wearing a scarf that I made! Let the hoarding of plums commence!

What I thought about saying next was, "The citrus is coming! The citrus is coming!" (In the privacy of my own head, I spout this kind of garbage the way Old Faithful does boiling water.) I decided against it, but during the thirty seconds when I was considering and then reconsidering, I remembered a walk I took with the dog a few weeks ago. A little boy down the street was having a birthday party, and from the skull-and-crossbones flags tied to the laurel hedge along the road, I gathered it was pirate-themed. There was some marauding role-playing going on in the yard as I passed by, lots of running and yelling, and from the other side of the hedge, I heard someone confess, "I don’t like to whip her, but I really need her to run fast, because the British are coming!"

Which would be alright with me, actually, because they make good plum cakes.

I’ve written about a lot of cakes over the years, but time and time again, the ones I return to are these: everyday cakes, no frosting, no ceremony. This particular example comes from Nigel Slater’s Tender, Volume II: A Cook’s Guide to the Fruit Garden, a tome if ever there was one. The thing weighs 3.8 pounds. I could probably spend a few years cooking only from Tender, and if anyone out there is looking for a project, well, my friend, there’s a whopper for you. The two volumes live on a special shelf next to my desk, and last week, that shelf was where I went when I found myself with several pounds of rapidly ripening plums from my friend Wynne at Jerzy Boyz Farm. We buy hundreds of pounds of fruit from her every year for the restaurant, and she’s taken to calling me "sweetie." She knows what I like.

Anyway, I had this box of plums, so I went to Nigel, and Nigel placed before me the words Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon, and Plums. I think I could stop this post right here and you would know everything you need to know, but I will say just a little more, because as it turns out, this is going to be my new go-to cake. It’s a cinnamon spice cake with plums, and as the name implies, it’s dark and very tender - damp, as I once heard Nigella Lawson say. What’s particularly interesting is that it uses three kinds of sweetener: golden syrup, honey, and brown sugar. When I was making it, I was convinced that it was going to be a toothache-inducing mess, but I can now say with confidence: DON’T CHANGE A THING. The sweeteners each bring a different flavor, and together, they give the cake real depth and warmth. And the plums aren’t sweetened before they get dropped into the loose, caramel-colored batter, so they retain a nice sourness as they sink and soften.

This isn’t the kind of cake that you reserve for company; it’s a Tuesday-night sweet. It’s also a Wednesday-afternoon, coming-in-from-the-rain sweet. It is also, if you’re open to it, a totally reasonable breakfast. I don’t like to use the word perfect, because I am fickle, but I’ll say it here. I think this cake is perfect.

Happy fall.

P.S. I’ve fallen in love with the ease, speed, and accuracy of metric weight measurements, particularly in baking. From now on, the recipes I post here will use both cup and weight measures.

Nigel Slater’s Pudding Cake of Honey, Cinnamon, and Plums
Adapted from Tender, Volume II

My neighborhood grocery store carries golden syrup, and in general, I think it’s getting easier to find in the US every day. I usually keep a jar in the cabinet for making flapjacks. I didn’t have quite enough golden syrup for this cake recipe, so I added honey to make up the difference. Worked just fine.

2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1 slightly heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 slightly heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 pinches salt
2/3 cup (200 grams) golden syrup
2 Tbsp. honey
9 Tbsp. (125 grams) unsalted butter
¾ cup (125 grams) lightly packed brown sugar or light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup (240 ml) milk
5 (350 grams) ripe plums, pitted and quartered

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish, and line it with parchment paper. I like to cut the parchment so that it hangs over the edge of the pan: you can use it to help you lift the cake out later. There’s no need to grease the parchment.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk well.

In a saucepan, warm the golden syrup, honey, and butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When the butter is melted, stir in the brown or muscovado sugar. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside to cool for a minute or two.

Break the eggs into a medium bowl, add the milk, and whisk to mix.

