Entering into a science-writing state of mind

Let’s just get the name of the recipe out of the way:

Brown Butter Almond Petite Cakes with Rhubarb served with Roasted Strawberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream.

We’ll get to the food later…

I’ve begun my descent into the writing hole. It’s not enough to collect and analyze data, we (academic) scientists have to publish on it. For me, it means entering into an entirely different state of mind. I like to publish science stories – and I don’t mean that I like to fabricate science, but rather present the bits and pieces of data in a cohesive storyline. Wrap the whole thing up and put a pretty bow on top so that people will be excited and intrigued about what might be inside. And once it’s unwrapped, hopefully readers will find a brand-new toy that is not only fun to play with, but easy to use with clear instructions.

Sometimes science papers aren’t wrapped pretty or else contain a lopsided, hand-knitted sweater from your crazy aunt – you don’t get excited about them. Other times they might have the coolest toy you can imagine – but it’s difficult to assemble, with thousands of parts and instuctions only in japanese – difficult to interpret. There is a delicate balance between selling and overselling, between having too little details or having way too many.

Hence, entering into the science-writing state of mind. Clearly articulating a complete and well controlled study without being boring, while at the same time, making sure that you aren’t overstating the data. It’s not an easy thing to do well. And the beginning stages, especially for this scientist, are not a pleasant place to be in. I find myself at the end of a day with nothing to show for it, as all I’ve done is try to collect all the threads of the science story. The writing won’t come for a few more seemingly unproductive days.

During these early days of science writing I find myself wandering the internet, strolling over to some of my favorite blogs and digging through their archives. Or finally taking the time to check out a new one that a friend referred to me. And thinking about food, as I am want to do. Then making it, so that I can put off writing for just a little bit longer.

As soon as I saw the recipe for Brown Butter Almond Petite Cakes with Rhubarb I knew that it was going to jump to the beginning of my kitchen queue. And once I started smelling the browned butter – I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into these cute little cakes made with almond flour and topped with diced rhubarb. I paired it with the Roasted Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream, another recipe that I had had my eye on ever since my friend Kelaine pointed it to me and is about as close as I will ever come to presenting a strawberry-rhubarb combination here. But it works.

Brown Butter Almond Petite Cakes with Rhubarb

from Orangette
makes four 3-inch cakes
12 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
100 g (1/2 + 1/3 cup) powdered sugar
3 large egg whites
2 slender stalks rhubarb, finely chopped


Put the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, and stir until it turns a dark amber color, about 10-15 minutes – this seems like forever while you are cooking it – but it is well worth the effort. Remove the butter from the heat, and strain it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a small bowl to remove the foamy butter solids and any dark sediment. The butter should smell deeply caramelly. Set it aside to cool, but do not allow it to harden.

When the butter is cool, weigh it. You should have 3 ounces for this recipe, and 12 tablespoons, when browned, yields just a bit too much. Set a small bowl atop a scale, zero the scale, and pour exactly 3 ounces of browned butter into the bowl. This is what you will use for the recipe; any remaining butter can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for other uses.

In a large bowl, sift together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, and powdered sugar. Add the egg whites, and stir with a rubber spatula to combine. It will look a little odd and slimy. Add the brown butter, and fold until smooth. The batter will at first look strange and oily, but keep folding and stirring gently, and it will come together. Refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour and up to a day.

When you are ready to bake the cakes, preheat the oven to 350º. Lightly butter four, 3-inch ramekins. Scoop the batter by 1/3-cupfuls into the prepared ramekins. The batter should be thick and dense: you may want to spoon it into the measuring cup, and then scrape the contents into the muffin cup. Sprinkle about 1 1/2 tablespoons minced rhubarb on top, and lightly press the rhubarb into the batter. Bake the cakes for 45 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and the tops look dry. Allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to release them, and remove them to a rack to cool completely.


Roasted Strawberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream

adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
makes 1 quart
1 pound strawberries, halved
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup half and half
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Place halved strawberries in a 9 x 9 inch baking dish and sprinkle with raw sugar. Roast in a 300º oven for about an hour (my strawberries were rather large – it may take less time with smaller berries). Keep the strawberries in the oven, but turn off the heat and allow them to cool. Transfer to a food processor or blender and puree.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of the half and half into a slurry until smooth. Set aside. In a large batter bowl, mix together cream cheese and salt. Stir in roasted strawberry puree and set aside.

In a medium pot, combine coconut milk, half and half and sugar over medium high heat. Bring to a roiling boil and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cornstarch slurry. Return to medium heat and cook for about a minute longer and the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and stir into the batter bowl with the strawberries and cream cheese. Cool completely. Freeze in an ice cream maker.


One response to “Entering into a science-writing state of mind

  1. Pingback: A late night cocktail | Puck and Kudzu

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