blood orange olive oil cake

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Is anyone else ready for a vacation? I want pool time and cocktails and sleeping in. All at once. Oh, the things I would do for a break right now. Even just for a weekend. I think we need to do some prioritizing around here to make this happen. I’m ready to bust out the resort wear.         

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The good news is we have cake. And this cake, my friends, is a keeper. For the past three years, I’ve been on a search for the perfect blood orange cake. I’m not even exaggerating. It has taken me years and lots of experimenting to find one I really like. Every winter, during the small window of time that is blood orange season, I try at least one blood orange cake recipe. I’ve tried at least four recipes, possibly more,  some more than once. One recipe called for orange segments, one recipe called for whole oranges, skin and all. Another was a sort of chiffon cake. A few of them were pretty good. None of them were outstanding.

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I’m happy to report that the search has finally come to an end. I’d been hoping to find a recipe that incorporated both oranges and olive oil. And out of practically nowhere, I found exactly what I had been looking for.

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Here’s what I love about this cake:

It has a pronounced orange flavor, both in the cake and the icing. The cake has the essence of blood orange from the grated zest and juice. And the icing, with it’s tart, berry-ness is perfection.  

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Thanks to the olive oil, it is incredibly moist and has a very distinct, almost savory flavor. 

It’s such a pretty thang. I’ve got a secret weakness for pink frosting, and the bold color of the blood orange juice produces an electric pink icing when added to a scoop of powdered sugar.  And it’s totally natural. AND we’re just in time for Valentine’s Day. A pink glazed cake is the perfect alternative to chocolate on V-Day. xoxo.

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blood orange olive oil cake

adapted from Leite’s Culinaria

serves 12-14

2 tablespoons unsalted butter for pan 

6-8  blood oranges

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

5 large eggs

2-3/4 cups granulated sugar

1 -1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil

 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

4 tablespoons blood orange juice 

Position a rack in the middle of the oven, remove any racks above, and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Coat a 12-cup Bundt or tube pan with butter and dust with flour.  Set aside.

Finely grate the zest of 4 of the oranges, then squeeze 6 of them. You should have 1-1/2 cups of juice; if not, squeeze another orange. Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar and continue beating until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and oil, starting and ending with the flour, and beat until just a few wisps of flour remain. Pour in the orange juice and zest and whirl for a few seconds to bring the batter together.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the top is browning too much as the cake bakes, cover lightly with foil. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.

Turn the cake out onto the rack and cool completely. Place it in a covered cake stand and let it sit overnight.

In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar and 4 tablespoons of blood orange juice. Whisk until completely smooth and has reached a thick but pourable consistency, similar to that of honey. Add more powdered sugar or juice if necessary. Pour the mixture over the cake and let set.

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fig & blackberry tartlets

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More summer, please! I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. I have a maxi dress hanging in the closet that’s never been worn. And I could really, really use a proper beach day. And a few more bottles of rosé (aka summer drank). Can’t we keep the barbecues going for just a bit longer?

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We spent last weekend camping in Big Sur. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. My love for Big Sur runs deep. It’s been an entire decade since my very first trip down there. And just as long since the last time I camped. I almost forgot how much I love sleeping in a tent and lazy afternoons by the river and a good ole fashion s’more and cocktails by the campfire. I had such an amazing time. I can’t wait to get back there. I think this needs to happen every summer.

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Guess what else needs to happen every summer? If your guess had anything to do with these tartlets, you are correct. I get super excited when the late season figs come rolling into town. And they are abundant at the moment. There’s nothing like a super ripe fig, sweet and jammy and practically bursting at the seams. They are perfect as is, and they are equally wonderful baked with blackberries and hazelnuts in a sweet, buttery pastry. Make it happen.

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fig & blackberry tartlets

from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater

makes 4 tartlets

for the pastry: 

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour 

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar , plus more for dusting 

1 large egg yolk 

Put the flour in a medium mixing bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour. Add the powdered sugar and egg yolk and mix until combined. Bring the dough together and squeeze it into a round. Roll it into a short log, fat log. Wrap the dough in plastic and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill for 30 minutes.

for the filling:

8 ounces blackberries, about 1-3/4 cups 

4 large figs, coarsely chopped  

4 tablespoons blackberry or red currant jelly, melted

juice of half a lemon 

1/2 cup ground hazelnuts 

Place the blackberries, figs, and chopped hazelnuts in a bowl. Add the melted jelly and lemon juice and toss.

to assemble:

4  3-1/2 inch tartlet pans

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Divide the pastry into four equal pieces. Place a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over the dough. Using the palm of your hand, flatten each piece on a floured board. Line each pan with a round of dough, leaving the excess hanging over the edges. Don’t worry if the dough cracks – just patch it together. Divide the filling between the four tart shells, then loosely fold over the pastry, leaving the fruit in the center visible.