Pour the golden syrup mixture into the flour mixture, and stir with a sturdy spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick at this point. Pour in the egg mixture, and continue to stir – it will resist incorporation and look weird at first – until you have a loose, almost sloppy batter without any traces of flour.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and then arrange the plums on top. (They will sink.) Bake for 35 minutes; then place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the cake, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more. The cake should look mostly set at this point, but it might still look the slightest bit soft in the center. That’s okay. Remove the piece of foil, turn off the oven, and leave the cake in there for another 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack. Cool for 20 minutes; then loosen the cake from the pan and lift it out onto the rack. Cool completely before slicing.

Note: This cake keeps beautifully at room temperature, and because it’s so incredibly moist, it’s actually best not to cover it too tightly, or else it can get gummy. So long as you eat it within 2 or 3 days, a piece of wax paper pressed against the cut surfaces is all you really need.

Pistachio-Citrus Pound Cake

Earlier this week, I think it was, one of you kindly wrote to me, asking if I might do a post about what I’ve been eating for lunch lately. The reader who wrote to me is pregnant, and there are a number of foods that us pregnant ladies are told to avoid, making quick, easy lunches hard to come by: no deli meats, no (uncooked) cured meats, no high-mercury fish (tuna, for example), no cheeses of certain types, and so on. I am going to spare you, however, a post on what I’ve been eating at my desk lately, because my lunches are about as riveting as C-SPAN. The post would go something like this: nut butter sandwich, carrots, tangerine, nut butter sandwich, carrots, tangerine, nut butter sandwich, carrots, tangerine, hard-boiled egg, bowl of soup, nut butter sandwich, carrots, tangerine, and if you are still awake at this point, you win a pound cake.

A pistachio pound cake. With citrus.

I haven’t found myself with much time for cooking lately, or not outside of recipe testing for my manuscript, but this cake caught my eye as I was thumbing through the latest issue of Bon Appétit. The merest mention of the word “pistachio” can turn my head, and not surprisingly, this cake shot to the top of my to-do list, above more sensible tasks like making spinach-cilantro soup or poaching chicken for salad. This, for the record, is how a 33-year-old woman winds up lunching on nut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks, the official midday meal of American first graders. I blame the editor at Bon Appétit who, as the headnote explained, ate this pound cake at a restaurant in Houston and declared it her “dream dessert.” You can’t use words like that and expect people to go on living their lives as though nothing had happened, as though there were not a pistachio pound cake recipe to be tried.

So one night last weekend, I baked a pistachio pound cake. It should be called a pistachio-citrus pound cake, really, because it contains juice and zest from three different citrus fruits. The basic batter is classic pound cake - plenty of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour - but into that go fresh lemon juice, fresh orange juice (or juice from a Pixie tangerine, if you happen to have some on hand; I highly recommend it), some zest from that same orange (or Pixie tangerine), and some zest from a lime. Then you fold in a generous dose of coarsely chopped pistachios, scoop the batter into its loaf pan, and put another generous dose of pistachios on top. Actually, I should warn you: it may seem as though you have too much chopped pistachio to cram onto the top of the cake, but you must persevere. There’s no such thing as too much pistachio.

Like other pound cakes I’ve made, this one bakes for a while (about 90 minutes) in a low-to-moderate oven, which is convenient, because it gives you time to redeem yourself by cooking something nutritious - or, if you prefer, to rest your feet and nurture your two-decades-long fascination with Sexy Frankenstein, also known as Jonny Greenwood, by reading that Radiohead story in the current Rolling Stone. Meanwhile, the house will fill with the scent of toasted pistachio and orange, heady and almost exotic. When you open the oven door to check on your cake, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of a tall, pistachio-crusted, perfectly browned loaf. I’ve done a lot of baking, and I can’t remember another time when I felt so giddy or so proud as I pulled a cake out of the oven. It’s a handsome thing.

We ate the cake plain, in sturdy slices, for breakfast or after lunch, and while it was very good right away, it gets even better, more delicate, once the flavors settle for a day. Like a proper pound cake, it’s firm and buttery, but it gets a gentle lift from the citrus, both in flavor and in fragrance, and then, behind it, there comes the deep, toasty, rumbling flavor of the pistachios. It’s an ideal afternoon cake. If I were going to dress it up for company, I might cut up some strawberries, soften them in a little sugar, and heap them on top of a slice, maybe with some lightly whipped cream - or, wait, even better, just spoon on some strawberry conserve. Or I might do nothing at all.

