Tag Archives: cake

Roots

I am a biology professor at Emory University and live in Atlanta.

These are words that only reluctantly roll off my tongue – I still expect to wake up and find out this isn’t my life. In my defense, it’s been less than a month – I mean, I haven’t even changed my Facebook info or Twitter tagline (not to suggest that these activities make these facts ‘real’). Now, this isn’t my first turn on the relocation merry-go-round. A decade ago, I moved from the Pacific Northwest to North Carolina. Five and half years later, I moved to the Midwest. Now, I’m in the South. Welcome to the life of an academic. To be honest, when I moved away from the Pacific Northwest I had no idea what I was getting into.

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This move feels different; it has the weight of being a critical junction in my life. The intentions of it are far different than any of my previous moves. As an adult, the majority of my decisions have been career-driven. Why else would I have moved to the frozen tundra of the Upper Midwest? Mostly because I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. But this move? This move has the potential to be my last. That’s a complicated thought.

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In many ways, this department, this institution, this city and corner of the country, all feel like a natural ‘fit’ for me. I don’t think I can clearly articulate all the factors that go into that statement. It feels good and it feels right. When you know, you know. With the exceptions being of course, the many things that I don’t know. Regardless, I am incredibly lucky to be in this situation when so many other academics are not.

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Still, it’s more than a little scary to start again in a new place. When I moved to North Carolina I was 23, on the brink of adulthood, single and beginning a journey with people who would end up being major fixtures in my life. When I moved to Minneapolis, I was 29, no longer single, and infiltrating an established lab and community that when I left it still didn’t feel like I completely belonged. Now I’m 33, single again (and wise enough to know that my life is rich with my other relationships) in a new city with barely a pre-existing connection and entering a whole new realm of my life. I’m excited to get started and anxious to find my way.

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These thoughts have been swirling in my mind for the last six months, every since I got the phone call offering me THE job of my dreams. And the only wrinkle is that it seems as though I won’t be returning home. Home, of course, being the Pacific Northwest. Every year it seems I wax nostalgic over this special place – there are so many things about it that resonate with me. So, it’s hard to think that even after a decade away, I won’t be settling there.

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I strategically planned my move to be able to have a few weeks on the West Coast, buffering my transition from postdoc to professor. Partly to give myself a break so that when I started, I really started ‘fresh.’ But more so to give me much-needed time with the place and the people that have shaped who I’ve become. To remind myself where I came from and dig around my roots before transplanting myself yet again.

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I didn’t think I had a childhood home. We moved out of the house I was an infant in, lived briefly with my aunt and uncle before moving to a house when I started kindergarten, and then built another one when I was in high school, temporarily living with my grandfather during the construction. Now my parents live in yet a different house. All in in Olympia, I grant you and always surrounded by family, but I have never held sentimental value in the structures I grew up in.

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So it hit me like a ton of bricks when I spent a few days in our cabin in the southern Cascades. I hadn’t been back there since I moved away in 2004 – my trips home have always seemed too short to warrant a 2-hour drive into the mountains. It was like stepping into a time capsule of my youth. I had no idea of the enormity to which I missed this place and how much my family (including most of my extended family) is enveloped in it. My dad had spent many nights and weekends designing the cabin and the entire family pitched in to build the thing from the ground up. The avocado green stove! The country blue couches! The comforter covered in primary-colored hearts from when I was five! I’m pretty sure the décor hasn’t been touched since we first built it 25 years ago. And while, incredibly out of date, it was immensely reassuring to be back. The floodgates opened and the memories stormed in. My aunt burning her eyebrows cooking bacon on the barbecue. Weekend ski trips with the cousins. Jumping off of the 35-foot Jody’s Bridge during on sweltering 95-degree Labor Day weekend. Driving down the forest service roads with Dad towards our next hike. Games of gin rummy on the porch. It was all waiting for me, in this tiny cabin that I had returned to.

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One day I climbed up to Sunrise Peak for a 360-degree view including: Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helen’s. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by majestic mountains to gain some perspective. On another day I hiked through old growth forest into Packwood Lake to reconnect with my motivation to study biology (who knew that a girl who like play in the woods would end up studying the sex lives of yeast!). It was exactly what I was hoping to find and helped me garner the strength to move forward in this next adventure.