Place the tarts on a baking sheet and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm or cool.

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apricot cream pops

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It’s super late in the season for apricots, but so long as they’re at the markets, I’ll be buying. I’ve probably mentioned that I have a teensy obsession with apricots. It is what it is.

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Back in June, I made my annual batch of apricot jam. And I must say it is my favorite of all the jams I’ve made this summer. I seriously contemplated a second batch, but instead opted to go the route of frozen treats. I love the idea of extending the life of seasonal produce and I’ve recently come to the realization that freezing is a wonderful alternative to canning. Rather than just freezing sliced apricots, I decided a frozen fruit bar needed to happen before the end of the season.

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This recipe comes from the People’s Pops. I became a fan after having their rhubarb cayenne pop the last time I was in New York. Since then, they’ve released a book, which I made sure to add to my collection.

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While I most definitely enjoy an all-fruit frozen fruit bar, I think everything gets just a little more exciting with a swirl of cream. Lately, I’ve been crazy about Straus Creamery heavy cream – it is some rich, flavorful stuff. It turns a cup of mediocre coffee into an event.  And a little goes a long way. So I couldn’t help but throw a few splashes of that Straus goodness into the mix. Apricots + cream + orange blossom water = perfection. Life is short, treat yo self.

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apricot cream pops 

from People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops by Nathalie Jordi, David Carrell, & Joel Horowitz

makes 10 pops

1-1/2 pounds apricots, halved and pitted 

2/3 cup cane sugar 

2/3 cup water

1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water 

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Pour about 1/2 inch of water into a heavy, nonreactive saucepan and add the apricots. Stew the apricots over medium heat until the skins and flesh have softened, 20-25 minutes.

While the apricots are cooking, combine the cane sugar with 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is transparent. Turn of the heat and let cool. This makes 1 cup of simple syrup.

Using an emersion blender or food processor, puree the apricots, skins and all. Feel free to leave the puree somewhat chunky. You should have about 2-1/4 cups of puree.

Transfer the apricot puree  to a bowl or measuring pitcher with a spout and add 3/4 cup of the simple syrup. Stir until the mixture is well incorporated. Taste the mixture – it should be sweet and slightly tart. Add the orange blossom water bit by bit, tasting as you go. It should be fragrant but not overpowering.

Pour 1 scant tablespoon of heavy cream into each of the ice pop molds, letting the cream run down the sides of the mold as you pour. Pour apricot mixture into the molds, leaving a little bit of room a the top for the mixture to expand. Inset sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. Unmold and transfer to plastic bags for storage or serve at once.

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frozen baby bananas

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What a monumental week. And what an amazing time to be in San Francisco. It was pretty magical going into the Castro on Wednesday night to celebrate the Supreme Court rulings. The energy was incredible and you could literally feel the love and happiness and excitement all around. And to top it off, we are having some crazy gorgeous weather at the moment, and when it’s warm in San Francisco, it is G-L-O-R-I-O-U-S. I can’t wait to celebrate Pride with my boys this weekend. I have a feeling it’s going to be big.

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And then there’s these frozen bananas. These are totally my jam right now. It started with a visit to one of the local ice cream parlors. I had an afternoon ice cream date with the girls and all of their rugrats a few months back. While all of the adults had ice cream, the kids and I had ourselves some chocolate covered frozen bananas. And we were into it.

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But it got me into the crazy habit of making myself a faux banana split almost every night for two weeks. My faux split is basically just a banana split without the ice cream, but it was getting me into some trouble. All of that homemade ganache and whipped cream and toasted almonds on top was helping the pounds creep on. So I had to kick that habit.

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I still liked the idea of bananas and chocolate for dessert. And then I realized that I should just make frozen bananas. A frozen banana is the perfect treat when you want something cold and sweet but not super indulgent.It’s essentially the same as the faux banana split, minus the whipped cream and the richness of ganache. And if you use little baby bananas (commonly found in Asian produce markets), you’ve got yourself the perfect miniature serving size. It’s exactly what you want after a big meal or when you’re just kicking it on the stoop with your homies. Hooray for summer.

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frozen baby bananas

adapted from Martha Stewart 

makes 8 servings

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate or a combo of the two, chopped

popsicle sticks or wooden skewers

8 baby bananas, peeled,  or 4 regular bananas, peeled and cut in half crosswise

2/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted nuts (I used almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and pecans)  or sprinkles

flaky sea salt (optional)

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Stir just until melted.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently insert a popsicle stick in one end of each banana. Dip banana in chocolate, spooning on additional chocolate to cover.