Pistachio-Citrus Pound Cake
Adapted slightly from Bon Appétit (April 2012) and Raymond Vandergaag of The Tasting Room at CityCentre

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 sticks (226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
5 large eggs
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. finely grated lime zest
1 cup (125 grams) shelled, unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter a 9”x5” loaf pan, or grease it with cooking spray. Cut a rectangle of parchment paper to line the bottom and the two long sides of the pan, leaving a little overhang. Press the parchment paper into the dish, and grease it lightly, too.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar, and beat until well incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Add the juices and the zests, and beat until well combined. (Don’t worry if the batter looks curdled.) Add the flour mixture, reduce the speed to low, and beat until just incorporated. Add ¾ cup of the pistachios, and fold in gently. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup pistachios over the top.

Bake the cake, rotating it halfway through, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 ½ hours. Transfer it to a wire rack, and let it cool completely in the pan. Run a sharp knife along the short ends of the pan to loosen the cake; then pull up on the parchment paper to lift the cake out of the pan.

Note: The flavor of this cake is best on the day after it’s made.

Montmartre Square, or Pain de Gênes

It was a circuitous route that brought me to le pain de Gênes, the sunny yellow French cake rich with butter, eggs, and almond paste,

and I never would have made it without a former New York cabbie and his Citroën.

It all began one day in the mid-1990s, in the parking lot of an Albertsons grocery store in Oklahoma City. My father, the ever-willing food shopper, paused with his grocery bags to admire a Citroën parked near his (beloved but ridiculously unreliable) Alfa Romeo. Because Burg was that sort of guy, he struck up a conversation with the owner of the Citroën, and, to make a short story shorter, they became best friends.

Every Saturday for years to follow, Burg and Michael would go for a morning walk together, leisurely strolling the neighborhood for an hour or so and finishing with an elaborate lunch, never without a frothy beer or a bottle of wine. Michael was a transplanted New Yorker, a cab driver turned writer and, with his partner Becky, a successful business owner. Intense and pensive, he devoured books of poetry and loved encouraging me—then an angsty, slightly punk, and borderline nerdy teenager—in my own stunted “career” [she writes, wincing] as a poet.

Michael was also a tremendous cook, and he loved feeding us in his airy kitchen with its dark wood floor and cabinets. He often prepared dishes that he and Becky had discovered in their nomadic hippie days in Mexico, and I still get weak-kneed just thinking of his roasted Coca-Cola chicken with hominy and his boiled yucca with olive oil and sea salt. We'd talk Adrienne Rich or poems about popes and poodles until it came time for dessert, when all attention would turn to Becky, an artist and skilled baker. As it fate would have it, one evening in late 1997, after another simple but haunting meal, Becky served an almond cake. Plain and unpretentious, it was rich and dense, imbued with sweet almond. I quite nearly scrapped my plans of leaving for college—my kingdom for almond paste!—just so I could stay there and eat the stuff forever.

But I didn’t. Life continued apace, albeit sans almond cake. And years later Michael and Becky, ever nomadic, moved to Paris, which is only appropriate, for it was there that I was reunited in fall 2001 with my lost love of the cake variety, what I would come to know as a pain de Gênes.

I’ve always felt pretty lucky, but Fortune really smiled on me when she gave me apartment only a few blocks from Au Levain du Marais, one of the best boulangeries in Paris. Occupying an ornately tiled corner space on boulevard Beaumarchais (at rue du Pasteur-Wagner, just north of Place de la Bastille, 11th arrondissement; also at 32, rue de Turenne, 3rd arrondissement), Au Levain du Marais is best known for its fine baguettes and its crusty, rustic pain au levain. I, of course, partook liberally of these, but I also acquainted myself with the pastry case, driving the women behind the counter crazy with my perpetual whimper, “Euh, euhhhh…j’ai du mal à choisir...euhhh...” (Uh, uhhhh…I’m having trouble choosing...uhhh...).