Blackberry-Hazelnut Torte

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Can you imagine a dessert any more ‘Pacific Northwest’ than this? I am more than a little late posting this recipe, blackberry season is long past us (I’ve been slightly busy in recent weeks – hello, I’m new faculty!). If you are anything like my family than you have squirreled away some of the deep purple jewels in your freezer. Plus – it uses 8 (8!!!) egg whites, making it an excellent justification to make two quarts of ice cream so not to waste the yolks.
 
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5 ounces hazelnut flour (alternatively, you can toast and finely grind whole nuts)
10.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar, divided
4.5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 large egg whites
2 cups wild blackberries
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan.
 
Whisk hazelnut and AP flours, ¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar and salt together in a bowl.
 
In a small saucepan, cook the butter over moderate heat until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool slightly, then stir in the bourbon and vanilla.
 
Using a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form very soft peaks.
Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until the whites hold soft peaks. Alternately fold the flour mixture and browned butter into the egg whites in 3 batches. Gently fold in the blackberries.
 
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the cake is golden and just beginning to pull away from the side. Let cool slightly on a rack, then remove the side of the pan and let cool completely. Transfer the cake to a large plate to serve.
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Thirty-Two

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Right.

So.

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I had a birthday earlier this month. To be honest, this may be the first year when I haven’t given much thought about it, no major self-reflections on where I am in my life, about the past year or what I want to tackle in the future. No convincing myself that age is just a number and you are only as old as you feel. Perhaps because I had been crazy with work or because I knew I was going to spend the day with my family. Or more likely, because I didn’t really want to think about it.

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Thinking about cake, however, was something I could gladly spend my time on. By the start of March, my yearning for spring is all-consuming, so I tend towards fruit-filled cakes (see last year and the year before). This year was no exception, and as I had the pleasure of spending the weekend with my family in Washington, which includes a four-year old niece and a year and a half year old nephew, I steered away from my inclinations towards coffee and alcohol in my dessert.

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I’ve had this recipe for Poppy Seed Layer Cake with White Chocolate Cream and Strawberries saved for many years, but never a good opportunity (or crowd) to serve it. This is not your typical birthday cake (i.e. cloyingly sweet and overly dry), instead, its bright with lemon infused throughout and dotted with poppy seeds. The white chocolate cream? Out of this world and a perfect complement for the strawberries. It makes a large cake – so invite your favorite people to share it with. My cousin, notoriously picky (especially for non-chocolate desserts) even went back for a second piece.

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I may have had a second piece also … it was my birthday after all, and if nothing else, I make damn good dessert.

 

Poppy Seed Layer Cake with White Chocolate Cream and Strawberries
from Bon Appetit
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Poppy Seed Cake
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon zest (I used 3 lemons)
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
 
For white chocolate cream:
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
3 cups chilled whipping cream
 
2 1/2 cups strawberries, sliced and halved
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For the poppy seed cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with waxed paper; butter and flour paper and sides of pan. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Cut in 6 tablespoons butter and set aside. Beat sugar, remaining butter and lemon zest in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon juice and vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions each, beating just until blended. Stir in poppy seeds. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until cake is golden and tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer pan to rack. Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake. Release pan sides; cool cake.

For the white chocolate cream:

Combine 1/2 cup sugar, eggs and lemon juice in top of double broiler set over gently boiling water. Whisk until very thick and candy thermometer registers 160°F, about 3 minutes. Remove from water. Add chopped white chocolate and whisk until smooth. Cool to room temperature. Beat heavy cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in large bowl to firm peaks. Fold in white chocolate mixture.

Assemble cake:

Turn cake out onto work surface. Peel off paper. Cut cake horizontally into two equal layers. Transfer one cake layer to platter, cut side up. Spread 1 1/2 cups white chocolate cream over the cake layer. Arrange sliced strawberries in single layer over chocolate cream. Spread more white chocolate cream over the strawberries. Top with second cake layer, cut side down. Spread 3 cups chocolate cream over top and sides of cake. Garnish cake with strawberries cut in half.

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
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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

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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
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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
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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.

Rhubarb Cobbler-Cake

I am not sure what to call this.

A cobbler?

A cake?

A pie?

A shortcake?

