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Since someone has unofficially officially been off sweets since January, my baking endeavors have been few and far between as of late. I decided to give up sweet delicious things for a few reasons. One was the fact that I had far too many cookies/truffles/caramels/pieces of pie during the holidays. But the real motivation comes from the two weddings I am taking part in later this year. I know it’s silly, but there is something to be said about the way weddings and high school reunions really inspire people to get it together. While at times it has been a bit of a challenge, I’ve gotta say that it’s actually been easier than I had imagined. And this is coming from a lady who loves her baked goods.
But I would be lying if I didn’t mention my so-called days of amnesty. Like the Saturday afternoon I spent cake tasting with one of my best girlfriends and her fiance. Three bakeries and almost thirty different cakes later, I was literally in a cake coma and practically had to force myself to try the last three flavors. It was an amazing experience. BTW, if you’re in the Bay Area and looking for a wedding/special occasion cake, we loved Julie at Torino Baking. Her cakes are tasty and absolutely gorgeous AND she is a Food Network Cake Challenge winner!
Then there was the all day long birthday brunch I attended earlier this month where a variety of sweet things, including Dan’s peanut butter chocolate cupcakes and Magnolia’s Red Velvet, courtesy of Denny, were just begging to be sampled. And sample I did. Here and there. All day long.
In the name of research, and because I had the time and an excuse (Sunday dinner with Grandmama), I decided to bake last Sunday. I immediately reached for the vanilla cardamom pound cake recipe that caught my eye last March while flipping through Gourmet. This cake had been in the back of my mind for months, but for one reason or another, I never got around to trying it out. Since I recently stocked up on cardamom and needed to use some leftover buttermilk, I felt that the stars had finally aligned.
As luck would have it, this cake was everything I was hoping it would be: sweet and rich with a lovely cardamom-vanilla essence. It was the perfect ending to a casual dinner and equally nice as an afternoon snack with tea and oranges. Thank goodness for amnesty days! And even more so for the co-workers who were more than happy to take the rest of this cake off my hands.
vanilla cardamom pound cake
adapted from Gourmet
makes 10-12 servings
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cardamom or 1 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat together butter and granulated sugar in mixer at medium speed, scraping side of bowl occasionally, until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans with tip of a paring knife into butter mixture, reserving pods for another use, and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in lemon juice until combined well. At low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top. Gently rap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool in pan 1 hour, then invert onto a rack and cool completely, about one hour more.
I have come to the conclusion that people either love beets or they really, really do not. I’ve heard people say that beets taste like dirt; I like to think of them as having an earthy flavor. Last year I had dinner with a group of people, including a few who had never had beets (apparently beets aren’t so popular in Korea), and was taken aback by how offended one friend was by the beet salad I ordered for the table. I happen to love beets. What’s not to love about them? They’re sweet and versatile and full of antioxidants. But I must confess that I wasn’t always a fan.
I grew up watching my Mom put canned beets on her salads. As a child I thought they were weird and sort of flavorless. But as I got older I acquired a taste for them and found myself piling beets on my salads. When I started roasting beets at home, I fell in love. No store bought canned/jarred beets compare to fresh beets. Once you’ve had roasted beets, you can’t really go back. I also went through a borscht faze a few years back, which really sealed the deal for me (I promise I’ll do a borscht post one of these days).
While having lunch with friends at Luka’s a few weeks ago, two items on their menu immediately caught my eye. One was a beet and grapefruit salad, the other was a beet sandwich. The sandwich was composed of all the elements of a good beet salad: fennel, goat cheese, and arugula. I, the beet lover, had never even thought about putting beets on a sandwich. I was so intrigued that I had to ask our waitress about it. And since she was so convincing (she totally twisted my arm ::winkwink::), I decided I had to try it for myself. That sandwich was exactly what I wanted that day- something on the healthy side but still very satisfying (thank you, chevre!). And it was the perfect accompaniment to the beer and oysters on the half shell that we started off with. I was not disappointed. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
makes 2 sandwiches
2-3 medium chioggia beets
4 slices of bread ( I like it on a country levain)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup goat cheese
1 bulb fennel, sliced thin
1 cup packed arugula
1/2 red onion, grilled or raw (sliced really thin)
2-3 tablespoons aioli or your favorite mayonnaise
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. Scrub beets well and place on a sheet of parchment lined with foil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold up the corners of the parchment and foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, or until tender. When beets are cool enough to handle, remove skin and slice into rounds. Set aside.
Lightly butter the backsides of bread and place in a large skillet or griddle. Grill until golden brown. Spread a generous layer of goat cheese on two of the slices of grilled bread. Layer the beet slices on top of the goat cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place fennel, red onion and arugula on top of the beets. Spread aioli on the remaining slices of grilled bread and place on top. Cut in half diagonally and serve with a good dill pickle.
Who needs a top? For those watching their carbs, this works well as a open-faced sandwich. Toss fennel and arugula in aioli to lightly coat and mound on top of beets.