One day, I spotted a buttery-looking square of yellow cake behind the glass, topped with a snowy dusting of powdered sugar. Pointing to it eagerly, I asked for its name. It was a traditional pain de Gênes (“Genoa bread”), I was told, a cake made with almond paste—those two magic words!—invented to commemorate the 1800 siege of Genoa, when the city’s inhabitants survived largely on almonds.* Without a moment’s hesitation, I ordered a piece and carried it home gently, tucking my nose under the neatly folded, butter-soaked paper wrapper for a whiff of almond paste, heady and almost liqueur-like. After years of abstinence, there could be no keeping us apart.

In the time since, I’ve certainly eaten my fair share of Paris’s pain de Gênes, but here in Seattle, I’ve yet to find a bakery that offers it. But I’ve got two hands, a decent kitchen, a stack of cookbooks, and a Whole Foods at my disposal. So when Viv of the illustrious Seattle Bon Vivant announced that nuts were to be the theme of Sugar High Friday #4, I, nearly panting with anticipation, wasted no time.

After consulting a few recipes, I settled on the “Montmartre Square” in Dorie Greenspan’s fantastic Paris Sweets, which, if you are an aficionado of la pâtisserie, you must buy. Having been too kind to steal my mother’s KitchenAid stand mixer last Thanksgiving, I borrowed one from my generous next-door neighbors, and, at long last, I had a humble and painfully delicious pain de Gênes in my very own kitchen. From the first bite, I couldn’t help myself: my most visceral French—only the finest in slang, gleaned years ago from a reggae-jivin’ Parisian boyfriend—came rushing forth: “J’hallucine grave! C’est trop bon!” (I’m seriously trippin’! It’s too good!). It’s in moments like these that I’m at my most eloquent. Michael would surely be proud of the little poetess in me.

*For more information, see Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets, pages 38 and 52, and the introductory paragraph here.

Montmartre Square with a Few Changes, or Pain de Gênes
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets

This is one of two slightly spiffed-up versions of a pain de Gênes featured in Greenspan's book. I've de-spiffed this one a bit, leaving off the almond-paste cloak that covers the original. Someday I'll try it as it's written, but I'm awfully partial to just a homey dusting of powdered sugar. Also note that Greenspan recommends using a stand mixer for this, since the cake batter is beaten for a full fifteen minutes—plenty long enough to wipe out the usual handheld beaters.

¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 ½ Tbs potato starch (available in the baking section of must supermarkets)
14 ounces soft, pliable almond paste (I used two tubes of Odense brand), broken into pieces
4 large eggs
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled (but still liquid)
1 Tbs Grand Marnier or kirsch (I used Jim Beam; honey, work with what you’ve got)
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch square pan (preferably metal, with nice, straight sides and corners), dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess, and put the pan on a baking sheet.

Sift the flour and potato starch together and set aside. Put the almond paste and two of the eggs in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for five minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, remove paddle, and put whisk attachment in place. Return the mixer to medium speed and beat in the remaining two eggs one at a time. Once eggs are incorporated, beat the batter for another ten minutes, scraping down the bowl frequently, until the batter is creamy. It should remind you of mayonnaise.

Stir a couple of tablespoons of this batter into the cooled melted butter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the Grand Marnier, followed by the dry ingredients, mixing only until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the butter.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cake from the oven, unmold onto a cooling rack, reinvert if you like, and cool to room temperature.

Dust powdered sugar (through a sieve or special powdered sugar shaker, if you have one) onto the top of the cake. Serve.

Marmalade Cake

About a million years ago, by which I mean last Thanksgiving, I mentioned on Twitter that my cousins had made an olive oil cake for our mothers’ birthday dinner. Our mothers are identical twins, born in the third week of November, which means that our family’s Thanksgiving comes with an extra bonus meal: The Twins’ Birthday. Anyway, I mentioned this cake, and someone - maybe one of you reading today? - asked if I might share the recipe. I said that I would do my best to get it from my cousin Katie, its keeper, which I did, and after bringing it home and accidentally burying it in a stack of papers on my desk for three months, which I’m told promotes ripening, or something, I am elated to bring it to you today. It’s a wonderful cake.