Sprinkle banana with nuts and a little sea salt and set on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining bananas. Freeze until chocolate is firm, about 20 minutes, or up to 7 days.

strawberry rhubarb pie

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Ooooh weee. That was quite a break if I do say so myself. It feels like those carbomb cupcakes happened a lifetime ago. I’ve gotta start by saying that I sure have missed you. Not a single day went by where I didn’t think about this place. And I made several attempts to share things here. But nothing felt right. So it seemed like the only thing to do was take a time out.

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But being away for so long was beginning to stress me out a bit, similar to the way cutting class in high school and college would make me feel crazy. One day turns into five and then you find yourself scrambling for an excuse for your absence. I was starting to worry that I’d never find my way back here. But I love this space more than anything, so I knew I’d figure it out eventually.

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I don’t have much of an excuse for our little hiatus. I didn’t skip town or run into any trouble with the law. I did have a mean case of writer’s block. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a grand ole time. There were parties and dance parties and really great shows (Band of Horses and Beach House in the same week!) and brunches and nights out with friends – old friends, new friends, best friends, friends from out of town. I drank fantastic whiskey cocktails. I Instagramed. There were a few serious, not-so-fun moments thrown in there as well. To sum it up, life was just happening.

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If you’ve been tuning in here for a while now, you might’ve figured out that I have a thing for rhubarb. I wait all year for those gorgeous pink stalks to show up at the market. And when they do, I can’t contain myself. One year it was these ice pops, last year it was this boozy fool and a couple of batches of jam. This time around, all I really wanted was a good old fashioned strawberry rhubarb pie.

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I’ve made a couple of strawberry rhubarb pies in my time, and if I’m being totally honest, none of them were great. They were all a little too soupy, a bit too tart. So when I found a recipe that required sauteing the rhubarb, and macerating and draining the strawberries before baking, I was pretty sure I had found a winner. Plus, an all-butter lattice-top crust is always enticing.

I was totally smitten with this pie, but I was convinced that I would love it even more if I swapped out the allspice in the original recipe for vanilla bean. So I gave it another go. And it was just what the doctor ordered. Flaky crust, sweet-tart fruit and a dollop of whipped cream on top is a truly wonderful thing.

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strawberry rhubarb pie 

adapted just slightly from The Wall Street Journal Online

makes one 9-inch pie

for the all-butter pie crust:

2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

8 to 10 tablespoons ice water, or more as needed, with a splash of cider vinegar

Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add butter to the dry ingredients and coat it using a spoon or spatula. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into the flour until mostly pea-sized pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; do not over-blend).

Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over the mixture and cut the water in with a spatula. When water is fully incorporated, add more water, one to two tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.

Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with drops of ice water if necessary to combine.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. Wrapped tightly, dough can be refrigerated for three days or frozen for one month.

for the pie:

all butter pie crust 

2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered

3 cups rhubarb, cut into ¾-inch pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped

1 grind fresh black pepper

3 tablespoons arrowroot (or tapioca starch or corn starch)

1 to 2 dashes Fee Brothers rhubarb bitters (or Old Fashioned bitters)

1 teaspoon orange zest

1-1/2 teaspoons al-purpose flour 

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream

1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F. Butter a 9-inch pie pan.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over strawberries. Let sit 1 hour.

Roll out one disc of pie dough into a 12-inch circle, about  1/8 of an inch thick. Place disc in pie pan and trim the edge, leaving 1 inch of overhang. Place in fridge to chill.

Roll out the second disc of pie dough and cut into 1-inch-wide lattice strips. Lay strips on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and place in fridge to chill.

Heat vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté rhubarb until it softens slightly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, sprinkle with lemon juice and let cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, ¼ cup sugar, salt, black pepper and arrowroot.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries into bowl with cooled rhubarb, leaving behind most juices.

Add bitters, orange zest, vanilla, and dry mixture to fruit mixture. Stir gently with a spatula.

Sprinkle 1½ teaspoons flour and 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar into bottom of prepared pie shell and spread around with your fingertips.

Pour filling into pie pan, arrange lattice on top and crimp edges.

Lightly beat together egg and cream or milk and brush pie top with it. Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Place pie on a baking sheet and bake in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F, move pie to center rack and continue to bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and pastry is golden.

Allow to cool at least 2 hours. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Best served same day it is made.