Whatever it is – it tastes pretty damn good. Rhubarb tossed in brown sugar, wedged between two layers of sweet dough-y delicousness. Served with a generous dollop of whiskey cream. After some discussion, I think I have settled in on Rhubarb Cobbler-Cake.

I so rarely make a full recipe of any sort, so when we had a lab picnic (a picnic with all the lab members – not a picnic in the lab, just to be clear), I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Cake? Cookies? Bars? Ultimately I decided on this, the rhubarb cobbler-cake. And I am glad I did. Mostly because I got to use my beautiful bright green 10-inch pie dish or maybe because I snuck in one last rhubarb recipe for the summer…

Rhubarb Cobbler-Cake

serves 8

from Gourmet, March 2004
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Cake
4 cups chopped rhubarb, in 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs, one separated
 
Whiskey Cream
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whiskey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
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Chop rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces. Toss with brown sugar. Set aside.

For dough:

In food processor, combine flour, baking powder and sugar. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add butter and process until it resembles cornmeal. Transfer to a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together milk, 1 egg and 1 egg yolk (reserving the remaining egg white for later). Gradually stir in the egg-milk mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. The dough will be very soft!

Take about half of the dough and press down on the bottom of the pie dish and about halfway up the sides. (Generously flouring your hands makes this much easier). Pour rhubarb and any juices into the pie dish. Top with remaining dough, dropped by teaspoons.

Brush the top of the cake with remaining egg white and sprinkle some granulated sugar over the top. Bake at 400º for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

For whiskey cream: whip together cream, powdered sugar, whiskey and vanilla until stiff peaks form.

My favorite kind of recipe: few ingredients, no fancy techniques and big on taste.

Oh, and of course the rhubarb!

(Don’t the pink and green go wonderfully together?)

Not-my-birthday-yet cake

This is my friend Patti.

Yes, it’s a picture of a picture. It was taken many, many years ago, before digital cameras had taken over the world or. I am not exactly sure how we ended up with three drinks between us, but it looked like we were having fun. It could be because I was just in the beginning of my twenties or it could be because I was with Patti. You always have fun with Patti. She has the best sense of humor with the most addicting laugh and the warmest smile. I am pretty sure I haven’t seen Patti since this photo was taken, but thanks to this current state of technology and social networking, we’ve managed to keep tabs on each other.

Once upon a time, Patti made the most amazing Rum-Butter Cake, back when her kids were munchkins and not teenagers. I mean, seriously amazing. I still remember it years later. I am not sure why I was thinking about it all weekend long, but I was.

Maybe because I am just about a week away before I say good-bye to my twenties. (Although given my previous statement about how quickly kids grow up, perhaps I am really an older than I think I should be).

Maybe because it snowed ALL day on Sunday (and most of Monday) and I want winter to be over already.

Maybe because I just like rum. And cake.

So thanks to Facebook, I sent Patti a quick note requesting the recipe for Rum-Butter Cake. And she sent me this link.

So I literally trekked through the snow to pick up a bottle of extra dark, super flavorful rum.

And a box of yellow cake mix.

Puck was very interested in this development.

This cake was super-duper easy.

Butter a bundt cake pan and evenly distribute a cup of pecans to the bottom of the pan.

Mix together:

1 box of yellow cake mix,

1 box of instant vanilla pudding,

4 eggs,

and 1/2 cup each of the following:

water

vegetable oil

dark rum

And mix together. I am pretty sure I could have used a wooden spoon to mix this all together, but I am still completely infatuated with my stand mixer.

Pour into the bundt cake pan.

Bake for 1 hour in  325 degree oven.

(I may or may not have made a mojito while waiting for the cake to bake. I mean, the rum was already open…)

When finished baking, let set in pan for ten minutes before inverting.

And make your glaze. Which I am sure is what makes this cake absolutely fabulous.

In a pot, heat 1/4 cup of water

1/2 cup of butter

and 1 cup sugar.

Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Take off heat and stir in 1/2 cup rum.

Pour 1/2 of glaze in bottom of the bundt cake pan.

And put the cake back in and top with remaining glaze.

Let the cake absorb all of the glaze. Resist the temptation to stick your face and eat it straight from the pan.

Because then it probably wouldn’t look this pretty.

It tastes even better than I remember. There is the perfect amount of crisp to the crust while maintaining a super moist interior. And don’t forget that rich, rum flavor.

A perfect not-my-birthday-yet cake.