I first tasted it last May at another family birthday meal, this time in honor of Katie. It was her 30th birthday, and in our family, 30th birthdays require a lot of festivities - mine involved a surprise weekend in San Francisco with Brandon, my cousins, The Twins, and friends, ending with a baggage handler stealing my mother’s gift out of my suitcase and me crying myself to sleep; memories! - so a bunch of us decided to plan a whopper for Katie. She’s usually a planner of surprises and does not receive them very easily, but I think we did alright. Nine of us took her to a family friend’s home in the very small town of Boonville, California, for a weekend of eating and wine-tasting. One night, we dressed up and went to the Boonville Hotel for dinner, and that’s where we ate this cake.

We had called ahead to request a special dessert, because one member of our party is dairy intolerant, and so the chef made a recipe from his mother, an orange, almond, and olive oil cake. As birthday cakes go, it was unassuming, even rustic: a single layer, pale gold and coarse-crumbed, dusted with powdered sugar. But its flavor was something else: big, gutsy, rich with toasted nuts, and saturated, absolutely saturated, with the perfume of citrus. We liked it so much that my aunt asked for the recipe. We made it last November, and then I made it again a few days ago, for you. (But I forgot the powdered sugar on top. I’m so sorry. Please use your imagination.)

In the days since I rescued the recipe from its untimely burial on my desk, I’ve done a little looking around, and it seems that it may have originally been published in The Boston Globe, although I can’t find the date or the article. There’s also a similar cake in the book Breakfast Lunch Tea, by Rose Carrarini. Wherever it comes from, the concept is weird and brilliant: you start with whole citrus fruits - the original recipe calls for two small oranges and one lemon, but I prefer the flavor when I use one small to medium orange and one lemon - and you boil them in water for thirty minutes, until they’re soft. Then you remove the seeds from the orange, if there are any, and discard the pulp from the lemon, and you whizz the rest - the lemon rind and the entire orange - in the food processor. Not only does this process yield a coarse paste that infuses the cake with both moisture and flavor, but it also makes your house smell like you’ve spent tons of money on designer air freshener. You mix this paste into a base of eggs and sugar and flour and leavening, and then you stir in ground toasted almonds and olive oil, which add even more fragrance and flavor, if that’s even possible, and aside from the baking part, you’re done.

I’d never had a cake like this one before, either in flavor or in method, and though I don’t sit around and keep score on this kind of stuff, it might be the most sophisticated everyday cake I know. Privately, I think of it as a marmalade cake, and that’s what I’ve decided to call it. I know I’m supposed to call it an orange, almond, and olive oil cake, but then everyone gets excited about the olive oil angle, and honestly, if you’re looking for an olive oil cake, this is not its purest incarnation. This cake is about citrus, all-out, the kick and spice and gentle bitterness you find in a jar of good marmalade. Its ingredients lean toward Italy, but in my mind, it’s more like something Jeeves might bring, what ho!, with your afternoon tea. Either way, I should tell you, too, that it keeps amazingly. It even tastes better with age. You could steal slices from it for an entire week, and I strongly advise you to do so.

Marmalade Cake
Adapted from the Boonville Hotel

You could make this cake with store-bought roasted almonds, but I like to buy them raw and toast them myself. That way, I can control how deeply they’re toasted, and they also taste fresher. If you’re short on time, you can toast them a day or two ahead. You might also want to plan ahead for preparing the citrus fruits, since boiling and cooling them takes time. (And remember to use organic oranges and lemons, since you’ll be eating the rind.) Once you’ve got the nuts and fruits ready, this cake is quick to make.

1 small to medium orange
1 lemon
6 ounces raw almonds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
4 large eggs, ideally at room temperature
½ tsp. table salt
1 ½ cups sugar
2/3 cup olive oil
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

First, get to work on the citrus. Put the orange and the lemon in a saucepan, and cover with water. (They’ll want to float. Don’t worry about it.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, and cool.

Meanwhile, toast the almonds. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and set a rack in the middle position. Put the almonds on an ungreased sheet pan, and bake until they look golden and smell warm and toasty, 10 to 15 minutes. (I tend to get nervous about burning them, and consequently, I always try to pull them out of the oven too soon. Don’t do that. Let them really toast.) Set aside to cool completely. When the almonds are cool, pulse them in a food processor until finely ground, the texture of coarse sand. Set aside.