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pear cranberry bundt cake

This year, I’m going to make a serious effort to have a relaxing Thanksgiving. I’m going to prep the night before, maybe even two nights before because it’s that serious. I’m going to stick to the plan, and not decide to make a different dessert the morning of or make an extra dessert just for the hell of it. I’m going to arrive to dinner on time, my pies will not still be in the oven when I’m already supposed to be at my aunt’s place with the rest of the family. I’m going to be rested and put together AND I will still have energy to see friends after dinner (and maybe even go out dancing to burn off some of that turkey). My mind is made up.

If you’re still looking for a dessert to make for Thanksgiving, I have something for you. This gem comes from the final issue of Gourmet. It’s been three years and I am still mourning the loss of Gourmet. Because it was the Thanksgiving issue, I find myself  thumbing through the pages every holiday season, flagging recipes that I want to add to my repertoire. I’m finally getting around to trying one of them.

I was pretty set on making my usual pie and gallette for Thanksgiving this year. But this pear cranberry cake really grabbed my attention. It just screams “happy holidays.” So I decided to give it a whirl last weekend and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I was also surprised by how much I consumed. I’ve test driven it twice in the past week and it has gotten the thumbs up from my most discerning tasters.

This cake is the perfect ending to your Turkey Day feast, especially if you’re not a pie person. But even the most die-hard pie lovers will swoon over this cake. You can make it in a bundt or tube pan. It’s studded with tart, fresh cranberries and diced pear, and finished off with a generous coating of brown sugar caramel sauce, which is to die for. And since it’s the easiest thing to throw together, you can have yourself a cocktail (or three) and take it easy this Thanksgiving.

pear cranberry bundt cake

adapted from Gourmet, November 2009

serves 8-12

for the cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

1-3/4 cups sugar

1-1/4 cups vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons rum (optional)

3 Bosc pears (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 cups cranberries (thawed if frozen)

for the glaze:

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 (3-inch-long) cinnamon sticks

special equipment: 10-by 4-inch angel food cake pan or 15- cup Bundt pan

Make cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together sugar and oil at low speed. Continue mixing and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla and rum and beat on low until combined well.

At low speed, mix in the pears and cranberries, then mix in the flour until incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Cool in pan 30 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Make glaze: 
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, cinnamon sticks, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, then simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

Cool glaze 5-10 minutes, until it is the consistency of a medium-bodied caramel sauce. Discard cinnamon sticks, then pour glaze over cake, letting some drip down sides.

pavlova

Do you ever read your old journals and cringe? Like you want to curl up and die or at least scratch your eyes out because you’re so mortified by the things you wrote and the feelings you felt and the boys you liked? I’ve kept a diary since junior high; my little brother used to call it my book of secrets. He also used to steal it and recite passages out loud when my friends were over. And I would die a little bit from the horror every time. Ugh.

I came across an old journal from 2006-2008 while I was doing some major housekeeping over the weekend. 2006 doesn’t even feel like it was that long ago, but it was like another person wrote it, which is why I couldn’t put it down. It was certainly entertaining. And embarrassing. And it made me remember people and things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It was also sort of sweet, and more poignant than I had expected it to be. In a strange way it made me happy to be older, but it was also a reminder that no matter how old I am, be it twenty-five or thirty-something, my fifteen-year-old self will always be somewhere inside my heart.

My fifteen-year-old self was momentarily obsessed with baked meringue. As a child, the only meringue I knew was the foamy, squishy stuff found on top of lemon meringue pies, which I was never fond of. But I remember being really intrigued when I found a recipe for star-shaped baked meringue cookies. And I was so pleased with myself when those cookies came out of the oven; they were light and crisp and pure white. They were definitely the prettiest things I had ever made. Looking back on it now, I’m pretty impressed with the idea of my teenage-self making meringue cookies. She was kind of fancy.

I think my love for pavlova is rooted in that past infatuation with baked meringue. Pavlova is one of my favorite summertime desserts because it is the perfect platform for all of the gorgeous fruit that is so bountiful this time of year. The baked meringue shell is crisp on the outside and soft and almost marshmallowy in the middle. It’s so delicate that it practically collapses when topped with soft whipped cream and fruit. It’s pretty dreamy. And hard to beat.

pavlova

from Simple Essentials Fruit by Donna Hay

serves 6-8

4 large egg whites

1 cup superfine sugar

3 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

a splash of rosewater (optional)

fresh fruit, to serve ( I used a combination of figs, raspberries, strawberries, and currants)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating well until the mixture is glossy. Sift the cornstarch over the egg white mixture and fold through with the vinegar and vanilla.

Pile the meringue mixture into an 7-inch round on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place in the oven, reduce the temperature to 250°F, and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and allow the meringue to cool in the oven.

Just before serving, place the heavy cream and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until soft peaks form. Add rosewater and mix until incorporated.

Top the meringue with whipped cream and fresh fruit. Serve immediately.