Set the oven to 350°F, and grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

When the citrus is cool, cut the lemon in half, and scoop out and discard the pulp and seeds. Cut the orange in half, and discard the seeds. Put the lemon rind and orange halves in the food processor – there’s no need to wash it after grinding the almonds – and process to chop finely, almost to a coarse paste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

Combine the eggs and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat until foamy. Gradually beat in the sugar. Fold in the flour mixture. Add the citrus, almonds, and olive oil, and beat on low speed to just incorporate. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack. Remove the sides of the pan. Before serving, dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar.

Note: This cake tastes even better on the second - or even third - day, as the flavors meld and mellow. Store it at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

Margot’s Sourdough Chocolate Cake

I have somewhat contradictory fears: I'm afraid of not getting enough sleep and, on the other hand, of sleeping too late. While it seems perfectly alright to bow out of an evening early, I’m terrified of missing morning: the sweet slowness in my limbs, the ritual first meal of the day, the clanging and buzzing of the street as it begins to wake. In college I’d sometimes sneak away to bed at 9 or 9:30, feeling smart and smug and sensible, as though I were putting an entire paycheck into savings rather than spending it. But I’m softening with age: these days sleep comes closer to midnight, and morning isn’t welcome until eight. I’ve even been known to find ample reasons to stay up past bedtime and lie around the next day. I’m so grown up.

But this morning I’m tired. I woke again to a fog that covered the city, and the trees outside my apartment are turning crimson, then amber, then brittle yellow against the gray air. Today I feel like the leaves. Soon I’ll drag myself out for a long walk. Solvitur ambulando, as the Romans used to say: the solution comes through walking.

Last night brought chocolate cake and a new twist in the future of my kitchen. It came in the form of a Mason jar half-full of foamy sourdough starter, complete with a lid that reads, “Feeeeeed me!” Margot, who is constantly crafting and creating various things from plaster and wax and latex and wood glue and wheat and loads of butter, has given me a bit of her sourdough starter. She also presented me with a collection of recipes from the hilariously hokey Sourdough Jack’s Cookery, which comes with photos of Jack himself in a suede vest and cowboy hat, gazing lovingly at his sourdough sponge.

Seven of us sat around the big round table for a dinner of grilled salmon and offerings from the family garden: purple potatoes dug only minutes before boiling, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers tossed with feta and vinaigrette, and stubby ears of yellow corn. We then wreaked havoc on a still-warm sourdough chocolate cake, complete with its moat of improvised (and remarkably tasty) chocolate glaze made from a giant Hershey’s Kiss melted with milk and butter.

And to cap off the evening, we bundled up against the fall night—I, in Margot’s fleece jacket, proved that red and purple do go together—and went to a cyclocross race to watch men in tight outfits hop over little hurdles with their bikes on their shoulders. Other highlights of the evening included Nicho’s dog Index, with intelligent eyes and an excellent name; Kate’s corduroy pants with stars on the seat; and my feigned fear of Kate's fabulously muscular legs, ready to spring like coiled pythons from the aforementioned corduroy pants.

I came home, marveled at the jar of sourdough starter for a moment or two, and then, possessed by the sort of sweet-and-sour melancholia that comes only after midnight, I stayed up until 2am, writing. Two years ago, when I last spent summer at home in Oklahoma, my father—who I’ve called “Burg” for as long as I can remember—and I talked often of baking bread together. I like to think he was a sourdough starter kind of guy, maybe Sourdough Jack in a photographer’s vest and baseball cap. But we didn’t know then that the summer would be his last, and we let ourselves be distracted by peaches, tomatoes, pesto, and candy-sweet white corn.

Last Sunday, September 26, marked two years since the day Burg was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer of the kidney. It had already metastasized to his spinal column and his bony pelvis, femurs, skull, and tibia. It took him down fast, viciously. October 7, 2002 was the last day he walked, taking tentative steps with my brothers down the hospital hallway. He died only two months later, on December 7.

I’ve stayed up too late, and this morning I'm tired.
But the solution comes through walking, I tell myself, and so I go.

Margot’s Sourdough Chocolate CakeAdapted from Sourdough Jack’s Cookery
1 cup thick sourdough starter
1 cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk (evaporated preferred, but even regular old skim works fine), at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Leave a cup of starter out overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cream sugar and butter until fluffy, then beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in starter, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and melted chocolate. Beat with electric mixer (or recruit a strong man with a whisk, such as Margot’s boyfriend Todd) for two minutes. Blend salt and soda together and sprinkle over batter. Fold in gently. Fold in flour until batter is smooth. Pour into buttered and floured pan (either a standard Bundt pan or an 8-inch round pan, or experiment).

Bake until cake springs back when pressed lightly and a cake tester comes out clean, 35-60 minutes, depending on the type of pan you use. Cool and frost, or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Then eat, as with other things, aggressively.

Gâteau au Yaourt à la Fraise, or French-Style Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

This is getting serious.
Last week my friend Doron e-mailed to tell me about a dream he’d had in which he’d gone into a store and picked up “any and every kitchen tool in existence.” From microplane zesters to rubber spatulas, food processors, and stockpots, “it was heaven,” he said. I could almost hear him sigh wistfully on the other side of the computer screen.

Doron isn’t the only one who’s been eating, sleeping, and breathing all things kitchen. I’ve been known to have dreams involving roasted-onion tarts, platefuls of oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies, and butter-rich cakes stacked like gold bullion. I wake up breathless, touching my belly like a private eye looking for evidence, whispering, “Thank GOD I didn’t actually eat all that. Phew!” And coincidentally, the very same night that Doron unleashed his subconscious upon a kitchen supply store, I was dreaming of a fried chicken sandwich. In my dream, I was somewhere trying on a pair of pants, when I found myself suddenly before a deli counter of sorts. Facing me was a round, genial man in overalls. I somehow knew that the place was known for its fried chicken sandwiches, but I hesitated, unsure. The man smiled at me, gestured over his shoulder with a ruddy thumb, and drawled, “I got a whole messa chickens fried up in back. You gotta have a sanwich.” So I ordered one, and then I went back to incongruously trying on my pants, wondering whether my sandwich would come with coleslaw. Unfortunately—and as is always the case—I woke up before I could find out.

Then there are the times when all this eating, sleeping, and breathing paradoxically causes loss of sleep. Take, for example, the Sunday before last, when Kate sacrificed sleep and sanity to rise at six in the morning and bake sourdough boules before sunrise with a wifebeater and a copy of The Stranger—and this only a few days after she, in a fit of insomnia, read an entire hors d’oeuvres cookbook in the middle of night.

And of course there’s my strawberry problem, a late-night leitmotif since last June, when I giddily crammed 10+ pounds of freshly picked and washed strawberries into my freezer, blissfully unaware of the slumber they’d steal. Yes, dear reader, I’m still working my way through the berries, and I’m still lying awake at night, wondering what to do with them next. After all, before we know it, summer will be upon us again, with more fields of berries to be picked! As I said, this is serious. So thank goodness for old standbys, pinch hitters when the (alarm) clock is ticking.

Gâteau au Yaourt à la Fraise, or French-Style Yogurt Cake with Strawberries
Adapted from Gâteaux de Mamie

This cake is another slight variation on the yogurt cake I wrote about last August, a fantastically easy one-bowl French invention. Strawberries will be woefully out of season for another few months, but take heart: this recipe works beautifully with frozen fruit. The cake rises tall in the pan, and the strawberries collapse onto themselves, leaving moist, jammy pockets. The result has a light, moist, not-too-sweet crumb—perfect with coffee in late afternoon or with a melty scoop of ice cream after dinner. It tastes like June, like things to come.

Note: If you don't have a little individual-size yogurt jar from France—and we can't all have them—know that 1 jar equals 125 ml, or a touch over 1/2 cup.

1 jar plain yogurt (I like Brown Cow brand, either Cream Top or nonfat)
2 jars sugar (I like to use raw cane sugar, or a mixture of white and brown sugars)
3 eggs
2 jars unbleached all-purpose flour
1 jar finely ground blanched almonds (a Cuisinart does a fine job, but be careful not to turn your almonds into almond butter; you're aiming for a powdery texture)
2 tsp baking powder
1 jar canola oil
Frozen (quartered or halved, depending on their size) strawberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, ground almonds, and baking powder, mixing just to combine. Add the oil, stirring to incorporate. Pour about 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan, and distribute frozen strawberries—about two handfuls—evenly over the batter. Pour the remaining batter over the berries, trying to cover them as well as possible.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. [Because you’ve put frozen fruit into the cake, it may take a bit longer, depending on your oven. If, after thirty or so minutes, the cake is browning too quickly, you may need to tent it with foil.]

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely. Cut into wedges and eat with satisfaction, watching your freezer slowly empty.

Gâteau aux Noix, of French-Style Walnut Cake

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac is a village nestled under a cliff alongside the Vézère River in the beautiful Dordogne region of southwestern France. The self-proclaimed “capitale mondiale de la préhistoire,” it boasts a supremely boring (but, I understand, newly revamped) museum of prehistory and a nameless café where I bought some Orangina and used the bathroom. Most importantly, however, it was in Les Eyzies that I had my first taste of a gâteau aux noix, a French walnut cake.

It was October 1999, and I was a month into my two-quarter stay in France as a student in the Stanford-in-Paris program. Thanks to Helen Bing, a truly worship-worthy Stanford donor, we students hopped a train down to Brive-la-Gaillarde and spent a weekend Dordogne-ing with luxury accommodations for a grand total of roughly $40 each. My friend Clare and I were assigned a ridiculously extravagant suite à la française and spent each evening marveling at our good fortune and happily yelling goodnight to each other from our bedrooms at opposite ends of a long, marble-lined hallway.

Other highlights of the trip included:
-a chilly late-night tour of the town of Sarlat, followed by much dancing in a tight, smoky bar to shameful hits such as “Mambo Number Five” and “Tomber la Chemise;”
-befriending Gui, my dear, gorgeous, long-lost Brazilian and one of the flakiest people I’ve ever adored;
-befriending my dear Keaton;
-watching Gui run frantically around the very old Château de Beynac, trying to stay warm on a nippy morning;
-the decadent multi-course feasts of this region known for its truffles, cèpes, and foie gras (the last of which I’m undecided on but strive to avoid);
-and a dinner of pain de son (bran bread) and Peanut M&Ms on the train-ride back to Paris.

But five years later, it’s the walnut cake that haunts me. It had been baked at our hotel and plastic-wrapped in individual wedges for us to take on our day’s sightseeing, and I ate it perched atop a large, sunny rock in a park in Les Eyzies. Nothing fancy, it was a dense-crumbed white cake flecked with brown, humble, nutty, and only faintly sweet. Nothing fancy, it was delicious.

Last July, I found a recipe for it in Gâteaux de Mamie, but an eager trial run resulted in an oddly rubbery, leaden cake that made it no further than the trashcan. After a sufficient hiatus, this week I tried again, turning instead to a Saveur recipe dug up online in a moment of reprieve from a tedious editing task. Calling for walnut oil and white wine, it intrigued me, but I was a bit unsure of the potent, fruity aroma of fermented grapes and toasted nuts that wafted from the oven.

I needn’t have worried.

It was nothing fancy; it was delicious; and I ate a quarter of it on the spot, thinking of Gui and Clare and Keaton and the autumnal colors of a river valley thousands of miles away.

Gâteau aux Noix, or French-Style Walnut Cake
Adapted slightly from Saveur Cooks Authentic French

½ cup chopped walnuts, or a touch more
3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Place walnuts in a small dry saucepan and toast over medium heat, shaking pan, until nuts are fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

Beat eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is pale yellow, light, and fluffy. Add walnut oil and wine and mix well.

Generously grease a 9” cake pan (I used an 8-inch with no problem, by the way; your cake will just be a bit thicker). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Gently fold in walnuts, and then pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until a toothpick can be inserted and pulled out clean, about 40 minutes (mine took only 35, however, and required a bit of tenting with foil for the last five). Remove from oven, cool for ten minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely and serve in wedges. Loosely whipped cream would be a nice accompaniment, if possible.